International Day of Multilingualism – what languages mean to me

To celebrate the first ever International Day of Multilingualism, I thought I’d reflect on what languages mean to me.

Travel and exposure to new cultures 

My journey with languages started in the classroom. But languages go so much further than that. They lead you to new places, they show you new things and expose you to new ideas. While the desire to improve my languages took me to foreign climes, I got so much more than “just” a language. I learnt about people and different ways of life. I not only saw but I participated in traditional customs and cultural activities, doors that opened because I could speak the language.

It also made me to want to see more of the world, travelling around Eastern Europe and spending time in India. While these weren’t “my” languages, my curiosity of the world had been piqued by my experience of language.

Independence as a woman

When my children were born, I took the decision to give up employment and stay at home with the kids. There is much out there about women losing their identity once children come along and there were certainly challenges along the way. I began tutoring Spanish and German, just a few hours a week, but to me this was a life line. For those few hours a week I was Claire, not Mummy. I had always been independent, but staying at home I was reliant on my husband’s income. That small income from my tutoring meant I was earning my own money, not a lot, but when I wanted some new clothes or to buy a gift, I was able to use my money. My languages gave me back independence and identity.

Multilingualism is normal

I remember starting university and suddenly being surrounded by other language lovers who, like me, spoke more than one language. It became normal to speak more than one language. Back home and several years later, I’m more of a rarity now among my friends. Until, that is, I arrive at one of my favourite places to be: Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity. DRS collects and sorts donations from the public to be sent off to those places in need. Not only does it supply aid, but refugees and asylum seekers in Derby come and help out, providing an opportunity for them to engage with their new country and to come together with others in similar situations. And most of these people are multilingual. Often, it’s not just bilingual – they perhaps speak an African mother tongue, Arabic or Farsi, French and the English or other languages they have picked up on their journey. They’ve grown up in multilingual societies where speaking more than one language is normal and they think nothing of the skills they have. These people who are so often looked down on by our “superior” society, put our monolingualism to shame.

So teach our children about languages. Show them a language is more than just words and more than classroom walls. Encourage them to learn whichever language they fancy, to find out about the country and to start to understand the people. Languages open your eyes to the world.

To find out more about Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity or to donate, please visit




Book Review: Distant Signs by Anne Richter, trans. Douglas Irving (Neem Tree Press)

A subtle, thought-provoking book, dare I say, an elegant take on the post-war period in the GDR.

I began reading this book on my Kindle. I clicked past the black and white front cover to the Opening Note. I picked out the words “life in the German Democratic Republic” and “flashbacks to events before and after the Second World War”. I exclaimed to my husband “this sounds just like my kind of book”. I envisaged fast-paced action, suspense and high-drama and was surprised by the slower, more detailed unravelling of the story.

As its protagonists, the book takes three generations of the Gräf family with each chapter focusing on a different family member. In each chapter the style changes, swapping from first-person to third person, and with notable efforts in the translation to convey the different dialects spoken by the different characters. The events of the GDR post-war period are there and alluded to, but they are not the focus. Instead they form the background, allowing the author to explore how these events affected individuals living through them. We see the coming together of different people, of married couples with different upbringings trying to reconcile their differences and how these internal familial factors are influenced by the environment they are living in.

Beginning in 1965, each chapter jumps forward in time, ending in 1992. We witness the changes in perspective and we see how influential young people were in bringing about change. One chapter that I found particularly moving is that of Hans’ awakening “from a decades-long dream that had felt not unpleasant … This dream was his life so far.” Over the course of these pages, Hans takes stock of his life so far and starts to realise that he has missed out on so much but that hope has not all gone. Alongside changes in his wife’s life, together they reconcile their relationship and begin to move forward to a more positive future.

Throughout the book, cultural and historical notes are highlighted for anyone wishing to know more. The Kindle version of the book makes this very easy to navigate as clicking on the link takes you straight to the relevant note. Another click and you’re back where you were. I was also able to access information from Wikipedia with a quick tap. However, when I received the hard copy, I realised that had I seen the physical copy first, my initial inaccurate expectations may have been lessened. The colours and imagery on the cover convey its gentler nature.

Having begun this book with a view of how it was going to pan out, I was so taken aback that I went back and read the book in its entirety for a second time. This is a far more subtle, thought-provoking book, dare I say, an elegant take on the post-war period in the GDR.

Many thanks to Neem Tree Press for the copy. As publisher Archna Sharma says, “in this environment of the rhetoric of building walls, we really need to celebrate a wall that came down against all odds…”

To purchase a copy, please see the links below.

Distant Signs : A Novel by Richter, Anne (9781911107088) | BrownsBfS

World Book Day

Today was World Book Day. To celebrate, school up and down the country asked pupils to go to school dressed as their favourite book character. My children’s school was no different. Fantastic Mr. Fox went off to school but my daughter, Emma (5), was poorly today and couldn’t go and join in the fun of World Book Day with her friends. Stuck inside because of the rain, we decided to have our very own World Book Day celebrations – the Storey Book Fair.

First we needed costumes – she already had her frog costume ready (the frog from Oi Frog) and she decided I would be the ladybird from What the ladybird heard. Costumes ready, we clearly needed face paints, so out they came, and yes, I even dared to give Emma the brush (see photo for the results!).

Emma set out her “Book Fair”, gathering lots of books from all over the house and we spent some time choosing our favourite five. Her favourite five turned out to be about 15! Mine included Ish by Peter Reynolds, Press Here by Hervé Tullet (trans. Christopher Franceschelli) and Goose by Laura Wall. Having picked out some books, we then had some reading sessions for everyone (me, Emma and Smudge the cat) to enjoy.

No Book Fair is complete without some awards, so we got out the craft supplies and made some rosettes, and the inaugural Storey Books Awards were born. The categories and winners were as follows:

Best book with an animal – Kipper by Mick Inkpen

Funniest book – Oi Duck-billed platypus by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Best pictures – You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart

Best book from around the world – Banana skin Chaos by Lilli d’Arronge (trans. Daniela Bernardelle)

We had a great day at our book fair and I hope she looks back on it as fondly as I will.


End of the Seven Day Book Cover Challenge

So I’ve come to the end of my seven day book cover challenge. It’s been an interesting journey. At the beginning, I thought this would be quite easy. I went through my book cases and picked out my seven books. Great, I thought, I’m done! But as the week went on, I started to remember other books, books I hadn’t seen for a while, or even thought about for a while. And then the deliberating began and my book selection at the end of the week was quite different to my initial choices.

My book choices:

Day One: Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Day Two: La casa de los espiritus by Isabel Allende

Day Three: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Day Four: Madhouse Cookbook by Jo Pratt

Day Five: Nirgendwo in Afrika by Stephanie Zweig

Day Six: The Underground Railway by Colson Whitehead

Day Seven: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Looking back at my both my choices and the books I nearly chose, I’m struck by two things. Firstly, that my books take me around the world – India, China, Spain, Chile, the USA. And even where they have been written by a writer based in a certain part of the world, they often take me somewhere else. Stefanie Zweig’s Nirgendwo in Afrika is written in German yet takes me to Kenya. María Dueñas’ El tiempo entre costuras is Spanish yet leads me Morocco.

The second thing I notice is the emotional connection I have to these books. These aren’t just words on paper; they remind me of places I have been and people I have known. While Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies takes me back to India, A Suitable Boy reminds me of the friend who first recommended it to me. Zweig reminds me of my time in Austria while Allende and García Marquez return me to Mexico where I first learnt Spanish and fell in love with LatAm literature. I feel like I’ve visited some old friends and it has brought back some amazing memories of places I’ve been.

Inspired by the last week, this week I’m going to explore my favourite children’s and YA books.

7 Day Book Cover Challenge

I do love a good challenge, especially if it’s involving books! I’ve been nominated by die Bücher Frauen for Göttingen-Kassel, Anna Rokosz and Antje Althans to post seven book covers of seven books I love. The idea is just to post a photo the cover with no comments! Each day I post, I have to nominate a friend to do the same. It looks like this has been doing the rounds for while but I’m looking forward to rummaging through by book shelves and perhaps reminding myself of some forgotten favourites!

Bring it on!

World Kid Lit Book Review: Lost and Found Cat

Lost and Found Cat by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes. Illustrated by Sue Cornelison (Crown Books).

This is a story again about refugees fleeing their homes but this time with a bit of a twist. A bit like the Austrian fictional story Flucht by Niki Glattauer and Verena Hochleitner that I reviewed back in September, this story is about a family that take their cat with them. The story line focuses on the cat’s journey to a new home. Rather than a fictional tale however, this one is true.

Dominic (8): I thought the photos at the end were interesting because I hadn’t realised it was a true story. 

Emma (5): The cat’s really cute!

The story begins with the family leaving Iraq and, unwilling to leave their beloved cat Kunsush behind, they take him with them, hiding him in a basket. It all goes well until the boat-crossing to Greece, when the cat basket gets broken in the chaos and Kunkush runs away in fear.

The family are distraught at the loss of their cat but have to move on to their next destination. Kunkush meanwhile tries to fit in with a group of local cats but is rejected by them. Some volunteers come across a starving, bedraggled Kunkush and, having heard the story of the family who lost their cat, set out to reunite them.

It is a really moving story of people’s love for animals and the lengths people will go to out of human kindness. The fact that the story was shared so far and wide on social media before the book was produced, shows how it has touched a core with many people. I find it incredible to think that the family managed to hide the cat in a basket for so long without him being discovered.

The book produced an emotional response in Dominic, who found it difficult to listen on once Kunkush went missing. He wanted to skip through to where Kunkush had been taken in and then reunited. The rejection by the other cats can also be seen as a metaphor for the rejection of people by other people. By concentrating on the cat’s journey, it opened up discussion about the human journey, too. The map at the back really helped to visualise just how far this family and their cat had travelled.

Emma has come back to this time and again, wanting to read about Kunkush’s long journey and smiling happily at the end when the family are reunited with Kunkush.

For more books on a similar topic, please see the following links

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Flying Eye Books)

Tomorrow by Nadine Kaadan, translated from Arabic by the author (Lantana Publishing)

Dazwischen: ich by Julya Rabinowich (Hanser)

Flucht (Flight) by Niki Glattauer and Verena Hochleitner (Tyrolia Verlag)

Mama’s Nightingale, A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub (Dial Books)

Do you speak chocolate by Caz Lester

Apfelblüten und Jasmin by Carolin Phillips


CPD Reflections: YTI SEO Translation Workshop

The other CPD event that I attended this weekend was an workshop in Search Engine Optimization, run by the Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters at the University of Leeds. The workshop was run by David García Ruiz of Trust Your Brand.

The workshop itself was very interesting. I had very little knowledge of SEO before the event and David started off by explaining what SEO is and the most important factors that are involved in SEO. This section of the session will be really useful in terms of running my own website and as we look to develop a website for the EMRG.

After a quick coffee break, the workshop moved on to SEO translation, what this involves and how it is different to standard translation. After lunch we had a chance to put our new-found knowledge into practice, carrying out an exercise that David had put together to test our wings. It was an interesting activity, making us aware of the keywords that we were creating and then making sure that we then included them in our translations.

While I’m not sure I’m quite ready to start offering this as an added service to my clients, I feel I have a much better understanding of SEO and how this could work for me. At the very least, I will be making some changes to this website in line with some of David’s recommendations for creeping up Google’s results pages.

The other great aspects of attending this workshop was networking with members of the YTI. Particularly interesting was a discussion on YTI events and what has worked for them and how they have grown their membership; some interesting ideas to bring back to the EMRG.