Principles for an Inclusive, Equitable, and Engaging Multilingual Literary Event
Goal: The audience knows what language(s) to expect before deciding to attend and 90% of the audience understands 90% of the event.
– Figure out the language backgrounds of the target audience and tailor the event to these languages.
– If you as an organizer don’t speak one of the languages of the event, partner with other organizers who do for co-planning, co-promotion, and co-moderation.
– Keep in mind that event formats and promotional methods vary between languages and cultures. Tailor the event and its PR to multiple segments of your audience to draw a larger crowd.
– If the audience is mixed, keep several language scenarios in mind. Some spectators will understand segments that others do not understand. Aim to engage both groups the whole time.
– Promote the event to speakers of the literature’s language, not only to “outside observers” from other communities.
– Specify very clearly in the PR which languages the event will be conducted in.
– If the promotional material is multilingual, the reader should know this immediately from the heading or a phrase like “[X language below].”
– Promote the event in all its languages to attract a mixed audience, but not in languages whose speakers wouldn’t understand the event itself, as that is false advertising.
– Remember that audience members may not speak the national language.
– Remember that audience members may not speak English.
– However, depending on audience members’ educational background and amount of time in the country, a combination of the national language and English might well cover 90% of audience members.
– Use visible or audible translations (headphones, supertitles, booklets) to save audience members who don’t speak one of the event languages from having to sit through long untranslated segments. Meanwhile, speakers of that language can understand the original.
– If you alternate between originals and translations on stage, break it up into shorter passages to keep people engaged.
– Moderation and discussions should be multilingual too, or should at least alternate languages. This accounts for a large portion of the event, timewise. Not understanding the moderation makes an audience member feel disoriented.
– Don’t be spontaneous about the languages of an event. The audience wants to know in advance if they will understand. People who don’t understand a language are embarassed to admit it in front of a crowd. Spontaneity almost always favors the national language or English and leaves out other groups whose inclusion requires planning and preparation (and usually money).
– Not every event has to be multilingual either. When people go to a monolingual event, they usually know what to expect. But don’t promote a monolingual event in the wrong language.
All this multilingualism is very expensive and takes a lot of planning, collaboration, and effort. But we should strive for these principles if we want a happy, diverse, and multilingual audience. We’re all so eager to understand each other’s literature but we simply can’t all learn every language, so we have to be honest about who understands what and design events accordingly.