Humanitarian interpreting; Interpreting humans

I was recently fascinated by the life and death of Dean Potter, the American climber and base jumper.* His adventures made me think about my daily sitting in front of a computer mostly complaining about the petty miseries of life. Watching videos of his Pindaric flights through the canyons and gorges of some remote mountainous region made me reconsider danger in the light of living life in the extreme, to the extreme. Whatever the reasons for enjoying dangerous situations, the intrinsic intensity of those situations seems to make life more worthwhile and dense. Are these people less happy because they live at a risk of loosing their life? What triggers their passion? I usually come across these fascinating questions when I think about the career choice of people working in conflict zones such as journalists, photo reporters, correspondents, doctors and especially important for my work, interpreters. In my role as education developer, I frequently come into contact with young people who are passionate about languages and often motivated in their pursuit of a linguistic education by adventure rather than by the prospect of earning money. Admittedly, this noble pursuit has been slightly obfuscated in recent times by the new fee regime universities have had to impose on students, which encourages new graduates to seek high paying jobs sometimes at the expenses of their own ambitions. There’s nothing wrong with that, let’s be clear. And I am sure in most cases it’s part of supporting economic growth. However, not everyone is driven by money in life. Some people are driven by adventure. My concern as a linguist is that whenever adventure is mentioned as a motivator for language study, the image that most people automatically piece together is one of happy smiling people sipping drinks on a sunny beach or smiling in front of a camera with some exotic background. I’d like to revert this image to a rather more realistic one in just one paragraph. Adventure is a course of action which involves risk, whoever likes adventure enjoys risk as a life-enriching experience. Language graduates have the option to use their skills in risk. Highly specialised linguists are on great demand in zones of conflict and natural disaster to enable help (medical or otherwise), to restore the respect of human rights, to create a space for humanity to be just that. This is precisely what interpreters in conflict areas do by using their multilingual skills, their multicultural abilities, their motivation to support people being denied their rights to safety, respect, identity, belonging. This involves commitment and determination as well as a high level of training, qualities inherent in learning languages. Languages can sometimes lead into jobs of ambition and consequence as well as adventure. * I quote Potter’s words from The Guardian, 22 May 2015, “I love the idea that I can change the worst possible thing to the best possible thing – dying to flying,” he said. http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2015/may/22/did-rules-not-risk-cause-dean-potters-base-jumping-death [accessed 19 June 2015]

Do languages evolve?

Do languages evolve?

I like to think about languages in a continuum of changes. For this reason, I feel slightly uncomfortable when the changes languages experience throughout time are collectively defined as evolution.* I often prefer to use the word transformation, because in English and in other European languages, the term evolution implicitly suggests improvement, a progressive movement from a rudimentary to an advanced form rather than a flow of changes internally or externally caused. Rarely, has the study of language systems in a historical dimension evidenced a development from the simple to the complex. While modern scholars can trace the history of languages through the written evidence increasingly sophisticated technology has brought to us, we however know very little about how linguistically complex or easy languages were, when these existed in oral cultures. A possible explanation for my constant fiddling with words in an attempt to escape using the word evolution when talking about languages can be traced in the linguistic and cultural histories of the word. Jeremy Marshall has recently written about the ‘evolution of the word “evolution”’. In his interesting OUP blog-post, Marshal reveals that Darwin was very cautious to avoid using the term evolution in his On the Origin of Species published in 1859, in which the term never appears but once, as a verb, at the end. The term entered the English vocabulary in the first half of the 17th century via the translation of a Latin treatise in which the word refers to a military manoeuvre. Towards the middle of the 18th century, evolution referred to the process of opening up, unrolling or unfolding in keeping with the Latin origin of the word. According to the OED, in the 19th century the word acquired a new semantic layer indicating ‘progress from the simple to the complex’. Initially used in connection with the idea of biological evolution, the word was later adopted in  a rather general use. The circulation of ideas between French and English intellectuals and the consequent contact between the French and English languages caused the word to be no longer restricted to biology and its use to move into other fields of study. A. Comte used the French equivalent évolution in his influential treatise Cours de philosophie positive published 1839 in relation to the social sciences, for example. The broader use of evolution was further popularised in English through H. Spencer’s theory according to which all changes in the universe are seen as phenomena of evolution. Spencer’s universal use of the term sparked widespread popular use of the expression and the term has since been adopted in many domains to indicate a universal principle not just a biological one. The meaning denoting advancement has been retained in present day English, while the original Latin meanings of unrolling, unfolding, unravelling have gradually become obsolete. If evolution implies a development from the simple to the complex, can it be applied to languages? The question is a tricky one to answer as it is extremely difficult to determine what is complex or indeed simple in linguistic terms. Surely, the English language of a thousand years ago was structurally no simpler than present day English. Hence my feeling uncomfortable when using the word evolution when studying the transformation of languages. Like Darwin, however, I like the idea of using the verb ‘to evolve’, a more general term than evolution and its progress-induced history (according to OED). Talking about evolving languages as opposed to language evolution seems to be more representative of the fact that languages continually adapt to the cultural and social environments of their users in a continuous flow, which doesn’t make them any simpler nor more complex, just different. * Language is intended throughout as a system and not as a faculty of the mind. Interesting views on the latter have been recently expressed here in response to Chomsky’s suggestion that languages do not evolve.

