I’ve been getting stuck into some hardcore consultancy work over the last few months. From supporting a start-up refugee charity in Hackney to involve service users in the development of education-related services, to being party to initial discussions with two visionary sixth formers from Sheffield who want their peers to have more of a say in language teaching, it’s been a busy month.
I was quite reflective before I wrote this post, because I wondered what its purpose was. I can’t exactly provide any updates on the projects’ progress, because both are in their fledgling stages, and nor did I want to simply blow my own horn. After all, I’m only a facilitator – anything that happens won’t really be on my watch. But I know some readers are keen to stay abreast of how involvement in services really works, and how the people who drive it forwards can grow. After all, I firmly believe that the process of effecting services development – as much if not more than the end goal – can empower, inspire and galvanise those who matter most: the recipients of that service.
So while I can’t offer anything in the way of updates at the minute, I really want to reiterate my passion for service user involvement, and the effect it can have not only on services, but on people’s lives. Most industries these days are effecting something in the way of a collaborative approach to service-user involvement, be it Holland and Barrett asking for consumer ratings on each of their products, to mental health care organisations involving people in the care they receive.
For more information, have a look at this article I wrote with an ex colleague about effective and meaningful involvement in mental health care.
Today is European Day of Languages, and to mark this event, well-known language learning app Memrise have just finished compiling the world's largest video dictionary. Those involved have just returned from a three-month, 12,000 mile road trip around continental Europe, but how straightforward a task is it to create a video dictionary, what are its benefits, and how can learners access it? Marie Francois from team Memrise tells all ...
Could you tell us a bit more about what a video dictionary is?
We decided to record thousands of videos of native speakers saying phrases in their language, in the way that comes naturally to them. By integrating all these videos into our app, we want to create an immersive experience where you’ll constantly be translating and responding to real native speakers.
The idea is to learn how to sound like a native, as well as discovering the personality of each language; how they actually speak, their accents, their gestures, but also their clothes, their landscapes, their humour, their quirks... basically all of the stuff that makes language learning fun in the first place.
Why is it useful for learners to learn from native speakers?
In language learning the most important question is: why do we do it? What is the motivation for putting in the effort? We do it because we want to be able to communicate with the people that speak that language, make friends, debate, joke and so on.
By adding videos to our app, we want to bring that experience as close to the learner as we can, to both heighten the learner’s motivation and excitement about the language but also to expose them to the variety of dialects, voices and personalities that they will meet when they hopefully one day get to go to the country of the language they are learning to fully immerse themselves in.
What did the 12,000 mile road trip involve exactly?
In order to collect these videos, we embarked upon an epic multilingual road trip aboard a converted vintage 1970s double decker bus. Setting off in May, we travelled through 9 different European countries and filmed over 20,000 locals en route, returning to British soil a couple of weeks ago. We visited both the big capital cities and the smaller rural towns, stopping locals en route, whatever their age, appearance, accent as the goal was to capture each individual language in all its diversity.
Any mishaps or funny stories along the way?
I can think of quite a few, especially when it comes to the bus, including our crazy driver roller-skating, a panicked trip to local mechanics and fires on board…
Did you cover all European countries?
We funded the tour via Kickstarter. We started with the five most learnt languages in Europe, and then gave the opportunity to our backers to decide where we should go. That’s how we ended up in our grand fjord Scandinavian tour.
What about dialects and minority languages? Are they included?
We first focused on the diversity of one’s language (different regions, accents…) and we will move on to dialects in the future.
How can learners access the dictionary?
The videos are being integrated as we speak, but you can already access some of them (French, Portuguese, Italian, German and Spanish) by simply starting to learn the language. You just need to select the official Memrise course. If you want to enjoy these videos in a more immersive way, then ‘Meet the Natives’ mode is part of our Premium offer. We are still at an early stage and will keep experimenting around the best ways to fit videos into the app, now that we have this great content database. We are also currently filming Korean, Russian, Mandarin and Japanese, with more to come.
I feel very honoured to have been ‘headhunted’ – shall we say – by a new start-up organisation in London that want to develop a client-led tutoring service for refugees and asylum seekers.
It’s a really exciting venture to be part of, because the organisation, called ShoreStart, is very keen on creating a service that meets people’s exact needs, and is wary of being too prescriptive in terms of course materials and objectives.
