Speech activation pilot

Speak! - Speech activation staff training

Speak! is a service for those who would like to speak a language, but currently cannot speak it. It is for the silent majority of families who dropped bilingualism. It is for anyone who wants to speak a new language. 

Sounds controversial. Why are you doing this?

Speak! is about empowering the people who did not learn to speak their parent's language. It was inspired by a Finnish mother who asked me a year ago: "Soile, when will you finally do something for my boys?" 

I have known her for years and she has been waiting. She has done everything a parent could do to help her children become bilingual. She always spoke Finnish at home. She read books to her children. Bought DVDs in Finnish. She contributed a huge amount of work to a Finnish Saturday school and took her children there diligently year after year. She has read about bilingualism. She has attended many training events. She has given it time. Been supportive. Taken her children to Finland regularly. 

Yet her children do not speak Finnish. They do understand quite a lot of everyday talk. But they cannot speak. Even if they want to. They are not an exception. They are the most common type of bilingual family I have met and I have met hundreds of bilingual families. Therefore my reply to this mother was: "I will do it now."

What took you so long?

That is a fair question. The very first thing I learned about bilingualism 25 years go, was that it does not always work. When I had met the first 20 or so families where children had not learned the language their parent spoke to them, I decided to start studying bilingualism. That was in 1997.

It took me so long, because there was no workplace or jobrole that would have allowed me to develop solutions like this. Bilingual Potential had to be founded to create the workplace. We are inventing a new jobrole. It takes resources. Afterall, we are developing training for a new profession. It is a major undertaking. 

So what's the problem?

Children who started off as bilinguals might stop speaking the minority language in early childhood. Many stop speaking it after starting nursery or school. Quite often the parent keeps using the language, but the child only responds in English. This is not a neutral process. It can cause lot of hurt in families. 

Many parents and children would like to overcome this, but it is hard without help. Also many 2nd generation adults would like to gain a basic conversational level in their parent's language. Feelings of disappointment, failure and even shame about not speaking a language can make it very hard to learn.

Speak! is about saying to all these people: What you have experienced is entirely normal. If we accept what is normal in one set of circumstances, we can change things by creating different circumstances. We are creating a different kind of learning experience to pave the way to a different outcome. 

Who is it for?

Speak! learning methodology is designed and developed to help two different groups of people:

  • Second generation people of any age who may understand a little of a language, but would like to speak it too.
  • Foreign language learners who would like to use the language with native speakers.

The jobs are for people who meet these essential criteria:

  • Native speaker of one of the languages mentioned below.
  • Spoken and written English at a level suitable for post-graduate study and professional work. 
  • Educated to at least degree level in a relevant academic subject (see below).
  • Commitment to linguistic equality and the company mission: Article 30 of UNCRC. 
  • Prepared to stand up for the company values: sustainability, democracy and human rights. 
  • Ready to make history, but prepared for a bumpy ride. 

NB: We prefer at least A-level standard literacy in your native language. We do not mind at all where you studied at university. In many cases our staff will have M-level qualifications. If you studied in another country and do not know what is the UK equivalent of your qualification, we will help you to figure it out. 


We are currently building a team to start speech activation staff development.

Teams for some languages are almost complete. In some languages all places are open (at the time of writing 3 May 2016) 

People have come forward to start building teams for:

French, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Finnish and Swedish.

Deadline for entry to the 2016 cohort is Friday 24 June. 


Looking for pilots - the skills  mix

We are looking for three people for each of the languages. Each person in a language team must have different skills to contribute. We are developing a new kind of professional practice. We well need to combine elements from many existing professions in a new way. Each language team must have:

  • One qualified teacher, preferably Modern Foreign Languages. Primary class teachers, target language subject teachers and related academics can apply too. 
  • One theatre arts professional, such as a drama teacher, an actor, actor trainer or a theatre director. 

The third team member for each language can add a different point of view, that could be early years education, special needs, speech and language therapy, translation and interpreting, social psychology or conversation analysis.

If you can argue that your skills would be a great asset to this multilingual and multidiciplinary staff training cohort, then tell us. We are permanently open to new ideas. 

When will the service be available?

When we start the training programme, we will immediately create pilot groups for the trainee team to work with. You can already express interest in the pilot groups. Pilot places will be very limited and groups will be formed in advance. Once a pilot group starts it does not take new participants. 

For each language there will be two pilot groups: children and adults. The age range of the children's group will depend on who are the most active families engaging with the speech activation pilot.

  • The children's group will be only for children with a native speaking parent.
  • The adult group is both for 2nd generation adults and for those learning a foreign language. 

The first year of standard services will open one year after the staff training begins. At that point we extend our professional practice to Modern Foreign Language learning in schools and the Speak! team becomes available for school-based services.

We will take three schools in the first wave of Speak! At the moment it looks like the first round of school-based practice could become available in September 2017. However, schools need to plan ahead. It takes a year to train speech activation professionals. Therefore it is important for interested schools to get in touch about their needs and the linguistic diversity among their pupils as early as possible. 


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