The language of power; the power of language

I have recently enjoyed reading about the Anglicisation of the Italian language. Amongst emerging concerns, it is refreshing to see that the topic has been tackled occasionally with Italian humour. I am talking about Michele Serra’s witty column L’amaca (La Repubblica). On Wednesday 15 April 2015, L’amaca describes the worrying over-use of English in Italian political talks, broadly speaking the growing use of English expressions to replace Italian ones. A habit most have deemed unnecessary at best, corrupting (if such a thing exists in linguistic terms) at worst. Alarmingly, the phenomenon has been noted in two, perhaps correlated, areas: advertising and politics. What’s so wrong with proper Manzoni-inspired, Zingarelli-endorsed Italian? Serra suggests that the use of English in politics is set to make the political debate attractive, fresh, exciting, young (dare I say). Hard to disagree, especially when Renzi’s electoral campaign welcomed the rejuvenation of Italian politics, admittedly more in the aesthetics than in the ethics. Serra’s column however brings into focus a concern over the correlation between language and national identity rather than a preoccupation over language corruption. Roughly translated into English the closing sentence to his piece reads thus: ‘the Iglesorum (i.e. a pun on Manzoni’s Latinorum meaning the somewhat macaronic use of English in political talks) conveys a somewhat hick-ish ambition to look like something one is not’. Why the English, when Italian is no doubt a modern language, the vibrancy of which reflects in the ever-transforming identity of a nation? Probably for no good reason at all, except that the ideologies underpinning the relation between language and national identity have gone past the nineteenth-century phase and into globalisation. While a few years ago English was the ‘lingua franca’, a passe-partout opening the doors to global communication, today English is a global language, arguably part of our global-ised identity. While only a few years ago Italians negotiated their identities across the Italian language and one or more of the many regional languages, that same identity has nowadays become more complex with the addition of another linguistic sphere. Like it or not, global English is spreading into politics, advertising, education and other domains. Accepting or rejecting its spread is only going to be part of a phenomenon, which at moment seems unstoppable.

Celebrating Mother Language Day… multilingually

Celebrating Mother Language Day… multilingually

The literary education of bilingual children is not easy, often it’s not fun either. A myth about multilingualism which is best busted at the start. True, it’s incredible and wonderful to see your children develop in more than one language, to see that they are able to interpret diversity with an open mindset. But with the school years a new story starts, different and sometimes strange: the development of new identities, intellectual, social, cultural and so on. Things get complicated because reading and writing require a critical effort, even if these are practiced for leisure, even if reading and writing in the family language, Italian for us, become intimate linguistic moments between parents and children (at least in our household). Reading in a language one knows just because mummy and daddy speak it is extremely difficult. Lucia says so, my bilingual daughter. At 8 years of age she reads speedily in English. She enjoys it even. But reading in Italian is so tricky! While in choosing a book the format, paper or kindle, doesn’t really matter that much, in choosing the language of a book the preference is radically towards English.

