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Multilingual Creativity Series: Print and Multimedia Texts

  • By Anita Sethi
  • 11th May 2016
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As part of Free Word & Cultural Institute at King's Multilingual Creativity Series, journalist Anita Sethi reflects on workshops that took place between January and June 2016. Here, Anita shares a blog from the fourth workshop on print and multimedia texts.

The power of the printed word was at the heart of the latest session in the Multilingual Creativity Series which asked: “How can print and multimedia texts be used to support multilingual creativity?” In tackling this question, the myriad of forms for multilingual texts was explored, from dual language books using parallel translation and subtitled film and television, to hybrid creative writing which blends different languages to capture the realities of multilingual life. Such texts can provide valuable tools for connecting with the creativity and language skills of multilingual young people. In this workshop, presentations examined the ways that different texts can serve as examples of and stimuli for multilingual creativity.

The first presentation ranged from books to Beyoncé and beyond as Dr. Rachael Gilmour from the Department of English at Queen Mary University of London discussed ‘Reading/Writing Multilingualism: Language, literature and creativity in the multilingual classroom’. She detailed a project working with 16-18 year olds in Tower Hamlets, where the majority of students have English as a second language (the East End of London is “an extraordinarily linguistically heterogeneous place”, she said). The project is an experiment to develop “pedagogic strategies” and an provides an interesting way to think about how literature can be made into a space for multilingualism. It has run for 3 years, and amounts to an annual series of workshops with 24 students in which a diverse range of literary and other texts are studied, and involves a wide-ranging discussion of language and creativity. The outcomes of the project are the workshops themselves – including a writing workshop with poet Daljit Nagra – as well as students’ written work and other creative artefacts.

An array of interesting writers who explore the experience of moving between languages were woven throughout Gilmour’s presentation. Most topically, she mentioned how she has engaged with the poetry of Warsan Shire, a poet local to the area who is now hugely popular due to Beyoncé including her poetry on her new album, Lemonade. Gilmour also referenced the work of Daljit Nagra, whose poetry blends varieties of English and Punjabi; Londonstani by Gautam Malkani as an example of a book that explores multiple languages and idioms; Foxy-T by Tony White; and Psychoraag by Suhayl Saadi.

It is important to abandon preconceptions when embarking on the study of multilingualism, said Gilmour, describing how she came to a much more complex understanding of what multilingualism means:

Students will move in interesting, sometimes subversive, ways between languages, but also draw a lot on hip-hop, for example.


She also highlighted that a lot of students were engaged with the Japanese language because of their interest in Manga:

Themed sessions also proved popular in Gilmour’s workshops – one discussing language and memory (“the classroom, one hopes, will become a space where one runs with feelings, for example the loss of a grandparent; a lost home”), and another exploring language and faith.

It’s a lesson in ‘don’t presuppose that you know’. Abandon formulaic assumptions.

Printed texts that move between languages allow students to think about the “creative possibilities of using languages”. Those creative possibilities were explored in various ways throughout the session. Thinking of different forms was fruitful, and Gilmour mentioned one student’s passion for “search engine poetry”, which moves us away from conventional notions of the multilingual and is another way of bringing together practices that students use in everyday life. As well as the printed word, Gilmour has also been considering the relationship between speech and writing projects and exploring resources for audio files, as well as increasingly diverse practices that far exceed initial assumptions.

The students want to hold in their hands a book of their own writing; for them, that’s what legitimates creativity, said Gilmour:

It comes back to the legitimating power of print; what the students want to do is produce a printed anthology, which they design for themselves, and hold copies of it.

The creative possibilities of multiple languages was also a fascinating discussion point in the presentation by Rachel Williams, publisher at Wide Eyed Editions, who discussed publishing for multilingual readers and The Hello Atlas project; a book of the same title is due to be published in October 2016 in the UK, Australia and America. Williams hopes that it will encourage children to become interested in other cultures. The Hello Atlas is centred on greetings and welcoming phrases. Wide Eyed Editions have worked with many children in multicultural environments so such phrases are not out of date, and have also tried to challenge stereotypes, showing what cultures are really like. The illustrator of The Hello Atlas, Kenard Pak, has a mixture of backgrounds and so is sensitive to this in his artwork.

The Hello Atlas

The professional storyteller and blogger Wendy Shearer gave a thought-provoking discussion on using multimedia and audio books with multilingual children, and the power of harnessing storytelling in multiple mediums. Using different versions of traditional stories and making up their own version of a story makes children “mesmerised by the fact that they can use their imagination”. Hearing about the storytelling was mesmerising for the adults, too.

Possibilities were also explored in exciting ways in the final presentation. Using printed texts in primary education was discussed by Ann Lazim, Literature and Library Development Manager at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). Lazim described the Lire, Dire et Rire project, which utilises French picture books to “put quality children’s literature at the heart of learning”. She described how reading a whole book can “boost self-esteem for children who finding reading in English a challenge”.

What emerged from the session was how young people are “digital natives”, but also “very text-orientated humans”. As Gilmour phrased it, the “talismanic status of the book” is still prevalent. We left the session with a renewed sense of just how powerful the printed word can be.

The Multilingual Creativity Lab was the first in the Free Word & Cultural Institute at King’s Multilingual Creativity Series, a series of follow-up events that explored some of the issues raised in more depth. These events took place at Free Word and at King’s College London between January and June 2016.

For this series of events, we would like to hear from you if you have a research project to contribute or some learning or practice to inform these discussions. Please click here to explore the programme in more depth and find out how you can book for an event. 


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