Multilingual Creators at Excelsior Academy

As Project Producer for Young Writers’ City at Excelsior Academy, I am in the unique position of being in every session delivered at school – sharing in all of the joy it brings to the students, and often going home with tips and tricks for my own writing, too!

Last term, our Friday mornings were particularly special as we worked on Multilingual Creators, a partnership project with the Stephen Spender Trust, New Writing North, the National Centre for Writing and Comma Press. The project involved training translators and writers to design and deliver creative translation activities in schools. These activities support young people to access and interact with literature in multiple languages, and to use that literature as a springboard for their own creative writing. With more than 45 languages spoken at Excelsior, it was the perfect setting to try out this new and exciting collaboration.

Six people sitting around a table facing each other, in discussion and writing on their own bits of paper. Over a period of ten weeks, two Year 9 classes were introduced to the fascinating world of translation through a wide range of different tasks. They created haiku and sijo poetry, calligrams and acrostics, art in response to songs and translated a number of different texts in everything from French and German to Latin and Korean. Young people who spoke more than one language themselves were encouraged to use those languages in their writing, while those who spoke only English could make use of translated handouts as well as English slang and their all-important Geordie dialect. There were even lessons on the pitfalls of Google Translate, and how to create your own blended or portmanteau words. It was funical!*

As well as our in-classroom sessions, the translators also ran a lunchtime club in the library for anyone who was interested in learning more about the project. This was mainly attended by Year 7 and eight students, who launched themselves boldly into any wordplay or linguistic activity, no matter how much nonsense it produced!

By the end of the ten weeks, the classroom and lunchtime groups had created more than twenty poems incorporating a whopping fourteen different languages. All of their work is showcased on the fantastic ‘Me and My City’ website (where work from similar projects in Manchester and Norwich will be added over time). Every student was given the opportunity to have one of their pieces of writing printed and framed for them to keep, and the class teachers were given a copy of any group poems created in order to display them in their classrooms.

One of my unofficial goals for our work with the Stephen Spender Trust was to help young people see that their experience of other cultures and speaking other languages could be a secret weapon as a creative writer, rather than something they need to set aside or feel hindered by. The feedback has been fantastic and we look forward to continuing to work multi-lingually in the future!

A huge thank you to the translator/writers who worked with us on this project – Chloe Daniels, Jessica Rainey and Harry Man – as well as teachers Chloe Mullins, Kaila Brogan and librarian Hannah Sharp at Excelsior.

*A blend of ‘fun’ and ‘hysterical’, coined by Marta and Cristina in 9Y1

‘When we came into the classroom you guys made us feel comfortable. Everyone was confident speaking out loud and trying to pronounce different things.’ – Excelsior student

‘I enjoyed looking at languages we don’t normally look at, and working with many different writers across the term.’ – Excelsior student

‘Seeing the students realise that we were not just allowing them to use their home languages in the classroom, but actively encouraging them to do so – to celebrate their multilingualism, to use it actively and creatively – this was a real joy, and quite an eye-opener.’ – Jessica Rainey, writer/translator

‘It was a privilege to work with so many interesting young people on a highly creative level, and to facilitate the production of some wonderful pieces of bilingual and multilingual poetry. The project provided pupils with time and space to explore their inner creativity, consider reframing their view of ‘mistakes’, and proactively embrace diversity in language and culture.’ – Chloe Daniels, writer/translator

‘These workshops helped to stretch my thinking around what can be achieved in a poetry workshop as well as radically increasing my vocabulary in the means to do that. It’s something that has had a major positive impact on my practice as both a tutor and as a writer. That feeling of inclusion and the freedom to create has all kinds of benefits that travel well beyond the page.’ – Harry Man, writer/translator

‘It has been wonderful to watch this project unfold, from working with Harry, Chloe and Jessica on our ‘Multilingual Creators’ course last summer to reading the outstanding multilingual poems written during their workshops at Excelsior. It shows how much is gained when young people can bring their whole selves to their creativity – including the many languages within and around them. We look forward to more multilingual collaborations with our excellent facilitators and New Writing North.’ – Charlotte Ryland, Stephen Spender Trust

Read the work produced by young people here.

The Multilingual Creators project is co-funded by Arts Council England and the project partners.

More information about Multilingual Creators and the Stephen Spender Trust can be found here.