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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Linguamania at the Museum

Consider this phrase: Creative Multi-lingualism. So many things right with every single part of this!  It’s also the name of a new, exciting, and high-profile project between six top UK and US universities, led by our very own, ever-enthusiastic language champion, Katrin Kohl.

Linguamania – going mad for languages

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Harry Potter and the ‘Rosetta Stone’ – students rewrite a children’s classic

Creative Multilingualism kicked off in style with Linguamania – another great name! On 27 January, the venerable Ashmolean Museum in Oxford pulled out all the stops – and even the disco lights! – for this packed “Live Friday” event, celebrating all things language with music, theatre, taster sessions, and interactive art. Language-lovers of all ages enjoyed writing a new, multilingual Harry Potter chapter, laughed as Ovid’s Apollo chased Daphne to Benny Hill music, and hummed-and-drummed away to Samba rhythms, before writing their own name in Elvish. Yes, Elvish! Should you ever have moaned that “young people just don’t care about languages these days” – well, Linguamania would have persuaded you otherwise in a second. Local schools arrived by the busload, and students took naturally to getting creative around languages. Some even felt a touch of poetic inspiration: “Learning a language is like a rollercoaster, because it’s fun – especially with friends!”, says a Year 9 student. His friend chips in: “A foreign language is the key to a whole new world!”

Languages – ticking all the boxes?

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Multilingual metaphors are discussed at the conference

How to get other young people on board with the idea that languages are a massively useful skill was a recurring theme the following day during the partner conference, Languages and Creativity. The state of languages in UK schools caused debate on-(and particularly off-)podium. “Languages are taught so badly in our schools,” some complained. “These days it’s all just about ticking boxes!” Not everybody agreed: “Let’s not blame exams, or teachers, or kids. The hard work, dedication, creativity, and enthusiasm that goes on in language teaching (and learning!) in our schools is truly awesome. Yes, we need to highlight this fact, and yes, we need to foster languages – but mainly we need to support each other in our common goal.” On one thing, though, we’re definitely all on the same page: Languages – ticking all the boxes!

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Pig oder Schwein, das ist die Frage! Multilingual metaphor in action!

To find out more about Creative Multilingualism, and to follow the project on Twitter and Facebook, go to http://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk/

Heike Krüsemann, OGP Coordinator

To sign up for Heike’s newsletter ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ – top tips, events and resources from the world of German teaching, click here; to see past newsletter editions click here.