• Joanna Norton

Bloomsday: a celebration of language and multilingual creativity

Extensive reading leads to vocabulary development. It helps students to become better writers. It can also help to increase oral fluency – listening and speaking abilities. However, with the lure of social media it is often easier to swipe left than turn a page. In an age of constant distraction, I decided to model my own reading practice in class to show how books inspire my creative work. To celebrate Bloomsday, the example below was inspired by Ulysses.

Ulysses pays homage to the everyday and recognises the value of ordinary lives. Dublin in its entirety became Joyce’s canvas. Yet even our most literate express frustration when engaging with this text. Similar frustrations are expressed by students required to engage with subject content through convoluting academic structures. Reading can present us all with challenges. Through walking, Ulysses unveils the wonder of Dublin. Walking familiar routes backwards helps to give the everyday a fresh perspective. I chose to take this backwards and forwards motion from Ulysses to see my street anew.

I simply began by walking along a familiar path in a straight line. I then walked backwards to the starting point. I repeated this process at different times of the day and then at night, and then at different times of the year. Each walk became a portal to a new idea. Recording these ideas provided evidence of thinking. Pausing encouraged reflection and an opportunity to make connections. Making connections is a critical skill underpinning imagination. This is all modelled for students. And then there’s language.

This same street vibrates with many voices. As people walk backwards and forwards Urdu greets Arabic, while Portuguese salutes Shona. Albanians washing cars blast Ottoman rhythms from stereos. Bangla tunes escape from taxis as they speed to their destination. Turkish barbecues sizzle behind communal washing lines. Languages sit on top of each other in this densely-packed street. English doesn’t appear much, except when the English are present. We all know the linguistic hierarchy. Brexit has reminded us of it.

This simple activity has travelled well. Former students have begun to walk backwards and forwards through the streets of Beirut, Beijing and Barcelona, each in search of an unseen tempo. Once found, it is easy to forget how all of this started. At the beginning of the process there was book: Ulysses. Within it, we meet Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell walking along the pavement.

Happy Bloomsday.

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