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Durham University

Open World Research Initiative (OWRI)

Promoting Linguistic Awareness in Local Schools

Can the process through which one begins to develop the understanding of ‘another language’ help young people become more tolerant of those who ‘speak differently’?
To answer this question, a team of language tutors and student ambassadors from Durham University’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures, led by Dr Marcela Cazzoli, is running a programme of outreach activities in schools in the North East of England, in collaboration with and with the support of Durham County Council. The student ambassadors receive training from Dr Cazzoli, Phill Robertson (Head of Modern Foreign Languages at St John’s School & Sixth Form College) and Brian Stobie (International Officer at Durham County Council).

The project’s objective is to promote in young people active engagement with languages other than their own by providing them with elementary ‘keys’ that can help them begin to open up the world beyond the one in which they are directly embedded and with which they identify with unquestioningly.

The aim is to generate in young people greater interest in this larger world, contributing to their understanding of and empathy with what might initially appear to them as the unsurmountable ‘difference’ of ‘the other’ – not least the ‘difference’ that manifests itself in ‘language’, but that usually goes far beyond it.

Our pilot project involves two local schools, Greenfield Community College (Newton Aycliffe) and St John’s School & Sixth Form College (Bishop Auckland). Pupils in Years 9, 10 and 11 take part in a fun and stimulating code-breaking activity focusing on decoding texts in languages that do not form part of their curriculum. There are two sets of code-breaking activities.

The first activity focuses on transliterating a short text written in languages that use a script not familiar to the pupils – namely Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

The second activity involves translation into English of a short text in Italian, Catalan and Portuguese.

These elementary forms of code-breaking are supplemented by further activities, including presentations and discussions of language and culture, difference and sameness, aiming, firstly, to increase interest in languages as vital to seeing the world in a new way, and secondly, to develop an awareness, understanding and embracing of diversity as it manifests itself both locally and globally.

For further information on the above activities contact: