Creative Multilingualism at TORCH Big Tent Live Events

Kristina Gedgaudaitė

Does learning languages make one more creative? Do different words offer us a window onto different worlds? What is the relationship between linguistic and biological diversity? How do metaphors facilitate our thinking? How can you keep your language skills going? On Thursday, 5 June 2020, these and many more questions were answered by Professors Katrin Kohl and Rajinder Dudrah, in conversation with Professor Philip Ross Bullock, as they shared their insightful reflections on multilingualism, language learning and creativity during TORCH Big Tent Live Event.

The conversation started with the discussion of the AHRC-funded project Creative Multilingualism (2016 and 2020), which is investigating rich connections between linguistic diversity and creativity across seven different research strands. The discussion started by focusing on the two core components of the project, namely ‘multilingualism’ and ‘creativity’. ‘Our country is not just multicultural, but also multilingual’, stressed Katrin Kohl. ‘Multilingualism is part of the human condition. We communicate differently with different people’, she continued. Rajinder Dudrah then offered us a glimpse of the creative side of the project, discussing examples such as adapting Russian theatre to hip hop in the context of the Birmingham-based project Slanguages.

Some reflections on language learning and education followed, pinpointing reasons why motivation for language learning in the UK has gone down in recent years as well as offering examples of the creative ways in which the project addressed this challenge, especially by using performance and drawing attention to community languages. ‘Encouraging learners to use languages, encouraging teachers to use creative techniques in order to build confidence’ is how Katrin Kohl outlined the vision of Creative Multilingualism for language education. She highlighted that the project seeks to enable people to see language as part of their identity, ‘part of something that they want to work with creatively, personally, bringing something personal to it. Reminding people of both their multilingual backgrounds and their creative potential can be quite empowering, everyone on the panel agreed. We are Children of the World, a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre which brought 500 pupils from across Oxford together in a multilingual performance, is one example of creative approaches to language learning. It proved to be inspirational for the children, their parents and the audience that gathered to listen to the concert, and it has since inspired other performances across the country. 

The panel discussion was followed by a lively Q&A from the audience, addressing topics as diverse as digital transformation, endangered and ancient languages, migration, language standardization and tips for learning languages.

photos of symposium participants

Interested to learn more about creativity and multilingualism? Read Creative Multilingualism: A Manifesto, written by the project team and available to read online or download for free.

Kristina Gedgaudaitė is a researcher at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages. Her recently completed DPhil research project, funded by Oxford-Aidan Jenkins Scholarship, focused on the memory of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) and the exchange of the Greek-Turkish populations in 1923.