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Creative Multilingualism

Katrin Kohl
Rajinder Dudrah
Andrew Gosler
et al.

8. Inspiring Language Learners

Jane Hiddleston, Laura Lonsdale, Chiara Cappellaro, Martin Maiden et Daniel Tyler McTighe

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1Language learning in a child’s early life involves lots of language play and nonsense — while literacy teaching involves far too little, as David Crystal has highlighted: ‘Reading and writing do not have to be a prison-house. Release is possible. And maybe language play can provide the key’ (1998: 217). The teaching of languages in schools similarly tends to be far too constrained, with syllabuses allowing little time for language play, let alone creative experimentation with language diversity. A focus on ‘useful’ language required for practical transactions and communicating information; ‘relevant’ topics designed to turn young people into worthy adults; and excessively difficult exams that undermine learners’ confidence in their linguistic abilities — these factors are likely to have contributed to the steadily diminishing take-up of languages in schools in the United Kingdom, despite the best efforts of many excellent and committed teachers to make languages appealing. In addition, it’s difficult to motivate students when there is a general tendency to assume that monolingualism is the norm and ‘global English’ is all that’s needed for international and intercultural communication.

2Creative Multilingualism puts linguistic creativity at the heart of languages and language learning, and builds on the fact that we are all innately multilingual. Languages come from deep inside us and are intimately bound up with our creative potential and its expression. From before we are even born, our languages help to shape who we are, allow us to develop rich and meaningful relationships, and give us infinite possibilities for expressing ourselves creatively. We learn to switch effortlessly between different registers, from grunting to poetic utterances. We acquire the ability to communicate appropriately and effectively in different ways with our family members, best friend and pussycat. In our day-to-day interactions, we may use different accents, one for home and one for school or work; different dialects, depending on the region we come from and where we find ourselves; and for some of us, our cultural environment prompts us to develop that potential into a command of two or more different languages.

3Moreover, our knowledge and use of our native language or languages changes in the course of our lives. We are continually expanding our repertoire within the language or languages we know, and potentially learning new languages right through to old age. Research in cognitive neuroscience is increasingly coming up with evidence to suggest that learning languages, and speaking more than one language, is good for the brain, much as exercise is good for the body — this suggests that our brains are designed to be multilingual. Bilingualism has been shown to delay the onset of dementia by some four to five years when compared to monolingualism since it involves enhanced cognitive stimulation. Indeed, a research group based in London and Edinburgh has come up with the concept of a ‘Healthy Linguistic Diet’ (Mehmedbegovic-Smith and Bak 2020), demonstrating that learning of languages and their regular use improve the health of our brain. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that multilingualism is built into the human DNA.

4Looking into the development of languages over time also makes clear that diversification has been busily at work throughout the history of mankind. Natural languages are not generally invented from scratch — they have evolved from other languages as peoples have migrated across territories, seas and continents, a process that is continuing as people from different parts of the world converge on cities, bringing their languages with them while also connecting with new languages. While such processes generate an infinite multitude of dialects and regional variations, joint derivations also leave a multitude of traces in the related languages in the form of ‘cognates’, for example English ‘brother’ and German ‘Bruder’ (see Chapter 3 in this volume for many ways in which this principle can help language learning). Language historians often define language relationships by presenting them in the form of a ‘family tree’ such as that depicting the relationships between Indo-European languages in Chapter 3 or the more schematic representation given here in Figure 1.

Fig. 1 Family tree diagram depicting relationships between Indo-European languages — assuming a common ancestor that remains elusive (2020).

Reproduced by kind permission of Chiara Cappellaro.

5In learning languages, we can also benefit from the many episodes of historical and current contact between languages, such as the intensive contact with Norman French that became so important for the development of modern English, and the extensive influence of English on other languages in the current world. We can draw on the language or languages we know to explore similarities and differences and build bridges to the new one (see, for example, the EuroCom framework: Hufeisen and Marx 2014; McCann et al. 2003). We can also experiment with translation to compare how facts, ideas, emotions and stories are expressed in different languages. While ‘immersion’ in a new language helps to internalize it, working across languages enhances our understanding of the interplay between the many facets of linguistic and cultural similarity and difference.

6In the course of investigating the interaction between language diversity and creativity, Creative Multilingualism has been considering many aspects of language learning, involving teachers and learners. An empirical research project investigated how pupils studying Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) respond to different types of task, focusing on more functional ones and more creative ones (see Graham et al. 2020 and Chapter 7 in this volume on ‘Getting Creative in the Languages Classroom’ for further insights). A set of workshops with poets writing in languages spoken by students of English as an Additional Language in an Oxford school enabled English as an additional language (EAL) students to engage in creative writing and translation involving their native language (see Reynolds et al. 2020 on ‘Prismatic Translation’ and the final part of Chapter 6 in this volume). The present chapter is devoted to three further projects conducted in the course of our research on Creative Multilingualism:

  • In the section ‘Celebrating the Diversity of Languages through Multilingual Poetry’, Jane Hiddleston and Laura Lonsdale present multilingual creative writing workshops in which they took their research on ‘Creativity and World Literatures’ (see the final section of Chapter 5 in this volume) into schools.

