Multilingual Digital Storytelling (Routledge, 2016)

Drawing on innovative and multi-site research projects based in mainstream and community schools in London and overseas, this book discusses how young people become engaged creatively and critically with literacy by demonstrating how digital storytelling can be used as a tool for language development. The book begins by considering linguistic, cultural, cognitive and social dimensions of language learning from a theoretical perspective, whilst the second part focuses on practical case studies that reflect and illustrate these theoretical principles

Find out more about the title here

Pop Up Projects CIC: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – Final Report

Between September 2012 and May 2013, Pop Up Projects CIC delivered 'Fusion', a short animation film project with Somali, Bangladeshi, Turkish and Columbian families in the London Boroughs of Camden and Islington, resulting in four short animated bilingual films. The project was funded by Calouste Gulbenian Foundation.

The final report can be downloaded here.

Fusion provided 59 children and parents/guardians with the opportunity to work together with artists (puppeteers from Little Angel Theatre or illustrators from the House of Illustration), writers/translators and filmmakers (from Chocolate Films) to translate, transform and transpose traditional stories from their culture into short animated bilingual films.

The main aims of the project were to:

  1. Engage linguistically diverse parents in their children's literacy education
  2. Influence how our partner schools use reading and writing in translation to impact on family engagement in literacy
  3. Develop a model of practice for application in new schools, learning communities and local authorities
  4. Enrich the 2013 Pop Up Festival of Stories programme with high quality imaginative and artistic outcomes
  5. Increase attendance of linguistically diverse families at the 2013 Pop Up Festival

Over eight sessions, artists and participants took part in a range of story-making and animation activities, including: oral storytelling; translating stories from mother tongue languages into English; developing stories into scripts; designing and creating characters, scenes, backgrounds, etc; and recording dialogue and sounds for the soundtrack. The final animated shorts were created by the artists without the participants, as stop-motion animation is a very time-intensive process. A screening of the four animated films took place on 22 May 2013 at Free Word Centre with all participants attending along with teachers and head-teachers. The Somali short “Dheeg Dheer” was awarded Best Youth Film at the 2013 Lab Film Festival.

The films and a behind-the-scenes documentary can be watched here:

 For more information contact Franziska Liebig at

Access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books among ESL parents in London: A Survey

In 2013, Pop Up Projects CIC surveyed over 100 London parents – originally from 22 different countries – for whom English was not the first language about their language abilities, reading habits and access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books in languages other than English.

In September 2013, Pop Up Projects CIC undertook research into the provision of, access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books among diverse parents for whom English is not the first language. 106 parents from 22 different countries of origin, aged between 26 and 50, were surveyed in eight primary schools in three London boroughs (Hackney, Islington, Camden), with respondents completing surveys on paper consisting of 28 questions, and which had been translated into eight different languages (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Bangla, Somali, Yoruba, Twi). The survey was organised into three sections:

  • Demographics: age, gender, country of origin, number of children
  • Language: home languages, ability (of parents and children) to speak and read in home languages, reading habits in home languages and English
  • Books & Reading: access to and interest in children’s books in languages other than English

89% of respondents were born outside of the UK, and stated that they 'speak (their) home languages the most'; and 76% agreed they communicate orally in their home language 'the most' with their children - with the highest three groups who stated this being Turkish (16%), Somali (12%) and Spanish (7%). However, a substantially large percentage of respondents also 'speak English very well’ (65%) and 'read English very well' (66%), with a further 24% considering themselves 'okay' at speaking English, and 21% 'okay' at reading English - indicating that a majority of respondents are fluent in their home languages but also competent at speaking and reading English. The surveyed parents also perceived their children as able to speak English 'very well' (82%) and 'okay' (16%), and read English 'very well' (78%) and ‘okay’ (10%).

The value this sample group of parents placed on the importance of reading books in the home appeared to be extremely high: 96% said they have 'children's books in English in (the) home', 76% claimed to read books with their children 'very often', while 96% 'would like to read more books with (their) children'.

In contrast to these perceptions of their children's English literacy skills, almost half of respondents perceived their children as not able to 'read very well' (33%) or 'at all' (12%) in their home language. And a clear majority (95%) wanted their children ‘to read better’ in their home language, with a similarly high percentage (85%) wanting children's books in that language in the home. 38% said they did not currently have books in their home language in the home; a total 67% were unaware of children's books in their home languages being available in the schools their children attend (analysis of the 33% who were aware of books in their schools showed that all spoke European languages with the exception of Turkish), while 87% 'would like to have more children's books in (their) language in school''. A further 83% said they 'would like to buy children's books in (their) home language' from a range of sources, with schools ranking first, followed by libraries and bookshops.

These results depict a broad sample of mainly migrant, bilingual parents as placing considerable value not only on books and intergenerational reading in the home, but also on opportunities for their children to connect with their home language/culture through reading and writing. This research represents the first step in evidencing demand for books in diverse languages, and for access to those books - both for sale and to loan - to be facilitated via schools and libraries.

For more information contact Franziska Liebig on

Pop Up Projects CIC, and

Citation details for the survey: Pop Up Projects CIC, ‘Access to and demand for contemporary children’s picture books among ESL parents in London: A Survey’. London, September 2013.

Language Communities

As part of Free Word & Cultural Institute at King's 'Multilingual Creativity Series', journalist Anita Sethi will reflect on individual workshops taking place at Free Word and at King’s College London between January and June 2016. Here, Anita shares a blog from the first event in the series - 'Language Communities' - which took place on 25 January 2016 at Free Word Centre.

More than a million children in the UK are classed as using English as an additional language (EAL) and use languages other than English in their daily lives - but artistic, cultural, educational and community organisations could provide a greater understanding of the implications of this and the opportunities it can offer. The Multilingual Creativity Lab, held in November 2015, was the first in the Free Word & Cultural Institute at King’s Multilingual Creativity Series, and follow-up events are now taking place at Free Word and at King’s College London until June 2016.

'Language communities' was the subject of the first Multilingual Creativity Series event. Acknowledging the realities as opposed to the myths of multilingualism is important, emphasised Sam Holmes, lead researcher on the project.

But what do we mean by a language community? Three speakers shared different perspectives in brief but insightful presentations.

“Linguistic labels are widely used. I will demonstrate the insufficiency of such labels”, explained Hulya Baysal of King’s College London in her presentation, ‘The meaning of Turkishness among ‘Turkish’ and ‘Kurdish’ adolescents in London’. She conducted research in Hackney with young people from a range of backgrounds, paying attention to language and linguistic affiliation. The examples used ranged from standard Turkish to Kurdish and explored “the prestige and power of standard Turkish used for control and dominance” and non-standard, less serious, playful dialects. She gave a fascinating example of a single 2 minute conversation overheard in the corridor between two boys; the table below shows the linguistic markers that the participants of Kurdish descent used:


Baysal explained:

“This dialogue shows that hybrid speech practices, as well as the linguistic components of the local multi-ethnic vernacular as indicators of particular ‘Turkish’ and ‘Kurdish’ ethnicities, are relevant to these young people of Kurdish descent in London. Their ambivalent and fluid connections to Kurdishness, Turkishness, and Londonness with social class inflections are indicated in this conversation in which the operation of the local multi-ethnic vernacular brings out diverse ethnic possibilities. In other words, these youngsters’ language behaviour openly challenges any monolithic and homogeneous ethnic labels, for example ‘Turkish-speaking community,’ ascribed to define their ethnic identifications in super-diverse London.”

Some of the questions she raised included: ‘How are ethnicities configured?’ and ‘How are ethnic identities created anew?’ Baysal contests rigid prescriptions to identity, advocating instead the importance of recognising the multifaceted and intricate nature of ethnicity. She explored how umbrella terms such as ‘Turkish-speaking community’ can be “linguistically problematic” since they overlook disparity within communities. Transformation comes with recognising differences and offering alternate approaches. She also provided interesting context – until the 1980s in Turkey, the Kurdish language was not allowed to be used officially; now, it's official but is at the bottom of the linguistic hierarchy.