I’m going to be helping them to ensure their clients’ involvement is meaningful, representative and adequately catered for (see my post on student involvement in service development), as well as making sure that the organisation is accountable in terms of what it delivers, and how far its developments reflect its clients’ requests.
I’ve been teaching English as a Foreign Language in private schools for just under two years now, but used to be heavily invested in ESOL environments through Leeds STAR and a refugee/asylum seeker organisation called WAST. I’m hoping to bridge these fields, particularly with reference to facilitating student involvement in developing services, and am also looking forward to spending more time in the big smoke!
It sounds like a great project, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in. As soon as their website’s up and running, I’ll share some of the amazing projects they’re currently working on.
P.S. if anyone in London would like to put me up on sporadic, short-term bases, that would be great!
Jamie McGarry: "There are a lot of factors I consider before I publish a book. Language is one of the easiest things to fix"
,Jamie McGarry set up Valley Press - an leading independent Scarborough-based publishing company - in 2008. In the first of a series of blog posts about Europe and cultural expression, I caught up with him about what it would take for him to publish someone writing in English as a second language ...
A few weeks ago, a Dutch friend of mine told me that she and her husband were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the prospect of a post-Brexit Britain. They have lived in Britain almost thirty years - longer than my lifetime - and had always felt extremely happy here (hence the lengthy sojourn).
In the build up to the EU referendum, however, and in the wake of its result, my friend told me she had begun to experience a culture of fear that she insisted she hadn't simply conceptualised out of nowhere; she had started to feel less welcome here, not only in light of reports about people being more openly xenophobic towards foreign nationals (people who, sadly, saw the vote to leave as an expression, and perhaps legitimisation, of their intolerant views), but also as a result of having been goaded in public about her 'right' to live here on the basis of her accent.
She told me she wanted to somehow convey all her experiences of British life, communicating both a positive and admonitory message, but wasn't sure if a blog was the right medium for her. She asked me what I knew about getting a book published in English if it wasn't your first language, and I replied that - honestly - I didn't know much!
It was a query that I was determined to settle, however, because it drew my attention to how important it is that we give a platform to as many voices as possible in the wake of such unprecedented change.
And it became a quest of curiosity that would eventually take me to Wardle and Jones - a gorgeously furnished independent book shop down one of the narrowest snickets in Scarborough - where I'd meet Jamie McGarry, editor and founder of Valley Press and lover of all things literary.
Over a cool, rosewater-pink raspberry lemonade that would have garnered the approval of organic bloggers the world over, Jamie answered my questions about writing in English as a second language ...
Jamie, a basic question to start with: have you ever received a submission from somebody who didn't speak English as their first language?
Not that they've mentioned overtly! And if I have then it was very, very good.
If you saw a lot of potential in someone's work, but there were a lot of mistakes in the language, would you take them on as a writer?
There are a lot of factors I consider before deciding whether a book is good enough to publish. The quality of the written language is one of them, but it's not the only factor. In terms of fiction, if the narrative is absolutely fascinating, if there are great characters, for example, then that can often be reason enough to warrant publication. I also show submissions to a focus group, so lots of people weigh in. Therefore, if it's popular with the people I show it to, that is a big deal. Besides which, there might be something special in the text that appeals to me personally - a sort of magical quality, I suppose you could say, that would make me buy the book if I came across it - not to mention the fact that the writer might have a lot of experience in the field (whether they have been writing in English or otherwise). And then there's the question of whether I actually like the person. Is he or she the sort of writer that I could see myself working with, and could they charm people? Will people be interested enough in them to buy their work?
So it sounds like you're saying that if the language needed some tweaking, but all the other boxes were ticked, a writer might still stand a good chance of getting published?
Yes, that's exactly it. I think of all the things I mentioned, most of them can't be changed upon suggestion. For instance, a writer can't become nicer or more charming, and likewise it would be difficult for me to make a better narrative, or more convincing characters. Whereas language, if it isn't quite up to scratch, could be modified. In short, the quality of the text can be improved - you could hire someone for not a colossal amount of money to just tighten it up, so it really is one of the easiest things to fix.
What do you think can be lost in the writing process if somebody for whom English is not their first language, decides to write something in English?
Well the first thing that comes to mind would be idioms and sayings that are peculiar to English; you know, things that when you really consider them don't make a lot of sense! But actually, when you think about it, someone writing in English as a second language would be more likely to avoid cliches, because they won't have been fed on the same diet as the rest of us, be that made up of radio 4 or ITV morning telly!
