Tate Exchange


Polyglot workshops


London, 22 May 2019 

How can languages professionals address the languages crisis? And what happens when polyglots and artists get together with language teachers and learners to address the issues that face our discipline?


Two polyglot workshops at the Tate Exchange, London, on 22 May 2019, seek to address these issues. The workshops are organised by Open University languages academic Tita Beaven in conjunction with Counterpoint Art as part of the Who Are We project (https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/tate-exchange/workshop/who-are-we-2019)


The first workshop, Language learning, risks and recipes, is aimed at A level students and their teachers. Language enthusiasts from four London schools will join poet Laila Sumpton, artist Natasha Davis and polyglots Richard Simcott, Lindsay Williams and Olly Richards to explore language through group activities in the heart of the Who Are We exhibition at the Tate Exchange. Laila says: ‘We’ll investigate what language learning feels like, what the risks are and what ingredients are needed for the present and future health of language learning. There will be objects, poems, polyglots and sharpies- we look forward to hearing your ideas!‘


The second workshop brings together the same two artists and three polyglots, this time to discuss how to address the language crisis in the UK with language teachers from schools, FE and universities.  

We have heard recently in the news that students seem to find language stressful and are asking to be excused from language classes by their GPs (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2019/05/05/children-find-foreign-languages-stressful-signed-gp-headteachers/) and that languages are under threat because students don’t want to take language A levels as they are perceived as being too tough (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/may/11/modern-language-teaching-under-threat-from-tough-exams). And has Brexit engendered a linguaphobia in England that will be difficult to shift in years to come? https://theconversation.com/britain-must-address-its-linguaphobia-now-to-survive-post-brexit-97787

And yet, in parallel to this languages crisis, the last few years have seen the rise of the thriving polyglot community, and plenty of language superlearners are learning multiple languages ‘in the wild’. So why is there a disconnect between the decline in languages at schools and universities and the enthusiasm and dedication of polyglots? What can languages professionals learn from this thriving community?  If being plurilingual changes how you see yourself and the world, how can we inspire more people to learn more languages?


The first event is now fully booked, but if you would like to attend the second workshop,  which is free, please visit: