The blog for the Institute of Modern Languages Research
Promoting inclusivity is at the centre of the work of the IMLR. Together with the Institute of English Studies and the Institute of Classical Studies, it has recently appointed four fellows to help with the development of its programme of activities around Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement in research. The focus of the 2022 AMLUK symposium was to discuss how associations, schools, and university departments are approaching questions regarding inclusivity as it relates to the subject area of languages, cultures, and societies.
The first session centred on the work that subject associations are doing. Michael Tsang (Birkbeck) spoke about the challenges faced by East Asian Studies when it comes to decolonising initiatives. With curricula oriented towards aligning East Asian languages with geopolitical concerns specific to the region, he emphasised the need to balance the national and the regional with the global, for instance by identifying common and contrasting themes and imperatives in cultural production across global contexts. He spoke also of the need for East Asian Studies to examine its problematic disciplinary past and consider how broader structures, such as the REF, might restrict the kinds of research being done in this area. Zhu Hua (UCL) focused on the work of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL) to develop a statement on equality, diversity, and inclusion. She conveyed how linguists are uniquely placed to bring a self-reflexive focus to terminologies deployed in our research and teaching. Developing a statement has been an opportunity to explore, question, and create space for alternative perspectives, but also to come up with concrete advice for colleagues across the disciplinary area, such as on the removal of problematic terms like ‘native speaker’ from job adverts and the provision of sign language interpreting at conferences. Claire Ross (Reading) and Iman Nick (Germanic Society for Forensic Linguistics) spoke about the work they have done over the past year to survey the field of German Studies as part of the EDI working group of the Association for German Studies in Great Britain and Ireland (AGS) and the Women in German Studies (WIGs) collective. Ross and Nick highlighted the ongoing work in these subject associations to grow inclusivity initiatives and reflected on the need for empirical surveys of the make-up and views of membership as a first step to bring about meaningful change.
The second session focused on inclusion work happening in schools, carried out by teachers and academics attempting to bridge the gap between university and school-based pedagogies, curricula, and recruitment strategies. Lisa Panford (St Mary’s University) spoke as co-chair of the Association for Language Learning (ALL) special interest group, ‘Decolonise Secondary MFL’. She reflected on the ongoing work of the group, particularly the collaboration with the publisher Pearson to create more inclusive resources as part of the ‘Amplifying Marginalised Voices Through Languages’ initiative available on Pearson’s website. Charlotte Ryland (Oxford) and Stacie Allan (Stephen Spender Trust) talked about the Trust’s work in running translation exchange programmes in UK secondary schools as a means of increasing languages take up at universities. They discussed how their work is premised on the fact that the languages curriculum has not capitalised on UK schools having become more and more multilingual and that languages can be more inclusive if they privilege culture and creativity over communication and function. Gitanjali Patel (Shadow Heroes/Birmingham) spoke about the work of Shadow Heroes, an organisation whose translation workshops challenge the Eurocentrism and monolingualism of language teaching in UK schools. She stressed how translation can be a tool to include the perspectives of multilingual students in the classroom but is crucially also a means of engaging critically with the hegemony of a language classroom that neglects non-European languages and ways of knowing. Lucy Jenkins (Cardiff University) reflected on the work of the MFL Mentoring project in Wales, which has succeeded in increasing uptake of languages at university by employing undergraduates to work with 11–14-year-olds unsure about whether they will take a GCSE in languages. The project has been trialled in the UK and the hope is that mentoring schemes will be expanded in years to come.
