Celebrating linguistic diversity through multilingual poetry

Jane Hiddleston

Earlier this year, Prof. Jane Hiddleston and Dr Laura Lonsdale ran three workshops for Year 10 pupils from two East London schools, Haggerston School in Hackney and St Paul’s Way Trust School in Tower Hamlets, where a very high proportion of students speak more than one language.

The aim of these workshops, which took place in both London and Oxford, was to engage and celebrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of these schools and their local communities, encouraging pupils to think positively and creatively about both the languages they speak at home and the languages they are learning at school. With over 20 languages in the room, from Bengali to Romanian, we had a good number to work with! The first session focused on linguistic diversity as a source of creativity, the second introduced students to poems and prose texts employing more than one language (including either French or Spanish), and the final session was devoted to the students’ own creative, multilingual writing.

We were very impressed by the way they rose to the occasion, not only displaying some excellent reading skills but writing haikus, cinquains, acrostics and more in several languages. We were privileged to work with two highly dedicated and talented teachers, James Johnson and Ciara Mulvenna, both Modern Languages graduates from the University of Oxford, and would like to thank them for the time they invested in this innovative project, which has been two years in the making.

Feedback from the teachers:

James Johnson (Haggerston School):

We were extremely fortunate to be able to take part in the Creative Multilingualism project with Jane and Laura. Our students not only got the chance to think about how their own linguistic backgrounds inform their study of French and Spanish, but they also got the sense that their experiences and backgrounds are valuable and valued as a source of creativity and energy that will only help them as they pursue their language studies to A Level and beyond. 

To see our students make genuinely insightful analysis about poetry in a mixture of other languages and then apply a range of techniques in their own work was a real treat, and broke down barriers between subject areas that certainly linger on in many students. It is certainly the type of work and activity that we do not normally make enough space for typically in school, but the engagement of students and the level of challenge was clear for all to see.

Ciara Mulvenna (St Paul's Way Trust School):

Taking part in the Creative Multilingualism project was an invaluable experience for our learners. The activities planned and delivered by Jane and Laura allowed students to think about their relationship with languages in ways they hadn't done so before, and has sowed the seed for a lot of valuable discussion around the links between language, culture and identity.

The project has given me and my department some real food for thought around how we might celebrate home languages. Indeed, we plan to use some of the activities we saw during the workshops as part of our introduction to MFL in Year 7, as a way to increase motivation.

What did the students think?

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 ... said it made them realise they could be creative with language in ways they had not thought of before


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 ... said it made them think differently about the languages they speak and their relationship with each other


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 ... said it made them consider choosing French or Spanish A Level


Here's a sample of some of the wonderful poems written by the students during the workshop:


Poem 2

Poem 3

Poem 4

Poem 5


Jane Hiddleston is Professor of Literatures in French at the University of Oxford and Laura Lonsdale is an Associate Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Oxford. They ran this workshop as part of Creative Multilingualism's 5th strand: World Literatures.

Where next?

Find out more about the Creative Multilingualism research programme

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