The Language Show is the UK's biggest and only language-focused trade show, held in London and attracting thousands of language lovers. So far I've been resisting the call of Europe's great Polyglot Conferences so far (more about those later) but for this one I made my way down to big London to see the latest trends, technologies and products out there in language learning.
The Language Show is free to attend, runs over three days and features a huge amount of workshops, cultural performances and taster language lessons to try out. It's held at the London Olympia, an absolutely huge trade centre and beautiful Art Deco building too. I visited the trade show floor on Saturday 18 October, and here's what struck me the most:
Lifelong Learners Still Overlooked
Here in the UK, the most common setting for language learning is definitely school. And since this year has seen new UK legislation passed that introduces languages to kids in primary schools, the biggest focus of the exhibition was definitely on teachers and primary school teachers. The vast majority of stalls were aimed at teachers in the school system, and it was REALLY SAD to see so little representation of us lifelong learners. We are forced to think outside the box all of the time, but the offer of books and materials available is still so focused on school that language learning feels like a classroom skill, not a life skill.
Society is also becoming more innovative when it comes to showing what kind of job opportunities are open to language lovers. Translating, interpreting and teaching were represented everywhere, but other companies weren't all that present. The biggest I saw were the army with their handsome spy recruiters and SC Johnson, as well as several London-based agencies.
Politices are Powerful
One big thing that I learnt from this exhibition is how extremely powerful the government legislation really is when it comes to this cause. When government decides to put money behind language teaching for children, and not for adults in Further Education or just in no formal education environment, then the industry follows. Lifelong learners stay invisible, and stay scared of trying out a language as a cool hobby. We have so much further to go.
Without the European Union, there would be so much less diversity and investment in languages here in the UK. The EU exhibition stands were not only huge and absolutely covered in amazing information about every country and its official languages, but they also provide a huge opportunity for employment to anyone who can speak another language.
Languages are a Space of Innovation!
I met so many small, independent publishing houses and companies developing not just new technologies, but fun products and ideas. Big shout out to Flashsticks, a company that I am always supporting for their cute and simple little pre-printed vocab post-its. They filmed a short interview with me, so look out for that on the Flashsticks blog very soon.
Some great products included big maps of languages for your personal grammar paradise, new Flashsticks box sets and super cute publications in over 20 languages from the EU.
Language and Travel are Forever Linked
I loved seeing amazing displays from embassies and tourist offices around Europe, and from Germany in particular there were promotions of Deutsche Bahn and the youth hostels. I really enjoyed a German workbook published by the cologne youth hostels with maps, role play ideas and other exercises. Watch out for that, German students!
(The companies mentioned did not pay me to write any of this. I'll accept donations though.)
Polyglot Conferences and Language Shows
This year, I missed attending two great "polyglot" conferences because I couldn't get over my personal dislike of the word polyglot (see here) and the arrogance that too many YouTube polyglots display at times. I felt that the environment was masculine and dominated by one-upmanship, and it didn't make me want to be in a place where people discuss how many languages they can possibly add by next Tuesday. The Language Show seemed a lot less intimidating to me, as a space where I can walk around at my own pace and just check out what's on offer for me as a language teacher, blogger and student.
I was excited to meet up with three great bloggers from the UK: Compassionate Language Learner J, my podcasting buddy Lindsay and German blogger Angelika. Lindsay was just back from the "Polyglot Gathering" in Novi Sad and had lots of good things to say about it, which was fab, and actually reassured me that these types of events do end up a lot friendlier than you think. I LOVED meeting the three other bloggers and talking about our mission of being non-male language writers and promoters on the internet.
Here is a tiny tiny video of Lindsay and Angelika, which I filmed with Hyperlapse and then saved at a mega speed. You can see their amazing smiles :D
Here's my conclusion:
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do no matter where you are based is to get out of your little life box and meet some people. Being in a room full of people who all share your "thing" is a great feeling -- very energising and motivating.
We all have one thing in common: A shared belief that language learning is a major DO in this world, and we have to get out and share that!