I did a quick interview with Lucia, which I report below:

ME: is there a book in Italian that you like? LUCIA: uhmmm… why in Italian? ME: try to think… ok, just look on the book shelf all the Italian books you’ve got LUCIA: ok, I remember this [B. Pitzorno, L’Incredibile Storia di Lavinia (Einaudi Ragazzi)], The Incredible Story of Lavinia (Lucia translates into English) grandma read it to me when I was 5 ME: what’s it about? LUCIA: it’s about a poor girl who had a fairy godmother that gave her a ring. if you turned it and pointed it to something it would turn it into poo! ME: did you like it? LUCIA: yes, there was a lesson in it ME: mmmm??? LUCIA: don’t overuse things ME: use them wisely, you mean. Do you like reading in Italian? LUCIA: no, to me it’s very tricky

So enter grandma! Reading in Italian with the grandparents is perhaps the most natural way for (my) bilingual children to maintain and nurture the connection with the culture of the parents’ country of origin. Grandparents only speak English as a lingua franca, to enable communication when it comes to a halt. A language nobody uses in Lucia’s circles which hardly exists in her daily school life. Then Italian becomes necessary to talk (with parents conversations often move on infinitely parallel linguistic paths) and books and stories help to understand each other. Reading in Italian gradually turns into dialogue, story telling, writing, re-writing and building new stories. Not so in English, a language in which Lucia is confident enough to make her own choices with little or no guidance.

My husband and I have presented Lucia with many of the books we read as children, which made an impression on us and which we are still discussing today. Yet this is a story from which Lucia is excluded precisely because she is bilingual. Bi- and multilingualism are powerful tools for connecting with the mother culture/s and equally if not more important for creating a new story, unique if slightly lonely, creative and re-creative. It’s hardly surprising perhaps that in the construction of Lavinia’s story, which Lucia liked so much, different cultures, traditions and languages intermingle. Pitzorno writes in the dedication at the beginning of the book that her inspiration for Lavinia’s story comes from cultural diversity. In my own translation the quote reads thus (more or less): ‘I wish to thank for the inspiration: Andersen for the match girl, Tolkien for the ring, King for the look, Voltaire for it’s Voltaire and Mother Nature for the poo’. It’s a great read!

Whatever the context and the situation, multilingualism is an asset and not a hindrance to education. Supporting multilingual communities and encouraging multilingual education is strategic for the growth of any nation in the highly divisive and conflicting societies in which we live. For this reason alone multilingualism in education should be high on the agendas of politicians in every country. UNESCO‘s work in the past 15 years has buttressed the view that diversity underpins cohesion. I second this view.

Bring us some sticky pudding!

Christmas time inevitably brings carol singing to our ears and seasonal food to our tables. Living in Britain, I have come to appreciate the festive dessert par excellence: the Christmas pudding. A recognisable symbol of Britishness, the Christmas pudding is ubiquitous; you see it on cards, jumpers, hats and mittens, even cupcakes come with a Christmas pudding look, my daughter made one out of Hama beads to give to her friend, how cute is that! Stealing Rudolph’s thunder, most iconically, the Christmas pudding is to my foreign eyes the epitome of the British Christmas as I have imagined it for years, till I asked the ‘question’: how do you make it? Innocently, I cuddled the vision of British grandmas toiling in the kitchen for days to deliver the bomb of stodginess, as I rather candidly had set my mind to impressing my Italian families with something… you know… exotic. To my own disillusionment, I found out that very few people in the country make one from scratch. A longstanding tradition has made this dessert a difficult one to make involving a virtually never ending list of ingredients and many hours of steaming.

Although the name Christmas pudding is a mid-eighteenth century coinage, as suggested in the OED, dishes containing dried fruits, spices, sugar and eggs have been associated with the Christmas food tradition long before the 18th century. Originally, the recipe contained dried plums, in place of raisins, spices, and most daringly, meat blended together with a thickened beef broth, the so-called plum broth. Only the enriched version of the plum pudding, a year-round dessert, did eventually make it to the Christmas table, and has since then been called a Christmas pudding, exclusively. 

The Diner’s Dictionary, a volume by Oxford University Press entirely dedicated to the word origins of food and drink, reports a Swedish visitor’s experience of English cuisine. As early as 1748 Mr Kalm wrote: ‘the art of cooking as practised by Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding’. From the 18th century onwards the plum pudding at the Christmas table is known as Christmas pudding, as simple as that!

Merry Christmas!

Celebrating Languages: the show must go on!

Celebrating Languages: the show must go on!

I had a day off my usual routine, something rather rare these days, which I spent in London where most people go for excitement. I was at a very inspiring event called the Language Show, a yearly celebration of Languages.