Strategies Baysal used to overcome communication challenges included taking time to get to know students and gain their trust. Initially the students were suspicious of her, but honesty proved the best policy: “I was very honest and told them about me, my friends, my family and where I come from in Turkey”. The results provided insightful and illuminating research.
* * *

“Slang is language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work”, said Carl Sandburg. Translator
Sarah Ardizzone quoted Sandburg while entertainingly exploring her own work in translating slang. We were taken on a “vernacular journey through literary translation” by Ardizzone. She explored the challenges of translating the Algerian author
Faïza Guène’s work, from banlieue French to inner-city English, and discussed how mainstream publishers approach urban youth speak. The author tackles the notorious 93 postcode in Paris and its “migrant community unrest” against the background of the 2005 riots. Guène writes in Arabic-French slang common in the banlieues, the poorest suburbs of Paris, encompassing a “massive demographic melting pot”.
Ardizzone also used examples of slang from her work with LIVE magazine in Brixton. She says her most rewarding work has been done at grassroots level, accessing young people who want a role model like Faïza Guène, and it has been exciting doing work with young refugees via organisations such as English PEN.

In terms of a translator thinking of audience, Ardizzone explained how she considers a diaspora that means something to the US and UK, too. Questions for the translator include: ‘How am I able to create a voice?', ‘Who is the reader?’ and ‘How will readers identify?’

* * *

The Home Language Accreditation Project (HoLA) is a Sheffield-based initiative funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which works with mainstream and complementary schools and aims to accredit home languages and recognise the language skills of bilingual learners. HoLA has a variety of strategies for schools: strengthening complementary schools as organisations and helping them to improve teaching and learning; educating mainstream schools about home languages and the positive aspect of bilingualism; and bringing the two sectors together to create collaborative advantage.

Speakers Clare Allison and Caroline Norman described how they faced the challenge of working to improve access to Bengali GCSE with few resources. A successful strategy was hiring a Bengali heritage teacher from Bradford. They also decorated a community room with posters and alphabet pictures, receiving heartwarming feedback from the children who say it now feels like a classroom. Flags adorning the room speak of children’s dual heritage, reading: “We are British, we are Bengali”. Another challenge was that several students spoke Sylheti rather than Bengali. Using a peer mentor proved a successful strategy. The speakers also outlined the value of a GCSE and the alternatives to GCSEs, including
the Asdan Languages Short Course. Other successful strategies included the Film Summer School at Sheffield Hallam University, open to all students who speak a language other than English.

Caroline Norman raised the distinction between qualifications and accreditations and identified it as a significant challenge and opportunity, and also touched on some of the issues of hegemony encountered in institutions around this area.

This thought-provoking day at Free Word Centre provided the opportunity to explore the different ways in which language works, as well as the depth of work being done around the rich variety of languages in communities. There were several interesting points to take away; Ardizzone memorably described the “mash-up element in stories”, in which, for example, the story of Goldilocks features couscous instead of porridge. From the translation of such culturally specific references, we see that the translator’s role involves so much more than just translating words on a page. I walk through the streets of London later that day with a greater awareness of the nuances in the many languages I hear teeming around me.

Language Diversity and Attainment in English Secondary Schools: A Scoping Study

A report for Arvon by:

The Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE)

London Metropolitan University

May 2012

Written by Sumi Hollingworth and Ayo Mansaray

The Institute for Policy Studies in Education (IPSE) was commissioned by Arvon’s (M)other Tongues programme to identify which linguistic minorities are at a ‘disadvantage’ in education in England and to identify where they are located – paying particular attention to areas outside of London. Hence, this report identifies and maps linguistic minority attainment in the secondary school population in England in 2011. This is the first scoping study of its kind with a national focus, and complements the excellent work of Eversley and colleagues (2010) who have examined, in-depth, the London context. The report draws on a combination of DfE published data on attainment by first language other than English; attainment by ethnicity and available local authority information on specific linguistic communities in select regions. In the report we make specific recommendations to Arvon regarding specific linguistic groups and localities on which to focus their work.

