Welcome to the LinguaMania podcast. Produced by researchers from Oxford University-led Creative Multilingualism, the series explores some fascinating perspectives on languages and language learning, asking: Do we really need human translators? Why do we use metaphors and what do they teach us about other languages and cultures? How much of an unfamiliar language can we understand? Would creative language teaching make the subject more popular? Can languages help protect the natural environment? And so much more, so stop what you’re doing and start exploring the wonderful world of multilingualism!
Episode 7: The Multilingual Performance Project: Celebrating Languages Through Drama
Summary: The Multilingual Performance Project (MPP) showcases and celebrates the multilingual nature of schools and demonstrates how multilingualism can interact creatively with teaching in the classroom, promoting both taught languages and community languages. In this episode of LinguaMania we hear from the project’s director, Dr Daniel Tyler-McTighe, about how he has been supporting schools in England and Wales through workshops, performances and competitions. Plus teacher Ann Poole and drama practitioner Holly Bateman explain the impact the project has had on their work. We also hear from Eneida Garcia Villanueva about a related performance project she ran in a Scottish primary school.
Listen and download the podcast on Apple Podcasts or University of Oxford podcasts.
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Rajinder Dudrah: Welcome to the LinguaMania Podcast presented by the Creative Multilingualism team. We are a group of people who love languages. We think languages are an essential part of being human, they’re part of our identity and part of our culture. And we think they should be celebrated at every possible opportunity! So our podcasts shine a light on some fascinating aspects of languages and language learning which you might not have come across before.
I’m Professor Rajinder Dudrah from Birmingham City University. I’m also a researcher at Creative Multilingualism. We’re exploring the links between languages and creativity.
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Exciting Multilingual Performance Project (the MPP) showcases and celebrates the multilingual nature of schools. MPP demonstrates how multilingualism can interact creatively with teaching in the classroom, promoting both taught languages and the use of community languages. The main aims of the Multilingual Performance Project include building confidence amongst teachers conducting creative work in school, increasing awareness of the creative dimension of languages, and generating enthusiasm for language learning.
As you’ll hear in this podcast, the Project has reached all over England and Wales and participating schools have connected to their local theatres. These include: the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, the Prime Theatre in Swindon; the Hull Truck Theatre, the Hampstead Theatre in London, and the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. As well as supporting multilingual performance work in classrooms and school productions, the Multilingual Performance Project has also produced larger events and theatre productions. Let’s hear from the MPP’s director, Daniel Tyler-McTighe, as he talks about a couple of these projects and the MPP’s exciting national roadshow.
Multilingualism and Creativity in the Classroom
(02:14 – 05:10)
Daniel Tyler-McTighe: Hello, my name is Daniel Tyler-McTighe, and as Rajinder mentioned, I am the director of the Multilingual Performance Project. In early 2019, we worked with schools, colleges, a university and professional actors from across the West Midlands to create a professional production called Merely Players, which was based on performing Shakespeare in many different languages. We took those languages from the people who we met around the city and in those schools and matched them up to the countries of characters from Shakespeare’s play. So, for example, an Italian actor and student worked on Juliet being performed in Italian, rather than in English.
There were different ways that students engaged with the project. So, younger students wrote love letters between characters from As You Like It. They wrote those love letters in French, imagining them to be in the forest in France. And Spanish lover letters were written between characters that were in Love’s Labour Lost. Older students actually performed alongside the professional actors in the show and one of them came out of the production having never actually learned or used other languages, and she was inspired to learn Arabic as a result of working with a professional actor who performed Cleopatra in Egyptian Arabic.
So this is just one way that we were demonstrating how creative activities can build confidence, promote language learning, and develop the skills in everyone involved––students, staff, and people in the wider community. We’ve had similar projects, like the birds created by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire students with our project, which looked at lots of different birds communicating and talking in different ways to each other and it was an early-years project that toured primary schools in Birmingham again. There have been multilingual youth theatre projects – one in collaboration with the National Theatre of Korea and one with Hampstead Theatre in London – which is all about demonstrating how home and community languages can contribute really positively to the creative process, but also to sort of education in general. People learning things outside of the classroom and the traditionally taught MFL languages.