  • In the section ‘Learning from Language Connections’, Chiara Cappellaro and Martin Maiden report on the response to workshops they ran in schools that built on the research into ‘Creating Intelligibility across Languages and Communites’ reported in Chapter 3 in this volume.

  • The final section of the chapter is devoted to the ‘Multilingual Performance Project’ (MPP) directed by Daniel Tyler-McTighe, which is connected to the research into ‘Languages in the Creative Economy’ presented in Chapter 4 in this volume. The MPP is designed to encourage teachers to exploit the enormous potential of drama for language teaching. Workshops and resources equip them with the skills to try out drama activities in the languages classroom, as reported here by some participants.

7All three projects discussed in this chapter are designed to demonstrate how insights gained in the course of Creative Multilingualism research can be put into practice, enabling teachers and learners to experiment with multilingual creativity and experience its benefits for language learning.

Celebrating the Diversity of Languages through Multilingual Poetry

Jane Hiddleston and Laura Lonsdale

8We wanted to take our research on ‘Multilingualism and Creativity in World Literature’ (see Ouyang et al. 2020 and the final part of Chapter 5 in this volume) into schools in order to give teachers and students the opportunity to try out new approaches to language learning that involve a rich diversity of languages. We ran workshops for Year 10 pupils taking French or Spanish GCSE in East and West London schools, where a high proportion of students speak more than one language.

9The workshops took place in both London and Oxford, and their objective was to engage and celebrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of these schools and their local communities, encouraging students to think positively and creatively about both the languages they speak at home and the languages they are learning at school. With a multitude of languages ranging from Bengali to Romanian, we had plenty to work with! Sessions focused on linguistic diversity as a source of creativity. They introduced students to poems and prose texts employing more than one language (including either French or Spanish), and gave them the opportunity to try out their own creative, multilingual writing.

10An introductory session consisted of a broad and wide-ranging celebration of multilingualism and the many languages spoken by students in the room. We had some lively discussions of the singular and dynamic ways in which they use their languages, while also reading together and discussing some of the poems from the project Brave New Voices by our partner organization PEN that specifically reflect on ‘my language’.

11A highlight was the work we did with the Portuguese poem ‘Eu Falo’ and its English translation ‘I speak’, which students were able to translate again into French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Swedish, Kosovan, Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Thai, Burmese and Japanese. They spoke in lively and thoughtful ways about the challenges of the exercise and the phrases that seemed to resist translation. We were impressed by the students’ energetic engagement with the activities we set, by their extraordinary linguistic competence, and the thoughtfulness with which they were able to analyse their language usage.

12But it was in the second and third sessions that their creativity really came to light. During the second session, we read translingual poems using French and Spanish, and found the students could cope admirably with challenging poetic material. They had a lot of subtle and intelligent ideas about intercultural creativity and its social and ethical implications. In the final session, they were introduced to various poetic forms before working to produce their own multilingual creations. Students were bold in writing in a range of languages, many using French and Spanish, but we also had whole poems in Urdu and Swedish, and a beautiful poem about friendship alternating between lines in English, Italian and Spanish.

13The workshops revealed to us the extraordinary linguistic talent alive in these London schools, a talent students seemed not to recognize in themselves, and which the curriculum at the moment does not valorize. They showed us how committed the students are to their languages but also to learning new languages — they really demonstrated their passion for discovery, for communication, for learning about new ways of seeing the world. Here is an acrostic poem created by a student in Year 12 at Haggerston School in Hackney in 2017:

14Le Monde est à nous

Le role de
La race, de la rEligion

La laicité est-elle la Meilleure chose
Mais qu’en est-il des lOis en France?
Par exemple, la loi coNtre le port du
voile intégral
Répète, que le monDe est à nous
Dans une mEsure, the world is

Le cœur tient des rÊves, l’esprit forme
des plans
Malgré l’abSence de moyens de réalisation
Peut-êTre the world is theirs, not yours

L’argent, les droits, les gens
la puissAnce, la possession.
Un système dans lequel

The world is miNe, and oui
the world is yOurs

The world is for toUt le monde, for personne
La question:
le monde est-il à nouS?
Karishma Kaur

15The poems created by the students gave us insight into their enormously diverse and dynamic communities, conveying their respect for one another’s differences and willingness to listen and learn.

