Shamshad Khan, an established poet who has also had her work featured in several anthologies, came to Abraham Moss High School to deliver a Mother Tongue Other Tongue creative writing workshop.
Words and photographs by Amillah Javed
ON the afternoon of Friday 7th June, I was introduced to a group of nine lovely multilingual girls of Abraham Moss High School. As well as the students, I was also given the opportunity to be part of this session where each pupil read out their poem either in their mother tongue or other tongue. The languages these poems were performed in were Urdu, English, Arabic, Chinese, Pashto and Italian.
Pupils and staff attending the workshop were told to come prepared with a poem, song or lullaby, either in their mother tongue or other tongue. They were encouraged to speak to their parents, grandparents, neighbours or any grown up at home, to help them share their culture.
MTOT is a poetry competition led by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who is also the Creative Director of the Manchester Writing School at MMU. This competition is set out to encourage school children to write poetry in their native language as well as their other language.
Poet, performer and facilitator, Shamshad Khan said, “Abraham Moss has a lovely atmosphere and I think that the pupils really showed that and brought it into the session today.” Thus, the MTOT competition allows students to explore their mother tongue, and though everyone didn’t understand all the languages spoken today, connections were still made through emotions which everyone managed to reveal whilst reading.
Shamshad started the session by going around the group telling the students and the assisting teachers to share any word they like the sound of. Some of the words shared were: ‘Polka dot’, ‘Ni Hao’, ‘Tamasha’, ‘Khatta’ and ‘Meetha’.
The students were then given the opportunity to share their mother tongue poem, lullaby, or song by reading aloud to the rest of the group. I also took part and attempted to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, along with making crazy hand actions to match. Here, Shamshad provided feedback and suggested different techniques to consider when presenting or reading out to an audience. One method, which everyone soon adopted, was to breathe in and out before they began to read. Throughout the rest of the session everyone started to pay more attention to their breathing.
Shamshad told me: “This project is really special for me because as a child I didn’t speak Urdu and only as an adult I have started to speak in this language. So I think this project is important in terms of encouraging students who come to school with two, three or more languages to continue speaking and to not feel embarrassed.” As the session went on, the students developed their performance skills, which was a pleasure to see. The breathing exercises were also useful and helped them to stand confidently in front of an audience and read.
Miss Collins, who coordinated the event with the help of Shamshad, added: “The students brought energy to this session and we hope this will be the beginning of a workshop to be delivered across the school. We will try and get some of the girls who shared their poems today to perform for us. Also, I hope, as a school, we can become part of this national poetry competition which is a great way to celebrate our first language.”
Shamshad swiftly moved to another activity where she introduced an item. All the students had to hold this item and say a word to describe it, or what they felt like whilst holding it. After this, the students were given an A3 paper on which they had to translate sentences from their poems into English. This particular activity revealed the creativity of the pupils and allowed them to translate some of the words from their mother tongue into English.
Year 8 student, Naila, said: “I was so worried about reading out my poem, but I’m happy because it went well. My poem was about my last day of school and summer holidays. My mother tongue is Italian and as well as Italian I can speak Urdu, French and English.”
Aisha, another student from Abraham Moss High School, speaks English, Urdu, Italian and French. She said: “I really enjoyed this session today because it made me remember my childhood. My poem was in Italian and it was about a guy who has moved from one country to another and his best friend was dedicating this song to him because she missed him at school.”
Saher, another student who took part said, “I’ve enjoyed myself today and I will definitely attend another workshop like this.”
Amillah Javed is currently studying English and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is passionate about journalism and teaching and hopes to pursue a career in one of these fields. Amillah also has an interest in writing creatively and having work published. Follow her on Twitter @a_amillah