Wer bin ich – who am I?!

This week, regular guest blogger and guru of the OGN newsletter ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ Heike Krüsemann brings us an update from the Creative Multilingualism project, which is part of the Open World Research Initiative and recently held its second conference…

Wer bin ich – who am I?!

Well, only you can answer that! Our identities are shaped in highly individual ways – and if you have more than one language, probably even more so! Academics, teachers, students, artists, poets and other interested parties came together in early February at Reading University’s Institute of Education to exchange ideas on creative multilingual identities. The conference was part of the Creative Multilingualism programme, spearheaded by the OGN’s director and language enthusiast, Professor Katrin Kohl.

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Katrin Kohl opens the conference

The first day kicked off with some splendidly varied presentations by early career researchers on topics such as translation, translanguaging (yes, that’s a word), language learning, and bilingual poetry and art. Of course, I flew the flag for German with some examples of how teenage German learners use metaphors – see what I did there??

A lively panel and audience then debated whether Modern Languages in the UK needs a new identity. Is it one thing – is it many things? Should the question be more like:

‘Wer bin ich, und wenn ja, wie viele?’

Someone should write a book about that – oh, hang on, they already have!

On the second day, we heard about nature’s many languages, and how linguistic and biological diversity complement each other perfectly in the area of conservation. Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele gave a highly enlightening talk about diversity, linguistic and otherwise: culture cannot exist without it. Society needs people who don’t fit into the usual pattern.

Amerah Saleh and Bohdan Piasecki, ‘Free Radicals’ from the Beatfreeks Collective moved the audience to tears for all the right reasons with their multilingual poetry in Arabic, Polish and English. Typical comment: “You ripped my heart out and put it together again”. Powerful stuff.

In two workshops, delegates explored the roles different languages have on the lives of multilingual speakers, and heard about Language Futures an initiative for primary and secondary schools to develop languages beyond the classroom.

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Rinkoo Barpaga has everyone enthralled!

Then Rinkoo Barpaga took the stage and had us all enthralled. Rinkoo is an amazing storyteller and comedian. He is deaf and used sign language and an interpreter to communicate with the audience. We learnt about Rinkoo’s documentary ‘Double Discrimination’ about the variations in sign languages, racism, discrimination and different deaf  Black people’s use of urban sign languages.

Finally, Professor Terry Lamb chaired a panel on community languages in schools. A lot of good work goes on here already which sadly does not receive much publicity, but it’s crucial that teacher education should support multilingual classrooms in the UK.

An inspiring two days passed by in a multilingual flash. If you feel you’re struggling to construct your multilingual identity, relax: anything goes! Just ask yourself this:

Wer bin ich – und warum nicht?

If you’d like to follow up on the conference contributions, have a look on the Creative Multilingualism page.

Heike Krüsemann is a post-doctoral researcher on the Creativity in Language Learning Strand of Creative Multilingualism. To sign up for Heike’s OGN newsletter ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ – top tips, events and resources from the world of German teaching, click here. Take a look at Heike’s latest blog post on how the image of Germans in the UK press affects pupil motivation to study German!

 

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