By Jack Silverwood
Manchester Metropolitan University hosted the annual award ceremony for the Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry competition this week, bringing together students and teachers from the North West and the West Midlands.
The multilingual competition was launched in 2012 by Routes into Languages North West as part of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s Laureate Education Project. It aims to celebrate the vast array of languages spoken in the UK, both at home and in schools.
Project leader for Routes into Language Yasmin Hussain, opened the event and articulated the importance of the competition:
“Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a fantastic project. The competition is unique as it allows pupils to use their bilingualism creatively. The project has been instrumental in supporting pupils to explore their multiple identities through culture, poetry and language and sharing this with their peers. Being multilingual has many advantages and it is great that pupils learn to value this early on in their lives.
“Each year the project has gone from strength to strength, we have received over 24,000 entries in over 70 languages. I am excited this year to welcome Annie Zaidi who is going to meet the winners and award prizes.”
Over 200 languages are spoken in Manchester alone and the Mother Tongue Other Tongue competition helps to put talented children into the spotlight, celebrating and highlighting the diversity and general inclusivity of the community.
The event itself showcased an array of different languages and welcomed keynote speaker professional football coach Annie Zaidi, who also presented the awards during the ceremony.
Zaidi is considered the first South Asian women to gain UEFA B certification to coach professionally and is the 2015 recipient of the Helen Rollason Award at the Sportswomen of the Year Awards. Zaidi is a driven individual and described that her biggest fear, is to “be average.” She spoke to the audience detailing her experiences as an Asian woman in professional football and her first experiences training both male and female teams on the pitch and the push back that she received due to her gender and heritage.
While speaking to the young audience, Annie exuded confidence and an unflappable sense of humour. Detailing her own drive for success in the game, she made it clear that hard work is what brought her this far. “Don’t envy me,” she reiterated, when talking about her success. “The first four weeks were like being in the ring with Mike Tyson”, she commented, speaking openly about her fear when initially confronted by a male football team who she coached early on in her career. Annie suffered setbacks such as her first initial failure to gain a UEFA B licence and often experienced misogyny. However, she said that this only drove her to try again and again, commenting, “I sacrificed everything for my dreams, disappointment? Yeah, life is full of disappointments. But once I start something I have to finish it.”
Zaidi articulated the importance of language, recounting her fondness for conversing with her family in her mother tongue. She said, “My best friend is my Grandad, the thing that connects us is that we speak the same language. Every Sunday at 12o’clock, we speak without fail. We shout, we argue – but the bond is through our language.”
This importance of language, she even extends into the sport of football – telling a story in which she coached a team of refugee girls who did not share her language, but still managed to communicate through sport. She said, “When I spoke their language, we were equal. Football was my language on the pitch, what connected me with those girls.”
Annie’s talk went down well with the captivated audience. Yasmin commented: “The way that I would describe Annie if I could, is that she’s a maverick. Really, she is an inspirational woman. And for me, when I walked away from meeting her I just thought, my God – if Annie can achieve all this… the story is – and she’ll say it’s not a story, it’s her life – that against all the odds, anything is possible.”
Displaying an array of different languages including, Urdu, Nigerian, French, Italian and Spanish among others, the event showcased several poetry readings from shortlisted children and young people. Family and homelands became a running theme of the performances, with many stories and songs originating from home life and folklore. These personal displays connected the overall theme of re-connecting with one’s roots through language.
Claire Richards, Mother Tongue Coordinator for the West Midlands, said: “I was particularly impressed by all of the Mother Tongue entries, we had 20 Home languages in the Mother Tongue award – it was so wide with the languages we had.”
Overall, the event had a real sense of oneness and respect. The poetry, although naturally, would not have been understood by members of the audience not attuned to the different languages, were given context by the English explanations of their meaning and personal importance to the reader. Annie Zaidi closed the event by presenting the awards to an applicant from each year group within the two UK regions.