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UK's first museum of languages travels to Edinburgh

A series of pop-up exhibitions designed to inspire more people to learn languages is coming to Summerhall as part of the 2019 Edinburgh Multilingual Stories Festival (7-10 November)

The information and public engagement centre Bilingualism Matters is organising the 2nd annual Edinburgh Multilingual Stories Festival, featuring the first-of-its-kind “World of Languages” pop-up museum. The pop-up museum is designed by the AHRC project 'Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies' (MEITS).

Weird and wonderful hands-on experiences

An Alice in ‘Language Wonderland’ adventure; a ‘Lost in Translation’ untranslatable word challenge; a pool of creatures carrying words loaned to English (e.g. emoji, rucksack and graffiti); a ‘language family’ street; an ‘I Love You’ language line; and a Mr Tickle accent spotting game.

These are just some of the weird and wonderful hands-on experiences to be had in the pop-up museum.

The unique project, led by language experts at the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Queen’s Belfast and Nottingham, aims to revitalise modern languages in the UK by showing they are fun, achievable and useful to learn.

The UK has museums for some really niche things, including lawnmowers and dog collars. So it’s about time we had a museum of languages because they’re such a key part of who we are and how we relate to others, whether we’re at home, on holiday or in the workplace.

Professor Wendy Ayres-BennettMEITS project lead | University of Cambridge

Promoting language learning

The UK is already a richly multilingual country but language learning is in freefall.  Between 2008 and 2018, the number of modern languages undergraduates fell by 54%. This not only disadvantages individuals, but it also harms the UK’s standing in the world, according to Ayres-Bennett.

Numerous studies have shown that learning a language hones analytical and problem-solving skills, cultural awareness and agility, as well as communication skills, important assets in all careers. Language learning can also help to break down barriers and has been shown to play a crucial role in social cohesion.

The pop-up museum is part of a major research project called MEITS (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Its team – including Edinburgh's Reader in Psychology Dr Thomas Bak – investigate the role that languages play in society, while also seeking to inspire uptake at the grassroots and drive languages up the political agenda.

It is never too early or too late to learn a new language: in childhood, it helps with the development of cognitive skills, in adulthood, it can be useful at work, in later life, it's a great way to keep our mind fresh. At any age, it opens new worlds and helps us make new friends.

Dr Thomas BakMEITS project strand lead on Multilingualism: Cognition, Health and Wellbeing | University of Edinburgh

Multilingual festival activities

In addition to the pop-up museum, EMSF features a talk by Professor of Developmental Linguistics Antonella Sorace, a multilingual book swap, a small art exhibition by Edinburgh school children, and a workshop exploring dance and language learning for children aged 9 to 11.

More information

Edinburgh Multilingual Stories Festival 2019

Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies

Bilingualism Matters