Dr Francesca La Morgia is a linguist, lecturer and researcher. She is the founding director of Mother Tongues where she is responsible for Learning, Research and Policy Development. She has been a lecturer in linguistics in Trinity College, Ulster University, Maynooth University and the University of Reading. She has written on issues related to migration, multilingualism and intercultural spaces. Francesca is an alumna of the second Artist in the Community Scheme Summer School on Cultural Diversity and Collaborative Practice (2019).
Building and touring the Interactive Museum of Languages for Young Audiences
There is a widespread belief that multilingualism is rare or special and that the norm is speaking only one language. This is far from true. There are more people in the world who speak more than one language than there are monolinguals.
It is often difficult to explain what it is like to have a language inside your mind that is “speaking to you”, that wants to emerge, but that has to stay silent. For years bilingual children in schools have silenced one of their languages (or more) to focus on the language of instruction, and this is something that will speak to Irish speakers all over the country.
This is what made me want to create a visual representation of multiple languages, which are normally invisible and intangible, but are present in our lives.
While this idea of creating a physical piece to increase visibility of languages and act as a starting point for discussion had been floating in my mind for a long time, but it was only a commission from South Dublin County Council Arts Office for Cruinniú na nOg that sparked my interest in pursuing it further. At the time there were several restrictions associated with Covid19, so a touring museum of languages seemed to be the right way to reach children in schools at a time of severe restrictions.
The artist who was ready for the challenge was Tomasz Madajczak, who understood immediately the scope of the project and the potential impact it could have on all children.
Tomasz named his creation IMLYA, the Interactive Museum of Languages for Young Audiences.
Here you can hear Tomasz sharing a message for the children who are about to explore the museum.
In this video Tomasz talks about the different components of the museum.
The museum started touring in May 2021 and has so far reached thousands of children in different parts of Ireland who have engaged with it in their own school, library or arts centre.
Through a collaboration with Wexford library, IMLYA recently visited children in schools across Wexford county and through the skilled facilitation of artist Fernanda Ferrari children created fantastic multilingual books that were then displayed in Wexford library and exhibited for all children, families and other visitors to enjoy. There is something quite magical about IMLYA, and children are immediately drawn to it, they want to touch it and play with it. There is also a very deep connection that children see in some of the pieces, as they remind them of their parents’ languages, of writing systems they see when they visit their family abroad, of sounds that “sound like home”. As an adult, I also am drawn to IMLYA and I see something new every time I look. There is a video of Tomasz himself telling a story in Polish, a poem by film-maker Jijo Sebastian in Malayalam, a fairytale told by artist Fernanda Ferrari in Brazilian Portuguese… so many people have contributed their knowledge, expertise, words and sounds, that IMLYA carries a very special meaning to me and my hope is that it will continue to inspire children around Ireland to be curious about languages and cultures.
Watch out for the next and last blog, where we will be extending an invitation to Celebrate UNESCO International Mother Language Day together!