The final session of the day was an opportunity to hear about the work happening in universities and to reflect on a series of strategic interventions that could be made across the disciplinary field. Emanuelle Santos (Birmingham) spoke about the ‘Birmingham method for MLs’, which is working to align language teaching with core content modules, challenging traditional ways of language learning and helping to reconceptualise what language is altogether. She described how bringing together language teachers with researchers teaching cultural modules serves to break down the arbitrary and often discriminatory division of labour between language teachers and researchers whose work has traditionally been valued more within university structures. A key point here was that the work of inclusion must not simply mean introducing reform within pre-existing discriminatory and uneven structures. Giuliana Borea (Newcastle) brought the day’s presentations to a close by talking about decolonising initiatives in the School of Modern Languages at Newcastle University, and particularly about the need to think beyond the recent spate of activity in decolonising the university and to truly embed the work of self-reflection among all members of the department. Examples of this work include an effort to work in a translingual and transnational way across language areas and to include vernacular languages as a fundamental part of our teaching.
In the final discussion, attendees and presenters reflected on questions raised throughout the day, upon currently occurring subject-wide consultative exercises, including subject benchmarking, the forthcoming report from the AHRC Future of Language Research fellows, and the future investment of the AHRC in languages research, and upon issues such as the term ‘Modern Languages’ and the role of the IMLR as a space in which to draw together the work on decolonisation and inclusivity going on across UK education in languages and cultures. Two core actions points emerging from the conversation were (a) the ongoing necessity of breaking down the barriers between language and content teaching and (b) the need to think more deeply about questions relating to class and languages and the ways class intersects with all the issues discussed throughout the day.
Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research, discusses the recent symposium held on 25 February 2022 and issues that the event raised.
The question at the heart of the workshop on 25 February 2022 (Future Directions in Modern Languages) that was organised by the IMLR together with AULC, the UCML, and Bilingualism Matters was how the disciplinary area, broadly defined as Modern Languages, can develop to ensure its relevance and purpose. The importance of thinking about future challenges was foregrounded at the beginning of the event with the presentation of the work of the AHRC Future of Language Research Fellows. This was followed by presentations from researchers of Bilingualism Matters on how thinking concerning ‘community’ languages can advance decolonising approaches to the study of language and culture. The latter part of the day focussed on how the work of the four OWRI projects can be integrated within the subject area and inform developments more generally.
Many questions concerning the future shape of the disciplinary area were raised by the conference and all of these questions require a great deal of further strategic thought and engagement. One can, nevertheless, point easily to three issues that were present in all discussions. The first is how we can successfully move beyond a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘community’ languages. The stratification of language learning is increasingly difficult to justify and serves no one’s interests. It might well, therefore, be a good idea to dispense with the adjective ‘modern’ and to seek to construct a broad, but nevertheless definable, subject area that has different emphases and inflections, but which is connected by the integrated study of language, culture, and society; that is grounded in the multilingual and multicultural realities that we all inhabit; and in which there is a strong emphasis on cultural and linguistic mobility.
The second issue that all speakers addressed was the necessity of intense, joined-up, and inclusive thinking concerning the teaching of languages and cultures. If we think about language teaching as an important element in the way in which we expand the nature of our contact with societies around the world, then it is clearly important that what is taught in schools is strongly connected with the subject area as it is understood and practiced in Higher Education. Innovative approaches to teaching, to the interface with creative practice, and to inclusivity need to be shared across the education sector as a whole.
The third issue concerns the need to demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the analytical frameworks that are used within the disciplinary field. All of the papers of the conference showed the powerful impacts that can be made by the subject area and how it can engage in cross-disciplinary research of crucial importance. The engagement of teams of researchers in high-profile funding initiatives such as OWRI leads to innovation in teaching practice and to changes in public perception.
The conference, with short interventions focussing on issues of strategic significance to everyone within the sector, provides an excellent model for future events. The recording of the event is available here:
Charles Burdett, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research
Cynthia Stephens translates this poem from the collection ‘Trilce’ (1922). This is a literary translation, which attempts to create a new poem while remaining faithful to the original. Some of the difficulties which arise in such a translation are discussed, as it is a semantically complex poem in which multiple meanings echo through the voice of the scared child to that of the terrified adult.
Poet – César Vallejo
Las personas mayores
¿a qué hora volverán?
Da las seis el ciego Santiago,
y ya está muy oscuro.
Madre dijo que no demoraría.
Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
cuidado con ir por ahí, por donde
acaban de pasar gangueando sus memorias
hacia el silencioso corral, y por donde
las gallinas que se están acostando todavía,
se han espantado tanto.
Mejor estemos aquí no más.
Madre dijo que no demoraría.
Ya no tengamos pena. Vamos viendo
los barcos ¡el mío es más bonito de todos!
con los cuales jugamos todo el santo día,
sin pelearnos, como debe de ser:
han quedado en el pozo de agua, listos,
fletados de dulces para mañana.
Aguardemos así, obedientes y sin más
remedio, la vuelta, el desagravio
de los mayores siempre delanteros
dejándonos en casa a los pequeños,
como si también nosotros
no pudiésemos partir.
¿Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
Llamo, busco al tanteo en la oscuridad.
No me vayan a haber dejado solo,
y el único recluso sea yo.
Poet – César Vallejo
Where have the grown-ups gone?
When will they get home?
Darkness has fallen in our village now,
it’s six o’clock and the light has gone.
Blind Santiago is ringing the bells.
Mother said she wouldn’t be long.
Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel,
be careful going out there, where
the souls of the dead have just passed,
sounding a death knell.
Double sorrows, ghosts,
are dragging their twanging memories
through our silent yard,
squawking, suffering, haunting.
So the sleeping hens
have been spooked and frightened away.
Better for us just to stay here quietly.
Mother said she wouldn’t be long.
We mustn’t be sad now.
Let’s go and look at our toy boats.
Mine is the prettiest of them all!
We’ll play with them the whole blessed day,
without fighting, as it should be:
they’re still in the pool, ready,
loaded up with sweet things for tomorrow,
ready for departure.
Let’s wait like this then, obediently,
not that we have any choice.
Let’s wait for them patiently,
for an apology from the two-faced grown-ups,
who are always ahead,
leaving us, the little ones, at home,
as if we couldn’t
as if we couldn’t also go away.
Aguedita, Nativa, Miguel?
I’m afraid of this punishment.
I call out, groping in the darkness,
searching through trial and error.
Surely they haven’t left me all alone,
in jail, doubled-up in pain.
Why am I the only prisoner?
The only condemned one!
Translation by Cynthia Lucy Stephens
Copyright © 2022
This haunting poem by the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo is about fear and loss. It expresses grief at the deaths of his brother Miguel followed by his mother, and the dreadful solitude following the break-up of his family and the end of his childhood. I see also the persecution and solitude later felt by Vallejo in his prison cell in Peru in 1920, held under never-proven charges, before he escaped on a boat to France and a life of exile.
I have tried to capture some of the multiple meanings echoing throughout this evocative poem. I divided the long sentence, in order to express double-edged meanings in the phrase “gangueando sus memorias / dobladoras penas”. “Gangueando” means “twanging” and “speaking through the nose”. I chose “squawking” because of the hens, but also because its discordant tones convey the difficulty of expressing painful memories. I focused on the active presence of the dead. “Penas” can mean “sorrows” or “souls of the dead” or “punishments”. “Dobladoras” could be “double”, “duplicitous”, or “doubled-over”, but I also wanted the sense of “doblar campanas”, to “toll”, or “doblar a muerto”, to “sound a death knell”, so as to connect with the blind bell-ringer Santiago from his childhood village.
The souls of the dead follow the child and the man, as the child waits in the village for his parents to come home, and in the last stanza the man reaches out for his lost siblings in the jail. He is afraid, like the hens from his childhood yard; he fears he may be left alone forever in a prison cell. This is a poem about departures and people not coming back home. Perhaps also a fear of his own future exile can be glimpsed within the ambiguous connotations of this complex poem.
Cynthia Stephens is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland (AHGBI), and the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA). She studied English and Spanish at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, graduating in 1978, and that is where she discovered the poetry of the great Peruvian poet César Vallejo. She has recently translated a chapter of the book César Vallejo’s Season in Hell, from Vallejo en los infiernos by Eduardo González Viaña, co-ordinated by Stephen M. Hart.