Have you ever had a submission from someone who has used the services of a translator?
Yes, I received a submission from someone who had translated something off their own back - there you are, a perfect example of an idiom! - but in terms of whether it's better to use a translator or to try writing your work in English, that would really vary from writer to writer. There's no guarantee of quality either way.
If you were to ever specifically encourage writers with alternative first languages to submit a piece of creative text, say by way of a special campaign, would there be something you'd look for in particular?
Well, we're always open to submissions from anyone, but if we were to do a specific call for non-English speaking writers, I think the main thing readers would benefit from would be a fresh voice. The way the book was written would be much more original, and the style would also vary hugely from writer to writer on the basis of when they started to learn English and what their first language was. I have one poet - Salim Peeradina - who was raised in India, so he was raised on two languages at once, English being one of them. I think that affords his poetry a fresh quality.
If somebody wanted to reach an English-speaking audience but were struggling to get published, would you recommend self publishing?
I don't think my recommendation would be any different to what I'd say to any writer that was trying to get their work out there. First, if you're writing short stories or poems, a blog would be an ideal place to start building an audience, and then - once you've got access to an audience - self publishing would definitely be a viable option, because you'll already have people in mind to whom you could promote your product. Traditional publishing would be better if you needed that bit more help, in terms of coordinating design and promotion, for example. In short, if you don't feel you can sell hundreds of copies by yourself, traditional publishing would aim to get you on that track.
Valley Press publishes poetry, fiction - including short stories - and non-fiction, including memoirs and travel writing. To learn more about the organisation, and how to submit work, visit www.valleypressuk.com
In 2010, Nicholas Ostler made a surprising prediction about the English language: that the English language, the world's lingua-franca, will one day cease to spread.
Yet according to his predictions, English won't be replaced as international language extraordinaire by another language. Rather, technological developments will mean that translating from language to language will be a swift, accurate and uncomplicated feat.Put simply, there will be no need for a new global language.
But it's 2016. We have seen great technological strides in the last six years, but developments in translation devices have been slow in comparison. We've probably all used Wordreference or Google translate to help out with last-minute homework items, but - as many of you will appreciate - their results can often be sloppy and inexact.
With this in mind, I'd like to know your thoughts. Do you think English will continue to spread as the world's primary lingua franca? Or will technology develop to the degree that we will no longer need to rely on a single language to accommodate the bulk of people's cross-country communication?
Please pen your thoughts below!
I’ve just started learning Lithuanian, a Baltic language similar to Latvian and Old Prussian (now extinct). I have never learned a Baltic language before, and am totally new to the history of the language and the linguistic group to which it pertains.
I found a tutor, a great friend of mine and fellow teacher called Ieva, and have sourced a few online resources that will help me begin my learning (see the Eye on … Rarer Languages page for more details, if you too are interested in learning Lithuanian).
I put together a series of suggestions below on how to set about learning a language from a linguistic group with which you are not familiar. I hope you find it useful; as always, please get in touch if you would like to add to my suggestions or share your thoughts.
I began with the Lithuanian alphabet, and was given a few key words corresponding to each letter by my tutor. A lot of the new words looked familiar, but when I guessed at their meaning using the reference points I had through other languages, I was entirely flummoxed. Almost none of the words related to any of the languages I know, and it felt very counter intuitive to abandon the benchmarks I have and embrace a totally new language.
Though the odd word was similar to its Russian counterpart, it was great to abandon all past baggage and reconnect with what it feels like to learn a language completely from scratch, without any cognates or familiar elements!
1. Find a tutor, and someone to practise with
It’s great if you can find someone, either online or locally, with whom you can practise you new language, as this will give you the chance to vindicate your learning outside the familiar setting of your lessons. It will bring you out of your comfort zone and enable you to assess how far you are coming along.
2. Research the language group to which your language relates
It can really help to have a background knowledge of the origins of your new language. This will help you discover related languages that you may fancy going on to learn; Latvian, for instance, belongs to the same linguistic group as Lithuanian, and were I to start learning Latvian, my knowledge of Lithuanian would speed up the process considerably.
Likewise, if you were to learn German, you would have a head start if you decided to take up other Germanic languages such as Swedish, Dutch and Afrikaans.
3. Make sure you hear the language you want to learn
It isn’t enough to learn an entirely new language from a book. Rather, you ought to hear it spoken, and this, in my view, means going beyond listening to the pronunciation of individual words on Google translate.
