Sign Language – making museums more accessible

The Magritte Museum in Brussels has become the first museum in Europe to offer visioguides in three sign languages – the sign language of French-speaking Belgium (LSFB), Flemish Sign Language (VGT), and International Sign Language (ISL). The visioguides are touch screen and take visitors on a tour of 21 works by René Magritte. The guides are subtitled so that they can be used by all visitors to the museum. According to the website:

For fifteen years Educateam tries to make the collections of the Royal Museums more accessible by providing guided tours in sign language and by the well-known narrative walks. The sign language program Museum on Scale, part of Educateam, makes you experience the Magritte Museum in a radically different way during the “Poetic walks”. These take place in utter silence and are thus accessible for the hearing and the deaf. Launching of the visioguide is a new step in the effort to offer a greater accessibility. From now on, any deaf visitor can visit the Magritte Museum unexpectedly and completely independent.  This tool positions the museum again in the heart of Europe and meets the needs of deaf foreign visitors.

The popularity of smart phones and tablets means that museums are no doubt looking to replace audio guides with a more up-to-date system. New technology provides a great opportunity to increase the accessibility of museums by providing multilingual content in sign languages as well as spoken languages. Congratulations to Magritte Museum for this initiative – I hope others follow your lead!

If you know of other good practice examples, you can submit them to the Language Rich Europe website and share them with our network!

You may also be interested in:

Sign Language – making literature more accessible
LRE Launch in Budapest – Hungary is trend setting in sign language policy 

Discover your linguistic and cultural paradise

Runner up of last year’s Languages Speak up! competition, Sophie Reece-Trapp blogs about her experience of discovering her ‘linguistic paradise’ and encourages others to do the same.

After falling in love with all things German during a school exchange to Munich, Sophie spent her Gap Year working in Cologne, before studying Modern and Medieval Language (Dutch and German) in Cambridge. Currently a trainee at the European Parliament, Sophie will be moving to Leuven in September to embark on a Master’s degree in European Studies.

Brussels might not have the climate of a tropical island, but in my eyes, it is a linguist’s paradise.

At the beating heart of a country that boasts three official languages, a rich tapestry of tongues is woven on its streets. Staccato tones of Swahili rebound from the shop fronts lining Matongé, a vibrant quarter that takes its name from the commercial district of Kinshasa, Congo. Anyone walking from the artsy square at Flagey to the Ixelles/Etterbeek border during Euro 2012 would have passed fervent Portugal supporters spilling out of pubs, marking each goal with a cacophony of shouts and whistles that could be hear from streets away. Not to mention the weekly market at the Gare du Midi, where the exchange of euros for vegetables, fruit and clothes is executed in fluent Arabic. Even the streets of Brussels exude an international character: the chic Place du Londres or the Rue Americaine with its grid-like formation.

In the aptly-named ‘European Quarter’ sprawls the European Parliament. It is in these labyrinthine buildings that I have been a trainee for the past five months, in the Committee on Culture and Education. Je discute avec mes collègues en français, die Mehrheit meiner Freunde bevorzugt Deutsch and, of course, my mother-tongue, English, is an indispensable lingua franca. And, of course, Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish and a multitude of other language echo along the corridors, as legislation is drawn up in 23 different languages. A truly international workplace in a truly international city.

Yet who says that my paradise has to be your paradise? It is certainly not only Brussels or Belgium that boasts this rich diversity of languages and cultures from across the world. Have you ever wandered around the Marais in Paris, past the Yiddish bakeries, Kosher pizzeria and Hebrew bookshop and asked yourself: am I in France or Israel? Travelled just half an hour with the train and, upon disembarking, found yourself to be barely intelligible? Or even popped into the Chinese supermarket on the corner and felt yourself transported half-way across the world? In our globalised society, we no longer need to buy an expensive flight ticket to experience different cultures and languages: they are right on our doorstep.

An increasing number of my friends, also interns, are postponing holiday plans this year, citing a lack of funds. Instead of bewailing this situation, perhaps we should take this opportunity to take a closer look at the colourful cultural and linguistic landscapes surrounding us, whether we’re based in a high-rise city flat or in mountainous climes. We might just be pleasantly surprised!

View Sophie’s Languages Speak up! entry here

ACS Summer Institute – De Schaarbeekse Taal / La Langue Schaerbeekoise

This week the Association for Cultural Studies and the Department of Educational Studies of Ghent University are holding their first ACS Summer Institute on Critical Literacies.

One seminar looks at the 3 year project De Schaarbeekse Taal / La Langue Schaerbeekoise which collects and maps words used in the Brussels neighbourhood of Schaebaek. As the project’s website explains, this is revealing just how multilingual the area is: 

La Langue Schaerbeekoise récolte les mots utilisés par les différents groupes de population autour de la Cage aux Ours. Le projet veut favoriser la cohésion sociale entre différentes communautés tout en réflectant la richesse linguistique présente autour de la Cage aux Ours.

L’arabe, le turc, le berbère, le néerlandais, le bruxellois, le swahili, l’espagnol, le polonais ne sont qu’une sélection de la variété de langues qui assaisonnent le français, la langue courante du quartier. Le dictionnaire de La Langue Schaerbeekoise est nourri de ces influences, il est ouvert au changement, flexible et organique.

You can find more information on the project and the ACS Summer Institute by visiting: