European Literature in Translation: The first 25 years

European Literature in Translation: The first 25 years

By Margaret Farnworth, Continuing Education student

On a warm October morning in 1993 a group of eighteen or twenty of us crammed into a stuffy room in the Modern Languages building for the first session of a twenty-week course in “European Literature in Translation”. No one could possibly have realised that this was the start of a course which would still be running in 2017 and about to enter its twenty-fifth season.
Over the years we have been taught by five tutors, and have diversified from French literature to European Literature generally. Students have come and gone with many attending for a decade or more, and the enthusiasm and commitment of tutors and students alike remain undiminished. We have tackled works originally written in many languages, ranging from French and Italian to Russian and Scandinavian and have studied novels, plays, short stories and memoirs.

What’s the attraction of this course? Why do people sign up and in many cases stick with it for years? What do they get out of it?

Although many of those who attend are retired, and already have degrees and professional qualifications, some still find writing essays for assessment a welcome challenge. Others prefer to forego that pleasure, but will happily volunteer to prepare talks and presentations on topics of particular interest. Some enrol to follow up an interest in literature dating back to school days but side-lined through their working lives. Others are retired teachers or academics specialising in English or in modern languages who are looking to extend their existing knowledge. People who have never read outside English and American literature welcome the chance to explore a wider range of texts. Some enrol through personal recommendation from friends. As one member wrote – There is no better way of exploring ideas, thought and life than through literature.

The class provides what one student describes as a warm, welcoming, fun and stimulating environment in which to read and discuss texts. It’s important that we are led by a qualified tutor to direct our study, so that we are most definitely not a book group. But group discussion is a big part of the class, although no one is forced to contribute and if you just want to listen that’s fine. Cross-fertilisation of ideas is important, and people benefit from insights they would not necessarily have discovered for themselves. Because most members have decades of life experience, they bring a fascinating array of knowledge to the discussion. Over the years, historians, artists, actors, academics and others have shared their expertise – and for several years a retired GP provided wonderful insights into the ailments of the characters we read about. We have always placed a strong emphasis on studying the works we study in their historical, social and political context, and where possible we look at clips of stage and film versions. As one member commented – Every week I leave the class feeling stimulated.


Over time we have become more than just an adult education class. Theatre and film trips take place if there’s a local performance of a text we’re studying. Weekly coffee breaks and end-of-term lunches provide a chance to chat. Friendships have developed and people meet informally out of class. Last year we had an innovation – an informal, twice-monthly reading group in a local cafe, intended to keep us in touch over the long summer break. We hope this will become a regular feature.
In October we plan to mark the anniversary of the Russian Revolution by reading some works from the Soviet period; I can promise anyone who decides to join us a lively, stimulating and enjoyable course.

And finally – a big thank you to the staff of Continuing Education who made all this happen.
European Literature will return for its 25th year this Autumn – if you would like to enrol email us at @conted@liverpool.ac.uk and we will send you the details when they are ready.

Why the baby brain can learn two languages at the same time

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Originally published as on The Conversation. For article and more click here https://theconversation.com/uk

Any adult who has attempted to learn a foreign language can attest to how difficult and confusing it can be. So when a three-year-old growing up in a bilingual household inserts Spanish words into his English sentences, conventional wisdom assumes that he is confusing the two languages.

Research shows that this is not the case.

In fact, early childhood is the best possible time to learn a second language. Children who experience two languages from birth typically become native speakers of both, while adults often struggle with second language learning and rarely attain native-like fluency.

But the question remains: is it confusing for babies to learn two languages simultaneously?

When do babies learn language?

Research shows babies begin to learn language sounds before they’re even born. In the womb, a mother’s voice is one of the most prominent sounds an unborn baby hears. By the time they’re born, newborns can not only tell the difference between their mother’s language and another language, but also show a capability of distinguishing between languages.

Language learning depends on the processing of sounds. All the world’s languages put together comprise about 800 or so sounds. Each language uses only about 40 language sounds, or “phonemes,” which distinguish one language from another.

