Episode 4 – 12 November 2020
In this episode, we talk with Robbie Norval, a social entrepreneur who founded the organisation Lingo Flamingo in 2015. He is passionate about empowering individuals, especially those with cognitive impairments, and wanted to create an organisation which provides both stimulating and interactive activities. His goal is to show that it is never too late to learn and to highlight the amazing cognitive benefits of learning a second language. Lingo Flamingo is a social enterprise which focuses on providing language lessons to older adults in care homes and day centres across Scotland. Since 2015, they have provided hundreds of classes and opened a brick and mortar locations in Glasgow. Outside of care homes, the Lingo Flamingo “Hub” is open to anyone interested in language learning, where they offer classes in Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese, to name a few.
In addition to his work with Lingo, Robbie is a PhD student at Glasgow Caledonian University focusing on the role that social enterprises play in delivering non-pharmaceutical interventions for older adults and people living with dementia.
[Brittany] Hello and welcome back to another episode of Much Language Such Talk. Today you’re hearing from me, Brittany, and
[Brittany] In today’s episode we will be talking about an organization which is very near and dear to my heart. Lingo Flamingo is a social enterprise based in Glasgow, making language learning fun and accessible to adults of all ages, and in particular older adults and those living with dementia. We are joined by Lingo Flamingo founding director Robbie Norval, who is here to tell us a bit more about Lingo Flamingo, their story, and the incredible work that they do. Welcome, Robbie.
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[Robbie] Hi everyone!
[Eva-Maria] (laughs) Hello!
[Brittany] Thank you for joining us today. The first question for our listeners and people who maybe aren’t so familiar with the glorious work that Lingo Flamingo does, is: what is Lingo Flamingo?
[Robbie] Yes, it’s a good question. Actually. I think people when they hear “Lingo Flamingo”, think it’s a type of dance move, potentially.
[Brittany] (laughs) Maybe yeah!
[Robbie] (laughs) Lingo Flamingo is actually, what we do is, it’s a language school, but we try to make languages accessible for people from different backgrounds. And so I actually my background was my Gran was living with dementia. And at that time, there wasn’t very much in terms of non-pharmaceutical interventions for her. And that’s actually when I came across some really interesting research from University of Edinburgh regarding bilingualism being a really great way of keeping the brain active, and the effects actually, the positive effects in slowing dementia. So from that day, we started to do very tailored, sensory organic language lessons for older adults, primarily in the care homes or in day centers across Scotland.
[Brittany] Amazing, so it’s just, I just love Lingo Flamingo so much. Yes, so, when …
[Eva-Maria] It’s a fantastic idea!
[Brittany] Yeah, it’s just so amazing. So, when you decided to start Lingo, what… did you have a background in languages? Or was it a case of caring more so for the circumstances that your gran was in and wanting to provide a resource for other people in a similar circumstance?
[Robbie] Yeah, a kind of combination of all three actually. So my grandma’s had dementia, but I also had worked as a carer in a care home before so, I’d witnessed a lot of activities, which maybe weren’t that meaningful for older adults, although to be fair to the care sector, it’s a very difficult balance, and they have a lot of demands. So, I’ve always had a lot of admiration for care workers, and then I lived in Germany for quite a few years. So I saw the benefits of what learning German did for me, not in terms of the economic benefits, but in terms of things of sense of purpose, and all the new friendships that opened up as well. And I saw languages in a new light, for me it wasn’t about the fluency of the language it was about the journey and the accessibility that language could bring. So yes, so I kind of have a combination of those factors.
[Eva-Maria] So how good is your German now?
[Robbie] Are you German native speaker? (laughs)
[Eva-Maria] I am. (laughs)
[Robbie] Yeah, it’s not bad. Es geht, also es ist einigermaßen ein bisschen eingerostet, aber ich hab mich ganz gut eingedeutscht als ich in Bayern war. (Translation: It’s ok my German’s has been gotten a bit rusty, but I ‘germanized’ rather well while I was in Bavaria), So it’s ok.
[Eva-Maria] Sounds perfect!
[Brittany] I’m lost, so it sounds good to me, because I don’t know what’s going on! (General laughter) Immediate pressure!
[Eva-Maria] I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I’m sorry.
[Robbie] No, it’s okay, it’s okay. So I was very, I was very Bavarian. And so that’s where my German heart lies. And where are you, where are you from yourself Eva-Maria?
[Eva-Maria] The north, northwest. So the other end, yeah.
