The Language of the Heart Lé language du tchoeu

MAPS cross-curriculum project, facilitated by ARTHouse Jersey at Jersey schools.

You do not need to speak one language to help and be grateful. When being helpful and grateful, we speak a very different language – the language of our hearts.

This project comprised three cross-curricular workshops exploring the Jèrriais language, Jersey history, and visual art. 

Year 6 students of Plat Douet Primary School were given an opportunity to listen to a personal account of the islander, who, at the time of the Occupation, was the same age as the students are now in 2023. His parents had made a difficult choice of providing food and milk to Russian slave workers through the Occupation years, even though they had four children of their own and were potentially facing severe punishment by the German Commandment for this help. One of the slave workers found a way to express his gratitude to the family by using wittily the little that he could find around him. 

Students learned old how invaluable such memories are and that they are often found in the diaries and scrapbooks kept by the islanders documenting their day-to-day life during the Occupation. Students were encouraged to use their sketchbooks as ‘personal archives’ of the project.

The Jèrriais teacher reminded students that Jersiaise was a secret language for the islanders during the Occupation and introduced a vocabulary of character traits such as courage, compassion, kindness, determination, resourcefulness, and gratitude, all revealed in the story. These words grew into phrases and were repeatedly ‘written’ by students using various art techniques introduced by the artist.

To illustrate how inventive art-making can be, students learned that milk and lemon juice could become invisible inks; old buttons and recycled beads could make a gift; a cotton bud, a push pin, or a candle could be a writing instrument; and coffee could be a paint. Local and international artists became a big source of inspiration during these art experiments.

Merri Bond, Jersiaise Teacher, L’Office Du Jèrriais

I loved building lessons around Michael Vautier’s inspiring childhood memory from the Occupation. This beautiful story was a springboard for our project. The kind-heartedness of Michael’s family gave the project its title – the ‘language of the heart’ or ‘lé language du tchoeu’. 
Students learned that in times of difficulty, courage, compassion, and generosity can shine through the darkness and make such a difference, rippling into so many lives. In learning the Jèrriais, they had an opportunity to discern what character traits they would like to have – e.g., “J’aim’thais aver lé couôthage” –
I would like to have courage.
Collaboration with others is an enriching experience. I have enjoyed putting into practice the artistic ideas Yulia developed for this project. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this Art Partnership.

Yulia Makeyeva, Artist, Arthouse Jersey

Jersey is so lucky to have many people who can still tell us about their families’ challenges and the choices they had to make during the Occupation of 1940-45. We must use this opportunity to bring these memories into the now, encouraging the younger generation to learn from them. This project allowed students to look at the history and heritage through the lived experience of the islander. Cross-curricular lessons took students back in time by listening to a story that happened over 75 years ago, learning important vocabulary and phrases in Jèrriais, and plunging into the metaphorical language of art. Students created their own memories of materials and surfaces around them (frottage technique), revealed the invisible (grattage, ‘invisible’ inks, punch art), compared the unique and the multiple (monoprinting), and were inventive in using recycled materials to make a gift. The best gift for me was a sense of wonder, joy, and awe seen many times in the eyes of the students. Merry’s knowledge and enthusiasm supported me throughout and encouraged me to develop more projects involving Jerriase.