Multilingualism makes children strong: Let’s save language diversity!

Multilingualism makes children strong

Let’s save language diversity!

By Fernanda Ferrari, Language Explorers facilitator at Mother Tongues

My name is Fernanda Ferrari, I am Brazilian and I speak Brazilian Portuguese. I have visited five different primary schools in county Wexford over the past month where I have been exploring other cultures, languages and sharing experiences with children from 2nd to 5th class. We have done this through artwork and Mother Tongue’s beautiful Museum of Languages, an element of Mother Tongues’ Language Explorers language awareness initiative for schools designed to raise awareness of linguistic diversity in the classroom and in the community and to promote an interest in language learning.

Our day starts with me telling the children about some aspects of Brazil, for example, that we have 60 different kinds of Mango, just to open their minds about how much we can learn about other cultures and countries and they are all super curious about it.

When I ask how they feel saying words they don’t recognise, the students tell me they feel strange.

Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari

Then I ask if there is someone in the class who is from another country, has family or friends from another country. Or whether they have visited another country or there is anywhere in the world they’d like to visit one day. I find out that there are students from many different backgrounds: Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Syria, Canada, the USA, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Portugal and many countries in Africa! Then the students go and find all these places in a World Map and they stick a heart on the map showing all the locations mentioned. 

Since there are many students coming from so many different places and who can speak all these other languages, I suggest that we all experiment saying some words together in their language so everyone can experience how different it feels to say words to which we are not connected.  We use words such as HELLO, LOVE, HAPPY, DOG, ICE CREAM and they all love trying.

When I ask how they feel saying words they don’t recognise, the students tell me they feel strange

I make the point that it would be great if all of us tried to be patient with people for whom English is not their mother tongue because sometimes it is difficult for them to express themselves in English.

Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari
Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari
Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari

I notice how most of the time, students decide to choose the language from their peers

When everyone is excited about learning new words, I tell them about the Pop-Up card we will be creating which they will get to exhibit in Wexford libraries at the end of this month for everybody to see. The pop-up card is like a personal dictionary where children can draw a few things they love and besides them, they write the words in another language. When the children are from another country they can use their own language, if not they can choose a language they want to learn or of course Irish too. They are all excited about that.

I notice how most of the time, students decide to choose the language from their peers. It is amazing to see how they help each other to find the words they want and are curious to learn more about other cultures. 

The teachers too get involved with the workshop by helping the students to find the words they need. They tell me they are really impressed with the level of engagement of the students, not just with their own art project but with learning and exploring new languages around them. 

Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari

The Interactive Museum of Languages for Young Audiences (IMLYA) is an immersive creative experience for children. Children have the opportunity to interact with language-based sculptures inspired by linguistic artefacts, signs, pictographs and alphabets. The components include a storytelling well/tree which reveals stories from other cultures and languages, shown via video, a space to play with clay plates, a sculpture where children can play with the basics of the knotted language of Inca,  and wooden puzzles which allow children to learn about words describing colours as Gaeilge.

Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari
Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari
Language Explorers Workshop, by Mother Tongues in Wexford Primary Schoolsl. November 2021. Facilitator: Fernanda Ferrari

All her peers look at her in both surprise and admiration: I can see by the look on her face she is feeling empowered in this moment

At the storytelling well, I ask the children to close their eyes while listening to the story and try to understand what the story is about, whether it is a love story or a story about adventures, etc. When they open their eyes, they call out a few different things until one of the students, a really shy looking girl raises her hand and says she recognises it because it was in her mother tongue, Arabic. She tells us what the story was about. All her peers look at her in both surprise and admiration. I can see how proud and happy she looks, and that she is feeling empowered in this moment. 

The children of every school I visited the past few weeks are so excited about the final exhibition in the different libraries at the end of the month. They tell me they can’t wait to show their artwork to their family. Some of the students say they hardly ever go to the library, so they are very excited about that aspect of it too!

Fernanda Ferrari photographed by Elena Cristofanon

Fernanda Ferrari

Fernanda Ferrari is a Brazilian multidisciplinary artist and Mother Tongues facilitator who has an extraordinary passion for inspiring children to experiment with art. For more than 20 years, she has worked in theatre, street performance, art education, stop motion animation and visual storytelling. In 2021 she was awarded by the Arts Council Ireland with the Young People, Children, and Education Bursary Award 21 to study puppetry and develop projects for the young audience using creativity as a tool of transformation.here:https://fofstudio9.wixsite.com/fernandaferrari/about

The Interactive Museum of Languages for Young Audiences (IMLYA) was commissioned by South Dublin Creative Ireland programme as part of Cruinniú na nÓg 2021, and it was co-funded by Languages Connect.

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