[Robbie] Yeah, yeah no that’s cool. Yeah, small world. Sorry I didn’t actually realise you were German. I thought you had maybe an American, with that accent, you might be from Maine, or Vermont. (General laughter)
[Brittany] The Vermont! (laughs)
[Eva-Maria] The Vermont (laughs)
[Brittany] So you know, so you’ve mentioned that you lived in Germany, you know German, what other languages do you know, Robbie?
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, I would say I’m like a language grafter. To be honest. I know a bit of a bit of Danish and Swedish but I always feel a bit embarrassed when I talk to proper linguists and stuff. So yeah, I know a bit of Swedish and German, no sorry, I know a bit of Swedish and Danish and German so the Germanic languages are my thing. And my Glaswegian’s getting better. I’m really from Ayrshire but now my Glaswegian, after living there for a few years, is pretty fluent as well.
[Brittany & Eva-Maria] Nice!
[Eva-Maria] Brittany mentioned that you’re also doing a PhD. So what is your PhD in?
[Robbie] Yeah, so it’s quite similar, actually, to what I’ve described. So I’m looking at the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions for people living with dementia, but looking at the role that social enterprises play in delivering them. So actually, when the PhD came up, it was very similar to what I do so I’m not looking at languages sadly, but I’m looking at… One is this really amazing over 65 disco in the West End of Glasgow, which um… So it takes place Monday morning, every week, and it’s such an amazing environment. And the themes from that have been really fantastic looking at busting open these preconceptions about what we can do as older adults, and also what activities are appropriate, or what society deems activities to be appropriate. So disco in its essence is really fantastic because it’s a very freeing dance. It is almost, the themes are similar to how a disco emerged in terms of a lot of being a safe haven, for people from LGBT communities, from black communities and for women as well. So disco in its essence because you could dance individually has been a really interesting and… an avenue for lots of people. And similar to that what’s happened is that older adults, a lot of society says “you’re too old to go to disco“ or “you’re too old to dance”, they find that a very safe haven for them. So it’s really interesting how the themes can parallel to why disco was originally kind of created, as such. And also doing a couple of case studies on Creative Writing for older adults and people with dementia and also a golf-friendly intervention as well. So three case studies I’m going at the moment. So yeah, I’m just in the joy stage of writing up in the moment. It’s lucky, lucky you got to speak to me on the first month of my first year rather than the twelfth month.
[Brittany] So interesting! I just think that’s so interesting. But yes, it’s true. We’re both sort of, well, we’re similar stages, Robbie and I in our PhD. Eva-Maria is a little bit further. And she’s beginning the ending stages of mass writing and all.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah…I want to hand in in like, maybe spring. But that sounds very interesting.
[Brittany] Yeah, it’s super cool. So sort of relating to Lingo Flamingo and sort of extending that into other domains and seeing how it all getting a whole broader picture of non-pharmaceutical interventions in the care sector and the impact that these things can have.
[Robbie] Yeah, exactly. And it’s really cool in some ways because we, as Lingo Flamingo we’ve had a lot of stigma about older adults: they can’t learn a new language, or people with dementia that they can’t learn anything new. So actually, sort of similar themes that which I’ve experienced as a practitioner as well as now as a researcher. So yeah, it’s really interesting, and it’s fit in well with what why I do.
[Brittany] And so one question some listeners might have would be: why flamingos? So how did you end up with, besides the wonderful name that is Lingo Flamingo, how did the flamingo come to you as, as the representation?
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, I like to think that I started this Flamingo fad, which started about five years ago, I like to think that was Lingo Flamingo.
[Brittany] I think yes!
[Robbie] that started that you saw all the flamingos in the shops.
[Robbie] No I think that partly the reason was like, I guess, we were trying to make language learning quite, quite fun and quite accessible. And moving away from connotations of language learning, being all about grammar, or are really difficult. We wanted to show that language learning could be quite organic and fun. And also like if something rhymes, you’re twice as likely to remember it. So we’re working with people who have cognitive impairments so Lingo Flamingo, worked quite well as a name. People remember it, But also it’s quite, quite fun. Actually, it’s worked out very well for our branding. We have lots of flamingos all over the place these days. And I think I now possess something like seven flamingo shirts.
[Brittany] Yeah, I do have some various flamingo items. And every time I see something with flamingos, I’m like “Oh I want, I need that!”. I’ve got like, I don’t have it with me just now. I’ve got like a little tumbler mug thing with flamingos every time I see them I’m like “oh, yes!” It’s helpful that it’s now a trend that you started, and now flamingos are everywhere!
[Eva-Maria] Cool. So you mentioned that you started five years ago was that?
