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Creative challenge in European languages

Alumni funding is giving students an opportunity to develop and practise their creative writing skills in European languages.

Students and staff behind BABBLE
Student and staff contributors to BABBLE, an online creative writing magazine for students in European Languages and Cultures.

Many of us know the struggles of learning a foreign language. Getting the grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary right in order to sound idiomatic is a long process that requires a lot of time and effort. 

Thanks to alumni donations to the Edinburgh Fund, students in the Department of European Languages and Cultures (DELC) can now practise their target languages while channelling their creative and literary talents through a new project called BABBLE.

Filling a gap

BABBLE is an online creative writing magazine for students in European Languages and Cultures. French tutors Sylvain Blanche and Anne Laure Brugnon - both big fans of literature - came up with the concept and enlisted the help of Dr Fabien Arribert-Narce, lecturer in French, and Dr Carlo Pirozzi, teaching fellow in Italian.

While the department offered a broad range of classes on language grammar, literature and film analysis, there was not enough scope for students to write creatively in their target languages.

BABBLE was designed to address this potential gap by exploring other ways of learning and practising foreign languages in a university context. It was a popular idea and saw many staff and students jump on board, which increased the community spirit among the different language areas, as Fabien hoped would be the case:

The project was also a way to reinforce a sense of community within DELC by developing a multilingual approach.

Dr Fabien Arribert-NarceLecturer in French

Crafted by students

The magazine's name was suggested by a student. It plays both on the Tower of Babel (the biblical story of the tower’s construction explains the existence of diverse languages) and the idea of many people talking simultaneously in different languages. As Anne Laure says, the name also reflects both the challenges and the pleasure of working in a multilingual environment.

The first issue of the magazine was published this spring and features the work of 24 student contributors in a range of languages.

Louise Nimmo, who recently graduated with a degree in French and Russian, decided to contribute to the magazine because she wanted to learn and practise creative writing in her two target languages:

It was challenging to write in foreign languages, however the guidance I received was really constructive and as a result I learned from my mistakes.

Louise NimmoFrench and Russian 2018

Her French piece (page 60 of the online magazine) describes someone she met in Paris who was chasing his dream to be a famous filmmaker. Her Russian piece (page 26) is a portrait of her father. As Louise highlights, crafting pieces from her own memories helped her use the language in a more involved and personal way.

Putting theory into practice

DELC students have also had an opportunity to take part in the decision process and join the editorial committee that manages the content of the magazine. “We wanted to launch a magazine which could later be managed by students for students,” Carlo explained.

Peter Green, Law and Spanish graduate, enjoyed being part of the BABBLE team and notes that his involvement in the editorial board has not only helped him to improve his language skills but also his creative thinking:

Editing other students' work requires one not only to check whether the language is grammatically correct and contains no spelling mistakes but also requires the editor to get a sense of the bigger picture behind the piece.

Peter GreenLaw and Spanish 2018
Peter recites his poem
Peter recites his Spanish poem at the BABBLE magazine launch.

Peter also submitted a poem in Spanish (page 50) and says BABBLE was a chance to put his course theory into practice. His creative piece speaks about the relationship between grandfather and grandson. The grandson sees the living past through his grandad as he watches him work the land. Its form, free verse, reflects the speaker's internal monologue.

The future

The BABBLE project is being promoted in DELC teaching materials and has its own webpage. The team plans to publish one issue per semester and the founding members of the magazine said they would be delighted to attend BABBLE’s 50th issue anniversary event in 25 years’ time.

Alumni support

This project was supported by an alumni-funded Innovation Initiative Grant. £1,693 enabled the BABBLE team to create and release the first issue of the magazine and organise a successful launch event in March. The grant also paid for a graduate graphic designer, Pilar Garcia de Leaniz, to create an original masthead for the magazine.

The alumni funding boosted the team’s confidence and gave them a sense of a mission:

Getting this grant was as if the alumni were saying they would have liked to be part in this venture when they were still students. We needed to do it – and to do it well – not only for our current cohort but also for all the people who studied languages at Edinburgh.

Sylvain BlancheTutor in French

Related links

Download issue one of BABBLE magazine (9.22MB PDF) 

BABBLE magazine website 

Department of European Languages and Cultures (DELC)

Edinburgh Fund