Lizzie Champion – Multilingual Solutions for your Museum’s Accessibility

I recently reached out to museums in Cambridge over twitter about multilingual resources, and am thrilled to have already heard back from people who are interested! Off the back of this, I would like to extend the offer I made to anyone who feels that their museum would benefit from my Multilingual Solutions.

In recent years, I have observed a lack of multilingual resources available to those visiting museums throughout the UK. As a former Modern and Medieval Languages student at the University of Cambridge and a University of Cambridge Museums Volunteer, I feel that I can resolve this issue through linguistic dexterity and an understanding of the Arts & Heritage sector. I am able to provide a range of support, including:

  • Translations of existing museum content – signs, labels, leaflets, etc.
  • New content for museums, in English and Foreign Languages
  • Bespoke resources for museums, highlighting culturally relevant exhibits, artefacts and themes for international visitors in audio and/or text form
  • Collaboration with education, events and outreach teams to arrange multilingual, in-person support for sessions in museums
  • Bespoke tours/tour guides of museums in Foreign Languages

Further or alternate multilingual services can also be provided. I am also open to proposals, and any fees will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I genuinely think that – especially in the face of Brexit – UK museums need to be as accessible as possible to those whose native language is not English. I am sure I am not the only person to think this, and believe I am capable of helping everyone to enjoy their museum experience, regardless of where they call home.

If you happen to be interested in any of the above, or know someone/somewhere that would benefit from becoming a multilingual space, please do get in touch via the form on my blog. Thank you for reading!

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36 hours in Madrid

I pondered for a long time about what title to give this post. I settled on ’36 hours in Madrid’, because a day and a half is a relatively simple amount of time to get to grips with. The New York Times has written a load of ’36 hours in’ articles already. The truth of the matter is that, *technically* my recent trip to Madrid only lasted 32 hours. I stepped off the plane at 10:00 on the Monday and took off again at 18:00 on the Tuesday. Door to door – from my home in England to Madrid and back again – it was a 41-hour round trip. Oh, the joys of visa-free movement in the European Union; R.I.P.

It was a pretty ridiculous thing to do really, go to Spain and return again within two days. I qualified my trip to myself with reassurances that visiting a friend up North would cost just as much and take just as long. In fact, my fleeting trip to Spain was very inexpensive – approx. £100 including food, flights, a night in a hostel, and travel to and from the airports!

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After leaving home at 4am, I arrived at the Museo Nacional del Prado at 11.30am. There was a long queue to get in, but I was *in* by midday. Returning to the museum following my first visit 5 years ago was the main focus of my trip; one of my final year papers for my degree in Modern and Medieval Languages focuses on Early Modern Spanish and Latin American Culture, and I have chosen to focus a lot of my attention on Baroque Art. Earlier this academic year, I wrote on Velazquez’s ‘Mythologies’ – housed in the Prado – and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look in person. I was in my element, writing notes about the colours, the tones, the narratives, the naturalism, the brushstrokes, the classical-roots, the Venetian influence, his links to Rubens and Titian… it was an absolutely nerdy, truly wonderful experience.

Although I spent a solid 5 hours in the Prado during my very-mini-break, I also made sure to take some time to visit places I had not previously been to: the Parque del Retiro, the Templo de Bebod, the Plaza de España, the Jardines de Sabatini, Plaza de Colón and the Archaeology Museum (M.A.N.). The Archaeology Museum in particular was amazing! It is one of the best museums I have ever visited – clearly laid out, really engaging, and full of incredibly tangible content.

 

Was my very-mini-break worth it? Well, it was planned for a very specific purpose – which it achieved – and I got to see some cool new places too, so yes! Would I ever do such a short museum-based trip again? Probably not; it was a very rushed trip, and even though I took my time walking around El Retiro park, I was constantly checking the time to make sure I squeezed as much as I could into every moment. It was not a *relaxing* trip, but having not taken a trip abroad in a while, it was a refreshing one, and makes for a quirky little story to tell at parties.

 

Why Museums?