At birth, the baby brain has an unusual gift: it can tell the difference between all 800 sounds. This means that at this stage infants can learn any language that they’re exposed to. Gradually babies figure out which sounds they are hearing the most.

Babies learn to recognize their mother’s voice even before they are born. John Mayer, CC BY

Between six and 12 months, infants who grow up in monolingual households become more specialized in the subset of sounds in their native language. In other words, they become “native language specialists.” And, by their first birthdays, monolingual infants begin to lose their ability to hear the differences between foreign language sounds.

Studying baby brains

What about those babies who hear two languages from birth? Can a baby brain specialize in two languages? If so, how is this process different then specializing in a single language?

Knowing how the baby brain learns one versus two languages is important for understanding the developmental milestones in learning to speak. For example, parents of bilingual children often wonder what is and isn’t typical or expected, or how their child will differ from those children who are learning a single language.

My collaborators and I recently studied the brain processing of language sounds in 11-month-old babies from monolingual (English only) and bilingual (Spanish-English) homes. We used a completely noninvasive technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG), which precisely pinpointed the timing and the location of activity in the brain as the babies listened to Spanish and English syllables.

We found some key differences between infants raised in monolingual versus bilingual homes.

At 11 months of age, just before most babies begin to say their first words, the brain recordings revealed that:

  • Babies from monolingual English households are specialized to process the sounds of English, and not the sounds of Spanish, an unfamiliar language
  • Babies from bilingual Spanish-English households are specialized to process the sounds of both languages, Spanish and English.
Here’s a video summarizing our study.

Our findings show that babies’ brains become tuned to whatever language or languages they hear from their caregivers. A monolingual brain becomes tuned to the sounds of one language, and a bilingual brain becomes tuned to the sounds of two languages. By 11 months of age, the activity in the baby brain reflects the language or languages that they have been exposed to.

Is it OK to learn two languages?

This has important implications. Parents of monolingual and bilingual children alike are eager for their little ones to utter the first words. It’s an exciting time to learn more about what the baby is thinking. However, a common concern, especially for bilingual parents, is that their child is not learning fast enough.

We found that the bilingual babies showed an equally strong brain response to English sounds as the monolingual babies. This suggests that bilingual babies were learning English at the same rate as the monolingual babies.

Parents of bilingual children also worry that their children will not know as many words as children who are raised with one language.

Bilingualism does not cause confusion. jakeliefer, CC BY

To some extent, this concern is valid. Bilingual infants split their time between two languages, and thus, on average, hear fewer words in each. However, studies consistently show that bilingual children do not lag behind when both languages are considered.

Vocabulary sizes of bilingual children, when combined across both languages, have been found to be equal to or greater than those of monolingual children.

Another common concern is that bilingualism causes confusion. Part of this concern arises due to “code switching,” a speaking behavior in which bilinguals combine both languages.

For example, my four-year-old son, who speaks English, Spanish, and Slovene, goes as far as using the Slovene endings on Spanish and English words. Research shows bilingual children code-switch because bilingual adults around them do too. Code-switching in bilingual adults and children is rule-governed, not haphazard.

Unlike monolingual children, bilingual children have another language from which they can easily borrow if they can’t quickly retrieve the appropriate word in one language. Even two-year-olds modulate their language to match the language used by their interlocutor.

Researchers have shown code switching to be part of a bilingual child’s normal language development. And it could even be the beginning of what gives them the extra cognitive prowess known as the “bilingual advantage.”

Bilingual kids are at an advantage

The good news is young children all around the world can and do acquire two languages simultaneously. In fact, in many parts of the world, being bilingual is the norm rather than an exception.