[Robbie] Yeah. 2005. Yep. Sorry 2015! Sorry. Yep. Five years ago.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. Five years ago, perfect. But how did you start? Like, especially regarding funding and everything? How did that go?
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, as partly, so I have a good friend who is involved in the social enterprise sector. And I guess, you know, what is quite interesting is social enterprises become a lot more prominent in the last maybe 10 years, it’s certainly been quite well supported by the Scottish Government. So we were quite lucky at the time that we kind of… We kind of set the idea, and we managed to get some initial funding to kind of pilot the project. So the funding that went towards us developing lesson plans, and just to see, you know, to do focus groups in care homes and with organisations across the care sectors to see if this was a viable idea. And then from then, we started to get some more grant funding, and we started to show the social impact of what we were doing and, and building upon the basis and tailoring that lesson plans and trying to make it a really interesting experience for older adults. So yeah, it’s been a good journey, kind of up, a roller coaster, but generally going up rather than down, which is… which is beneficial.
[Eva-Maria] Well, that’s what you want!
[Brittany] And would you say… You had sort of already mentioned that there’s a little bit of hesitation. When-when initially presenting this idea, would you say that there were more hesitation than people being immediately on board with the idea when you started out? In terms of organisations you might work with, or care homes where you might provide these classes?
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, the thing is this stigma which exists within languages I think, and the UK is in an interesting position, maybe actually Brittany, America might be similar in terms of having you know, having English as your mother tongue, it does… you have a different relationship to foreign languages, maybe, than being an EU national from different countries where you’re, um… So I think a lot of people, especially older adults, they in school, they might have learned Latin or Greek or, you know, ancient languages, and things have changed. And they spoke to me about getting the belt or, you know, getting yelled at for making mistakes. And so they have negative connotations about language learning. So what we’ve tried to do is to try and show that language learning is organic and fun, fun, and it’s not about fluency. And this is a thing I think, for a lot of English speakers as well, when you, you go abroad and you speak to someone and they reply to you in English, that although that can be a bit disheartening. So what we are trying to say is it’s the effort you’re putting in, and actually that’s still really appreciated by native speakers, that you’re trying a part of their language as well. So we’re trying to show that it’s not about fluency, and people don’t worry about making mistakes. So it’s just part of the journey.
[Brittany] Definitely, I think that’s something because as you know, I’m trying to learn Spanish. That’s something from the Lingo Flamingo ethos that I’ve tried to adapt, and adopt, into my own learning experience, because it can be really, just so much pressure, if you feel that you need to be perfect all the time, and you need to really master something, and have a fluency-like level where it’s the journey is, as the saying goes, right? It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. I think it’s a very similar, similar idea here.
[Robbie] Yeah exactly.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I love that approach to languages. But how, what languages do you offer?
[Robbie] So we have, we have, just to put in context, we have two streams as such, so we have our care homes and day centers languages, and we also have a small language hub in Shawlands. So we offer different languages for both avenues if you’d like. So, we offer, in the care homes we offer primarily Spanish, Italian, French, and German. And it’s interesting actually, if in the care home element, because Italian in certain care homes, depending on like their social status, have links to certain languages. So Italian seems to be more popular in care homes in more affluent areas is partly because people would go abroad and stay as a kind of cultural holiday, where’s people maybe from more working class areas, which tend to go to Spain. And even within that, like German has been, is more popular now, but it’s been more difficult because people have preconceptions about Germany as a country because of the war. And they were brought up like in a post war environment and stuff. So it’s actually interesting as well, the connections people have to languages. But from have a… kind of anecdote. I remember with a German teacher, and then one of the participants said “you know, Sabine, for a German you’re not too bad”. And then she said “How many Germans have you met?” And he said “Oh, you’re the first one then”. And it’s interesting because you have these preconceptions or stigma in your mind about something which happened 70 years ago, but it still stays with you. So what I like as well about Lingo is, they are trying to, yeah, trying to challenge preconceptions, or just quite organically show that people were just people as individuals, rather than this kind of stigma itself that’s often attached to nationalities or language.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, it always, I mean, obviously, being German, it always hurts a little to hear that. Not just for all the misconceptions, but also because I’m… I really, really, really like and love and enjoy the German language. It’s very poetic. And people always have this, have this weird connotation of it being very aggressive, when it’s really not. So people, listen up: German is great! But… yeah…
