Mother Tongue’s is on a mission to celebrate multiculturalism in Ireland. As part of this the team have create the Mother Tongues Festival which celebrates all the different languages and cultural identities that makes Ireland one of the most diverse places in to live in Europe. We caught up with Francesca La Morgia, Director of Mother Tongue’s to find out more:
- What is Mother Tongue’s? What is your mission?
Mother Tongues is a social enterprise working to promote multilingualism and intercultural dialogue in Ireland. Our mission is to create a space that fosters belonging and celebrates linguistic and cultural identities through education and the arts. We offer education programmes for families who want to raise bilingual children, training for teachers and early childhood educators, and promote the importance of children’s multiple linguistic and cultural identities. Since the beginning we have been very interested in using the arts as a vehicle to bring people together to talk about these themes and to celebrate our differences in a shared space. Projects such as the Mother Tongues Festival and the Interactive Museum of Languages for Young Audiences stemmed out of this desire to create a space that fosters belonging and celebrates all of our identities.
- How did the company get started?
It started in 2017, mostly focusing on training in the areas of bilingualism and interculturalism, and as more and more people were interested in putting the theory into practice, we developed projects where people could come together, children could learn their mother tongue and get to meet new people. So now we have two strands, one that focuses on training and education, and one that focuses on community development and the arts.
- What was the most difficult part of getting started?
My own background is in academia, so I had always been employed by others and always did the job I was trained to do. When I started Mother Tongues I didn’t realise all the steps that are needed to create a sustainable organisation. Starting was not hard, because I had so much enthusiasm that nothing could have stopped me, but I feel maintaining that level of commitment and delivering results in the best possible way with limited resource has been the hardest part.
- Can you tell us about the different programs you run?
We have programs for parents and families, to meet new people and create connections within their community and beyond. Right now we are using an app for parents to find people near them who speak their language, so they can create their own support network. We also offer training for parents to inspire them to use simple techniques to make sure their children can successfully develop English, Irish and any other language. We deliver those wherever parents are, whether that is in an office, or in a community centre.
For children, we offer mother tongue classes, where they can practice and learn their family’s language while having fun with other children.
We believe that teachers are also a very important link in this process, so we offer training and support to them, too, through our training programmes and our Language Explorers initiative.
Through our Arts strand we plan our annual Mother Tongues Festival and our monthly cultural café See Though Café, and plan other events around the year, always focusing on the themes of language, identity and diversity.
- What are the most common misperceptions with people who are multilingual?
It is still common for people to believe that if you speak more than one language you don’t speak all of your languages well enough, or that if you speak one language better than the other you are not bilingual. Of course this is not the case. With adults I see that there are biases towards some types of accents, so for example if you speak English with a so called “strong foreign accent” you might be not receive the same attention to the content of your speech as someone who doesn’t have the same accent. This can be quite influential in a job interview context for example.
When it comes to raising bilingual children, parents are still being told to stop speaking their mother tongue and focus on English, and this can have quite negative effects, the first being that if children are only able to speak English they might cut off a part of their family and their identity.
- If someone was moving to Ireland without English what would your advice be to them?
I think that anyone who chooses to move to Ireland wants to get to meet people and learn English ( and many people also have an interest in Irish!), so my advice would be to not only attend classes, but look for opportunities to get immersed in English and make new friends.
- You’ve developed quite the social media following, what content do you find what’s best
We find that parents have a great interest in hearing stories of families who have raised bilingual children, to pick up ideas and suggestions. We also have many events, classes and workshops so we like to use social media to update our followers and spread the word, especially now that our events are online and open to anyone who is interested in joining.
- How has the pandemic affected your services? Has there been any benefits from the past year?
We immediately moved all our training and our language classes for children online, because to us it was very important to keep staying connected. At the start we were a little worried, but we found that our community continued to engage with us, and the many people who had not been able to engage with us because of the distance were immediately in our classes and webinars. Within weeks we had parents, children and teachers from all over Europe taking part in our online classes and webinars. The greatest benefit of this difficult situation has been the possibility of rethinking the way we work and exploring the new opportunities that technology can open up.
- What are your plans going into 2021 and beyond?
In 2021 we are going to open up new language classes for second generation children who want to learn the language of their parents, and we plan to collaborate with other organisations in Ireland and around Europe to amplify our message of the importance of multilingualism.
- Are there any other people, companies or organisations in Ireland that you’re inspired by?
I am very inspired by First Fortnight who have been addressing the challenge of mental health through creativity. Rosemary Kunene is also a social entrepreneur I admire. She founded Dignity Partnership and her energy is something that keeps me motivated during tough times.