Embracing Multilingualism: Highlights from UBC’s Arts Multilingual Week 2024

The first week of March 2024 marked the UBC Faculty of Arts’ annual Arts Multilingual Week! This vibrant week-long festival brought together students, faculty, and staff to celebrate the diverse range of topics highlighting the richness of linguistic diversity within the UBC student body.

In the vibrant tapestry of the UBC community, linguistic diversity flourishes, with a mosaic of over 60 languages resonating in daily discourse. Dr. Biz Nijdam, a distinguished faculty organizer, underscores the profound significance of this linguistic symphony, asserting, “The celebration of multilingualism serves as a beacon for global comprehension. It cultivates personal involvement with an array of viewpoints, nurturing empathy and deepening appreciation for diverse cultures.”

Dr. Nijdam welcomes the participants and audience to the Multilingual Open Mic Night

The Arts Multilingual Week illuminates the diverse mosaic of backgrounds woven by students across all academic disciplines. Throughout this dynamic event, participants unveil their creative prowess through a captivating array of digital art, live performances, compelling speeches, and innovative projects. Each presentation serves as a vibrant testament to the profound interplay between language, culture, and artistic expression.

Bird’s eye view of the Language Tables Showcase event

To launch the week’s series of in-person events, UBC’s vibrant array of language programs came together for an engaging Language Table Showcase. This event provided a platform for students and faculty to connect with multilingual professors and peers, delve into diverse course offerings, and engage in interactive games and activities designed to foster a sense of community across languages of interest.

Instructors from the Chinese Language Program gathering to engage with students and promote Chinese language and literature courses

The week’s festivities reached a crescendo with the participation of multilingual students in the Untranslatables Art Competition, Multilingual Poetry Slam, Open Mic Night, and Speech Contest. These showcases offered a compelling glimpse into the diverse
journeys and creative expressions of students navigating the intersection of language, culture, and artistic innovation.

This year’s “Untranslatables Art Competition” stood out as the sole asynchronous event of the week, offering students a distinctive platform to showcase their creativity. Participants were invited to submit digital media projects that ingeniously explored phrases and words unique to specific languages. From intricately crafted collage art to mesmerizing videography and vibrant paintings, entrants embraced a diverse range of artistic forms to breathe life into these untranslatable expressions.

Cynthia’s artwork, entitled ‘Ascend Through Steps,’ explores untranslatable concepts

The champion of this competition, Cynthia Wang, a third-year Finance student enrolled in CHIN 347, presented her watercolor masterpiece. Her creation employs traditional
Chinese painting techniques to encapsulate the symbolic essence of bamboo and the profound wisdom embodied in the phrase “節節高升” (“Ascending Through Steps”).

Cynthia elucidates how this phrase embodies the notion of continual advancement in life, akin to the incremental growth observed in bamboo joints. In Chinese culture, bamboo symbolizes both elegance and resilience, making it a fitting metaphor for the journey of self-improvement. Each meticulous brushstroke in Cynthia’s artwork represents a deliberate step along this path, highlighting the significance of perseverance and continuous refinement in one’s pursuit of excellence.


“As viewers immerse themselves in the painting, the artist hopes they will learn that Chinese is more than just a language for communication, but rather a piece of cultural heritage, a tool for artistic expression and a reflection of Chinese philosophical insights.”
A third-year student from CHIN 347

The Multilingual Poetry Slam showcased a captivating and innovative approach to expressing artistic interpretations through language and verse. This dynamic event welcomed students to share their poetic prowess from a multilingual lens, whether presenting their own original compositions or reciting translated works in any language of their choice.

Mingxi Wang delivers her translated poetry performance at the Slam Poetry event

Mingxi Wang, a sophomore majoring in Asian Studies enrolled in CHIN 483, captivated the audience with her rendition of the poem “Green Jade Table: Lantern Festival” (青玉案•元夕) in both Chinese and English. Through her skillful translation, listeners were transported to the vivid scene depicted in the poem. The flickering lanterns swayed gently, casting a warm glow reminiscent of a thousand blossoming flowers. The bustling street with its lively traffic sprang to life, and amidst it all, a beautiful girl stood at the end of the illuminated path, her presence heightened by the enchanting ambiance of the lantern-lit night.

In this multilingual performance, Mingxi demonstrated the power of language to convey the emotional essence of poetry from alternative perspectives, offering the audience a nuanced and evocative experience of literary expression.


“Multilingualism embodies multiculturalism, empowering authors to bridge communication across diverse cultures, and offers a chance to capture poetry’s emotions from alternative viewpoints. Likewise, when translating a classical Chinese poem into English, I aim to translate its symbolic and intricate language into a more direct and romantic expression.”
A second-year Asian Studies student enrolled in CHIN 483

Dr. David Gramling, Professor and Head of UBC’s Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies, inaugurated the Open Mic event with a thought-provoking address highlighting the celebration of accented languages. In his remarks, Dr. Gramling emphasized the importance of embracing linguistic diversity and acknowledging the inherent beauty found in various accents.

Dr. Gramling sets the tone for an event dedicated to honoring the multitude of languages at the Open Mic event

During the Open Mic Night, Dawn Zhao’s rendition of “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas beautifully exemplified the versatility and richness of multilingual expression through music. With remarkable talent, Dawn seamlessly transitioned between singing in Chinese, German, and English, captivating the audience with her interpretation in each language. Through her performance, we gain insight into how music functions as a universal language, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers.

Dawn Zhao performs during the Open Mic Night event

Concluding the Arts Multilingual Week, the Multilingual Speech Contest spotlighted students delivering speeches centered around the inquiry, “How does your language see the world?” A multitude of participants shared personal anecdotes from their multilingual journeys, underscoring the profound influence of language acquisition and cultural comprehension.

Manlin Zhong presenting her speech at the Speech Contest

Manlin Zhong, a third-year honors Political Science student, emerged as the first-place winner in the Multilingual Speech Contest. Her captivating speech delved into the intricate nuances of understanding the Chinese language. Through her compelling performance, Manlin conveyed that Chinese characters transcend mere linguistic tools; they encapsulate the essence of historical wisdom passed down by ancestors. She eloquently explored how the depths of Chinese characters reflect the symbols and beliefs of the Chinese people, offering a profound connection to the rich heritage and traditions of China.


“To me, multiculturalism is a wisdom of governance, the key to democratic prosperity -- its existence presents a living education for one’s own culture when studied in a comparative context.”
A third-year honours Political Science student

Throughout Arts Multilingual Week, we bore witness to the transformative power of language in uniting individuals from diverse backgrounds. For many, multilingualism served as a pathway to explore their identity, foster a sense of belonging, and reconnect with their cultural heritage. Others found that multilingualism provided a means to bridge geographical and temporal divides, cultivating a deeper appreciation for the richness of diverse cultures and languages. Above all, this week provided students with a vibrant platform to showcase their creativity and linguistic dexterity in a dynamic environment.

As members of the UBC community, let us continue to embrace and celebrate our multilingualism as a collective vision of unity within our student body. We eagerly anticipate welcoming you to next year’s event, as we continue to foster an environment where diverse languages and cultures flourish.

Written by Angelia Tu and Isidora Basanovic
Photos by James Preddy and Angelia Tu