There is no point in pretending that I have always known I’ve wanted to work in a museum, because that simply isn’t true. As a student of Modern and Medieval Languages – a pretentious name for a course that should be called ‘French and Spanish: not just the languages, but the old cultural stuff too’ – there are many directions I could have, and still could, choose to go in. Arts and Heritage is certainly not the most obvious direction. The assumption is that language students end up as translators, teachers, or in corporate roles at an international level. I have always been firmly against the idea of entering the corporate world, the reasons for which are plentiful, and frankly irrelevant to discuss here. I am not good enough/ confident enough at the languages in which I am most proficient to jump into translation work, IMHO. And whilst I love education, and have enjoyed the experiences I have of teaching, *language* teaching is not something that really appeals to me at this stage. Language teachers are those that had the biggest impact on me going through secondary school – hence why I grew to love language learning so much – but I personally don’t feel that I am capable of giving lessons to classes of increasingly apathetic students. I have heard stories from teachers who take joy in the fact that the odd one or two pupils are particularly keen to learn more, whilst the majority treat language classes as a doss lesson, because “what’s the point?”. It saddens me that this is the case, and luckily there are many passionate graduates who are lapping up the government’s financial incentives to teach languages in the UK. I am just not one of them.

So, the question still stands: why museums?

On reflection, an archaeology and/or anthropology degree might have been better suited to my extra- and intra-curriculum interests. When I planned my year abroad, my plans revolved around travel – not ‘oh my god I’m living my best life on my gap yah’ travel, but rather ‘I want to see more of other cultures’ travel. I wanted to see temples, and huacas, and geological sites, and wildlife, and ranches, and cities, and cathedrals, and castles… and museums. I went to South America with the intention of gaining valuable teaching experience whilst also absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. After my year abroad – which ended up being somewhat more eventful than intended – I finished my dissertation on the short stories of a female Argentine author who wrote under military dictatorship, and signed up for a load of final year papers focussing on language and linguistics. It didn’t take long for me to realise that my paper choices were awful, and that I’d chosen them for the wrong reasons. No doubt this added to my already very poor mental health, which led me to intermit for the remainder of the academic year. And it was whilst I was intermitting from study that I had a real chance to reflect on what it was that I actually enjoyed. Much introspection, reflection and self-dissection led me to the answer: I enjoy cultural heritage.

I started looking for jobs I might enjoy, thinking about the times I felt happiest, and what I could do to make myself even happier. I reminisced to the many times when my mum and dad took me and my siblings on holiday as kids, to English Heritage sites, to castles and abbeys and manors. I remembered going into London to visit galleries and museums. I vividly recalled examining the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, aged maybe 9 or 10, in awe of the ways history was documented in early civilisations with already such complex languages and scripts. And it all started to make sense.

Throughout my intermission I continued to teach, tutoring children, teens and adults just to keep my brain active and my finances stable (ish). I looked at summer jobs I could perhaps take, in archives and libraries and heritage properties, but realised before I even got round to finishing my applications that I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready *yet*.

Fast-forward to September and I had successfully applied to work at Education and Outreach events at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. I was an ideal outcome: I could work one-off events over the course of my second attempt at my final year of university study, doing something I would theoretically really enjoy. I don’t think I appreciated on applying for a position that I would enjoy my work with the MAA quite as much as I do. I get to lead handling sessions, where members of the public can come in and touch artefacts that would normally be in storage or behind cases. I get to run activities that encourage kids to engage with celebrations like Día de los Muertos, using knowledge I have accrued from my own studies to help them learn about significant aspects of world heritage. I get to be part of huge teams of people from all different walks of life that run university-wide events, including Twilight at the Museums, which took place this week. I love the work I get the chance to do, because it is no chore to do it. It is all I could have asked for, after a difficult couple of years of not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to be.

Museums are the happy meeting point of all the things that I love: travel, culture, art, history, education – learning and teaching – and outreach, people, places, and so on. And what’s more, I love visiting museums too! I can’t guarantee where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing, and I am only a fraction of the way through my life of learning and growing and working and living (I hope). However, whether behind the scenes or simply visiting for leisure, I sincerely hope museums will always be a part of my life.