"Language Week creates a sense of shared identity within the diverse EUTOPIA network" : Melina Delmas, Coordinator of Language Week.

Melina Delmas is working at the University of Warwick and has been collaborating with Professor Jo Angouri, the Curriculum Developer for EUTOPIA, for the past three years. Her main focus has been on EUTOPIA, particularly with the Learning Communities. One of her key roles is supporting several Learning Communities, especially those on multilingualism and diversity, as well as global connections. Since 2023, she is also a Local Facilitator for EUTOPIA, which has increased her involvement with the communities and the new Connected Communities, as well as supporting our staff engaged with EUTOPIA. Additionally, she is involved with Project FLECSLAB which focuses on lifelong learning. As a researcher, she contributed to building the framework and conducting interviews with the learning community, and right now she is working on developing the toolkit for LLL.

Can you please share a bit on your research background and subject expertise?

I have a research background in Translation Studies. It was quite a shift when I moved into Applied Linguistics, but this change was mainly due to my involvement with EUTOPIA. I am also involved in research with Professor Jo in the field of Linguistics, but my main interest lies in languages and translation.  

How did the language week of EUTOPIA University Alliance come into existence? What was the objective? How did it start?

The idea was initiated by Professor Jo and her Learning Community on Multilingualism and Diversity as well as the Learning Community which concentrated on Text and Discourse Analysis which was led by a colleague in Ljubljana, who is also from Translation Studies. These two communities are thematically similar and we thought it would be beneficial to place more emphasis on languages. We decided that a language festival would be the best way to do this, aiming to engage not just language students, who are already interested, but also to attract others from EUTOPIA and demonstrate the importance of languages. The festival also serves to celebrate the diversity within EUTOPIA, where you encounter people from various cultures and backgrounds. For example, I am French but work in the UK, highlighting the rich cultural diversity. Initially, we planned just a few events, but as enthusiasm grew, more people wanted to participate and contribute, and it eventually expanded into a much larger event than we had anticipated. That's how it all began and evolved.

This is the second year of conducting Language Week.  So what do you think is the main purpose of this event?

The main idea is to celebrate culture and diversity and to bring together people from the EUTOPIA alliance who may not have had contact before. Typically, the Learning Communities focus on pedagogical activities, which are great, but we wanted this event to be more fun and festive. It's designed to connect people who haven't met before and attract students from STEM and other diverse backgrounds who might not usually interact with people from different linguistic backgrounds. In EUTOPIA, we primarily communicate in English, despite being from universities with various languages. While a common language is necessary for understanding, it limits the potential linguistic diversity among the partners. This event aims to showcase the linguistic richness within EUTOPIA and ensure that both students and staff can bring their cultural and linguistic backgrounds to the forefront and utilize them.

What is the theme of this year's language week, and what were the key events and activities organised?

There wasn't a specific theme for this year's language week. We haven't established a tradition of having a particular theme yet, but it's a good idea for the future. Key events usually include the plenary talk on Monday, which marks the opening of language week. Last year, Tiziana Lippiello opened the first edition with a plenary talk, which was very successful. However, this year, due to time constraints, we couldn't organize it the same way. Consequently, the plenary talk was mostly attended by local participants in person, with fewer online attendees from the alliance, which wasn't ideal. This year, institutions focused more on their own events rather than a unified alliance-wide approach. Last year, everything was organized last minute, which was challenging, but this year each institution had more time to plan their events. While this was beneficial, it resulted in a more fragmented experience. We need to ensure that future events feel like a cohesive alliance-wide celebration rather than separate institutional activities. We also need to consider reducing the number of events, as having too many spreads the audience too thin. Students are busy, and it's hard for them to attend everything in one week. Since it's only the second year of the event, we're still figuring out the best approach to make it as effective as possible.

This event is part of the Learning Communities focused on ‘Multilingualism and Diversity’, and ‘Text and Discourse’. How do you organise these events? Do all the universities come together, and what is the process involved?

It is indeed a complex process as it involves two Learning Communities and this year, seven partner universities actively participated in the event. Initially, we had a joint meeting with the two LCs and partners to discuss their ideas and plans. After that, everyone went their separate ways to organise their parts. I coordinate the entire event, coordinating with each university. Typically, each university has a representative in the LC. For example, Stellenbosch, our global partner, participated in Language Week for the first time this year. Each university was asked to submit their planned events. Then, I compile the program, trying to avoid scheduling conflicts. Each institution also handles its promotion. We promote the event through EUTOPIA's website and social channels, but the main task is coordinating with each institution locally to put together the program and then publicising it widely.

You mentioned that there are events for people outside the concerned disciplines. How do you reach out to people outside this learning community or these departments? How successful is that, and is there considerable participation from people outside the concerned disciplines?

We haven’t yet received the feedback for this year, so we still don’t have the exact impact data to be sure how successful we were in engaging participants from outside the concerned disciplines. At Warwick, we advertised the event university-wide, using all screens to display information, posting on the website, and including it in the app that every student has access to. This should help reach a broader audience, though interest levels may vary. We also specifically target the medical schools for relevant events. For instance, we had an event on language barriers in healthcare and sent this information to our contacts in the medical school, asking them to share it with their students. I'm not sure how the other universities handle their outreach, but this is our approach to making the entire university aware, not just our departments. This event was somewhat coincidental. One of our Translation scholars wanted to organise it, but it turned out to be a great initiative. It's something that can be focused on in the future to encourage more participation. It's a great idea because students might find healthcare-related topics more relevant than translation or literature slam. However, we discovered that some students actively engage in activities outside their discipline. For instance, science students might find it refreshing to participate in something related to literature. What's fascinating about language is its fundamental role across all disciplines. Without language, understanding any subject becomes challenging. There's immense potential for language initiatives, particularly during language weeks, to raise awareness. As scholars of Translation Studies, we are well aware of the intricacies of translatability across languages and disciplines. In terms of outreach, at Warwick, we had an event where local schools brought their pupils. We screened a film that was on the GCSE or A-level curriculum, which made it relevant for the schools to bring their students. This strategy helped widen our audience and was very successful, with four schools participating.