Feedback from the Participants

16Of those who responded…

17And here are some of their comments:

  • ‘I had never heard of multilingualism!’

  • ‘The event has made me more creative, I used different languages and learned some as well’

  • ‘I understand better the importance of languages and that we can have fun with them’

  • ‘Mixing languages makes things sound interesting and fun’

  • ‘Poems and mixing languages can help show greater meaning’

  • ‘This event has brought a lot of people together and made us think about sensitive topics like racism, etc.’

Feedback from Teachers

18James Johnson (Haggerston School, Hackney):

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. Normally we don’t make enough space for this type of work and activity. The engagement of students and the level of challenge was clear for all to see.

19Ciara Mulvenna (St Paul’s Way Trust School, Tower Hamlets):

The activities allowed students to think about their relationship with languages in ways they hadn’t done 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 Modern Foreign Languages in Year 7, as a way to increase motivation.

20As organizers of the workshops, we were privileged to work with highly dedicated and talented teachers. We loved the way the students rose to the occasion, not only displaying some excellent reading skills but writing haikus, cinquains, acrostics and more in several languages. We are convinced that more work needs to be done both to remind school children of their fantastic assets and abilities, and to show them the extent of what they can do both with the languages they speak at home and with those they learn in the classroom.

Learning from Language Connections

Chiara Cappellaro and Martin Maiden

21Our research in the Creative Multilingualism strand on ‘Creating Intelligibility across Languages and Communities’ (see Maiden et al. 2020 and Chapter 3 in this volume) focuses on the nature of comprehension and incomprehension of different, but related languages (e.g. Spanish and Italian, or German and Dutch). Our findings have bearing on how we learn languages — and on how we can make learning both easier and more interesting. We therefore decided to visit a school in Oxford, where we spoke to a large audience of Year 9 students about the empowering fact that foreign languages are not as ‘foreign’ as we think.

22In particular, our talk was aimed at increasing awareness of the following issues:

  1. Multilingualism is not unusual. It is what most speakers experience in their life.

  2. Learning a new language is a bit like climbing a mountain. Getting to the top (being able to express oneself in a given community as a native speaker of the language would do) is what we should all aim for, but this is not always possible. What is always possible, however, is to get some way up the ‘mountain’ using one’s creativity and deductive powers to learn to identify and exploit similarities between languages.

  3. Similarities among languages can be of (at least) two types: familiar/genetic and contact-induced. We gave some examples of this as follows:

    1. Showing similarities between words referring to body parts in ‘sister’ Germanic and Romance languages.

    2. Highlighting similarities in everyday words like ‘chocolate’, ‘tomato’ and ‘bus stop’, which are due to borrowing in languages that are very different from one another, like Japanese and English.

  1. Sometimes ‘tricks’ can be used to find correspondences between languages and we explained how these tricks reflect sound changes that can be traced back in time. For example, if we consider how German ‘z’ (pronounced [ts]) often corresponds to English ‘t’, it is not difficult to guess that the German words zwei and zehn (numbers) correspond to English two and ten.

23In a post-talk Q & A session, one student asked a sensible but unexpected question: where can I find information on tricks, such as how the German <z> often corresponds to the English <t>? We hesitated in answering. The literature on sound change is very rich, but there is, to our knowledge, no immediate resource for young learners that we could recommend.

24Feedback after the event showed that the pupils were most struck by how similar languages are, and how they ‘steal’ from one another — facts they had not known before attending the session.

25We were delighted to see such positive feedback and hope the presentation inspired and encouraged them to start or continue learning a language.

Multilingual Performance Project

Daniel Tyler-McTighe

26The Multilingual Performance Project (MPP) draws on research Creative Multilingualism has been conducting on ‘Languages in the Creative Economy’ (see Dudrah et al. 2020 and Chapter 4 in this volume), working with members of the performing arts scene in Birmingham. It builds on the fact that languages have an important performative dimension. Just watch how politicians use gesture to get their message across. Theatrical acting takes this further, involving the whole body. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, Racine or Calderón — for all of us, acting is in our blood, as we can see when we imitate someone else’s speech, or take on a particular persona in public that’s rather different from the way we are at home.

27As the MPP Director, I was initially based at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre but worked with schools across England and Wales, connecting them with local theatres — these included Prime Theatre in Swindon, Hull Truck Theatre, Hampstead Theatre and Wales Millennium Centre. They supported these multilingual performances and workshops with staff expertise, performance spaces and/or props. I ran workshops for teachers while also creating resources for use in the classroom.