Something that’s been really popular throughout all of the MPP’s work is the idea of MFL roleplay competitions. We’ve supported Laura Siviter from Lordsworth Girls’ School in Birmingham, with her competition which runs annually with eight different schools in the region. And we’ve used those ideas to inspire other teachers across England and Wales and we’re helping to produce Swindon’s first-ever competition later this year. That’s part of our national roadshow, called LinguaMania. Events have already taken place in Birmingham, London, and Dublin and more will follow, so keep an eye on our website.
Teaching Multilingual Performance Outside the "Comfort Zone" (05:12 – 05:25)
Rajinder Dudrah: Next we hear from Ann Poole, who teaches German and a little Chinese in primary schools in Oxford. With the support of the Multilingual Performance Project, she has produced some wonderful multilingual events with her students.
(05:25 – 08:11)
Ann Poole: My first involvement with the Multilingual Performance Project was at the pilot project stage. I had no performance experience, but I recognised that drama has the potential to increase confidence in speaking and communicating – and those are really important factors in language learning, of course. So, I attended project workshops at the Oxford Playhouse and the Birmingham Rep[ertory] Theatre and they were hugely enjoyable.
Some of the activities were easily adaptable for my primary language classes and I guessed that if we, the teachers, enjoyed them so much then some of my pupils probably would too. Actually, some of the activities have become firm favourites in our classes. And it’s lovely when I hear the children saying “Oh, I love this game”.
My first attempt at producing a play was very small scale: an after school club, in just one term ,ending in a short performance to parents and carers. And then the following year, an opportunity arose to produce a school play on a larger scale, in a small theatre setting. And Daniel Tyler-McTighe had provided support and advice, and that proved invaluable from the start to finish, really. For example, he advised on the choice of play and the numbers of children to work with. And during the rehearsal phase he came into the school and gave the children feedback and expert tips to improve their performance. He supplied costumes and even produced background scenery for us. So the final performance was fabulous experience for all the children involved. And they were really buzzing for a long time afterwards. Another event that came about as a result of the project was a multilingual performance evening in school. And this time it was with children performing songs, dances, and poetry from their home languages and cultures. And the project director again gave me lots of encouragement and advice, and it turned out to be a wonderful celebration of languages and creativity.
So I’ve continued to use what I’ve learnt through the project and now share it with other teachers whenever I can. I’ve down show and tell sessions in my schools and at teach-meets with other local schools. And next month, I’m going to lead a workshop based on the project’s approaches, which is for primary school teachers from around the Thames valley at the Southern Primary Languages Show. Personally, I’ve really benefitted from being involved in the project. I stepped along way outside my comfort zone and certainly would never have done it without the support of the Multilingual Performance Project.
Multilingualism as a Hidden Talent in Performance and Education
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Rajinder Dudrah: We’re going to hear now from the theatre practitioner Holly Bateman. She’s delivered many of the MPP teachers workshops all over the country. She’s seen first-hand the impact the project’s ideas can have on language teachers.
(08:27 – 12:03)
Holly Bateman: Hello. My name is Holly Bateman and I am a practitioner on the Multilingual Performance Project. I’ve been working with the project since it started in 2018, in January. My main role has been to deliver workshops to teachers to help them train and deliver their modern foreign language teaching. We’ve been looking at drama to help them make their lessons more engaging and creative, and think about new ways of applying it. But the other thing we’ve been doing as well is to getting teachers from any subject to think about how they can embrace modern foreign languages in their schools, across the board, whether that is to do with in lessons, whether it’s in assemblies or performances in school. One of the things that I’ve been really interested in is the fact that I’ve worked with teachers across the key stages and levels and they’re really keen to embrace those home languages, no matter what kind of stage they’re at. So we’ve had people who have been working with primary school children, young primary, who are thinking about embracing EAL students in the classroom, and then we’ve got some teachers who are teaching GCSE and they’re enrolling their students who’ve got additional languages, second languages or other first home languages, in GCSEs of their home language, to get them an extra GCSE. Young people really need to be told how amazing they are to have additional languages, you know. It’s an absolutely fantastic skill that they’ve got that so many young people don’t even realise is an additional skill that would be beneficial to them in the future.
