UK’s first Museum of Languages pops up in Nottingham

Monday, 18 November 2019

The UK’s first ever ‘Pop Up World of Languages’ designed to inspire more people to start learning a language is coming to the East Midlands next month.

Based on the model of a hands-on science discovery centre, the ‘World of Languages’ is an engaging and free-to-attend exhibition that aims to show visitors of all ages that languages are fun, achievable and useful to learn.

It will be hosted at the Nottingham Central Library on Angel Row, Nottingham from Monday 2nd December to Saturday 7th December 2019.

Among the immersive and interactive zones of the Pop Up Museum will be an Alice in Wonderland language adventure, a Lost in Translation word game and an interactive ‘zoo’ of creatures named after foreign words we use in English like ‘emoji’ and ‘graffiti’.

Groups of children and young people from East Midlands state schools and beyond are already lined up to visit the museum.

This unique exhibition is the result of years of research and planning by modern language experts at the Universities of Nottingham, Cambridge, Belfast and Edinburgh. The experts are on a mission to revitalise languages in the UK after a sharp decline in language learning here in recent years. 

© University of Cambridge/Nick Saffell

The experts say language learning is in freefall here, despite the UK being a rich multilingual country, and language skills for trade and diplomacy are urgently needed. Since 2000, entries for GCSE modern foreign languages have dropped by 44%, with French and German declining by over 60%. At undergraduate level, the situation is even worse – between 2008 and 2018, the number of modern languages undergraduates fell by 54%.



Behind the playful interactive displays – offering films, quizzes, listening challenges, word sorting games, speech bubble selfies and much more – lies a serious purpose. One of the project’s central aims is to challenge myths and prejudices including the idea that British people aren’t good at languages, and don’t need to learn them. Groups of children and young people from East Midlands state schools and beyond are already lined up to visit the museum during the first week of December.

Professor Nicola McLelland, School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, University of Nottingham

Professor Nicola McLelland, Head of the University of Nottingham’s School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, is part of the project bringing the Pop Up World of Languages to Nottingham. She said: “We are very excited to be hosting this unique event in Nottingham. We know that almost one in three Nottingham children live in an income-deprived family, which can limit their education and life-chances. This free and fun exhibition is aimed at families and children, to get the message out that learning languages is not just for rich people or for exceptional students. Absolutely anyone can learn a language, and people of all ages will enjoy the social and health benefits of language learning, too. After all, in most of the world it’s more common to be bilingual than not. We want everyone to be able to experience that.”

The Pop-Up Museum of Languages is part of a major research project called MEITS (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Its team of linguists investigate the role that languages play in society, while also seeking to inspire uptake at the grassroots and drive languages up the political agenda.

© University of Cambridge/Nick Saffell

The team knows that changing perceptions is a huge challenge, not least because there is significant inequality in access to language education in the UK. For this reason, the free museum has been appearing in spaces freely open to the public including shopping centres, theatres and libraries. The team is also working closely with state schools with a high proportion of Free School Meals pupils and in areas where relatively few people speak a language other than English.

The Pop-Up World of Languages takes place at The Gallery & Cecil Roberts Room (1st floor), Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, NG1 6HP (2nd– 7th December 2019 0930-1900 Monday-Friday and 0930-1230 on Saturday 7th December).

The Museum will also be appearing at The Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS on 14th March 2020.

Story credits

For more information please contact Professor Nicola McLelland, Department of Cultures, Area and Language Studies, University of Nottingham via email

or Emma Rayner, Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Arts on +44 (0)115 951 5793 or email 

Emma Rayner - Media Relations Manager, Faculty of Arts
Phone: 0115 748 4413

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