28The project involved many different forms, from short sketches, play readings and news broadcasts through to full theatre productions. The aim was to give learners opportunities to discover their ‘Multilingual Me’ and experience language learning as fun and exciting. We wanted students to explore languages in a setting which allowed them to do the best they could with simple words, and where they could make up for something they were unable to say in other ways, for example by using mime. This can be particularly helpful for building up confidence in speaking skills, which are otherwise hard to practise since we all get embarrassed when we forget vital words, realize we’re making basic grammatical mistakes, and can’t even begin to feel fluent. In a fun acting game, such issues become irrelevant if they are not critical to winning.

29An important dimension of the MPP was to showcase and celebrate the multilingual nature of schools and demonstrate how students’ home languages can interact productively with language teaching in the classroom. We also discovered the natural connection between sign language and gesture, which is such a fundamental part of performance. Moreover, performance turned out to have tremendous potential for engaging students with learning disabilities.

30For teachers not used to acting or staging plays, involving performance in their teaching can seem intimidating. A key aim of MPP was therefore to encourage teachers to appreciate that drama work is doable even if you are a novice, and rewarding as a means of engaging even lower-attaining students and building a sense of common endeavour. We encouraged language teachers to join forces with teachers in their school’s Drama or English department, and we ran a number of workshops to give teachers hands-on experience (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Multilingual Performance Project workshop, 2019.

Photograph by Ben Gregory-Ring (2019).

31A project like this needs to be highly flexible so that each performance and the participants involved can be geared to the teacher’s experience and interests, the age and interests of the students, and the school’s resources and needs. In order to avoid putting pressure on teachers, we ensured that commitment to the MPP could be low, and performances small-scale.

32Here are some accounts about MPP projects. Holly Bateman, a theatre practitioner from the Birmingham REP, directed an interactive performance project with actors, teachers and students entitled The Birds. Teacher Sarah Williams tried out a number of performance games she learned at MPP workshops, and Ann Poole gives a glimpse of the stress and satisfaction of creating a performance with primary school children.

Dramatic Ways of Realizing that Multilingualism Can Be Beneficial

Holly Bateman, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire / Birmingham Repertory Theatre

33Did you know that corvids, the crow family, are native to every single continent, and found everywhere except the polar ice caps? Consider how many languages they must encounter throughout the world, how many different names they must have! Now imagine five nests, all belonging to different species of birds, all with their own unique language skill set, and primary school children being encouraged to meet them, join them, learn their language and teach the birds elements of their own home language.

34This was our starting point when developing this project. We wanted children to be encouraged to embrace many different forms of communication, and see that a wealth of languages can boost their creativity and ability to communicate. Each nest has a puzzle to solve, be it through sign language, music notation with a non-verbal Robin, multiple spoken languages or using an emoji dictionary. If the children can help the Birds realize that their multilingualism can be beneficial, maybe the bird flu outbreak can be averted!

35The Birds was created by Applied Theatre students at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in association with the Multilingual Performance Project. The interactive performance project toured Birmingham schools in November 2018, with the final performance taking place at the Birmingham REP.

36The initial stimulus for the piece came from a brief introduction to some of the research being undertaken by the Creative Multilingualism research strand ‘Creating a Meaningful World: Nature in Name, Metaphor and Myth’ (see Gosler et al. 2020 and Chapter 2 in this volume). In one of their projects, they’re looking into the different names and myths associated with the same bird as it migrates across countries and cultures. This gave our creative team the initial spark to look at birds speaking different languages and facing the challenge of needing to communicate to build bridges.

37The Birds was a great success, and both actors and the participating schools commented on how much they enjoyed the project.

38Katie Hoare (actor):

After weeks of rehearsals and a long intensive week of polishing scenes, organizing props, gathering costumes and face paint, we are all extremely proud to say we have a full-blown show. As it is drawing to a close, it’s a perfect time to start reflecting on what has been learned during the process, especially thinking about how the concept of language is being used.
Throughout the performance, a wide range of different communication skills are being used. However, after polishing the scenes, I noticed a lot can be said physically with body language. Then questions started popping up — I am portraying a crow, how do crows move? How can crow characters show emotion through physicality? After the exploration of crows, I figured they are quite crooked. So, when exploring emotions through physicality we created this crooked body language. For example, when we laugh, our shoulders shake up and down, in a tense manner.
Personally, I have learned an incredible amount of useful information throughout the entire process, especially how language is vital in everyday life. Not only have I learned aspects of sign language and how you can teach through song, I have also learned skills that I can take on and use in my own practice. From performing to devising the show, I have been enlightened on this whole new adventure by language and how it can be used as a tool. Not only can our show The Birds encourage children to learn different ways of communication, and learn from their fellow peers, I believe there are ways it could be adapted for adults. There are lessons to be learned from the performance about how important it is to understand the concept of multilingualism and the different ways of communicating and using languages.

