MEITS does the Festival of Ideas

by Katie Howard

There is little doubt that having some knowledge and appreciation of different languages can provide us with unique access to cultures, communities and countries across the world. It is with this thought in mind that our MEITS Festival of Ideas event, Languages: Your passport to the world, took place on 20 October 2018. The aim of the event was to showcase the many benefits of multilingualism, to uncover the hidden world of languages and to have fun discovering weird and wonderful facts about how languages animate our daily lives.

Over 200 people, both young and not-so-young, came through the doors to take part in a wide range of exciting multilingual activities. From exploring how the human brain helps us to learn languages (and how languages can help the brain) to saving words that might otherwise be lost in translation, with each activity came another stamp on our visitors’ language passports. There was the chance to become a multilingual mastermind in our interactive quiz and to discover just how much of the language we use every day is borrowed from other languages in ‘Quack Attack’.* Moving around the room, visitors were challenged by questions such as ‘do we make judgements about people based on their accents?’, ‘what languages are the hardest and easiest to learn?’ and ‘why are some languages in danger of dying out?’.

The most special part of the day for me was seeing the buzz of conversations around the room as those who came along shared their own personal stories about languages. Both those who use two or more languages on a daily basis in their family and working lives and those who mainly use English gave fascinating insights about why they believed languages can open doors and left the event having reflected on the importance of multilingualism both for the individual and for society. In fact, some of the visitors left ready to commit (or recommit) to taking the next step in their language learning journey; “I’m going to start learning German again”, one man declared with a huge grin on his way out!

Our hope is that all those who attended the event were inspired to think more about the value of multilingualism, and enjoyed engaging with the latest research into languages. The event also provided us with an excellent opportunity to develop our ideas for the MEITS Pop-Up Museum, which will be coming to Cambridge, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Belfast in late 2019 – watch this space!

*No lingua-ducks were harmed in the making of this game.

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