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Engaging Adult Language Learners with Shakespeare

Lisa Peter

At the start of the year, the Trust's Learning Team was invited to take over a session of Warwickshire County Council’s English course at Foundation House. The tutor of the course, Joy Godwin, had spotted an SBT workshop at the NATECLA conference in Birmingham last year, but couldn’t attend at the time. Thankfully, one of her course participants also works at the Trust, and was more than happy to establish contact. 

While most of our work for language learners centres around the international school groups that come to visit the Shakespeare family homes or teacher training opportunities, we have recently also started to develop classroom activities that can be used with adult learners too.

We spent the morning exploring a plethora of questions from all learners about the plays, Shakespeare’s life, and how he influenced the English language. We then went on to explore our own linguistic creativity by trying to identify gaps in the English language that need filling, pretty much in the same way that Shakespeare created new words (e.g. eyeball) that we now all use quite regularly.

Prospero casting a spell

We also helped Shakespeare out with The Tempest: had you ever noticed that he never wrote the scene in which we see Prospero conjure up his storm at the beginning of the play? It’s sorted now, we heard some mighty magic spells in Turkish, Romanian, Brazilian Portuguese and Russian. Even though we didn’t understand the words themselves, the poetry and dramatic impact of them was obvious. 

This was a great opportunity to engage with learners outside our usual programmes, and a good start to a year in which we shall be exploring more ways to reach out to adult language learners in the region. In the coming weeks, we will start a project together with Coventry University and the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, working on some pre- and post-visit educational resources especially developed for these audiences.

If you fancy trying your hand at writing your own magical spell to help Shakespeare out, here is the link to the classroom activity: 

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