39Sophie Fleming (teacher at Colmore Infant and Nursery School):

Our children are so used to coming into the hall and sitting in lines for assembly or to watch a show, so it was a really different experience for them to walk in and become part of the performance straightaway. They came away from the performance full of joy; they had experienced something new, they loved the ‘story’, it was interactive and fun, and they also understood the overall message. When we got back to the classroom I could hear things like ‘this is the best day ever!’ and one girl said ‘If I could give it a number for how much I liked it out of 10, I would give it 10!’ I thought the actors were brilliant with the children, and they spotted children who were a little nervous or needed some support.

Using Drama Activities in Modern Foreign Language Lessons with Secondary School Pupils

Sarah Williams, Greenford High School, Ealing

40Two eager, intrepid Modern Foreign Language teachers, Maddie Fisher and I, had the pleasure of attending a workshop on using the Multilingual Performance Project’s exercises and skills in language teaching. Both of us have some drama background and we were very open to bringing drama skills into our teaching of French, German and Spanish. The MPP practitioner led us through various ‘games’ focused on a ‘whole body’ approach to teaching languages that we both warmed to. Much laughter resulted and several participants quickly suggested how they might use or adapt these ideas back in the classroom.

41The following week, I tried out two games with my Year 10 German class and Year 9 French class, both lower-attaining groups. I used the games of Sevens (see below), first using numbers, as it was introduced, and then playing the same game using a phrase I wanted the class to really get the hang of. In my experience, German students perennially struggle to get the perfect tense right, so we played the game using the sentence ‘Letzte Woche bin ich nach Stuttgart gefahren’, a sentence of exactly seven words. In French we played ‘je ne m’entends pas bien avec mon père’. In both cases, this appealed to classes which were often restless and struggled to maintain focus on a task for long. They liked the game and were keen to stay ‘in’. But what to do with those who are ‘out’? More on this later.

42As Year 10 had just learned parts of the body, I also used the Illnesses and Injuries game (see below), giving each student a ‘breakage’ (such as ‘Ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen’) that they had to embody, repeat and exchange with their peers. This also drilled the perfect tense structure again. To my delight and astonishment, this produced lots of spontaneous language, such as ‘Oh, das ist schlecht’, ‘Ich kann nicht sehen’, ‘Ich kann nicht Fußball spielen’, ‘Das tut mir leid’, etc.

43We shared our learning with colleagues later that month, and chose to teach them the same two games. We deliberately put everyone slightly out of their comfort zone by trying the games in the languages they are least familiar with, to emulate the students’ experience. Again, much laughter ensued, which I think is a great tool, as laughter relaxes us all — if learning is fun, it is likely to be more effective.

44All colleagues were tasked with trying one of the games in their teaching in the following week. Follow-up reports were largely positive. One colleague shared a useful solution for managing those who are ‘out’: she keeps them in the game, but they gain a ‘point’, with the idea being to gain none, so with more points, you ‘lose’. Notably colleagues said that it had animated and engaged their classes, the ‘physical’ aspect of the work had had a positive effect on engagement, and students wanted to learn, though because they get excited, behaviour can be harder to manage.

45Like so many new ideas, one tries many, and it’s probably down to the individual character or preferences of the teacher which ones actually ‘stick’. Personally, I plan to keep using Sevens and variations on the Illnesses and Injuries game throughout the year, to see whether this might have a long-term effect on students’ confidence in speaking and their ability to speak spontaneously.

How I Produced My First Ever (Multilingual) School Play

Ann Poole, SS Philip and James’ CE Primary School, Oxford

46In 2016, I took part in the Pilot project for the Multilingual Performance Project (MPP). I attended a workshop for teachers focusing on drama games and then tried the ideas with my primary school classes and ran an after-school drama/MFL club. Children responded well to the activities, and I enjoyed the ways in which the activities improved my teaching. In March 2018, I attended the MPP launch led by MPP Director Daniel Tyler-McTighe at the Birmingham REP and took away more ideas and the confidence to try them out.

47In mid-March, an opportunity arose in school to produce a play to be shown to parents at The North Wall theatre in Oxford at the end of May. I impulsively volunteered myself — and now I had to come up with a plan! Here’s how we went from idea to production. Remembering Daniel’s offer of assistance, and being unsure of where to start, I emailed him for advice. I had previously led only a handful of performances in assemblies and wondered whether to adapt one of those into a longer piece. After discussing performing rights with Daniel, I came to the conclusion that an ‘off-the-peg’ play would be easiest to work with.