Regarding the last Language Week held in 2023, what was the feedback on participation and impact? Was there any feedback collected and analyzed?

We received feedback from only two individuals, both from Warwick. However, in terms of participation at Warwick, we had a significant turnout with about 400 attendees, split evenly between in-person and online participation. This turnout was particularly impressive considering it was the first time such an event was organised. Participation from other institutions was somewhat lower, possibly due to the novelty of the event, which we were driving forward as the coordinators. This year, we scaled back the activities at Warwick to avoid overwhelming participants, resulting in fewer attendees. Stellenbosch University hosted numerous activities, and while we're still awaiting their report and feedback, their multilingual karaoke event attracted 250 students, showcasing the potential appeal of engaging and entertaining activities. Our most successful event at Warwick was a games night, which drew in 40 participants. Such enjoyable activities seem to resonate well with students. Feedback was limited last year, but we're hoping for more substantial input this year, especially with our additional global partner, Stellenbosch. We anticipate that other global partners may also express interest in joining in the future.

When crafting programs for initiatives like this, do you create separate designs for students and staff, particularly academics, or is there a common approach for everyone involved in the programs and initiatives?

We welcome participation from anyone in our events, but certain activities, like the games night, tend to be more appealing to students, although staff are also welcome. On the other hand, academic round tables, such as the one we held on multilingualism in university alliances, are primarily of interest to staff and academics, and may not attract as many students. Despite being open to all, some activities naturally cater more to one group than the other. Additionally, it's worth noting that all activities are free of charge.

You've touched upon the collaborations with the local community earlier. Could you elaborate on how you engage with them, particularly the local schools you mentioned? How do you spread the word about this event to them? Is it a wide dissemination to all local schools in and around Warwick, or is there a specific approach you follow?

Our Widening Participation Officer, who operates within the Department of Modern Languages was in charge of it. As it comes under their responsibility, they engaged with the local community and schools. Essentially, this officer disseminated information about the activities we deemed most relevant to schools. They then gathered interest from potential attendees and provided us with the details.

How do you think multilingualism is relevant in an alliance like EUTOPIA and how do you think it can be endorsed better in the future?

Multilingualism, is a significant strength of the EUTOPIA alliance, or any such alliance for that matter. However, I feel that more emphasis could be placed on leveraging multilingualism as a strength. Perhaps in the upcoming years, we can advocate for highlighting this within our learning community, emphasizing it as an area where EUTOPIA can truly excel." So, within our learning community, some members took the initiative to draft a manifesto advocating for greater emphasis on multilingualism within the alliance. However, it seems that little action has been taken on that front yet. These kinds of initiatives often require time and effort to materialize. The community is dedicated to pushing for this change, but it's essential to gain support from higher authorities such as the board of directors and presidents. As you mentioned, the goal of Languages Week is precisely to raise awareness among those who might not realize the significance of languages as the foundation of all knowledge. This awareness-building process can be challenging, but initiatives like Languages Week, with their engaging and fun approach, offer a promising avenue for reaching a wider audience beyond traditional courses."

How do you envision Language Week contributing to the overarching objectives of the EUTOPIA University Alliance? Additionally, in what ways do events like this enhance the sense of community within the EUTOPIA alliance?

Multilingualism stands as a fundamental value within EUTOPIA, or at least it should be, if it isn't already. This principle aligns with broader goals at the EU level, where there's a strong emphasis on students acquiring proficiency in their native language plus two additional foreign languages. Creating a space for students to engage in multilingualism is pivotal. Language Week serves as a platform for this, facilitating connections among students from various EUTOPIA institutions who may not have interacted otherwise. It operates akin to learning communities, fostering cross-campus connections that contribute to a sense of shared identity within the diverse EUTOPIA network. Through activities like language learning sessions or cultural events, participants not only bond over shared experiences but also celebrate their individual identities, languages, and cultures. This collective celebration and exchange ultimately strengthen the sense of community within EUTOPIA. It intertwines the languages and cultural similarities while also shedding light on both the commonalities and distinctions among languages and cultures. These events provide an intriguing opportunity for individuals, whether students or staff from diverse backgrounds, to come together and explore each other's linguistic and cultural characteristics. Beyond the academic and organizational aspects, these occasions allow participants to delve into their own linguistic and cultural traits, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation, particularly within an international, multicultural, and multilingual environment. Such events hold the potential to cultivate curiosity and mutual understanding among participants.

In your role as the coordinator of Language Week or within the community, what message would you like to convey to the broader EUTOPIA community regarding the promotion of multilingualism or any related focus areas? What are your thoughts on this matter?

We possess considerable potential within our alliance of universities and languages, yet we're not fully capitalizing on it. The message we aim to convey through Language Week is a call to action: let's maximize the use of our languages. While English remains crucial for our alliance, there's room for additional languages. Neglecting these linguistic resources is akin to the UK's stance post-Brexit, where language learning has declined, leading to missed opportunities in various spheres, including employment. With EUTOPIA, we have the opportunity to embrace multilingualism fully. Through Language Week, we aim to demonstrate to both students and staff that language exploration can be enjoyable and foster stronger connections and bonds. Our goal is to encourage active participation in language-related activities, as we believe in the significant potential of this initiative. While still in its early stages, Language Week has already garnered enthusiasm among organizers, indicating its promising future. We're committed to its continuation and further development.