Is multilingualism a privilege or survival?

learning spanish

I speak English. I still remember some Spanish from my GCSEs and, until 2017, it was my closest claim to multilingualism (I like to think my proximity to Jamaican counts but the powers that be still don’t see it as a language). That’s because I’ve been learning Portuguese for the last 3 years and it’s been an enjoyable ride. But for many people in Europe and around the world, they’ve had to learn another language – most often English – as a means of survival.

Parlez vous n’importe quel autre langage? (Do you speak any other language?)

According to European Data Journalism Network, only 1 in 5 Europeans knows two languages that aren’t their native language. Given the fact that multilingualism was one of the key principles of the European Union when it was created in 1993, this doesn’t look good on paper. The ability to speak in multiple languages has many benefits besides commercialism, as Jacopo Ottaviani said in his original piece (translated from Italian to English by EDJN):

“Beyond the clear commercial and industrial implications, the promotion of language learning means supporting understanding between people of different cultures, facilitating public transnational debate, and strengthening the European identity. Thus, multilingualism has a strategic dimension for Europe: as the Council itself argues, ‘multilingual competence is at the heart of the vision of a European Education Area’.”

The data below shows foreign languages that were learnt by primary school pupils in the EU in 2016, with Luxembourg leading the way and Portugal and Belgium being the least diverse.

Countries like Italy are improving with middle school children learning a second foreign language but the numbers vary region by region so it appears not to be a collective national initiative. The 2019 Invalsi report revealed that the best results for English comprehension, on average, were obtained by pupils in northern Italy as opposed to central and southern Italy.

The UK needs to do better

And if you’re wondering where the UK is, you might have forgotten that they aren’t in the EU anymore. But the numbers don’t look great for Britain either. A European Commission study found that 62% of people surveyed couldn’t speak any other language apart from English, 38% of Britons spoke at least one foreign language, 18% speak two, and only 6% of the population speak three or more.

But this view is myopic and doesn’t take into account the nuances of why people have to learn another language and what that second language usually is – English. A friend of mine saw things in the opposite direction; that multilingualism “wasn’t even a choice for non-English speakers”. And if we include people from outside Europe seeking refuge, for example, multilingualism becomes a game of survival.

Particularly in the UK, speaking English is a form of assimilation but that’s not always enough. Non-native speakers are ridiculed for how they speak English while it’s normal for Britons to not speak any other language but their own. There have been excuses for why they find it difficult:

  • Gendered nouns and adjectives
  • Knowing the correct pronouns (known as “T-V distinction”)
  • Verb conjugation

One thing I’ve often disliked about the English language is how many exceptions there are with regards to pronunciation. For example, the words rough, dough, cough, and bough don’t rhyme with each other. It’s fascinating to dig into their etymologies but for someone learning English to avoid persecution, there’s no time for fanciful idiosyncracies.

So if you’re European and struggling with Duolingo, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re doing better than the majority of your peers just by using the app. But understand there are thousands of people who have to learn to protect themselves and their lives. Multilinguism may be a privilege for some but for others, it’s a matter of life and death with little-to-no choice in which they choose. Boa sorte!

Watch 4,000 films from the National Film Board of Canada for free

Old National Film Board of Canada logo

Home of the mounties, maple syrup, and indigenous people who deserve the land the nation ripped away from them, Canada is seen as the more neoliberal cousin of the USA (and let’s not get into indigenous rights for those guys).

But it’s divisive enough to insert the US into conversations about Canada. The country has its own identity and ways of living. The same can be said for its history in film, both homegrown and with actors of Canadian origin. In celebration of all that and to keep people entertained and occupied while they’re self-isolating, the National Film Board of Canada have made 4,000 films available to stream, free of charge “even for Americans”.

But it’s not just fictional films on offer. NFB has a range of documentaries, shorts, and animations to enjoy. That should keep you busy for the next <insert number of months we’re stuck in viral protective purgatory> months.

To whet your appetite, you can stream Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry below, the Oscar-nominated documentary about novelist Malcolm Lowry and his magnum opus, Under the Volcano.

Kazvare Made It blends Blackness, art and humour

Kazvare Made It - African Marge saying "I am not your age mate"

One of my favourite Instagram accounts has to be Kazvare Made It.

The illustration lab from London is headed by Kazvare and blends blackness, cultural references and humour to create a distinct style of art that resonates. Kazvare studied Classics and African Studies at university before going into illustration full time. Creativity has always been a part of her life as she told Scribbler in a 2019 interview:

I’ve always loved drawing and not too long ago I found an old notebook that I wrote in when I was about 9 years old. I declared that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. And a chef, but let’s not dwell on that one.

The chef thing might not have worked out but the lab has been cooking up storms of comical collections, from gift cards to mugs and stationery. Arguably, its standout piece is the Beyhive Gift Collection with all things Beyoncé and design. Nothing says Black culture like Bey.

Enjoy aerial footage of Moscow in 5K

Moscow in 5K

By now you should be self-isolating/social distancing/flattening the curve. It’s been a struggle for many and one of the biggest things people are missing is going on holiday. But you don’t necessarily have to leave the house to experience another city or country.

TimelabPro is a team of aerial videographers who film different cities around the world using drones. For this one, they stayed close to home and filmed Moscow from above in stunning 5K resolution. The vibrant colours and arresting Soviet architecture are breathtaking to witness, even if the footage is fleeting.

One of the most alluring scenes in the video is of the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture. It depicts two figures holding a sickle and a hammer over their heads and stands at 78ft tall (24.5m). Vera Mukhina was the sculptor, having initially made it for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris before it was moved to Moscow. An iconic Communist monument made in archetypal steel and a prime example of socialist realism.

In terms of equipment, TimelabPro used a DJI Inspire 2 to film the footage but buying one will set you back at least £3,059 should you want to try drone videography for yourself. I think once it’s safe to fly again, it’ll be more cost-effective to book a flight to Moscow and experience the city with a standard camera.

Support the gal-dem platform and become a member


When I started Cultrface, it was at a time when I was escaping some personal issues. But as time went by, I wanted it to be a place to share the experiences of people of colour and their cultures.

gal-dem is on a similar journey and yesterday, the publication announced the launch of its Patreon membership scheme. According to a tweet posted yesterday, the idea was in the pipeline but given current world events, they felt it emphasised their need to “future-proof the platform” and I couldn’t agree more.

What is gal-dem?

gal-dem is a publication that focuses on the lives and journeys of women and non-binary people of colour. It was founded in 2015 by Liv Little and the magazine is available annually through the printed issue and online through the website.

In 2016, its editorial collective curated an event at the Victoria and Albert Museum and in 2018, the team guest-edited an issue of The Guardian’s Weekend magazine. gal-dem also released an anthology called “I Will Not Be Erased”: Our Stories About Growing Up As People of Colour in 2019.

Through the print magazine and online platform, gal-dem addresses the constant misrepresentation of women and non-binary POCs in the media by challenging the industry. This is done through a gamut of essays, editorials, and news from the community, covering the arts, music, politics and horoscopes.

Perks of being a gal-dem member

There are plenty of Patreon memberships out there for all kinds of content creators. For gal-dem, your contributions can help towards a lot of things:

  • Shifting the imbalance away from the 94% white and 55% male media population
  • Bring different cultural conversations from marginalised groups to the table
  • Membership can also help them work with other members of the community and create more breathtaking and important work

There are three membership plans to choose from, with monthly or yearly subscriptions (the annual fee works out cheaper per month). If you’re able to contribute and you want to switch the media narrative, become a gal-dem member today.

And follow gal-dem on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


How should you social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A crowd of people - something to avoid during social distancing

I’ve tried to avoid writing about COVID-19 because there are bigger and better publications doing it (and doing it better than I ever could). But I wanted to share something I found interesting for me and could be for you.

By now, you’ll have heard of the term “social distancing”. It relates to the reduction of social interaction in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That means things like not congregating in crowded public spaces (eg. coffee shops, book stores, shopping malls, city centres) and avoiding public transport but only if you can. Many people still have to work and aren’t in a position to avoid such environments so it’s pointless to tell them to cut that out when there isn’t an alternative (stupid capitalism).

How Should You Social Distance? l FiveThirtyEight

Above is a video made by FiveThirtyEight which gives an answer to the question “what does ‘social distancing’ mean?”. FiveThirtyEight’s Senior Science Writer, Maggie Koerth gave her views on social distancing and what she has been doing.

I have a son and I’ve struggled with what to do when I’ve not had him as we don’t live together. The video reassured me and confirmed some of the things I was already doing were correct (not being around loads of people, basically).

And it’s something we should all do. So if you’re reading, and you don’t have to be out and about… stay in.

What does 15-year-old Dasani Water taste like?

Dasani Water

Remember Dasani? I’m talking to the UK readers because the US still stocks it and people still buy it for some reason. The ill-fated bottled water brand came and went like a flushed piece of toilet paper when it launched in the UK.

But comedian and YouTuber Stuart Ashen found a bottle that was 15 years old, unopened, and decided to have a taste with fellow YouTuber, Tom Scott. But why is this such a momentous occasion?

15-year-old UK Dasani Water with Tom Scott | Ashens

Whatever happened to Dasani?