48A quick search led me to a play which incorporated both songs and limited use of several languages. It was called ‘The Great Globetrotting Game’ (Easy Peasy Plays) and with its message about global unity it seemed to fit my needs perfectly. I also had support from a colleague who agreed to work with me, and had some experience of producing plays at university. Both of us were relative novices but keen to give it a go. By the end of March, I had found a play and a co-producer, though no idea of who would be our performers as yet! In fact, this would not be decided until late April once children signed up for the different activities on offer.

49In April, we set a date for Daniel to visit us during rehearsals. He advised me on many aspects of production that I hadn’t even considered, including more games, stage geography and how to run sessions. Daniel offered to liaise with the theatre to design our stage projections using QLab (an audio playback software designed for theatre and live entertainment), and to help supply us with costumes, both from his own store and from Birmingham REP’s. Needless to say, I felt much more confident that I could actually produce something worth watching!

50Children who had signed up for the play were given a script and auditions took place. Most of the roles were easy to allocate — children just seemed to fit the characters in the play. We arranged for song rehearsals to take place during one lunchtime per week — not ideal, but the songs were catchy and available on the website in karaoke form.

51In mid-May, Daniel paid a visit to school with a suitcase full of costumes and props, a Powerpoint showing the background projections he had prepared, and more top tips.

52Soon afterwards, rehearsals could finally begin! We had our group of performers who had (mostly) learnt their lines as requested and could sing along to the songs. We followed advice from Daniel on how to energize or calm things down with games and activities. We soon realized what a lot of work still needed to be done and how quickly time goes when you’re having fun…

53Rehearsals went pretty well — children enjoyed all the games alongside practising their parts and we discovered hidden talents amongst our group. We were able to make use of the linguistic talents of our pupils and learning a few phrases in Japanese, French and Spanish was not a problem for them. Having a pupil who knew how to perform the Sand Dance (a graceful one, not the comedy version) was really special! At the same time, panic started to set in when we realized how many props and costumes we still needed to make: Japanese cherry blossom, Egyptian robes and collars, yeti outfits, to name but a few.

54On the day before the performance, Daniel arrived to watch rehearsals. Daniel was very impressed with what he saw, and gave children advice on making everything bigger for a theatre audience. He taught the children a ‘theatre bow’ to take applause from the audience. Children were able to ask Daniel for advice on voice projection and calming their nerves — useful for us teachers too!

55The Big Day finally arrived. Not everything was finished and perfect but we all felt excited. We had a final dress rehearsal with projections and lighting, and we played a few games and activities to calm the nerves before the audience arrived for the afternoon performance… The afternoon performance went almost to plan (one song went a bit awry and children rushed their lines somewhat) but the audience were very kind and applauded them heartily as they took their bows. The evening performance was as good as we could have wished — nerves had gone and the children remembered advice from Daniel about using their bodies as well as their voices. It was super for them to hear the audience laugh, clap and sing along at the appropriate times. As children were reunited with their parents it was clear from their comments that they were very impressed by the performance. Colleagues who had attended the show were equally enthusiastic — some had tears in their eyes during one particular solo song and the finale about saying ‘hello’ around the world.

56The post-show reunion with the cast was delayed because of half-term holidays but eventually we were able to award certificates and get some feedback from the children. Their comments were overwhelmingly positive: ‘I loved it all […] thank you for boosting my confidence because I was very scared’; ‘I really liked the atmosphere’; ‘I really liked that we got loads of help’; ‘I learnt […] that you have to really live the character to be convincing’; ‘The warm-up games were fun […] everything was fun!’; ‘I enjoyed going behind the scenes at the North Wall Theatre and Dr Dan visiting us.’

57All of the comments were feelings shared by my co-producer and myself with perhaps the most accurate being ‘It was sooo fun!’; ‘I learnt that it’s good to do what you are not good at’; and ‘It was an amazing experience for all of us!’

58Thank you very much Daniel and the MPP Project! Merci! Gracias! Arigato!

Energizing the Learners: Resources for Teachers

59The MPP is not just for teachers who were able to participate in our workshops. Below, we have outlined some great activities that can be implemented in the classroom. You might want to join up with another teacher or even a drama teacher to try them out — or just take the plunge with the help of your students! See ‘Find Out More’ below for further resources.