I was at the show not as a visitor but in a very special capacity, as representative of Routes into Languages, a national programme which aims to reach secondary school and college pupils and encourage them to give languages a chance. The programme is funded by HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) and has worked hard in the past seven years to enthuse students, to promote languages and to inspire a new generation of language teachers. So there we were, a colleague and I, giving out resources free of charge to teachers, students, and the general public. People flocked to the stall to fill their bags with posters, stickers, information and all that they could grab and take away, avid for materials to be used in the classroom and for new ideas on how to run events which might get pupils involved. It felt good to see many old friends stopping by to say how much Routes has been helping them in the difficult task of engaging students. Similarly, it was great to meet young teachers, too, who new to the profession were in search for inspiration. Talking to them and answering their questions infused me with a sense of positivity. At a time when languages are in decline, with teaching jobs being axed and fewer pupils taking up languages, it was invigorating to see the commitment and enthusiasm of new teachers, of language ambassadors who have successfully undertaken the teaching profession and of students who showed an interest in teaching and asked to become part of the Routes community. I went home exhausted, with an aching head and a mind buzzing with new ideas to develop. For the next step is to make sure that the enthusiasm and the commitment of  the new cohorts of teachers is not lost, but is captured and nurtured through new projects and indeed new materials for teaching languages.

I had a great time and I look forward to next year’s show!

WWI. In memoriam (Part ONE)

WWI. In memoriam (Part ONE)

A house full of books is a soothing dream for the insomniac. This past summer I found myself wandering the dark rooms of a sleepy house at 3am in a desperate search for something that might quiet down my disquieting dreams. So, I opened a forsaken kindle and tapped the night off. E. Lussu’s A year on the high plateau* is beautiful and atrocious, of the beauty and atrocity life brings about when it is lived on the brink of death. The book presents the readers with a selection of the most memorable events experienced by the author in 1917, the year he spent in the trenches near Asiago (in the north-east of Italy), on the famous high plateau.  No sooner had I started reading than the unsettling dizziness of insomnia was won over by Lussu’s prose: clean, precise, exquisite.

The book had been briefly introduced to me a few days before I started reading it by my father-in-law: how unforgivable of me to have never read it—the book is a somewhat neglected classic of the Italian literature—and, did I know?, its journalistic style was just so elegant. Arrestingly so. In hindsight, this brief conversation about Lussu’s prose set me off thinking about the word journalistic which my father-in-law had used to describe the book.

The way someone the age of my father-in-law uses the adjective journalistic goes back to Italian traditional education, a background shared by people who went to grammar school, read the Gallic Wars by Cesar and, thus, learnt to appreciate the journalistic style: devoid of gimmicks and flourishes, keeping the reader at a distance, avoiding judgments perhaps. But Lussu’s style is delicate and humane. Admirably, it brings the reader close to the foolishness, tragedy, insanity, nonsense, cynicism, irony of war, in a way which is compassionate and caring, always resisting the temptation of surrendering to the folly and despair. The narration is constantly grounded in reason. While fate kept the author alive and inexplicably uninjured, reason alone—or an unfaltering ability to rationalise every single event—kept him sane amidst the brutality of cognac-fuelled battles fought on the bayonet blade to conquer a hundred metres of barren, rocky land. If this realistic yet graceful style is what has to be implied by the adjective journalistic—and I do agree that information is at its most useful when rational, humane and respectful of the private tragedy—then a reflection of what is meant today by ‘journalistic’ is perhaps due.

How is the journalistic style best defined in western European cultures? I’d be curious to ask a high-school student (anywhere in Europe) to deduce from any newspaper the adjectives which most closely describe the journalistic style. Because it seems to me that increasingly what is meant by journalistic is to some extent associated with what’s shocking, sensational, gruesome, frightening, often disrespectful of the suffering of people and ultimately of the human right to the protection of privacy in its integrity. Victims become numbers, executioners video games heroes. ‘The new generations are indifferent to the cruelty which we witness everyday’ goes a stale adage which, like a mantra, we exchange to deprecate our feeling impotent. But how are we to be touched by the many stories of war-scarred, death-marred lives when such stories are presented to us compressed in a rhetoric of terror, which increases the sales, arguably, while it’s making us numb and unresponsive, instead? This apathy, the disconnection between our comfy lives and the lives of far-flung, less lucky others scares me more than the throat-slayers populating youTube. A passage in Lussu’s book ably brings into focus the alienation of the journalistic accounts of the war from the actual experience of the war: ‘we’d sometimes get newspapers but those who were able to read could hardly understand their meaning, so different was our experience of the war’.** On more than one occasion is the author confronted with the pompous rhetoric of war, in response to which he can only mumble broken answers, half-spoken sentences while standing on his feet in disbelief, frustration, silence. An all too often shared experience.

