For the love of languages

Linguists from across the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) family of schools came together to celebrate languages both ancient and modern. Students were welcomed at Sutton High School for the GDST Languages Festival, a whole day of linguistic competition.

The Festival first took place in 2015 at Northampton High School, growing out of a Spelling Bee event for Years 7 to 9. Heads of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) thought it was such a success they decided to make it an annual event. This year, 230 students and 30 French, German, Latin and Spanish teachers from ten GDST schools attended. This year Latin was included in the event.

The day began with a keynote speech by Ian Bauckham, a well-known MFL teacher who advises the government on languages policy.  He inspired students with accounts of famous women from different walks of life for whom the study of languages proved ground-breaking, such as Martina Navratilova and J K Rowling.  Bauckham also told students that only 43% of the global population speaks only one language, it is much more normal to be bilingual.

The day was broken up with different events and competitions for each year group. Year 7 had a Spelling Bee with teams of three competing to spell words in French, German and Spanish. The younger girls did brilliantly, staying calm in this nerve-wracking event. They also learned verses from the Disney song ‘Frozen’ in their different languages. In a great collaborative effort, they then performed their multi-lingual song to everyone present.

Girls in Year 8 went head-to-head in a Culture Quiz before hearing a fascinating lecture from

Professor David Adger from Queen Mary University of London, who introduced them to the disciplines of linguistics and philology. Girls put their newfound knowledge to good use by inventing languages of their own, using linguistic principles such as word order and reduplication to convey ideas such as subject, object and tense.

Year 9 pupils performed sketches which they had written themselves on the subject of ‘A first meeting or first date’ in all four languages.  The judging panel was regaled with inventive interpretations of the subject, many of them humorous, and was impressed by the high acting standards.

In a new element of the competition, Year 10 pupils joined up with their Year 12 counterparts to prepare and conduct debates on controversial issues, such as whether young people could live without their mobiles or whether it is better to live in the town or country.  The Year 10 and 12 partnership proved really fruitful and the girls definitely rose to this challenge. Hopefully it will inspire Year 10 girls to take up their study of languages into the Sixth Form.

It was a wonderful day, with very positive comments from many of the students who attended.

Ishita, from Notting Hill & Ealing High School, said: “Being with so many people with the same passion for languages as me has inspired me to aspire to be part of the 1% of the world who are polyglots.”

Rosie, from Brighton Girls, said: “It was a super, perfect day. It has given us lots of opportunities to meet new people as well as hear about different languages.  Merci, gracias, danke!”

Freya, a student at Croydon High School, said: “This day has opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities that language brings.  I feel that the limited number of capable linguists in this country could inspire the current generation to explore the possibilities of foreign culture, something which I never thought of until today.  I’ve enjoyed being tested and challenged throughout the day, and glad I can now look to new opportunities in the future.”