In Birmingham, we were doing one workshop where we had a group of I think it was around 20 young people. And all of them had a language that they spoke at home that they didn’t speak at school. And we knew this because they’d all said [this] to their teachers at some point. At the beginning of the workshop, when we said who knows languages, who knows something in another language, some of them said, “oh, German or French”, which was not the home language they were speaking at home. They were quite nervous to admit that actually they spoke a different language at home. Toward the end of the workshop, through doing all of our exercising and seeing that they could, you know win the games they were doing, they could beat the odds in the competition by using some of the games we’ve had, with their additional languages or first languages that they speak at home, they were so thrilled to have that skill.
In terms of how it has affected me and my practice, I’ve got to admit that it is something that I’ve thought of as a skill before. Something that I’ve never thought to use. I’m gonna start implementing the skills audits when I work with different pupils, saying “all right, what skills have we got”. Previously, I’d say, “do you have any circus skills, do you sing, do you play an instrument”. And now I’m gonna say, “do you speak an additional language, do you know some words that we can use and incorporate to make our show more diverse, to make our audience more included”.
I think that something else I really want to do is see these activities and games that we’ve run, not as games, but actually as stimuluses – something to inspire further work. I think we can definitely experiment with language. We don’t need to be trapped in thinking you have to be perfect at a language before you can use it. And there are so many ways that we can communicate with each other; the more tips, hints, and skills we can pass on to everything, so that multilingualism becomes something everyone wants to do and uses in their day to day world.
Incorporating Heritage Language in School and Community Performances
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Rajinder Dudrah: Finally, here’s Enedia Garcia Villanueva, to talk about a separate project that took place north of the border, in Scotland. She also created it with support from the Creative Multilingualism programme. The project experimented with using performance to celebrate the many home languages spoken by pupils across the UK.
(12:26 – 15:25)
Enedia Garcia Villanueva: So let me tell you a little bit about the multilingual performance, All the World is Our Stage: primary pupils never lost in translanguaging. We ran this pilot with Whinhill Primary school. One of our aims was to give heritage languages central stage while engaging in creative ways of language learning, to which end, we partnered with The Language Hub, a creative language learning social enterprise, and singer-actress Rebecca Cameron. We also wanted to bring translanguaging into mainstream education.
We understand translanguaging as the naturally occurring, fluid language practices of multilingual people, whose languages are not independently compartmentalised, but rather they’re intertwined, making up their entire linguistic repertoire. With this approach, we wanted for our multilingual pupils to use their heritage languages in their school context and we also wanted to learn the languages, of course.
Placing pupils at the centre of the learning journey, we embarked on a trip to create a multilingual performance. We first reflected on the interconnections between language and identity. We created teaching materials with two non-gendered multilingual characters from outer space, who invited/ a series of translanguaging activities. In these activities, these characters prompted pupils to answer a few questions using heritage languages. For some of these children, not having the pressure of their restrictive monolingual approaches and teaching practices they were used to, had a transformative effect. They felt safe and confidently shared aspects of their languages and cultures. The rest of the class enjoyed learning about all this and very interesting conversations about music, gastronomy, geography, folklore and customs, were initiated by their peers themselves. As one teacher described it, “pupils are now very language-centric and very supportive of any language project”.
This multilingual performance brought everyone closer together. Pupils were delighted to teach their languages to peers, teachers, and the research team. And parents and extended family from these communities, whose collaboration and input was crucial for the success of the project, felt proud and humbled to hear their languages on stage and spoken by their children’s friends. Acknowledging that it would not be feasible to integrate all these languages into the curriculum, we found a way to celebrate and showcase them in a multilingual performance, created for and by everyone involved. So our chief goal of raising awareness of multilingualism and given visibility these often hidden heritage languages that people speak at home, was certain achieved. We are absolutely thrilled.
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Rajinder Dudrah: Thanks for listening to our LinguaMania podcast. The series is produced by Creative Multilingualism, a research programme led by the University of Oxford and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Our aim is to make languages more visible, valued and vibrant!
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, have a listen to the rest of the series. And you can find out more about Creative Multilingualism at www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter @creativelangs and you’ll find all this information on our website.