A multilingual arts festival… are we mad?
There is something really special about festivals. They are unique cultural moments that provide the opportunity to experience something together as communities. When we take part in festivals we often find ourselves sharing a space with people that we may not otherwise meet. At festivals we are likely to try something different or unexpected and we may find out that our interests are shared by other people, even by those people that we didn’t think were so like us.
What motivated the creation of the Mother Tongues Festival was the desire to offer a unique space for children to enjoy themselves, get creative and socialise through many different languages. In a country where one in five children has the potential to grow up bilingual, the role of our organisation is to make sure that children are given the opportunity to grow confident in speaking the language of their parents, and feeling that their family language is a valuable resource.
Immersion in the family language
To this date, in Ireland, the only places where a child can fully experience immersion in their family language is either the home or the weekend school. Outside these two contexts, children rarely get to use their language or share their experience of growing up bilingual.
If children don’t see and hear their languages in school, in museums, libraries or in other shared public spaces, they will not think that their language is suited for those spaces.
The Mother Tongues Festival wants to show that it is possible to offer a unique, fun and engaging cultural experience in languages other than English, to highlight the importance that multilingualism has in fostering children’s curiosity towards languages, whether the language is part of their own heritage or part of someone else’s.
Opening up to linguistic diversity
We believe that when children see that public spaces are welcoming linguistic diversity their own mindset will change. They will understand that multilingualism is the norm and that there is something to be discovered about our friends and neighbours.
So many times people have asked us if it is hard to reach people who speak different languages, or find artists… sometimes people think we are a little crazy to try something that no one has ever tried before, but the proof is in the pudding!
There are no words to describe the expressions on the faces of children when they enter a library, an arts centre or a theatre and the person in charge, the teacher, facilitator or volunteer speaks the same language as them. They immediately look at their parents with a surprised and smiley face, and when they look around they see other children who speak the same language. It is quite an experience! The great thing is that not all children who attend these events know the language, sometimes they attend because a friend has brought them along. We love it when this happens. I think that children who grow up speaking only English with their families could end up thinking that English is the only language that matters in Ireland, even more than Irish or other languages learned in school.
The discovery of the existence of different languages might seem obvious to an adult, but it has the potential to really shape children’s understanding of how diverse our society is.
Our Festival needs you!
Like a child, The Mother Tongues Festival has been developing year after year since 2018. We have been learning a lot along the way, we have experimented with ideas and we continuously strive to improve our programme and to connect with more and more new people. Because, after all, this would not be a festival without the people who share our passion and get out of their comfort zone to try something new, to be with us and share this collective multilingual celebration.
The Mother Tongues Festival is about to welcome you all back. The new format will allow more people to experience languages and cultures through dance, music, puppetry and more! Head to our Festival website to see what we have in store!
Francesca La Morgia
Director, Mother Tongues