[Robbie] Well, actually German’s becoming, in our languages, in terms of our um… sorry, our hub classes German are very popular. It’s interesting, because it’s become a very, we have a very young kind of hipster crowd. So you have your very, you know, regular Berlin-type wannabes who are learning German. Germany has a kind of evolution in its own way. And this is a generational thing as well. So it’s interesting how languages are evolving and their perception changes.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, I’m very happy to hear that. (laughs)
[Brittany] So what other sort of languages do you have on offer in the hub classes? So is that more directed towards general public? Maybe not specifically people in care homes? Or what is the target audience I guess
[Robbie] Yes, so what we did. Two and a half years ago was we got some social investment. So we could have bought the hub with that because what we were finding is that as a social enterprise, we were kept breaking even with our projects in the care homes. And I mean for us, the care home project so much more about the social impact with older adults, so we had the kind of Robin Hood approach that we charged care homes, which have maybe a bit more funding, and then we did projects, either through our own surplus or through grant funding for care homes that were in deprived areas of Scotland. But the margins were always quite tight. So we’ve always had quite a big following, or relatively so, on Facebook and social media from the community. So on the southside of Glasgow, we opened a small language school just to try and get, diversify your income streams, and to get language teaching, and that kind of organic and fun environment for the hub. So yeah, the hubs a bit different. I mean, we do the four core languages that I’ve just mentioned, but we also do, we do Polish, we also do Japanese, we do Portuguese. So we have a bit more variety. And Japanese is actually the most, I mean, group growing in popularity. And again, it’s interesting, the kind of connections people have through Japanese culture and from that coming in, Netflix I think had big effects on people being more aware of Japanese culture. So yeah, so it’s interesting how languages evolve, and how the popularity changes for the hub and for the care-home classes.
[Eva-Maria] That’s very interesting. And so how are the classes structured? I’m guessing that there’s tutors for the hub, and also for the care homes. But is there also a difference in between how these classes are structured?
[Robbie] Yeah, there’s quite, quite substantial differences. So we, in the care homes, we focus a lot on, you know, what time, I mean, time appropriate things. So when we talk about Brigitte Bardot, or Sofia Lauren, or we might talk about, you know, things which are, maybe, associated certainly with the past like, we have lots of reminiscence in our classes, so pictures from Benidorm or from Madrid from 1960s-1970s. We also incorporate you know, if we’re doing numbers for example, we may choose World Cups, which are quite famous to people living in Scotland when we used to qualify for World Cups. So things like that. So it’s all very tailored, the care home classes is almost more about a taster into the language, so it’s not so much about, you know, certainly not about perfecting the grammar, maybe giving us a small insight into having different forms of “you”, or you know, having the dative or the genitive, for example. Whereas the language classes in the hub are more about building up a level, and kind of progressing level-wise from A1, you know, the European Framework of languages, up to B2 at the moment. So yeah, so they’re quite different. They definitely, like the care home classes are much more about a meaningful activity, which is hopefully exciting and engaging. And although we try and have that in our classes in the hub, and we have really worked hard and making a very homely environment where we, we play music in the background, and we have tea and coffee, and it’s moving away from, you know, classroom preconceptions, but they’re different in terms of your aims and objectives from the classes.
[Brittany] Mm hmm. Definitely. And in terms of the length of these classes, so how long is the usual term? Is it 10 weeks, is it 8 weeks? And does that differ… Likely, I would imagine between the care homes and the hub classes.
[Robbie] Yeah. So again, care homes would be 10-week classes, and one hour a week. I mean, normally, it depends. People sometimes, dementia can be quite… one hour can be a bit challenging sometimes, depending on where we are on the journey. So sometimes it might be a wee bit shorter at 50 minutes. It depends on kind of concentration, and how the kind of natural flow for the classes. Whereas the classes in the hub are a bit longer. So they’re there 90 minutes in total. So yeah. And the class sizes really range again, care home classes, normally a wee bit smaller, so they might be between 4 to 10 people, whereas the hub classes are generally about 8 to 12.
[Brittany] Very good, yeah
[Eva-Maria] It’s quite a good group size.
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, we’ve focused on that as well. Like, we’ve tried to make the group sizes quite small to try and build up you know, peer connections within the classes, and also, you know too, I think it is about, to some extent, about immersion. Like, you know, they’re more… the smaller the classes, the more quality time you have with the teacher, so we’ve been quite wary of 20 minute classes quite small and try to keep the atmosphere quite, yeah, quite enjoyable for the participants.
[Brittany] And during the past few months, we might not want to… we all know what I’m referring to: the fact that there is a pandemic. How has things transitioned for Lingo in terms of moving online, I think, right, the hub classes you have them on offer online, which if anyone’s interested you can join, online means it can be anywhere in the world! And what’s… what’s, I guess, the scenario in the care sector?
