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Multilingual Creativity

How can plurilingualism amongst young people be harnessed for creativity?


Multilingual Creativity SmallAcross the UK more than one million children and teenagers use languages other than English in their daily lives. They become adept at mixing and matching these languages to tailor conversation to fit their situations.

This has led to hybrid and innovative language use emerging as new 'plurilingual' practices that go beyond the simple coexistence of separate languages. The skills that plurilingualism foster offer immense creative potential but this is still largely unrecognised within public policy and education.

This project sought to answer the question ‘How can plurilingualism among young people be harnessed for creativity?’ It built on existing work in the area of ‘multilingual creativity’ already taking place in universities, schools, and arts & cultural organisations aimed at helping young people recognise, develop and benefit from their plurilingual skills.

A graphic representation of discussions at the final workshop created by artist  Sandra Howgate. Click on image to see a full-sized version in a new window.

The objective was to consolidate the work already being carried out in high quality projects and research in this area which should lead to:

  1. greater sharing of research and best practice
  2. new and more impactful projects
  3. a higher profile for plurilingualism. 

Building on research commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation and the work of the Multilingual Creativity Advisory Committee based at the Free Word Centre, King’s and the Free Word Centre hosted a series of events over the 2015-16 academic year that brought together schools, libraries, community organisations, academics and researchers, arts and cultural organisations, arts practitioners, funding bodies, the media and publishers.

 Project Outcomes

The Multilingual Creativity events series was conceived of as a way to bring the various practitioners, artists and researchers involved together, in order to share best practice and establish key principles about how plurilingualism amongst young people can be harnessed for creativity. 

Major points to emerge were:

  • The need to embrace the complexity and hybridity of putative 'language communities'.
  • The potential for creative writing and other artistic activities to engage with the complex linguistic repertoires of multilingual individuals.
  • That multilingual creativity can be used to support the arts, engaging new audiences, just as the arts can be used to harness multilingual creativity.
  • That although young people are 'digital natives', the printed book still holds a talismanic status as an output for cultural projects.

As part of the project, the Mulitilingual Creativity website, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was created to collate projects, resources, research, events and opportunities from across the emerging sector of Multilingual Creativity, and provide a hub where this information can be shared, promoting new developments and collaborations. 

In order to take the project forward, the project team are currently scoping the possibility of an MSc module at King’s on the subject of Multilingual Creativity. Plans are underway for a series of taster sessions this academic year, involving contributions to an MA course, the MFL PGCE training, as well as an example training day and a practical workshop for undergrads.

Project Events

The Big Translate at the Southank Centre - 21 June 2017, 10:00

The Big Translate is led by 20 budding translators from King’s College London, who have been trained by the Translators in Schools programme.

Under their guidance, the 60 participating children discover that everything – story, pictures and tone alike – needs translating. They become code-cracking language detectives, using glossaries to make first a literal translation, then a polished, nuanced version.

Along the way they learn what translation involves, what happens to books when they make the journey from one language (and culture) to another, and how different languages and translated literature can enrich our lives. The children then take to the stage to talk about what they have learned.

Project Team

Sam Holmes, Centre for Language Discourse & Communication, School of Education, Communication & Society
Sam Holmes is a teacher and consultant in English as an additional language (EAL) and is currently completing a PhD at King’s, investigating hybrid language use by London schoolchildren. Sam created the Portuguese language course for Arsenal FC’s Double Club scheme, curated the secondary school strand of Translation Nation and is involved in training and mentoring professional translators to deliver workshops to children as part of Translators in Schools

Professor Ben Rampton, Centre for Language Discourse & Communication, School of Education, Communication & Society
Ben Rampton’s research involves ethnographic and interactional discourse analysis, cross-referring to work in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies. His publications cover language, urban multilingualism, youth, popular culture, ethnicities, class, language education and classroom discourse, second language learning, and research methodology. Ben teaches on a range of courses in sociolinguistics, applied linguistics and research methods.

Free Word 
The  Free Word Centre is an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression. Through artistic programmes and public events they promote and protect the written and spoken word, and provide a space for collaboration, exploration and dissent. Free Word provides a home for six Resident organisations and over 25 Associates, who work across literature, literacy and free expression. They host a year-round programme of events and exhibitions at Free Word and beyond, and they pursue their own artistic programme exploring three Lines of Enquiry (Translation, Environment and Democracy): three strands of work that address key issues of our time.

Dr Meg Vandermerwe, University of the Western Cape
Meg Vandermerwe is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing in the UWC English Department. She has published academic and creative work in South Africa, the UK, the US and Australia. Her two works of fiction to date are, This Place I Call Home (2010) and Zebra Crossing (2013). Zebra Crossing was selected by the Cape Times as one of the ten best South African books published in 2013 and was Long Listed for the 2014 Sunday Times Literary Award. Meg is interested in the practise and nurture of creative writing, as well as its pedagogical theory, particularly in a multi-lingual Southern African context. Meg is on the board of the CMDR (Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research) at UWC where her responsibilities include, UWC CREATES, the first multi-lingual Creative Writing programme in South African Higher Education, which she started in 2009 with Antjie Krog.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests, based in Lisbon with offices in London and Paris. The purpose of the UK Branch in London is to bring about long-term improvements in wellbeing, particularly for the most vulnerable, by creating connections across boundaries (national borders, communities, disciplines and sectors) which deliver social, cultural and environmental value.

Stephen Spender Trust
The Stephen Spender Trust is a charity that promotes literary translation and early 20th century literature by means of two poetry translation prizes (The Stephen Spender Prize, in association with the Guardian, and the Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize, a biennial Russian–English translation competition); Translation Nation (translation workshops in primary and secondary schools); Translators in Schools (a professional development programme); and seminars.


Multilingual Creativity was a collaboration between King College London's School of Education, Communication & Society and Free Word, supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.  It was supported by the university's Culture team.

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