Out with the old, in with the new (blog)!


Since 2011 this blog has posted news from what was back then called the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies (SOCLAS), now known as the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures (MLC). It has published nearly 600 posts, racked up over 125,000 lifetime views and attracted more than 44,000 visitors.

From September 2017, we are taking our blogging success onto a shiny new blog within our own departmental website which will give us even more visibility and reach – please do follow us there instead!

The posts on this site will remain as a record of the activities, publications, appointments, news and views, graduate careers and year abroad experiences, and so much more that we have done and written about over the last 6 years.

“A different language is a different vision of life”

On Friday 25th August, Simon Jenkins wrote a column for The Guardian that revived the long-lasting debate around the importance of learning modern foreign languages. Jenkins’s point was essentially that languages are not relevant to British people, speakers of today’s lingua franca, English. In addition, Jenkins states that language learning in formal education is dated and that the subject is as useful as “corporal punishment”, while also being “easy to test, quantify and regiment”. Yet, since computers cannot replace its practitioners, Jenkins’s solution is for full immersion to stay abroad, especially in important countries such as Germany, where culture can apparently be experienced without knowing the local language.

The column received 1048 replies, mostly to rebut Jenkins’s opinions. Several academics and language lovers wrote to The Guardian, which grouped the letters under the telling title “Just speaking English won’t get us very far in the world”. As stated in the first letter, which included MLC’s Professor Charles Forsdick as a signatory, “language is inextricably bound up with history, culture and economics”, and learning a foreign language offers “clear benefits […] across a whole range of domains such as health, security, business, diplomacy and intercultural understanding”. Multilingual individuals are equipped with “crucial skills [that] hinge on enhanced relationships and deep cultural understanding” and that “impact profoundly on business, politics and peace”. It is also worth noticing that employers across the UK are warning of a “deficit in terms of language skills relative to its competitors”, of which all students and educators, not only linguists, should be aware.

Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Mary Beard also wrote a response on the Times Literary Supplement, making the point that if Jenkins’s argument was “about taking more notice of the outside world […] but not being hooked on the linguistic route to that”, then this was a good point indeed. Learning a language means indissolubly experiencing a culture as well.

The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Liverpool supports the objections to Jenkins’s article outlined above, and would like to sign off with a quote from Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini: “a different language is a different vision of life”.

Keep Calm

“Never did I think that learning Catalan would be so interesting” – Part 2



At the end of last term, and to coincide with the beginning of summer, the Institut Ramon Llull funded a group of 20 students from the universities of Liverpool, Durham and Newcastle to travel to Majorca for five days on a cultural exchange to explore the island and its history and culture. A total of 11 students from the University of Liverpool took part in the second edition of the cultural trip, co-organised by Joan Mas Font from Modern Languages and Cultures. Last week, Catalan student Alice Hammonds shared her experiences of the first half of the trip and, today, Alice tells us about the rest of the trip. 

Saturday morning was left free of activities and, after all the wine Felip had provided the evening before, we were content to relax on the beach close to our hostel. The views at the beach were stunning and we all felt very lucky to be there enjoying each other’s company. That evening, the enjoyment did not stop as we walked across Palma to meet with the Castellers de Mallorca during their practice time. Having never seen castellers, or human towers, in real life, we were excited but also nervous. Having only just arrived at the practice, we witnessed a small child climb the height of three adults. However, the shock subsided after talks and demonstrations and we were all encouraged to join in and support the towers from the bottom. The feeling of community in the workshop left us all elated as we headed for dinner together back in the centre of Palma, which was followed by a game of Jo mai mai (Never have I ever) over some copes.

Castellers de Mallorca - Human Towers

Castellers de Mallorca – human towers

On Sunday we left the hostel by minibus once again, arriving an hour later at Coves d’Artà. The long journey was worth it, as the caves were stunning. We were accompanied once again by Gaspar Valero. After leaving the caves, we travelled to the historic town of Alcúdia and visited its medieval walls and, later, the beach Ses Casetes des Capellans. This beach topped that of the day before, with stunning views of blue sky and clear water.

Group in Coves d'Artà

The group at Coves d’Artà

That evening, we celebrated the end of the trip with a group meal during which we discussed the last few days and how lucky we had been to receive this opportunity.

Having spent just one year studying Catalan, this was the first time I had witnessed the language being used day to day and, furthermore, the first chance I had had to use it outside the classroom. We all left Majorca feeling fortunate and excited for the next part of our journey learning Catalan. Jo mai mai he pensat que seria tan interessant estudiar català!

The visit was documented by newspapers and social media from Catalan-speaking territories, which helped to raise awareness of Catalan as a foreign language abroad. Such media attention also helped to highlight the work that the Institut Ramon Llull and the Catalan teachers in the United Kingdom are doing for Catalan language and culture.

