Exploring Languages in Urban Spaces
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Resources to explore the City in Translation

London Workshop: a Short Report

Following my recent posts about the Multilingual Creativity Lab and the preparation process for the City in Translation workshop in London, I'd like to share some thoughts on how the workshop actually went; what I think worked well, what didn't and if there is any potential in delivering City in Translation workshops in the future. 

To sum up: on 30 November 2015, Free Word hosted the first ever Multilingual Creativity Lab on creative approaches to engaging with and promoting multilingual skills. The day began with presentations of projects that gave a sense of the reality of multilingualism in schools and community settings. The Lab also looked at projects that bring about a common objective and find ways to cater to the full spectrum of fluency and literacy within different language communities. Educational thinker and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, gave an overview of the ethnography of language in his keynote speech. He talked of multilingualism as a rich resource vital for open and intelligent societies. You can watch the presentations and the keynote on Free Word's website. At the end of the day, we split into several groups to participate to workshops, one of which was City in Translation.

Participants to the Multilingual Creativity Lab were mostly professionals working in either cultural, artistic or literary organisations and in education. Six people joined the City in Translation workshop - initially ten were subscribed. They were all curious about the idea around City in Translation itself, and by coming to the lab, they have already shown their motivation to implement new ideas on how to use multilingualism creatively within their work. So, working with a willing and open-minded audience always makes things easier. It is also important to note the idea of "lab" in the title of the event: we were all there to try things and explore new possibilities. I'm happy I was joined by a great group to do just that. 

The workshop started with all of us gathering at the entrance of the Free Word Centre to get ready to go outside and walk together to Exmouth Market where the actual exercise would take place. I quickly introduced myself and we all headed out.

The conditions were far from perfect, it was already dark outside and it was raining. Thankfully, the participants didn't mind and joined in with as much enthusiasm as possible, given the conditions.

We stopped at the very beginning of Exmouth Market, which luckily is a well-lit street, and I introduced City in Translation, explained how the project started and why it was important for me. I then invited the participants to walk down the street and observe their environment the City in Translation way:

spot all the languages other than English, start to think about their meaning, why they are present in this environment and how you feel about it

Because of the very short timeframe, I specifically asked everyone not to use their mobile phones to do research or go into Google Translate, and I asked them to just dive into the whole experience like a flâneur.  

I handed everyone one of my DIY maps, not because there was any risk of getting lost on this short pedestrian street at a 5 minute walking distance from the event venue, but as a guidance in case they wouldn't feel inspired during their walk. They could just look at the map and have some idea about what they could look at and reflect on. 

I gave everyone 15 minutes to wander on Exmouth Market and asked them to meet me back at the Japanese Café nécco so we could share the experience sipping some green tea.

Japanese Cafe  nécco  on Exmouth Market

Japanese Cafe nécco on Exmouth Market

We had about 20 minutes to discuss and share insights about our short City in Translation adventure. So we did a quick round to gather impressions - these were quite positive and it was especially good for me to hear they found the experience enjoyable. I also learned (or the experience confirmed to me) that not everyone thinks about languages and translation in public space the way I do. But we barely had the time to have an in-depth conversation and touch upon possible uses for a City in Translation workshop in other settings such as schools, museums, or for different kinds of audiences. 

Some Lessons Learnt

  • duration: 1 hour is too short to do such a workshop, especially if we need to be in three different locations, in this case we were at Free Word, moved to Exmouth Market, sat at nécco café and moved back to Free Word. Even for a "taste" or short test, I would think 1h30 would be much better. 
  • weather: a bit of rain isn't so problematic, but it's good to make sure people have umbrellas otherwise the experience can get unpleasant. 
  • time: if it is winter and you do this at 5pm, make sure to work in a well-lit area. So Exmouth Market is a good place for that. But if you have a choice, pick daylight time, you see better, and the street is more lively too. 
  • participants: the number was good, 6 people, especially in the short time we had.
  • guidance/tools: I think I may have left it too open, I could have been much more specific about what to do while walking around. On the other hand, I wanted the participants to try strolling and letting their minds go even for 15 short minutes, so they could take in as much as they could freely, without me telling them how to do it. The map may have given a little help and also set the tone (being DYI, a bit playful), which is what I intended. But the guidance and tools need to change depending on the audience and if we want to achieve something.
  • outcome: (this is linked to the previous point) there wasn't anything produced at the end of this short workshop and it wasn't the intention either. The purpose was to discover a new way of using multilingualism and to show how it could be organised within the City in Translation
    mindset. This isn't a negative point in itself, but in retrospect, I could have given just one simple task which would have driven to a concrete outcome rather than a general discussion. 
  • discussion: I think we had a fruitful conversation about the whole idea, but no concrete outcome (see previous point). Again, this isn't a negative point in itself, but it does show that I need to work on a more concrete set of tools and share them here so people - the participants and others if interested, can use them within their own work. 

I will therefore prepare a new post in this resources section with some detailed tips on how to deliver a City in Translation workshop. And because I publish everything under a Creative Commons Licence that allows remixing, it will also give plenty of space to adapt it to your own needs.