Imagine this: just by stepping onto the GESS campus, it is possible to hear over 70 languages from around the world being spoken! These languages are being spoken miles away from their countries of origins, spoken by students who are usually constantly on the move and yet have this thread that connects them to their home cultures and heritage. Even as our GESS Multilingualism Work Group marveled at this discovery, an idea was born. In conjunction with UN International Mother Language Day (21 February), they decided to organise week-long activities for our students to deepen their connection to their mother tongue while also learning about other languages and appreciating the art of languages.
Students received a language passport and with that they started their journey through the language carousel, learning simple words that are used in everyday speech in different languages. We also had our very own students as language ambassadors, welcoming visitors to the booth, sharing more about their home cultures and teaching the pronunciation of words. The variety of languages was impressive, and it was also an amazing opportunity for students to be exposed to languages they might not typically hear about e.g. Kazakh, Turkish, Urdu, Mongolian, Hebrew, Croatian, Serbian and so on.
It was also heartening to see students run around looking for their own mother tongue language booths and proudly share how they would say things in their own language, with friends and classmates. It affirmed our hopes that students will see that their cultures are valued in this community and that they belong in this diverse family.
A Visit from Author and Scriptwriter Suffian Hakim
We all love a good story and language definitely plays a key role in the art of storytelling. It was, therefore, very apt to have acclaimed Singaporean author Suffian Hakim with us and hear him read an excerpt from his new novel “Keepers of the Stories”. Suffian rose to fame locally when he wrote his first book “Harris bin Potter” which draws inspiration from and, in some ways, parodies the popular Harry Potter series.
Along with that, Suffian also delivered a talk on “Languages and Cultures in Singapore”. Singapore is known for its 4 different official languages – English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil – and is also a place where Singlish (Singapore Colloquial English) was born and therefore, the talk provided very interesting thinking points for students to reflect on languages.
International Language Day Dress-Up
When we celebrate languages, we also celebrate cultures! In line with that, we had a day for students to dress up in outfits connected to national cultures and languages. The students came dressed in everything from very traditional outfits to national sports jerseys and added much colour and vibrance to our celebrations.
German and English as Pluricentric Languages
While many of the activities during our language week were of course geared towards our students, this particular talk seemed to be very well received by staff and parents. Dr. Birte Kellermeier-Rehbein – an expert from the University of Wuppertal specialising in varieties of the German language – talked about “German and English as Pluricentric Languages”. Pluricentric languages are languages that are the official languages in several countries. In this educational talk, our speaker shared that standard varieties of a language are on the same level and not considered a dialect. It was also interesting to see how vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar could differ for the same language, spoken in different countries. For example, did you know that dinner is called “Abendessen” in Germany, “Nachtmahl” in Austria and “Nachtessen” in Switzerland? This has been a great starting point for future conversations teachers can have during English and German lessons about pluricentric languages.
Apart from these major events in the community, our teachers also organised in-class activities catered to the various age groups. It has been a very enriching week and we hope the love for languages will continue to grow at GESS!