Alice Hammonds


Catalan media coverage of the trip

“Never did I think that learning Catalan would be so interesting”



At the end of last term, and to coincide with the beginning of summer, the Institut Ramon Llull funded a group of 20 students from the universities of Liverpool, Durham and Newcastle to travel to Majorca for five days on a cultural exchange to explore the island and its history and culture. A total of 11 students from the University of Liverpool took part in the second edition of the cultural trip, co-organised by Joan Mas Font from Modern Languages and Cultures. Over the next couple of weeks, Catalan student Alice Hammonds will share her experience of the five-day long trip on the MLC blog.

After arriving in Palma the night before, we had a prompt start on Thursday morning, leaving the hostel at 10am to explore the city of Palma with historian Gaspar Valero as our guide. Gaspar was incredibly knowledgeable about the island and encouraged us to participate in the tour and ask as many questions as we liked. For many of us, this was our first time in Majorca and so it was interesting to hear about the island’s history. Gaspar showed us the sculpture of Majorcan priest Junípero Serra, who founded the state of California and gave his name to the city of San Francisco.

That evening, we were invited to a reception held by the Government of the Balearic Islands and the Institut Ramon Llull to hear more about the organisations and the importance of their role in promoting the Catalan language. The event took place in the auditorium of the Majorca Museum, in Palma, and we met the general director of Language Policy for the Balearic Islands, Marta Fuxà, and the director of the Institut Ramon Llull Language and Universities Department, Josep-Anton Fernàndez.

Institutional reception at Museu de Mallorca

Institutional reception at Museu de Mallorca

We then walked across the street to Can Alcover, once home to the poet Joan Alcover. This was the perfect location for a workshop with two glosadors, Maribel Servera and Mateu Xurí. Gloses are a type of spontaneous spoken word poetry native to Majorca.

It was exciting to discover something new and get involved in a part of the island’s culture.

Spoken word poetry workshop

Spoken word poetry workshop

On Friday, we left the hostel by minibus in the direction of Miramar. Tomàs Vibot, who was quick to impart his knowledge of olive pressing, guided us through the Serra de Tramuntana, which was awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO as an area of great physical and cultural significance. The Serra was once home to Ramon Llull, prolific writer of the Middle Ages and creator of literary Catalan. We then travelled to the town of Deià and visited Robert Graves’s house, having the pleasure of meeting his son while enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. We also stopped to explore Valldemossa, another picturesque town where international figures such as Frederic Chopin and Jorge Luís Borges lived. Valldemossa provided us with coffee and beautiful blue skies before we returned to the minibus to travel to our next workshop.

UoL students in Deià

University of Liverpool students in Deià

Following the tour, we arrived at the University of the Balearic Islands for a cooking workshop. Charismatic professor of Catalan popular culture, Felip Munar, lifted our spirits considerably more than the coffee we had just drank. He spoke to us about the island’s traditional cuisine and before long we were in the kitchen ourselves, cooking dishes such as coca de trempó, truita and albergínies farcides (stuffed aubergines) with chef Cati Aguiló. Felip produced bottle after bottle of wine and we sat together and ate the dishes we had made. I think most would agree that this evening was one of the best moments of the trip, as both Felip and Cati were incredibly warm and welcoming, and sharing time with them was extremely interesting.

Alice Hammonds

Join the MLC blog next week to find out how the rest of Alice’s trip to Majorca went.

Cooking workshop (Alice and Sophie)

University of Liverpool students Alice and Sophie at the Catalan cooking workshop

Congratulations class of 2017!


Last week, students in MLC celebrated the culmination of four years’ hard work and study at the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures graduation ceremony. The sun made a timely appearance as students and staff descended on the Royal Philharmonic Hall in all their finery to recognise the achievements of our graduands. MLC students were particularly vocal during the ceremony, taking every opportunity to cheer their peers, demonstrating the close-knit community fostered in the department.

Graduation [1]

Dr Rosalba Biasini celebrating with Italian graduates

After the ceremony, which included the award of Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters to University of Liverpool alumnus and broadcaster David Olusoga, students gathered with their families in the grand marquee in the gardens of Abercromby Square to continue the celebrations, aided by complementary glasses of Prosecco (not Champagne, as colleagues in Italian kept reminding this French lecturer and editor of the MLC blog). The reception was a lovely opportunity for members of staff to chat with students and their families and personally congratulate them on their achievements.

From the MLC blog and all in the department of Modern Languages and Cultures, hearty congratulations to our graduates and best of luck for the future!