[Robbie] Yeah, I like your shameless plug on behalf of us!
[Brittany] (laughs) Thank you!
[Robbie] (laughs) Thank you, that’s nice!
[Brittany] (laughs) Always!
[Robbie] (laughs) Yeah, the care home classes, it’s been… it’s been tricky. I mean the care home sector has been having a very difficult time with COVID unfortunately. And I guess one benefit of that, to some extent, is that they’re more in the spotlight. And I do think that carers, especially in the care home sectors they are often underpaid and undervalued, and I think they do such a fantastic job and they’re really unsung heroes, so I am pleased that hopefully the dialogue is changing regarding first of all their pay, but also like their, their relevance in society, and that key workers shouldn’t be defined by salary but instead by the difference they make in our society. So for me that’s hopefully a good thing going forward, although it has been a very difficult time for the care sector. Yeah, and I get that we’ve spoken to quite a few care home managers, unfortunately, they’ve said, sort of the some of the cognitive decline of some of their people living with dementia has been more substantial over the last few months, partly because they’ve not been able to see their family members, and they’ve not been able to maybe do… Some external people can’t come in and do activities. So it has it has been quite difficult for them in terms of activities as well. So what we’ve looked to doing is we’ve tried to, we’re in the process of delivering new models. So we working with the Open University and trying to do… to give more subscription services, we help to train up and upskill care workers. And hopefully, they can try and deliver classes internally rather than someone coming from an external perspective. But that’s also quite an ongoing process. And the situations of care homes are still quite difficult in terms of access, so we’re trying to work around that, and make sure that we can still hopefully deliver meaningful sessions but through different means.
[Brittany] Yeah I think it’s a good case of just needing to adapt where possible. But I think that’s a really interesting idea of, I guess, then having the carers become the teachers, I guess, in that scenario, rather than having Lingo Flamingo tutors coming in, and that sort of eliminates the issue of having an outsider coming in and all of the health risks.
[Robbie] Yeah, yeah, exactly. So it’s just, it’s been… Yeah, so I think that’s the thing. We’re just trying to adapt to the situation, but also be quite respectful of what’s been happening in the care homes in the last six months, what continues to happen. It’s not, it’s an ongoing issue, unfortunately.
[Eva-Maria] So speaking of tutors, how do you select who tutors the classes?
[Robbie] Yeah, so we have like different schemes. So we’ve had a volunteer scheme, for example, where we had worked with people, a lot of students actually, some refugees, some people who have language skills, and we train them up over a kind of 10 week period. And then they would teach for us so the classes that we were doing, were talking a lot about sensory work, we talked about the accessibility of education, we talked about stigma and overcoming that. And then we also talked about the range, I mean, dementia in itself is very wide ranging, I mean, it’s got so many different types of dementia, first of all, but also people can be very… have different reactions in their dementia journey. So we speak about this, and how, like how that plays into teaching, or the impact that has on people’s brains as well. So we do have training sessions, we also have a lot of experienced tutors who come forward either wanting to tutor older adults, we have people saying “I’ve never done anything like that before, I’m really interested in doing that”. Or we have people saying, you know, “I’d love to teach in the hub classes” who might live locally in Glasgow. Although actually now, that’s maybe not such a big issue for classes being online. So yeah, so we do have online training, but we also have training in person. So that’s why we got the tutors, and recruited them in the first place, and then provided them the training going forward.
[Brittany] Lovely! Yeah.
[Eva-Maria] It’s great. It might inspire some people to actually get involved.
[Robbie] Yeah, another shameless plug: Thank you. Join us! Yeah. (General laughter)
[Brittany] Were there special considerations… You’ve mentioned, for example, mentioning that dementia can have a different a different journey for different people in this sort of training and selecting of your tutors, do you have a special consideration for those who might then go work in the care sector versus those who might work in the hub?
[Robbie] Yeah, certainly the training is more… well, the training is more advanced before you go into the care sector, just because of the teaching itself is very different. It is quite innovative, which is, which is exciting. But it doesn’t mean that there’s a lack… of a lack of knowledge, or very few people have experience of, first of all, teaching older adults languages, and second of all, teaching people with dementia. So yeah, so we have done a lot in terms of training up. The training has been designed with the help of Open University, but also, we’ve done lots of focus groups and discussions of care homes and day centers to see about what they want to learn. And that’s the thing, like I know, I can talk about, like the impact of learning on dementia until the cows come home, but there has to be some excitement and enjoyment for the participants who are doing these classes, because otherwise, why would they…yeah, Why would they take part? So I think that’s a big thing as well, that we do a lot of things to try and make them accessible. But another prime consideration is also that they’re fun, and they engage older adults.
