The Cambridge Language Collective website
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Language Collective launched

Whether you are a polyglot, or someone with a passing interest in other cultures, there is something for you in a University society launched by two Fitzwilliam College students this academic year.

Hannah Sherry and Olivia Bonsall (both MML 2017) came up with the idea of the Cambridge Language Collective in July 2020, to create a platform where language enthusiasts could express themselves and collaborate, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

The society’s mission statement is: “The Cambridge Language Collective is a space for linguists and foreign language culture lovers to explore, discover and contribute to the furthering of knowledge and experience beyond the curriculum.”

Olivia says: “It’s not just for languages students – it’s a space where everybody can say what they want to say about languages.”

Hannah adds: “We wanted to make it a space where people could write in English about foreign culture as well.”

Hannah Sherry and Olivia Bonsall, right
Hannah Sherry and Olivia Bonsall, right

So far, students have written articles on their year abroad in Milan, French music over time, and the Judeo-Spanish language.

The pair are finalists, with their degrees in French and Spanish, while both also study Portuguese. Hannah spent her year abroad in Le Mans, France, and Valencia, Spain, and is now academically focused on Catalan. Olivia was in Paris, France, and then Havana, Cuba. Their experiences in Valencia and Havana were cut short by COVID-19.

The Collective was launched following a conversation between Olivia and her French supervisor, and is now an official University society, with support from the Modern and Medieval Languages Department.

Olivia says: “We had a year abroad project over the summer and supervisions for that. I had managed to get in touch with the author of one of the books I was studying and my supervisor, Hugues Azérad, said ‘it would be really good to have a space where we can talk about authors that we’ve met, or interviews that we’ve carried out with foreign language authors or musicians, or whatever’. I thought about it, and thought ‘I’m going to make a blog’.

“I didn’t realise how much of a massive project it would be, and that’s when I said to Hannah ‘let’s do this together’. It turned into a full society.”

Hannah adds: “We expanded it and made it a space for foreign language students, and students interested in foreign languages and culture, to contribute to anything they find interesting, across all of the languages and mediums.”

The pair recruited around 25 individuals to help them in a growing team – they recently found a Middle Eastern expert – which covers a host of languages. 

There is a broad scope for contributors on a website Hannah created from scratch, and there are sections on news, views, reviews – anything from books and academic journals, to films, museums, and coffee shops – interviews, columns, and original submissions. There is also a year abroad section, with reflections from those who have returned, and contributions from those there this year.

Hannah and Olivia, who are housemates, hope to run socially-distanced and online events for language enthusiasts when restrictions permit. They are also considering collaborating with Cambridge University Languages and Culture Society (CULCS).

Hannah says: “The reason we set it up as a society is so that it could continue. We didn’t want to just start it and then, if it wasn’t affiliated with Cambridge or the MML Department, it could disappear.”

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