Bonjour, hola, ey up...

Emma Brown and Max Marzec, organisers of the first Sheffield International Language Festival
Emma Brown and Max Marzec, organisers of the first Sheffield International Language Festival
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SPEAK English a little louder and point a lot.

If this is your idea of interacting with a different language, look away now.

An international language festival will this weekend see 300 experts from across the world descend on Sheffield to take introductory seminars in more than 150 global tongues.


For £2 each day you can go along and learn basics in everything from French to Finnish, Mandarin to Mongolian, Cherokee to Chichewa (spoken in Malawi apparently).

There’s sessions on the barely-used (Manx – spoken by about 1,200 people on the Isle Of Man) and the mass-used (Chinese - spoken by about 937 million people around the world), on the ancient (Sanskrit) and on the ultra-modern (Esperanto - invented in the 20th century to aid global communications), and on those somewhere in between such as Punjabi, Thai, Basque, Welsh, Shiona, Ibibio, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Tibetan, Azeri, Arabic, Marathi, Korean, Serbian, Urdo, Swedish, Yunnan, Henan, Indian... well, yeah, you get the picture.

There’s even one session on the Geordie dialect, and others on Sign Language and Braille.

“Language is such a beautiful and interesting thing, and this is a way of trying to encourage more people to discover it,” says organiser Max Marzec, who speaks English (obviously), Polish (where his family are from), German, Chinese (both of which he’s studying) and Icelandic (“I just fancied a challenge with that one – I’m not brilliant at it.”)

The 20-year-old student decided Sheffield should have the festival - thought to be the first of its kind ever held in the UK - after attending a similar event while studying at Nanjing University in China.

He teamed up with a bunch of enthusiasts, organised themselves into the International Language Festival Committee and has spent the last five months persuading speakers to take the 320 classes.

“Most of the time people were happy to volunteer because we’re giving them an opportunity to spread their language,” says Max.

Most popular are expected to be the so-called click languages - a range of African tongues such as Xhosa which require the speaker to click with his throat - but more conventional seminars in German, French and Italian are also set to be well attended.

A range of foreign language films will also be shown.

One oversight, though? There will be no Latin.

“Basically, we forgot about it,” laughs Emma Brown, fellow student and organiser, though speaker of just Brummie English. “It’s almost so well-known we overlooked it, but we’re hoping to make this an annual event and we’ll definitely have it in the timetable in 2012.”

In the meantime, this year each seminar will include the basics of the language, some speaking practice and information on how to learn more.

“We’re thinking of them as taster sessions where people can come along, try out a language, see what they like and if it interests them and then find out how they go about learning more, says Max.

It takes place Saturday and Sunday in Sheffield University’s Hicks Building, in Hounsfield Road.

Details at