Reading A year on the high plateau made me think that those people who were pushed out of the trenches to meet their death into the open battle aren’t just numbers, actually in the journalistic precision of his recollection the author doesn’t mention numbers nor war bulletins, never once. He didn’t know those soldiers by name nor deed, neither do I. I know that they are humans and in that sense and for that reason alone, in the year that marks the centenary of the Great War, I wish to remember the loss of their life as you would do with anybody whose identical fate we share simply by coming to life and having to leave it. Perhaps this is just the meaning which in our terror-obsessed lives and in the rhetoric of daily war bulletins, we are missing to grasp: that we are humans.

At a time when the barbarity of war challenges our human faculties and human rights thereby jeopardizing the construction of peaceful societies, reading A year on the high plateau has reminded me that journalism has a civilising function: a much harder goal to fulfill than simply providing information.

* E. Lussu, Un anno sull’altipiano (1936) Torino: Einaudi is the Italian original of A year on the high plateau. A translation in the English languge does not seem to be available nor accessible. Reviews of the book in English may be accessed on the internet.

**My translation of QUOTE

Collage educated

Collage educated

I have recently come across a singular misspelling of the word college: collage, that is, and in a remarkable number of unrelated occurrences. Being a foreigner and the mother of a little girl who has only just started tackling the difficulties of learning English spelling, whenever I encounter spelling extravaganzas I normally limit my linguistic self to take note of the creativity inherent in languages. Also because I am often criticised for being slightly pedantic, pedantry being the mother of all bores and quite frankly a bit of a snobbish occupation, too. Collage (sic) when used to mean an institution where secondary/higher education is provided can however be rather problematic for the linguist as well as for the common user of English: for the former is prompted to find a solution to the old conundrum of whether or not spelling rules should be fixed or flexible and the latter could be rather confused and confusing. In this case the two spelling variations have different meanings, indeed. For this reason, I would like to express my linguistic opinion in favour of spelling conventions and try and save the practice of sharing spelling habits from pedantry and boredom.

To put it simply collage cannot and must not be used as a variation of the word college because the two words are different and having to gather which meaning is which from the context can sometimes be misleading. The unequivocally recognisable spelling of a word is something that I like in languages and find particularly useful in learning new ones. The one-form-one-meaning equation can be and indeed is very helpful when we communicate: when one word only has one meaning and one spelling form we all understand the same thing. Admittedly, languages work in rather more complicated ways. Homophones, for examples, sometimes complicate communication and are hard to spell correctly, as this blog shows. And we all know how the influences to which words are exposed in the course of their histories cause them to accrue layers of meanings and to change their spelling, too. There’s no doubt about this.

Spelling conventions are nevertheless useful. Sticking to spelling rules may seem a compulsive-obsessive habit; I think it’s a very practical way to make our lives easier, however. Joining in the practice of using the same conventions when writing allows us all, native and non-native speakers of English (and any other language), to understand each other. And not all people will be put off by learning spelling. Look at these school pupils at the Spelling Bee competition for foreign languages and you’ll see!

There’s no need to be pedantic, everyone can easily keep to the rule… but it’s only when we have a rule to follow that we can deliberately and meaningfully break that rule* to set spelling free!

* For an authoritative read about breaking rules see S. Pinker, ’10 grammar rules it’s ok to break (sometimes)’ http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/15/steven-pinker-10-grammar-rules-break

wordoftwentytwelve

wordoftwentytwelve

My beloved husband brought to my attention an article titled ‘Hashtag, you’re it’ he read on Spectrum* (April 2013), a geeky publication of IEEE’s to whose infectious positivism I am mostly immune, except when technology is connected with language. The piece is about the word of the year 2012: hashtag.

The article entertainingly summarises the many creative ways in which the hashtag is used in the Twittersphere by listing a number of hashtag subcategories, which describe how hashtags may be formed. For example, the rhetorical hashtag and the gametag are mentioned together with hashtag activities such as hashjacking or hashtag activism, hashtag marketing and so forth. Finally, the author concludes that whatever the angle you look it from and however you use it, the hashtag has become successful beyond viral and is now moving directly ‘into the wild’, into arenas other than Twitter, that is. This indicates that our use of the hashtag is increasing by the day. The hashtag taxonomic functionality** seems however far behind us; its linguistic potential yet to be explored to the full. And here is where the excitement begins. For a linguist, at least.

