Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Heart, Hand & Head

Anna Canning and Gesine Argent discuss creative approaches to foreign language learning and teaching.

Photo of a crafted green heart

The School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) offers one of the widest range of languages of any UK university, from Arabic to Russian, Scottish Gaelic to Japanese.

We are constantly striving to make the learning of languages and cultures as rich and rewarding an experience as possible for students at all levels, from complete beginners to doctoral candidates.

As part of the University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Creative Learning, LLC staff members Gesine Argent, Rose France and Katia Popova have some together with Anna Canning to deliver Heart, Hand & Head in foreign language learning/teaching, a two-hour workshop on novel and engaging approaches to foreign language learning for adults.

Playful activities and artful challenges will include creating word trees, exploring children's rhymes, and calligraphy.

Photo of Anna Canning
Anna Canning © Martha Tait

No matter which language was involved, the stories were the same

“The idea of the "Heart, Hand & Head" workshop stemmed from conversations with friends”, says Anna Canning, who is a translator, community education worker and researcher. “We were talking about approaches that we had personally found helpful in overcoming fear of speaking in a foreign language, tackling difficulties in learning vocabulary or getting to grips with grammar.”

“Reminiscing amidst much laughter, we concluded that playfulness and creativity had been key - learning through songs, rhymes or rhythms, playing with sounds and onomatopoeia, games, and finding meaningful connections to the cultural context of a language through creative activities. No matter which language was involved, the stories were the same.”

“This in turn recalled the “Three Hs” of Patrick Geddes' educational philosophy: for any learning (and teaching) to be meaningful and transformative, the learner needs to be actively engaged emotionally, physically and mentally. For Geddes, a receptive mind was a relaxed, contented one: “It can hardly be too strongly insisted that good teaching begins neither with knowledge or discipline, but through delight.””

“Creative approaches open the door to enjoyment and can greatly enhance learning. In our workshop, learners and teachers alike will have a chance to explore what delights them and try a range of playful, creative activities aimed at engaging heart, hand and head.”

Photo of Gesine Argent
Gesine Argent of The Princess Dashkova Russian Centre

Comparing language learning to a path of exploration

“Learning languages helps you to understand people and make yourself understood, and not just in the immediate communicative sense - you develop deeper cultural understanding”, says Gesine Argent, Centre Manager and Research Associate at the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre at LLC, when asked about the benefits of language learning.

I like a comparison made by cognitive neuroscientist, Thomas Bak (Reader in Psychology at Edinburgh, writing in The Guardian last year) likening language learning to a path of exploration. The final result - being able to speak a language - is a great asset, but the skills and experiences gained on the way are just as crucial.”

“Language learning is about history and culture, science and technology, politics and economics. We also work out how we as individuals learn best, we become better at multitasking and gain the profound other positive benefits that language learning has on cognitive processes.”

“Learning languages is an enjoyable and immensely satisfying process.”

'Heart, Hand & Head in foreign language learning/teaching' takes place in The Project Room, 50 George Square, Edinburgh from 10am until noon on Thursday 22nd February 2018. It is free and open to everyone. If you are a student or staff member of the University of Edinburgh, you can book online on MyEd. If you are not, please email

Related links

Find out about all 15 Festival of Creative Learning Events involving LLC staff and students

Find out more about the Princess Dashkova Russian Centre