Will you be my Valen-cia-tine? Finding language lovers in Valencian schools

by Dominic Keown

Whether we like it or not, the notion of impact has brought a whole new dimension to the way disciplines in the Humanities have to address themselves. Once academically inward-looking subjects, which remained untroubled in the protective, intellectual comfort of bygone ages, arts and literatures, our subjects have had to find avenues of immediacy to connect with a wider range of audiences in an effort to underline the relevance of their teaching and research.

To a certain extent, languages have been given more time than most to adapt to this unfriendly if not openly hostile environment. The struggle for self-justification was made all too apparent by the Blair government’s removal of the obligation to study a language up to GCSE level. Moreover, those of us involved in the defence of minority cultures in Europe have laboured long and hard at the coal face of linguistic defence. Big is beautiful in the globalised world which rejoices in homogenisation and the elimination of idiomatic diversity.

Such is the case in the Iberian Peninsula where the pressure exerted by the global dominance of Spanish is squeezing out the competition of the other languages of state. The latest socio-linguistic figures for the Valencian Community, for example, reveal that whereas the education system is making progress in terms of teen-age literacy in Catalan, oral use among this constituency is declining. With little or no presence in the mass or social media of the locality and a long-standing, hostile political environment caused by the independence crisis in neighbouring Catalonia, the outcome was only to be expected.

In an attempt to arrest such a decline, the MML faculty in conjunction with MEITS (particular thanks go to Dr Rhiannon McGlade, Strand1) has organised an online webconference (7-28 February) on the language and culture for Sixth formers in Valencia. The first concern is to underline the prestige of Catalan and the creative contribution of the locality. To this effect six international experts offer webinars (in German, French, Italian and English) on topics connected with the curriculum of the School Leavers Certificate. After watching this input, students will be encouraged to interact with the academics in a series of Q&A sessions on Skype.

In order not to alienate the audience with too much seriousness, however, a playful dimension is included. Following the lead of Catalanists from MML, the school pupils will be encouraged to record songs, poetry recitals, sketches – even rap versions of the same – to participate in a creative talent show which showcases the fun aspect of the discipline. A vote at the end of the conference will decide the winners of each section (for more information visit and explore our pages).

Fun in any subject is a vital part of ensuring student recruitment in Higher Education. And our first attempt to stimulate interactivity will be targeted at a Valentine’s Day campaign to become “a Cambridge Language Lover”. Participants will be encouraged to forward a brief interview in a foreign language, filmed on the mobile, describing themselves and why they love languages. The reward? A tastelessly garish badge – so appropriate for the day – confirming their amorous relation with philology at this University.

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