By Rachel Rowlands
The Mother Tongue Other Tongue: Regional and National Celebration took place last night at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University. Schools from across the country gathered to celebrate the winners of the multilingual poetry competition led by Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy, and to meet world-boxing champion Amir Khan, who first launched the competition.
Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a national Laureate Education Project, led by the Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy. Regional competitions and events take place throughout the year. The competition is co-ordinated by Routes into Languages. The Mother Tongue part of the competition allows children whose first language is not English to share a poem or song from their Mother Tongue. The Other Tongue element encourages children who are learning a different language to use it creatively in the form of a poem.
Fantastic dancing and drumming performances from Punjabi Roots Academy kicked off the day, with Amir Khan arriving shortly after. Before the winners were announced, Amir signed autographs for eager crowds in the packed out halls.
Amir, speaking to us about the Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition, said, “I think it’s amazing. It’s an honour to be here at the Mother Tongue Other Tongue event. Being a Pakistani, obviously I’ve always been learning another language. I think it’s good that kids are learning their mother tongue as well as other languages, as it helps you in later life.”
Dean Sharon Handley introduced the event and another special guest… The Mayor of Manchester. Speaking to the children about Manchester, he said, “We’re a city of multiculturalism. People in this city are open-minded enough to accept any culture. I was lucky to be born here.”
After some inspiring readings from the children, Dame Carol Ann Duffy and Amir Khan himself awarded them their prizes, much to their excitement!
Yasmin Hussain, Project Manager of Routes into Languages North West, told us, “The competition allows pupils to express themselves through poetry and their personal identity. It gives them a sense of belonging. They can be creative with language and can share their cultural heritage with their peers.”
Sharon Handley, Dean of Faculty, added, “It’s been a great celebration and it’s great to have Carol Ann Duffy and Amir Khan supporting the project. It’s great to inspire children to write creatively in a foreign language, and to show that poetry isn’t boring!”
After the prize ceremony we caught up with Carol Ann Duffy, who talked to us about the benefits of poetry for children. She said, “I think childhood is where you fall in love with poetry. We have nursery rhymes read to us at a young age by our parents. Children in primary schools and junior schools sometimes feel self-conscious about using language and I think you get a little bit more self-conscious about poetry as a teenager. So it’s very important to do some poetry right through the spectrum as we do, from children to teenagers, that helps them engage with their own writing.”
Rachel Rowlands is in her second year studying English and Creative Writing. She hopes to become a published author someday and is currently working on a fantasy novel for young adults.