Mother Tongue Other Tongue Returns!

Thanks to sponsorship from MEITS, the Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry competition will run again this year, in its entirety.

Established originally as a small pilot in the North West (a partnership between Routes into Languages North West, staff from the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Manchester Metropolitan University) the Mother Tongue Other Tongue project was devised as a Laureate Education Project in 2012. The intention was to celebrate the many languages and cultures that made up the region, encouraging secondary school students whose first language wasn’t English to share their Mother Tongue by remembering or creating poetry written in their ‘Mother Tongue’ and to encourage those pupils learning an ‘Other Tongue’ (a new language) to be creative in that language by writing an original poem.

The project was subsequently replicated in other regions of England and in Scotland and has proved equally successful.

As Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy wrote in the Routes into Languages East 2014 Poetry Anthology, “In sharing their remembered and original poetry, in many languages, these young people addressed themes and ideas that are common to all cultures, inter alia: love, loss, family, nature….over the years the project has generated hugely positive responses, showing that through the common language of poetry we can break down perceived cultural barriers.”

It is a poetry competition that until this year has only been open to secondary school students in the East. This year, for the first time we’re extending it to primary schools too (Years 5 and 6)

There are two categories:

Mother Tongue – pupils whose first language is not English, or who speak another language at home, are encouraged to submit a poem or song in their Mother Tongue. This can be an original or a ‘remembered’ piece.
It can be written in any language, except English. Entries will be judged on a short paragraph in which pupils will explain the piece and its significance to them.

Other Tongue – pupils learning another language in school are encouraged to get creative with their Other Tongue and submit an original poem for the competition. 

Each school can submit 2 entries per year group for each category, with all the shortlisted poems included in an anthology. Shortlisted poets will also be invited to a celebration event, possibly as part of a MEITS event or the Cambridge Festival of Ideas.

From feedback from past years we know that the project has a positive impact on students’ attitude to languages. The connection with Cambridge University, especially for the celebration event helps raise aspirations and supports the schools in empowering young people to realize the value of their languages and heritage whilst encouraging them to reach their full potential, wherever possible.

Last year the project involved 83 poems and 82 poets (one poet submitted two poems: one Mother Tongue and one Other Tongue) from 15 schools in the eastern region - Queen Katharine Academy, Ely College, St Ivo School, Longsands Academy, Saffron Walden County High School, Hellesdon High School, Comberton Village College, Hinchingbrooke School, Gresham's School, Westcliff High School for Girls, Westcliff High School for Boys, Stephen Perse, Felsted School, Colchester Royal Grammar School, Edward VI School.

There were poems in 18 languages:




Filipino (Tagalog)

French (both Mother Tongue and Other Tongue)

German (both Mother Tongue and Other Tongue)













This year there has been an increased initial interest in the project from teachers in both mainstream and supplementary schools with over 40 schools registering an interest.

For more information see:

Sarah Schechter

Director, Routes into Languages East

May 2020

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