Graduation [2]

MLC graduates honour the tradition of throwing their caps in the air

Dr Stefania Tufi publishes new article on the linguistic landscape of Venice



Dr Stefania Tufi, Senior Lecturer in Italian, has had a new article published on the linguistic landscape of Venice, entitled Liminality, heterotopic sites, and the linguistic landscape. The case of Venice. Stefania tells us a little about it on today’s MLC blog.

It took a long time to see this project through to publication and in a way the process of writing itself (or, better, of working within the limits of verbal language for the task at hand) was as elusive as Venice. I started forming the idea of this article because every time I visit Venice, the experience generates a mix of contrasting feelings and reactions that range from astonishment (including the so-called Stendhal Syndrome) to claustrophobia – not many places on earth are able to provoke such a variety of responses, and all in one go!


After a careful observation of the local linguistic (and wider semiotic) landscape, I concluded that it contributed to the creation of a liminal space, a sort of in-betweenness which is neither here nor there, and the product of numberless representations and imaginings of Venice. This has been enhanced by historical characterisations, appropriations and recreations of Venice which are available to large audiences, and by the fact that nowadays tourists (and their languages) outnumber local inhabitants and vernaculars, therefore creating a peculiarly transnational space.

In the article I also refer to processes of language minoritisation (or deletion) that Italian is undergoing, both in the audioscape and in the written signscape (as exemplified in the images below), a phenomenon that participates in linguistic and cultural reterritorialization.


Sign on a church door featuring French, English, German and Italian, the latter in the least salient position

Finally, one of the frameworks employed in the article is that of tourist-as-pilgrim in the consolidated walkscape regimes that most day-trippers follow in pursuit of key artistic landmarks. This ritualistic itinerary along established routes where written signs are often replaced by objects (such as the ubiquitous – and signless – souvenir shops displaying Venetian glass and masks) causes a dislocation of (real) place and the creation of a heterotopia – ‘another place’, which is simultaneously real and unreal.


The ubiquitous city guides in a range of languages

Jordi Sánchez attends Mother Tongue Other Tongue


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Last Wednesday, MLC’s Jordi Sánchez Carrión attended the Mother Tongue Other Tongue event, organized by Routes into Languages and held at Manchester Metropolitan University. In today’s blog, Jordi tells us a little about the event.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue is a national project led by none other than Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy, who holds the position of Director of the Manchester Writing School at MMU. The idea was originally co-developed by the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at MMU and Routes into Languages North West. In 2017, the project is being rolled out nationally as this year’s Laureate Education Project, with regional events and competitions taking place throughout the year.

In last week’s poetry competition, in which a total of 20 languages were used, the showcase of poems by school pupils from the North West was followed by a prize-giving ceremony. Prizes were handed out by keynote speaker Annie Zaidi, winner of the Hellen Rollason Award for Inspiration and the Sky Sports Women Award.

MTOT [3]

Languages used at Mother Tongue Other Tongue

The event was a real success, with an attendance of around 190 cheerful pupils. The University of Liverpool is part of the Routes in Languages North West consortium and actively helps to promote the importance of teaching languages in schools and universities.

Mother Tongue Other Tongue [1]



Student profiles: ex ab initio Italian


Today’s blog post is the next in our series profiling MLC students who started learning a language as complete beginners and who have now completed their final year. This time, we meet Julia Ward, who is taking a BA in Modern European Languages (French, Spanish and Italian) and tells us of the enriching experience of learning Italian from scratch.

After studying French and Spanish all the way through to A Level, I was so excited to have the opportunity to pick up Beginner’s Italian at university. This was one of my main deciding factors for coming to the University of Liverpool, as the course allowed me to continue with my current languages, whilst also picking one from a range of choices to study ab initio. For me, this choice was always going to be Italian and I’ve not once regretted my decision.

I have progressed from being an enthusiastic beginner of Italian to a confident final-year student who feels completely at ease with the language, and is at the same level as with my other two languages. The modules I have studied over the years have comprised both language and culture modules, covering a wide scope of Italian cinema, history and linguistics, which have further heightened my passion for the language.

Learning Italian has been such an enriching and eye-opening experience for me and allowing me to have the opportunity to spend half of my year abroad in Italy was an experience I will always be thankful for. I worked for four months in the northern city of Bergamo, where I was positioned as an English language assistant in a school. Travelling there knowing absolutely no one, I soon became immersed in the language, making friendships that will last a lifetime and having the best year abroad possible. My experience abroad and learning the language in general has made me fall even more in love with Italy and Italian. I mean, who wouldn’t love riding through the Italian countryside on a vespa and eating gelato in the sun?

