Margaret Metcalfe

CONTRIBUTION TO ENGLISH LINGUISTICS PHD PROGRAMME: Donation of photographs to display in the website of the programme.

She is an English teacher, translator and travel photographer. When asked “WHAT DOES LANGUAGE MEAN TO YOU?”, this is her answer:

Our family history is peppered with languages, and multilingualism is simply a way of life for us. For me, language is a magical key to unlocking different cultures and thriving in them, as well as making up the rich heritage and special identity we share as a family.

I started travelling young, my first major trip being when I was 8 months old. Our family sailed halfway around the world, from London to Singapore. By the age of 10, I had lived in Malaysia, the Philippines and England, and my neighbours had been a mixture of Chinese grandmas, Malay aunties, Seikh playmates, American school companions and friendly Filipinos. My vocabulary had a strange mixture of foreign words in it too.

My nomadic beginnings conditioned me for the rest of my life and since then I’ve lived in 8 countries including France, Nepal, Turkey and Mexico and travelled extensively, working as an English teacher and translator, doing voluntary work and more recently, as a travel photographer. In all those experiences, I picked up notions or learned vast swathes of the local language, an enriching practice which helped me understand the people and culture I was living in. Even learning to write the Nepali language, somewhat akin to hanging washing on a line, was a pleasurable challenge for me and meant I could actually read the signs on my travels there.

My husband is Catalan and we raised our two kids in a trilingual environment where they learnt to speak Catalan, Spanish, English… And even “Cata-spanglish” (our own home-made variety, understood only to us). 

We did it in a totally natural way, without any obligation on their part to speak a particular language, but allowed them make their own choice as to which one to use when. To this day, people are surprised to see that it is natural for them to speak to their father in Catalan, and then turn to me and speak in Spanish as I talk to them in English, or even use all three languages in the same sentence. Come to think of it, even our dog understood the three languages! 

For us, raising multilingual children was as much about raising open-minded, tolerant and globally-aware citizens with flexible thinking as giving them the necessary tools to be able to communicate with their family members in different countries. And it’s paid off… they travel widely, have lived in different countries, and have even chosen partners who are trilingual or speak 4 languages. So our extended family continues to grow and thrive as a multilingual blend of the most interesting kind.