Buzzy Bees (aka Busy Bees)
This is a great way to energize the room, as well as being a really interesting way to test students’ vocabulary and quick thinking! Played in another language, it’s a brilliant vocabulary test for students. You need a bit of space for this one, but a classroom with space between desks can do.
The game leader stands at the head of the room and shouts ‘Buzzy Bees BUZZ! ’ Students begin to ‘buzz’ around the room. The game leader (GL) then calls ‘Buzzy Bees make something beginning with… ’ and chooses a letter of the alphabet; the GL begins counting down from 5. Each student must then freeze in a statue of something beginning with that letter. (For example, the letter ‘L’ might yield statues of lions, lemons, legs, leaves, luscious lips, ladders…).
The GL then proceeds to ask each student what they are representing. Any student who has the same as someone else is out; likewise, any student who hasn’t managed to think of something is out. The game continues, with fewer and fewer people in each round, until a winner (or winners) are declared. Extra praise may be given for any exemplary statues created.

Sevens is an exciting warm-up game which can help bring energy and focus into the room. It’s very simple; participants only need to be able to count to 7 in the chosen language. It can also be adapted for more advanced groups if needed.
Get your group to stand in a circle and count, one at a time, to 7 and continue round the circle, starting again from 1 every time you’ve reached 7. The direction of the count is indicated by a handslap to the shoulder, so you pass it round the circle.
Once everyone’s confident with that, you can start adding in the other rules.
The first one is that you can change direction by changing the direction of the handslap, i.e. you slap the other shoulder.
Next, number 7 has to take their hand over their head, i.e. the hand movement changes. And you can change direction with number 7 too.
Once everyone’s got those rules, you can start to get people out. If they hesitate, if they get it wrong, if they haven’t got enough energy…

Illnesses and Injuries
This drama activity can be used in many different ways and at lots of different levels and abilities. It’s always popular as people seem to love sharing stories of their illnesses and injuries. From basic vocabulary about body parts and visits to the doctor, to complicated sentence structure and the use of past/present tense, all skill levels can take part in this activity.
Each person first has to think of an illness or injury they have suffered (and are willing to share with the class!) and the story that surrounds it (e.g. ‘When I was on holiday with my Dad I fell off my bike and broke my collar bone.’) Participants then show, physically, how they would look with that illness or injury (i.e. holding collar bone and grimacing). The game leader scans the room, and when everyone has a clear statue they can begin.
Each person must walk (or limp!) around the room with their illness/ injury. When they meet another person they must swap stories, and then absorb the other person’s injury/illness with their own. (Broken collar bone meets someone with food poisoning from a wedding. They swap stories and walk away both with a broken collar bone AND food poisoning.)
Depending on group size/ability, set a limit on how many interactions each person should have. When they reach the limit (i.e. two interactions/ four injuries) they should again freeze, showing the GL what they now look like. Once everyone is frozen, the GL can choose particularly interesting looking statues to share their stories. (e.g. ‘I was on holiday with my Dad and I fell off my bike and broke my collarbone, and the next day I went to a wedding and got food poisoning. Then I decided to play football to make myself feel better and broke my ankle. I thought making a sandwich would be the easiest thing to settle my stomach and I cut my finger… ’)
(Adapted from Chris Johnston’s game ‘Ailments’ (2010: 15))


Works Cited

Creative Multilingualism. 2020.

Creative Multilingualism (MPP). 2018a. ‘MFL teaching activity: Buzzy Bees’, 2: 18, posted online by Creative Multilingualism, YouTube, 18 September 2018,

Creative Multilingualism (MPP). 2018b. ‘MFL teaching activity: Illnesses & Injuries’, 2: 55, posted online by Creative Multilingualism, YouTube, 18 September 2018,

Creative Multilingualism (MPP). 2018c. ‘MFL teaching activity: Sevens’, 1: 39, posted online by Creative Multilingualism, YouTube, 18 September 2018,

Creative Multilingualism (MPP). 2020b. ‘Multilingual Performance Project (MPP)’,

Crystal, David. 1998. Language Play (London: Penguin).

Dudrah, Rajinder, Philip Bullock, Julie Curtis and Noah Birksted-Breen. 2020. ‘Languages in the Creative Economy’, Research Strand 4 of Creative Multilingualism,

English PEN. 2013. Brave New Voices — Learning Resources and Animations,

Gosler, Andrew, Karen Park and Felice S. Wyndham. 2020. ‘Creating a Meaningful World: Nature in Name, Metaphor and Myth’, Research Strand 2 of Creative Multilingualism,

Graham, Suzanne, Linda Fisher, Julia Hofweber and Heike Krüsemann. 2020. ‘Linguistic Creativity in Language Learning’, Research Strand 7 of Creative Multilingualism,

Hufeisen, Britta, and Nicole Marx (eds). 2014. EuroComGerm — Die sieben Siebe: Germanische Sprachen lesen lernen, 2nd edn (Aachen: Shaker Verlag).

Johnston, Chris. 2010. Drama Games for Those Who Like to Say No (London: Nick Hern Books).