It is now understood that the constant need to shift attention between languages leads to several cognitive advantages. Research has found that bilingual adults and children show an improved executive functioning of the brain – that is, they are able to shift attention, switch between tasks and solve problems more easily. Bilinguals have also been found to have increased metalinguistic skills (the ability to think about language per se, and understand how it works). There is evidence that being bilingual makes the learning of a third language easier. Further, the accumulating effect of dual language experience is thought to translate into protective effects against cognitive decline with aging and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

So, if you want your child to know more than one language, it’s best to start at an early age, before she even starts speaking her first language. It won’t confuse your child, and it could even give her a boost in other forms of cognition.

Amy Bidgood is presenting How Do Children Learn Language this Saturday 19 November. If you would like to read about her course and enroll click here https://goo.gl/xkm9s6 

Disclosure statement

The research described here was supported by the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center Program grant to the UW LIFE Center (P.K.K., PI: Grant No. SMA-0835854), the Ready Mind Project at the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, and the Washington State Life Science Discovery Fund (LSDF).

The Everyman and Playhouse: The Playwrights Programme 2016 – Applications open

By the Everyman and Playhouse.

Our Playwrights’ Programme is a completely free course for writers and theatre makers in the Liverpool City Region, who wish to develop their playwriting craft.

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Up to ten writers will be invited to join the programme, working closely with us to hone playwriting skills and knowledge with a view to writing a full length stage play.

Applicants must be aged 18+ and have some experience of writing for the stage (not necessarily a full production). Talent, full commitment and passion, however, are more important than experience. We’re looking for innovative, original and exciting new writers from Liverpool who are committed to playwriting and making theatre which will delight, engage and challenge audiences.

Application deadline: Fri 5 Aug
Interviews: w/c Mon 29 Aug
Programme starts: Thu 15 Sep

To apply click here http://goo.gl/I6qTkR

If you have any queries, please contact us via email at literary@everymanplayhouse.com.

 

 

Life After Life: Reading Kate Atkinson

By Dr Shirley Jones

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Twenty years ago, Kate Atkinson’s first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, was published. Its heroine, Ruby Lennox, tells the story of her life from before conception to adulthood with ‘footnotes’ relating to her ancestors, such as her great grandmother who in a moment of despair leaves 6 children to run off with a ‘magician’ or angelic Uncle Albert, who ‘collected good days the way other people collected coins or postcards.’. Cataclysmic historical events such as the two world wars affect Ruby’s family dramatically whilst lesser landmarks, such as the 1953 Coronation and the 1966 World Cup final provide wonderful comic set pieces. At the heart of the novel is a mystery, for the seemingly omniscient Ruby, does not in fact know all.

Family, identity and heritage are consistent themes in Atkinson’s work as is history and the passing of time. Atkinson’s 2004 novel, Case Histories, opens with 3 unexplained crimes from the past which the novel’s hero, Jackson Brodie, is called upon to unravel. As we follow his progress we come to understand that his own personal history is shaped by devastating loss. In the Jackson Brodie series (four novels to date), Atkinson’s plotting is complex and compelling. At the same time these novels are rich tales of contemporary life with all of its comic absurdity, violence, and love.

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Atkinson’s recent 2013 Costa Novel Award winner, Life after Life represents the pinnacle of her achievement so far, narrating the multiple possibilities of one woman’s life. Over and over again we are told the tale of Ursula Todd, and her many deaths and extraordinary lives. Astonishingly, this narrative experimentation does not lessen the reader’s emotional involvement with the character but enchants and ensnares.

The most wonderful thing about Atkinson’s writing is that whatever form it takes, family saga, short story, crime novel, experimental fiction, her work is always absolutely readable.

Reading list: 

Kate Atkinson, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1995

Kate Atkinson, Not the End of the World, 2002

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories, 2004

Kate Atkinson, Life after Life, 2013

Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins, 2015

Shirley will be teaching Life After Life: Reading Kate Atkinson at the Central Library from Thursday 15 October, 2-4.30pm for 8 meetings. If you would like to book on that course you can enrol online here Life After Life: Reading Kate Atkinson

 

shirley-jones@ndo.co.uk