En un lugar de Loñdres (In a certain place in London) is a research-based project which aims at developing language learning and increasing sociolinguistic awareness through the observation and contextualization of London’s Spanish linguistic landscapes on-land and online. Learners are encouraged to wander the city and to engage with the people behind those linguistic landscapes.
The project was designed for an intermediate Spanish Degree course (LN122 Spanish Language and Society) offered at the Language Centre of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
The central aims of the project have been to let students discover the presence of Spanish and its speakers in the linguistic landscape of London, to let them explore the spaces where Spanish-speaking communities settle and work, and finally to ask them to engage with and interview members of those communities. The project helps students reflect on the political dimensions of languages and gain a better understanding of the city where they live.
The project is divided in two parts. Part one, which takes place in Michaelmas Term, consist in a series of activities which give students the background of the Spanish language and the Spanish speaking communities in London. The productions include, amongst others, oral presentations, debates, reflective written pieces, field notes, photographs, and Twitter entries. Part two, in Lent Term, is an individual project which includes interviewing and the writing of a piece for the web page of the project.
In the second part of the project, students also take part of a workshop on interview techniques and ethics to work outside the classroom, and also a workshop on documentary photography.
The project’s written, oral or visual student productions are part of the continuous assessment of the course which makes up 40% of the final mark.
It was difficult to find pre-existing materials to meet the specific purposes of the project: there are very few resources on the Spanish-speaking communities in London in English, almost none in Spanish. So, developing a set explicitly for this project was necessary and meant that we could have full oversight regarding the content we wished the students to focus on. Thanks to the support of Teaching and Learning Centre and the Language Centre, we produced in-house video-interviews which can be accessed at https://enunlugardelondres.wordpress.com/video-entrevistas/ .
A guide with explanations on the project and detailed description of each activity was designed in 2015. This guide is updated every year. All the pieces produced by the students become part of the materials used for the students in the following cohorts.
The LN122 course programme deals, as all language degree courses at LSE, with social, political and economic issues related to societies where the target language is spoken. It does not use a textbook and is delivered through content-based units and a research-based project. From 2008 to 2015, the research-based project was a global simulation called “An NGO in Latin America” http://www.zess.uni-goettingen.de/explics/spanish/Index.html which aimed at replicating the process and stages needed to create a London-based NGO working on Latin-American issues.
After 7 years implementing the global simulation, we were looking for a new project which could replace An NGO in Latin America, aiming always for a practice which was learner- and knowledge-centred. We did not want to lose the advantages of project-based learning such as students’ investment in the topic, skills of working in groups, and increased autonomy and willingness to take responsibility for their own learning. On the other hand, we needed to offer activities appropriate to the linguistic level of students which were attractive to students from different subject areas, and included both individual and group activities, in-class and outside-class activities, and research and production (written and oral) activities.
From the beginning, we were clear that the project should result in tangible outcomes. After working with a simulation for several years, we had witnessed the frustration of students at the end of the project. We decided that, in the new project, the research and productions of students were going to be used to create an information page about the Spanish speaking communities in London. The web page entitled En un lugar de Loñdres is regularly updated and can be found at https://enunlugardelondres.wordpress.com/.
After running the project for four years, we can claim that it has fulfilled many of its original aims linked to language acquisition, enhanced research skills as well as increased sociolinguistic and political awareness. Our students have left the classroom for the city to discover Spanish in the linguistic landscape of London and to engage with members of Spanish-speaking communities.
The wide variety of themes explored by students reflects the strong link between the study of urban linguistic landscapes and socio-political issues. Topics chosen by students included the gentrification of London and its impact on the Spanish-speaking communities, working rights of Latin Americans in London, the history of the Spanish community in London through a football team, theatre in Spanish in London, Spanish political parties in London, a comical web-series portraying the fate of Spaniards in the city, the work of NGOs such as the Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organization (IRMO) or of the Latin American chaplaincy.
All those pieces are collected in the web page https://enunlugardelondres.wordpress.com/, and are used as part of the background information for the project in the following year.
Our positive evaluation of the project has also been reflected in the feedback received from students in the form of questionnaires. In their responses, all students have expressed their support for continuing the project and have highlighted, inter alia, the positive links between their ethnographic research on linguistic landscapes and language acquisition.
We are planning to add a new line of work to the project aiming at students in the Advance and the Proficiency courses. Students will interview members of the Spanish speaking communities in London with the aim of colleting live stories from different migrations waves, and with the aim of collecting different varieties of the Spanish language.
Any long project should be piloted before full implementation. After designing the activities, it is always necessary to adjust them. Besides, it is useful to see how they fit with the rest of students´ courses (i.e. deadlines, activities outside the classroom, etc.).
When students ‘productions which are less traditional (blog entries, field notes, Twitter entries, etc.) and are assessed, is necessary to establish criteria of assessment which correspond to the aims of the activity.
Working outside the classroom and interviewing requires ethics and techniques which need to be known by students. For our project, we are using guidelines from ethnographic and oral history work.
Flexibility with deadlines is sometimes needed when interviewing is part of the project. Securing interviews sometimes requires time.