For almost a year now, I’ve been involved in a group called Babel. If you want to read more about it, there’s a webpage here: The idea is simple: we meet once a week (alternately on Wednesday and Thursday) and play games. The only overarching rule is that you can’t speak English, which is the only language that all the people who come to Babel have in common. The idea and driving force behind this comes from Cyprian Laskowski, who’s in my research group. The name was my idea: he originally suggested calling it the “Other languages society”.

We get a good mix of languages; obviously there’s a European bias, although we now regularly get a bit of Japanese, Arabic, and Urdu. Some regulars know lots of languages, but some only one language apart from English, and at least one regular takes part in Urdu and Punjabi, which no one else can say a word of (well, apart from what we’ve learnt since she started coming). One visitor used British Sign Language throughout. On a couple of occasions, visitors have known only English and a few poorly remembered words and phrases in random languages from school, holidays, and acquaintances. It doesn’t really matter; the games ground the interactions in a clear context, while pictures and charades do a lot of work. One of the things Babel is good for is teaching you to stop caring about what you don’t understand, and this—perversely—is a very important skill for language learning.

So if you live in Edinburgh and haven’t been, come along. You don’t have to know any foreign languages; you just have to be prepared to immerse yourself. We meet from 7pm in a café called Metropole on Newington Road (map), alternating between Wednesday and Thursday. This week it’s Thursday, so tonight. We hope to see you there.

If you don’t live in Edinburgh, try Babel out where you live.


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