In her illuminating article #InPraiseOfTheHashtag, Julia Turner explores the rhetorical potential of the hashtag suggesting that its flexible, playful form offers itself to literary, even poetic uses. I couldn’t agree more. While hashtags are seen as a threat to language by the pedant, they can be quite entertaining for the linguist. Its loose grammatical structure seems to be its inherent force and its appeal. This form, into which meaning can be squeezed and condensed, is new and original because it breaks the grammatical constrictions which typically or traditionally hold meaning together. And THAT’s the brilliance of it, that such literary gems can be crafted with no or very little grammar.

Interestingly, I read on PRNewser, a site which offers tips on how to produce effective hashtags for marketing puposes, that capitalisation in hashtags is advisable in order to avoid confusion. It’s hard to disagree by any traditional standards. However, and this is what makes the hashtag an innovative and revolutionary form in linguistic as well as literary terms, lack of capitalisation may sometime add layers of meaning and interestingly make a hashtag rather popular. A case in point is #nowthatchersdead which attracted global attention for having been misread. True, the hashtag was embarrassingly unclear. However, I cannot help but thinking about the implications this misreading has brought to light. Firstly, it has separated out a number of twitter communities: those who know about Thatcher and her death; Cher’s fans, who see (or type/search etc.) her name anywhere anytime; those who think the uncalled-for pun was fun and posted it on the social media; those who commented on it linguistically, and those who give up on humanity! So in hindsight, it looks like lack of capitalisation opened up to two different ways of reading a hahstag and to a number of readerships to whom either reading made sense, one way or another. For a linguist, this shows at one time the synthetic potential of a hashtag as a form—from a quote in Turner’s article the hashtag affords the possibility to suspend things in relation to one another in an extremely complex form—and that, grammar failing, meaning is dependent on the context, or being hashtags released in a global domain on a number of potential contexts. How fascinating!

It seems to me that while the hashtag can be seen as a novel type of text, it is also reminiscent of literary forms with which we are familiar. Turner quotes for example, the refrain, the parentheses, the epithet and so on. To me, in its wonderful power to call on communities of readers, the hashtag resembles the kenning, a much-compressed, two-word metaphor mostly used in Old Norse poetry, but present in Old English poems as well. These two-word compounds would show multi-layered and multi-faceted meanings, which called dynamically and vividly on communities who shared knowledge, traditions, values, the same culture. By condensing meaning/s in a compound, a phrase devoid of grammar rules, a kenning could be fun, catchy, poignant, cogent, memorable, impeccable, elegant, vibrant, current… and these traits, together with an ability to condense meaning, I recognise also in the hashtag, in the mini-text it becomes when at its most creative. While technology has brought the hashtag to the millions via Twitter, the hashtag seems now to be doing something that technology cannot do alone: it builds open communities.

*B. Zimmer, ‘Hashtag, you’re it’ Spectrum (IEEE, April 2013), p. 20

**An example of the categorising function of hashtags can be seen here

A world of languages

A world of languages

Last Friday, 22 March, I was in snowy Nottingham at Language World 2013. Organised by the Association for Language Learning this yearly conference is aimed at teachers of languages and offers an excellent opportunity for networking, sharing practice and attending talks.

Delegates came in the hundreds despite the bad weather and chilling cold to join in the friendly atmosphere and the excitement of the day. A great selection of talks and workshops showed the wide variety of approaches to teaching languages in schools at whatever level. Although the main focus of the day was teaching and learning languages in secondary education, a lot of interest came from primary teachers as well. The new agenda set by the government which aims to introduce study of languages in primary schools has certainly prompted primary teachers to become involved in professional development events and hunt for teaching resources avidly! The exhibition area was busy with delegates on the look-out for resources for use in the classroom and for inspiring students to the study of languages.*

Talks mostly centred on the use of technology in the language classroom and for engaging pupils with languages. Cultural awareness also had some prominence in the programme as a way to motivate pupils to the study of a subject that has been experiencing a certain level of decline in recent years. Surprisingly, grammar also made an appearance at the conference and a remarkable one at that! In an exciting lecture David Crystal explained how teaching a notoriously tedious subject can be fun and engaging. It really was a great day with a good selection of talks for a wide variety of audiences!

Participating in events like Language World always makes me think optimistically about the role of languages in the education system and in our society. It is conferences like this one which make a good case for bringing languages back among the top priorities of schools and universities curricula developers… ASAP!

*The Routes into Languages programme has developed a variety of resources for raising the profile of languages in education.