News | Monday, 24th June 2019

Pupil poetry competition celebrates richness of languages in modern Britain

Poet Imtiaz Dharker was special guest at Mother Tongue Other Tongue awards event

The winning pupils at the Mother Tongue Other Tongue awards event
The winning pupils at the Mother Tongue Other Tongue awards event

Schoolchildren have showcased their bilingual creativity through an inspirational multilingual poetry competition that celebrates the richness of languages in modern Britain.

Mother Tongue, Other Tongue (MTOT) is an annual poetry contest for pupils run by The Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University and languages consortium Routes Into Languages.

The project encourages children who speak a community language at home to celebrate their ‘mother tongue’ by writing a poem in it, and for pupils learning a new language at school to write a poem in their ‘other tongue’.

Internationally renowned poets and creative writing students lead poetry workshops in schools, before the winning entries are announced at an annual celebration event at the University.

MTOT, which was created by the former poet laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, who is a Professor of Contemporary Poetry and Creative Director of the University’s Manchester Writing School, has engaged over 35,000 students since 2012. It has helped to foster pride for community languages and cultures and encouraging educational aspirations for underrepresented groups, particularly among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

This is a project that celebrates all the richness of languages spoken in Britain

Special guest Imtiaz Dharker

The North West regional awards event was held at the University on Friday (June 21) with the special guest, poet Imtiaz Dharker, giving a speech and handing out the awards to pupils.

Dharker, who has won a Queen’s Gold Medal for her English poetry, said: “Mother Tongue Other Tongue gives young people a way to cross borders in the most exciting way – through language.

Special guest, the poet Imtiaz Dharker
Special guest, the poet Imtiaz Dharker

“Moving between a first language and a learned one, listening to what is shared, what is different and what happens in translation, is an act of empowerment: it changes the way students see their own lives and others’, as well as  how they imagine themselves in the world.

“They are able to pay attention to the words, the lullabies and songs they grew up with and shine all that light into the place where they are today.

“This is a project that celebrates all the richness of languages spoken in Britain.

“It feels as if it should always have existed, and I wish I had had something like it when I was growing up. It would have saved me all the years of stumbling over my own tongue before I learned to respect it.

“It is inspiring to see these young people coming to language as something freshly discovered, newly-made. That is where poetry begins.”

Schoolchildren perform their poetry
Schoolchildren perform their poetry

Many languages represented

In the Mother Tongue category – for first languages other than English – pupils submitted original or ‘remembered’ poems in a whole array of languages, including Malaysian, Urdu, Arabic, Somali, Hindi, Patois (from the Caribbean), Tagalog (from The Philippines), Urdu, Italian, Tiu Adialeck (from Nigeria), Irish Gaelic, Bengali, Polish, Catalan, Japanese and Persian. They also needed to write a short companion explanation outlining their inspiration for the choice.

Poetry composed in Spanish, Urdu, German, French, Spanish and Italian was among the entries children sent in for the Other Tongue category - intended for languages learned in school.


Inspiration for schoolchildren

Yasmin Hussain, Faculty Outreach Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University and Routes into Languages NW Co-Director, said: “We were delighted to invite Imtiaz Dharker as our guest of honour to the national celebration of the Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition.

“It is a great opportunity for young people to be inspired by such an amazing poet and artist, with Imtiaz sharing her own experiences of the importance of poetry, cultural heritage and creative writing.

“The Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition is unique as it allows pupils to use their bilingualism creatively. The project has allowed pupils to explore their multiple identities through culture, poetry and language.

“Being multilingual has many advantages and it’s great that pupils learn to value this early on in their lives."

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