Multilingualism should not be a concern of a few academics or policymakers, it is not an uncomfortable consequence of migration or colonisation, it is a reality that we are all living with, and this is why it needs to be spoken about.
The Mother Tongues Festival, taking place in Dublin every year around the date of UNESCO International Mother Language Day, is a celebration of our languages. An arts festival is the best way to engage everyone in pausing and thinking about our languages and the role they play in our lives. Participating in a multilingual festival can be transformational for a child who may think that they are the only one speaking a certain language, it can be inspiring for a teenager who has never seen a teacher or a role model who speaks their parents’ language or looks like them, it can be very emotional for a parent who feels lonely on the journey to multilingualism. Providing a platform for sharing these experiences through creativity is transformational for artists, too. Many of the artists we have worked with have told us that taking part in the festival and seeing the effects on the participants has shaped their understanding of their own practice.
The festival is a collection of moments, and each moment touches someone in ways we cannot predict. Because art, like language, can be subtle, it can tell you something you need to hear, without saying anything; it can stir emotions that are deeply rooted, but that you had suppressed, the same way you may suppress your accent or our language. Art can bring you into that space in which you meet with yourself, with your thoughts and emotions, with your language and your identity. This is why art needs to speak to multiple identities. This is the magic the festival aims to create.
Anything that is loved survives.
Mother Tongues Festival 2023 kicked off on Thursday with a panel discussion on multilingualism and creativity moderated by Dr Anca Minescu. One of the common points made by the speakers was the difficulty and importance of preserving multiple languages and cultures. Nisha Tandon, founder and director of Arts Ekta in Belfast, shared her joy in seeing her grandchildren proud to be the only Hindi speakers in school.
Anna Ní Ghallachair, chairperson to the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta, reminded us that almost all languages are connected, and that Irish is the oldest language still spoken today, carrying also many influences from other languages. Oein DeBhairduin and Dr Hala Jaba helped us to connect the dots by reminding us of the human urge for storytelling and singing as a way to connect beyond languages. Sometimes, establishing connection does not need to rely on a common language.
Watch back the panel
Friday the 17th the Festival hosted a final full-day workshop for artists and writers who had taken part in ‘Words Work’, a professional development opportunity for artists interested in exploring multilingual processes in their practice, led by multilingual writer and artist Caroline Bergvall. One of the aims of this series of workshops was to increase artists’ confidence in creating multilingual works and create opportunities for future collaborative work among the participants.
One language sets you in a corridor for life.
Two languages open every door along the way.
Saturday the 18th, was a day to remember for hundreds of attendees! Families and their children came together for the festival’s activity-packed family day, celebrating multilingualism through creative workshops.
The workshops created an opportunity for children to spend time getting creative with their families and others, but also shared the important message that every language is important and should be valued, used and cherished.
Exploring different languages cultivates appreciation and curiosity. The artists at the Festival created safe spaces to speak whatever language families and their children felt comfortable using.
Whether through singing Sean-nós tunes or dancing together to Brazilian Funk music, all artists reminded us of the importance of exploring diverse languages, sounds and forms of creative expression.
We are grateful to the artists who made this festival possible, the South Dublin Community Volunteers for their valuable time and support and our team for the passion and drive to put together Mother Tongues Festival 2023.
Such an event would not have been possible without the funders and sponsors who have been supporting the delivery of our mission to promote multilingualism and intercultural dialogue through the arts.
Mother Tongues Festival is supported and funded by the Arts Council, South Dublin County Council, South Dublin County Tourism, Languages Connect, the French Embassy in Ireland, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Rua Red, the Civic Theatre and RTÉ Supporting the Arts.
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Mother Tongues Festival