Maiden, Martin, Aditi Lahiri and Chiara Cappellaro. 2020. ‘Creating Intelligibility across Languages and Communities’, Research Strand 3 of Creative Multilingualism,

McCann, William J., Horst G. Klein et al. 2003. EuroComRom — The Seven Sieves: How to Read All the Romance Languages Right Away, 2nd edn (Aachen: Shaker).

Mehmedbegovic-Smith, Dina, and Thomas H. Bak. 2020. Healthy Linguistic Diet,

Ouyang, Wen-chin, Jane Hiddleston, Laura Lonsdale and Nora Parr. 2020. ‘Creativity and World Literatures: Languages in Dialogue’, Research Strand 5 of Creative Multilingualism,

Reynolds, Matthew, Sowon S. Park, Giovanni Pietro Vitali and Eleni Philippou. 2020. ‘Creating New Meanings: Prismatic Translation’, Research Strand 6 of Creative Multilingualism,

Find Out More

Creative Multilingualism. 2020c. ‘Resources’,
This collection of resources offers a wide range of creative activities for the classroom, including how to stage a multilingual concert, how to teach the creation of short films in any language, and suggestions for enabling students to experience the joys of translation.

Creative Multilingualism (MPP). 2020a. ‘Multilingual Drama Teaching Activities’,
Short videos explain and demonstrate a variety of games including (and in addition to) ‘Buzzy Bees’, ‘Sevens’ and ‘Illnesses and Injuries’, and provide ideas for adapting them for different purposes.

Creative Multilingualism (MPP). 2020b. ‘Multilingual Performance Project’,
This web page gives an outline of the Multilingual Performance Project and provides links to resources for schools including the MPP Starter Pack for teachers.

Farmer, David. 2019. ‘Drama Resource: Books on Drama for Language Teaching and Learning’, Drama Resource,
A webpage reviewing resources for using drama in the classroom.


Permission to include their contribution was kindly granted by the following:

Holly Bateman for her contribution.

Chiara Cappellaro for the ‘Family tree diagram’ (2020) (Fig. 1).

Sophie Fleming (Colmore Infant and Nursery School) for her comment on performing The Birds.

Katie Hoare for her comment on performing The Birds.

James Johnson (Haggerston School, Hackney) for his poetry workshop feedback.

Karishma Kaur for the poem ‘Le Monde est à nous’ (2017).

Ciara Mulvenna (St Paul’s Way Trust School, Tower Hamlets) for her poetry workshop feedback.

Ann Poole (SS Philip and James’ CE Primary School, Oxford) for her contribution.

Sarah Williams (Greenford High School, Ealing) for her contribution.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1 Family tree diagram depicting relationships between Indo-European languages — assuming a common ancestor that remains elusive (2020).
Crédits Reproduced by kind permission of Chiara Cappellaro.
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Légende Fig. 2 Multilingual Performance Project workshop, 2019.
Crédits Photograph by Ben Gregory-Ring (2019).
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Is Professor of Literatures in French at the University of Oxford, and Official Fellow in French at Exeter College, Oxford. She has published widely on francophone literature and postcolonial theory, including most recently Decolonising the Intellectual: Politics, Culture, and Humanism at the End of the French Empire (2014), and Writing After Postcolonialism: Francophone North African Literature in Transition (2017). She is currently working with Wen-chin Ouyang on three edited volumes on world literature and multilingualism.

Is Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Oxford. Her research explores literary multilingualism in the Spanish-speaking world, and her monograph Multilingualism and Modernity: Barbarisms in Spanish and American Literature was published in 2018. She is also Co-Editor of The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies (2017), which promotes a comparative approach to the multilingual cultures of the Iberian Peninsula.

Is a researcher in the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics at the University of Oxford. Her interests and expertise lie in morphology, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and Italian and comparative Romance linguistics. Contributing to Creative Multilingualism has allowed her to broaden her interests to areas such as receptive multilingualism and intelligibility across cognate varieties.

Is a Romance linguist and Statutory Professor of the Romance Languages at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. He is Director of the Oxford Research Centre for Romance Linguistics, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Member of Academia Europaea. He has particular research interests in the historical development of Italian and Romanian (with other Romance languages of south-eastern Europe). His most recent book is The Romance Verb: Morphomic Structure and Diachrony (2018).

Is a Research Fellow in Performing Arts at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Adjunct Professor at Millikin University. He is a theatre-maker who has staged productions at international theatre festivals in Shanghai, Almagro and Madrid and throughout England. He has created theatre with, by and for young people and community groups at the national theatres of Korea and Spain, Warsaw Palace of Culture and several UK theatres. His practice-as-research PhD from Loughborough University was titled ‘Contemporary Shakespeares: Adapting, Theatre-Making and Ghosting’.


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