What is clear from this research is that there is a real dearth of information examining which specific linguistic groups are attaining less well at school, and where they are located in the country. Indeed, this data is generally not systematically collected, and where it is collected, attainment is often not analysed by linguistic group, only ethnicity. Nevertheless, we have the following key findings:

  • While other first language speakers, and minority ethnic pupils in general, attain better results in London, there are still persistent gaps in attainment between English first language, and other first language speakers, nationally.
  • There are large attainment gaps in the Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West regions, which need further exploration.
  • Overall, many of the widest attainment gaps are present in local authorities with substantial Pakistani ethnic minority groups – for example, Peterborough, Oldham, Bedford, Bury, Derby, Sheffield, and Calderdale – who tend to speak Urdu, Punjabi or Mirpuri and experience economic disadvantage. This association clearly needs further examination.
  • There is clearly a need for further research into new ethnic communities from Eastern Europe, whose educational and language profile, and needs, tends to be obscured in the White, or White Other ethnic category
  • Similarly, Black African ethnic groups need to be specified in relation to language to gain a fuller picture of their educational achievements. In particular, more recent migratory flows from Central and East Africa (e.g. Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe).

This report highlights, that, given the growing “super-diversity” of England and the rest of the UK, crude ethnic categories (of Black, White, Asian) in published DfE data mask a great deal of ethnic, national, linguistic, religious and social diversity which may be getting in the way of how we ‘make sense’ of minority communities’ relative achievement, and how we understand who is at a disadvantage. If we are to get any closer to understanding the role of language / bilingualism and multilingualism in children’s relative attainment we need better data and more fine grained analysis

Read the full report here

Creativity and learning

The report ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’ (1999) from the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) sets out a definition of ‘democratic creativity’ which ‘recognises the potential for creative achievement in all fields of human activity; and the capacity for such achievements in the many and not the few’ (p30). This is in direct contrast to the ‘sectoral definition’ which is directly linked to ‘creative arts’ and ‘creative industries’ (p28) and the ‘élite definition’ which ‘focuses on the great men and women who have produced or made path-breaking compositions, paintings, inventions or theories’ (p28). Creativity can therefore be seen as relevant across the full range of disciplines and scales of activity. This is particularly important considering the significance it can hold for learners. As the NACCCE write, ‘[w]hen individuals find their creative strengths, it can have an enormous impact on self-esteem and on overall achievement’ (p6). Democratic creativity can therefore provide one useful way into the kind of investment in learning outlined above.


Creativity cannot be reduced to just “using your imagination”. The NACCCE (1999) write:


‘Creativity is not simply a matter of letting go. Serious creative achievement relies on knowledge, control of materials and command of ideas. Creative education involves a balance between teaching knowledge and skills, and encouraging innovation.’ (p6)


They identify four key characteristics behind creative activity:

i.             imagination

ii.            purpose

iii.           originality

iv.           value


Creativity is therefore defined as: ‘Imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value.’ (p30, original emphasis)


Central to this type of endeavour is a temporary muting of critical voices. The NACCCE write:


‘Deferment of judgment is an invaluable element as we produce ideas and then stretch them and connect them imaginatively as far as they can go. Although there is always a stage, maybe many stages, where critical appraisal is necessary, if only to assess coherence and relate ideas to evidence, practicability, utility and audience response, generative thinking has to be given time to flower. At the right time and in the right way, rigorous critical appraisal is essential. At the wrong point, criticism and the cold hand of realism can kill an emerging idea.’ (p34)


Appropriate time and space are therefore required in order to foster creativity. The pressures of a “language immersion” environment could work against this if they inhibit expression. Craft (2001) writes that ‘creativity may be impeded where there is undue time pressure, over-supervision, competition, or where choices are restricted and evaluation is expected’ (p25). She warns of the negative impact that the ‘tightening of control around both curriculum and pedagogy’ (2003, p118) is having in this area. The organisation of learning is also key, and Craft raises the concern that ‘where the curriculum is taught as discrete subjects, this may constrain learner and teacher creativity, in discouraging thinking about themes which cross the subject boundaries’ (p119). The cross-curricular nature of the Languages Challenge is particularly useful then in promoting creativity, but this approach is not easy to replicate within the restrictions of the curriculum. This then poses a challenge for schools and other organisations working in this area. Jeffrey & Craft (2004) highlight the central role of practitioner expertise, writing that ‘the relationship between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity is an integral one. The former is inherent in the latter and the former often leads directly to the latter’ (p90, original emphases). Attempting to pin down and package creative approaches for the benefit of teachers and other practitioners could therefore be something of a contradiction in terms, reducing the space for their own creative input.