I feel privileged to have been part of a dedicated (and hilarious) group of students of Italian, who have all become my close friends for life, and also part of a team of teachers who have made my experience an exciting and enjoyable one. I would therefore like to thank all those at the University of Liverpool who made my time here studying languages an unforgettable experience for which I will always be grateful!


Julia and her trusty Italian vespa

Why do Germans call our bread ‘Toast’?! What is their bread and sausage obsession about? How do Germans feel about British queues?


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Franziska Schmidt, one of MLC’s honorary associates in German, has recently started writing a blog about English/German cultural differences, in which she highlights the importance of embracing not only the language of a nation, but its food, music and customs as well. Franziska’s blog is written in both German and English, so both English- and German-speaking readers have the chance to understand each other’s oddities. Here, Franziska gives us a taster of what her blog is about.

Having lived in Liverpool for nearly 14 months (note the German preciseness), I have been asked questions about Germans calling bread ‘toast’, about German sausages, and about German attitudes to queuing on several occasions. While teaching German courses for Continuing Education, more and more questions about German oddities arose, differences between German and English customs were discussed, and I realised that language learning is a lot more than just studying grammar and vocabulary.



German barbecue, including those famous (and delicious) German sausages

When you move to a country, you usually know about some common stereotypes: British people love to talk about the weather; they drink black tea with milk; they are champions in queuing. On the other hand, Germans are direct and precise; they love bread and sausages; they lack politeness and the ability to partake in small talk.

Of course, nobody really wants to admit to being a stereotypical Brit or German. Yet, let’s be honest: stereotypes do not just appear out of thin air. Some of them can ring true.

Comparing my manners to British ones, wondering about how and why things are done differently here, and experiencing British life in all its facets not only improved my understanding of British culture, but my understanding of German culture as well. Yes – I am German. I am punctual, I miss German summers and winters, I plan my days very efficiently and I write text messages that read ‘Shall we meet at 2:25pm?’ and ‘I am on my way. Will be there in 7 minutes!’ And I am proud of it! By embracing English culture, I learned to embrace my own one. To truly understand a nation and to develop a feeling for the language, one needs to embrace its culture – that includes trying different foods, listening to the local radio station, talking to local people, and even adopting their behaviours.

For these reasons, I decided to start a blog about ‘Denglish’ oddities and culture in both English and German. Whether you are a Brit learning German, or a German living in the UK (and so you are missing baking with Vanillinzucker and Brezeln und richtige Brötchen for breakfast), or just an individual who is wondering about cultural understanding in general, please read my blog and comment and ask questions!


Laugenbrötchen und Brezeln

You will find a German perspective on English culture, German recipes, tips to improve your language, recommendations of German and British food, websites, TV series and more. My blog aims to help both English and German readers learn something about one another, to widen their understanding of other cultures, and to see and embrace the wonders of cultural difference.

You can read the blog at feelforlanguage.blogspot.co.uk.


Homemade German bread

Valentina Podda recounts Liverpool experiences


In the second semester of the current academic year, MLC welcomed Valentina Podda, who worked as a Teaching Assistant in Italian. In this short blog, Valentina recounts her experiences of the department and of Liverpool in general.


Valentina (first from left) with students of Italian

Ciao! I am Valentina Podda, I am 25 years old and I come from Padua. Thanks to the Erasmus Plus Traineeship Programme, I am currently doing an internship in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Liverpool, as an Italian Language Assistant.

I have an MA in History from the University of Padua. I graduated with honours with a dissertation on the Fascist Party in Padua, my hometown. Despite the fact that my professional education did not involve a language-related component, the staff at the University of Liverpool gave me the opportunity to live this international experience, which is proving to be extremely enriching professionally, socially and culturally, and of course, it is giving me the possibility to improve my English.

Since I started my Classical Studies, I have always been attracted to a career in academia and now I have the opportunity to learn how to teach Italian as a foreign language and to implement what I have learnt in my classes.

Through following the work of my colleagues at Liverpool, Rosalba Biasini and Federica Sturani, and by designing and teaching Italian language classes, I have been able, for the first time, to enjoy University life as a teacher and not as a student.

Valentina [2]

Valentina enjoying Liverpool’s culinary delights

Thanks to this international experience, I am improving my language skills day by day, growing professionally and getting to know many amazing people. From the Italian tutors to the students, everyone has made me feel at home.

Furthermore, living in Liverpool, I had  the possibility to discover a different side of the UK, which is quite unlike the tourist-centred hustle and bustle of London for example. Despite the typical English weather, Liverpool is a lovely, welcoming and multicultural city, and it captured my heart.

Having come to the end of this incredible path abroad, I would like to thank the Italian teaching team for having given me this opportunity.

I leave hopeful that we will meet again in the future.