[Brittany] So in terms of the teaching materials, do you work mostly with workbooks or auditory things, video, is it a combination?
[Robbie] Yes, so I mean, it is mainly… Well, we have workbooks. So every participant gets a workbook, and the workbook are… been especially designed. So they have just in general terms, they have bigger, bigger font, there’s more space for people to write, and they’re more vibrant, and they’re not too much in terms of foreign language. So there’s a sprinkling of foreign languages. It’s quite a bit the kind of cultural elements and, you know, some people, for example, might have Parkinson’s or might not be able to write. So, we do try to ensure that the workbook, although it’s quite a good kind of basis, that we do lots of things which are maybe using more sensory materials. Like for example, we do kind of sculpturing with Play-Doh, for example. I remember we did an Italian class, and we were sculpting famous Italian landmarks. And there was one lady who was doing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And then she said, she said to her pal, “Maria, I’ve not seen one of these for a while”!
[Robbie] That’s the thing, so sculpturing brings back memories for different people.
[Brittany] Yeah! Yes indeed! (General laughter)
[Robbie] Yeah, so yeah, things like that. We’ve had, for example, we’ve had a miniature Oktoberfest, which was really lovely. So we had like, thimbles full of like beer, which we brought to the different participants. And, you know, it wasn’t about getting drunk, but it was just about kind of taking enjoyment and bringing out a wee Oktoberfest with some pretzels, and some of them, with like, people wear Lederhosen as well. So it’s really nice. So it’s about taking, like some of the parts of cultural elements, and bringing that into the care homes as well. So it’s very, it’s very organic. And we try and make sure there’s lots of games, lots of fun, lots of festivities.
[Eva-Maria] That sounds like a lot of fun. I’m sure that the learners definitely appreciate, especially the cultural approaches, because people tend to forget that that plays such a big role in language learning as well. So I’m guessing they must have had a great time, not just because of the beer. (General laughter)
[Robbie] Yeah, I like to think so! Yeah, definitely! It’s been good. Everyone’s very different. We do try, if, for example, a group wants to do more about gardening, they might try and do a session outside in the care home garden. We talk about some of the vocab and stuff like that so, and some of the wildlife, so it can be tailored. And that’s the thing of language learning, I think that there’s still a lot of stigma about being too difficult or not being accessible enough, but I think you have to find the connection to the participants.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, very, very true. So that sounds quite flexible, that if you, you know, go outside and everything you can adapt the classes to what the learners are interested in. Is that something that is very particular to teaching elderly people or is that something that, like an approach that you would use in the hub as well? Was that something special about teaching the elderly?
[Robbie] Well just in terms of like, I guess, one of the key considerations for non-pharmaceutical interventions in general about this person-centered approach. For them to be meaningful, you need to try and connect with the individual. So I think that’s what we’ve really tried to do. And, you know, that’s what is being very prominent in our classes. So yeah, so like, I think that although we do try and do that, and your hub classes, you don’t have the same range. And so in care home classes, you could have people who could be older adults, who is still cognitively very sharp, for example, whereas you might have people in the same class who might need more sensory support. So there’s a much wider range, and that’s why we have smaller classes and the tutors, I mean, that’s the thing: that’s the tutors who do all the hard work. They’re fantastic. And they deliver very, very tailored classes, and they speak to the care staff as well to make sure that we know like the sort of wishes of the older adults, and try and tailor around their wishes and needs.
[Eva-Maria] That’s very good.
[Brittany] That’s wonderful. Yeah, and what sort of feedback have you gotten from, I guess from learners, as well as maybe from care home staff?
[Robbie] Yeah, it’s been really promising like I think initially, I think some care home staff were like “yer aff yer heid” (Scots translation: You’re off your head, meaning ‘you’re acting daft’/ you’re crazy) in terms of offering these classes. And there was a… it wouldn’t really… it wouldn’t really work. But like, I think, like anything, I realised in my PhD as well, I do believe that… maybe not any activity, but lots of activities can be made accessible for people with dementia. In this society, we have a kind of blanket ban that “oh, you have dementia, you couldn’t possibly do that”. But actually, if you… if you look at, like, the components of the activity, if you break it down, and I think lots of things can be made more accessible. And if there is staff support to achieve that then, you know, there shouldn’t be so many barriers about giving, like, these activities for people. I remember one care home, there is this really fantastic care home activity coordinator, I think actually won Care Home Activity Coordinator of the whole of the UK, she was really fantastic. And she… I remember, she used to be really great at finding, like, the people’s interest, and speaking to the wider community. There’s this one man he used to be a sailor, and he was like 95, and had quite severe dementia, and then they took him out in a boat, and then obviously they made things sure that there was support with him, he was wearing his life jacket. It was, the speed of the boat was going slowly there was lots of support, helping him in and out the boat, but he had such an enjoyable experience. He never thought he’d be in the water again, and I think a lot of people would think that was past him. I don’t really like this opinion of something being past you. So, yes. So yes, we’re just trying to do that as well and make language learning as enjoyable as possible.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that’s fantastic. I think that a lot of times, basically having fun and the motivation that comes with that is often underestimated, especially in elderly people, like you said, like “What? What is the person with dementia going to do?” But if you provide them a safe environment and a fun environment, it can do a lot. It can go a long way.
[Robbie] Yeah exactly.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. So what was the feedback from the actual learners? Like, did they ever mention that it was maybe too hard? Or like… what was their feedback like, what has it been like?
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, it’s been very positive in general. I think people enjoy it, like, they enjoy just how the kind of the excitement of the activity, they enjoy being part of it. Also, actually a lot of it is meeting, finding out new aspects of identity for certain people, like language learning can open up new pathways, so can other activites. So I think actually, even between the care staff and the participants it has been really nice, but opening up these different chapters of their lives. So we’ve had lots of really lovely feedback. I remember one story we had from a participant’s daughter, actually, who said that her mom used to be a librarian. And then she hadn’t, hadn’t spoken for four months. And then she came on to the classes. And she, she sat there, and she was engaged, but in the passive sense. And, and I remember that after week five the… We got an email from the daughter to say that she actually, she said “Ciao”, and that was the first time she’s spoken for four months, which might sound like a really small thing, but actually, in terms of that relationship to her daughter it was really amazing. And in the last lesson, she picked up a pen for the first time in over a year, and she traced the word “Ciao” as well. So although these might seem like really small things, for the family it was a really, really big thing. And I think that’s the thing, I think often it’s the small things which can be overlooked, but they play an important role in identity. So yeah, so that’s one of my favorite examples. But in general, yeah, lots of positivity about like, that being quite different as well, that it’s been quite different from what’s on offer, like it’s quite… yeah, it’s quite innovative. Which is good. But then you have to overcome maybe more perceptions about the… about language learning. But no it has been a really positive experience, and all the feedback, I mean, the feedback is also… we’ve had, times, not negative feedback, but things we’ve got to work on. And I’m a big believer as well, that you can’t just always have set learning plans that will always work, you have to tailor them and change them and update them. And we’ve tried to do that as well. So there’s been occasions where we’ve had feedback, which really has been constructive and maybe not positive. And we’ve really worked on that to make sure that we can learn from that going forward.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, especially those little moments that you mentioned, they might not sound like anything big. But that’s heartwarming, right. Like that-that just… those little moments alone probably make everything worth it.
[Robbie] Yeah, I think so. For me, it does, it does make it worth it. I think that’s the thing of, partly, of why you started social enterprise, primarily because of the social impact that you want to create, or the social change. So yeah, for moments like that, and hearing feedback from family members, or from care staff, has been really great. And just to see even the pictures and stuff that we get as well, so good to see how happy people can be through language learning. So, yeah, it’s been a lovely journey so far.
[Brittany] In terms of… So, you mentioned that the classes that you offer, especially in the care sector, aren’t there, say, for incredible proficiency or fluency in using the language to speak with native speakers per se, but it’s more so about the identity and learning something new and engaging. Are there other benefits or outcomes of these classes that you found maybe from the social side of things, or from other… self confidence, anything like that from the learners?
[Robbie] Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a bilateral relationship as well. I think a lot of our tutors learn from the older adults as well. They can they learn about different things, especially about Scottish culture. What we’ve done as well is we have a unit about school days and stuff and that’s really interesting cause, first of all, the techniques obviously, if you were brought up in the 1920s-1930s, are very different from if you’re brought up and went to school in the 90s or the 80s. So that’s been really interesting as well. And then them telling them parts about Scottish history or Scottish identity, and I think that has been really nice as well. That’s why I’m a big believer in it as well, it’s a bilateral relationship between the two there. Although they are students, they also teach our teachers certain things, which has just been really nice. So no, I think there’s quite a wide impact as well. And although that, for example as well, as I said earlier on, about challenging perception. Like we had two woman as well who said that they voted for Brexit because they had this perception that Spanish fishing boats had like, stolen our fish, and were fishing in our waters. And they never actually met anyone Spanish. Again, they met the tutor, and then it could have changed their opinion about who Spanish people were. Yeah, that’s why do you like as well, I like challenging fixed mindsets as well. And actually the same way as well. A lot of tutors will still have fixed mindsets about dementia, and about what that means. And actually, with working with people with dementia and older adults, they challenge their own perceptions as well. So it does work both ways.
[Brittany] Definitely, yeah.
[Eva-Maria] That sounds fantastic. Yeah.
[Brittany] So in terms of the impact, and the various effects that these classes can have, do you have any research collaborations or collaborations with other institutions to look at the efficacy and impacts of these classes? I know you mentioned previously the Open University, for example. [Robbie] Yeah, so we have, we have partnerships with the Open University, for example, who do things in terms of the teaching, and making the teaching more accessible and looking at our delivery model. And then we’ve also worked with Glasgow Caledonian University, more about like the qualitative side of things. So, looking at their social impacts, which is which is good for us, because every year we need report back about what our social impact is. And then finally, with Edinburgh University, we have done actually a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data, but primarily, we’ve done work, stuff about cognition. So, looking at the impact of language learning on the cognitive functions of, not just older adults actually, so adults across the spectrum.
[Brittany] Yes, it’s good research, if you ask me (laughs), yeah as someone I’m involved in such research! (laughs).
[Eva-Maria] It sounds super interesting, very, very interesting!
[Brittany] Yeah all very interesting, yeah!
[Eva-Maria] So speaking of research, do you have any plans for the near or far future?
[Robbie] Yeah! So actually, what’s quite exciting is we’ve got involved with a project called Superlingo.eu. So it’s quite interesting, actually, because it came from Edinburgh University in terms of the initial connection. So with Alzheimer’s Greece, Alzheimer’s Slovenia, Alzheimer’s Romania, we are developing English classes for people with early stage dementia, and with kind of aging brains in Slovenia, Greece and Romania. So that’s been interesting, sort of a kind of collaboration through the Erasmus+ project. So a bit different from our classes, we were teaching English as a foreign language and, and there’s kind of utilizing a lot of the same things we’ve been doing in terms of accessibility of language learning. But it’s a bit different works because an online language portal. So it will be over mobile phones or tablets, or on computer. So that will hopefully go live in 2022. So the start of 2022, so we’re still kind of working on at the moment. So that’s really exciting. And it’s been great to work with international partners.
[Brittany] How interesting.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, that’s really cool. Yeah. And it’s gonna keep you busy for quite a while.
[Robbie] Yeah, exactly. (laughs) So it’s been good. It’s been interesting as well in terms of the different dynamics of working with different countries. And also like even just the different kind of cultural aspects of the teaching of English to Romanians, as opposed to teaching Greeks English and stuff, it’s actually really interesting about finding that level as well. But so yeah, it’s been really, really good so far.
[Brittany] Very interesting. And that you mentioned that’s online. So is that plan to be online prior to current circumstances? Or was it something that you decided to move online given the circumstances?
[Robbie] No, actually, it was always going to be online. So actually, I think the projects we initially got funding for a year and a half ago, so yeah, it was just the way things worked out. Obviously, it’s been, it’s quite, quite successful in terms of, we did do kind of online teaching. And so yeah, so excited to see where that goes.
[Eva-Maria] You were ahead of the times! (laughs)
[Brittany] Yeah! (laughs)
[Robbie] It wasn’t my application. So I can’t take credit, but they were! Alzheimer’s Greece were.
[Eva-Maria] Very cool, very cool. Great, I think that’s it!
[Brittany] Okay, so I think that’s all of the questions that we have for now. I’m sure we could talk about this for many, many more hours. So thank you, everyone, for listening. And thank you most importantly to Robbie for joining us today, and giving us some of your time.
[Eva-Maria] Thank you very much!
[Brittany] We hope you enjoyed it and learn some cool things, or at least some thought provoking information from our amazing guest. If you’d like to learn more about Lingo Flamingo, and possibly sign up for an online language class through the hub, you can go to Lingo Flamingo’s website: lingo.flamingo.co.uk. They also have various social medias: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The information you can find in the episode description. Stay tuned, stay healthy and…
[Robbie] Man trifft sich zweimal im Leben! Also hoffentlich wir sehen uns ein anderes Mal wieder! So, in life, you meet twice, so hopefully we’ll get to catch up another time.