To listen to a new language in action, try and find radio stations that broadcast in that language, or Youtube videos, and even songs. That way you will pick up on the language’s intonation and pace, as well as the pronunciation of new words that you may have learned.
4. Think about your goals
When it comes to learning any new language, I always think that it’s important to be upfront about your goals. My personal goals aren’t always about fluency; sometimes, I’m only interested in learning the basics of a language in order that I can hold a simple conversation, or get to grips with key words from a linguistic group with which I am unfamiliar.
Once you are clear on your goals, it may be worth considering a rough timetable. This way, you can map out the progress you want to make, and by when. You could also use this as a way of earmarking days for different skills, for example, a day for listening and reading, a day for grammar, and a day when you perhaps meet with your tutor and focus on speaking.
Originally published by Ex Penguin
When I was becoming a human, I took to the language learning element like a duck to water (excuse the bird pun). I progressed through my English classes very rapidly, and my mentor suggested that I have a go at learning another language, seeing as I appeared to possess a skill in that area. I chose Italian – in the early years, my Saturday nights indoors watching Inspector Montalbano on BBC4 as I waited for my feathers to shed ignited a passion for the sound – yet my mentor was quick to scoff at my choice.
“Learn Spanish,” he said. “It is the gateway to South America. If you learn Italian, you can only go to Italy.”
Frankly, Mr, I can go wherever I like, I thought, in the knowledge that – as a fledgling Italian speaker – key words, frantic pointing and GPS were the currency of the modern traveller. I was tickled by the idea of being constrained each spring to closing my eyes and selecting an arbitrary location on a map of Italy as a way of choosing my next holiday (not Rimini again).
But what struck me more than my mentor’s denigration of Italian was the confidence with which he judged my motivations; clearly of the view that the yardstick for a language’s utility is the number of countries in which it is spoken, he assumed I was operating within the same narrow frame of reference as him.
He was wrong. I absolutely concede that learning a language like Spanish or Arabic allows you to communicate in a far wider range of countries – and within close proximity to one another, should you be planning a regional excursion – than Italian. And if you choose to work for an international company, learning a more widely-spoken language certainly renders you a more attractive candidate than someone who only speaks, say, Faroese. Yet to regard the value of languages through this prism alone is to do it a gross disservice.
As someone who was privileged enough to be able to choose the languages I wanted to learn, I had to take account of the fact that my opting to learn Italian was done on the basis of self interest. Self interest, however, can be a broad concept, and can be tailored to accommodate the interests of others. Should we simply learn the languages that get us to the most countries, and thereby curtail our true interests and cut ourselves off from those with whom we really want to communicate, whose stories we really want to – and should – probe? I would say absolutely not. When challenged by my mentor, I realised that the benefits of learning a language can far transcend the number of stamps on one’s passport.
If nothing else, it can give you a sounder understanding of your own language. Should that language be English, a knowledge of Italian, French, German, Greek, Arabic, Norse (I could go on) would give you an insight into your mother tongue’s development, as well as a roster of more immediate skills, such as deciphering the meaning of unknown words when time is of the essence.
On a more serious note, in the aftermath of an election in which UKIP received almost four million votes, and the Home Secretary is willing to have the UK avoid having to to resettle migrants that have recently crossed the Mediterranean, the English – rather than looking inwards – are duty-bound to take stock of how other nations have shaped their heritage. Languages would serve as an apt starting point for this.
Indeed, Europeans are living in a time of great migration that is seeing new communities – and with them, new languages – develop in their countries. A friend of mine was recently extolling the benefits of learning Romanian in the hope that the housing department of the local council would snap her up. Good for her. But once again, learning the language of novel communities can take us so far beyond what that language can do for us; if we can get to know people on their terms and take an interest in their background and their journey, we can foster a culture of acceptance and support them to settle into an unfamiliar country.
Finally, learning languages, like learning a new sport or skill, helps the learner to master discipline, self-motivation, resourcefulness and confidence; speaking to someone in their native tongue can be an unnerving experience when you’re first starting out.
Of course, the harbinger of a nation of language learners will be exemplary teaching in schools, as well as a continued effort on the part of teachers to remind pupils why languages can be so important. For those who shirked languages at school, affordable and varied evening courses must be the order of the day; this way, the option of looking outward at a time of a worryingly regressive search for identity is open to all.