The Coca-Cola water brand launched in 1999, to compete with Pepsi’s Aquafina. The first giveaway that something wasn’t right is the fact it’s filtered tap water with added sodium (using reverse osmosis). That’s not out of the ordinary or necessarily bad but… you can buy a Brita filter, turn the tap on, and get the same thing (minus the sodium).

But when Dasani was launched in the UK in 2004, it was a PR disaster. This was thanks to an unsubstantiated story that claimed the water was tap water from a suburb outside London which killed any hope of success for Dasani.

To rub sodium chloride into the wound, UK authorities also found a batch of Dasani contained levels of bromate above the legal limit for sale – bromate is a carcinogen. The FSA said there wasn’t an “immediate risk to public health” but that was enough for Coca-Cola to pack up and remove Dasani from UK shelves for good.

Dasani Water – not the choice in a disaster

With all the panic buying that’s going on, people in the US have been clambering for water. And guess which brand has been left? Dasani. I mean, why would you spend your money on it when there isn’t a pandemic?

Anyway, Tom also made a video called “Why You Can’t Buy Dasani Water in Britain” which you can stream below.

Why You Can't Buy Dasani Water in Britain

Unwind LDN lets you unplug and unleash your potential

Things are pretty shit right now because of that horrible C-word and it can be difficult to relax. There are ways to destress and one of them is through art therapy.

Priya Chandé felt the benefits of art therapy to manage the stress of her career and that turned into Unwind LDN. Launched in 2019, the business provides workshops to help people unwind and unplug through “artistic expression”. Some people like to talk through things, others like to thrash it out in the gym, and others take to art and creativity to improve their mental health. And that’s what Unwind LDN is here to facilitate.

Benefits of unwinding with art

Art is cool but it’s more than just paintings in art galleries. Unwind LDN harnesses some positive health benefits from the workshops they provide such as:

  • Cognitive resilience (which can help with diseases like dementia)
  • The freedom to create
  • Increased productivity
  • Relaxation
  • Improved focus
  • Growth

Creative workshops can also provide necessary distractions and gateways to better personal development.

Workshops on offer

Unwind has a group of “Unwinders” that you can book for workshops and share their work. Some of the types of workshops include:

  • Modern calligraphy
  • Letterpress printing
  • Lino printing
  • Screen printing
  • Gold gilding
  • 3D pen art
  • Stitching and hand embroidery
  • Knitting
  • Watercolour painting
  • Papercraft
  • Illustration
  • Candle making
  • Handmade soaps and cleansers
  • Shoe making

Unfortunately, businesses like these are the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s good to know that they’re around.

Follow Unwind LDN on Twitter and Instagram.

The Most Influential Living African American Artists (According To Artsy Editorial)

  • Theaster Gates
  • Faith Ringgold
  • Henry Taylor
  • david hammons
  • mark bradford
  • Carrie Mae Weems
  • Betye Saar
  • Kehinde Wiley
  • Charles Gaines
  • Mickalene Thomas
  • Kerry James Marshall
  • Glenn Ligon
  • Nick Cave
  • Senga Nengudi
  • Pope.L
  • Rashid Johnson
  • Sam Gilliam
  • Kara Walker
  • Lorna Simpson
  • Howardena Pindell

If you were asked to pick 20 of the most influential living African American artists, who would be in your list?

I don’t know if I could do it but Artsy Editorial had a go and their list is pretty powerful. But rather than just pick 20 amongst themselves, they consulted people in the industry:

While it’s impossible to capture the full impact that African American artists have on contemporary art, Artsy Editorial asked prominent art historians and curators to reflect on 20 living African American artists who are making a mark on painting, photography, performance, and sculpture.

So, here’s their final list:

Artsy’s 20 Most Influential Living African American Artists

  • Mark Bradford
  • Charles Gaines
  • Theaster Gates
  • David Hammons
  • Senga Nengudi
  • Howardena Pindell
  • Pope.L
  • Faith Ringgold
  • Betye Saar
  • Lorna Simpson
  • Mickalene Thomas
  • Nick Cave
  • Kerry James Marshall
  • Carrie Mae Weems
  • Kara Walker
  • Glenn Ligon
  • Rashid Johnson
  • Henry Taylor
  • Kehinde Wiley
  • Sam Gilliam

One of the names that should stand out is Kehinde Wiley, the Nigerian-American portrait artist who painted President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

But if you’re unfamiliar with the others, now’s the time to get acquainted. Below is a gallery of work from each of the 20 artists. There will also be future posts related to these artists so stay tuned.

The clammy history of TigerSharks

The History of TigerSharks: It's Kinda Like Wet Thundercats!

You’ll probably know ThunderCats and you might know SilverHawks but what about TigerSharks?

I hadn’t heard of them until I saw Toy Galaxy’s The History of TigerSharks: Abandoned, Moist & Weird (how funny is that title btw?) and suddenly, my interest was piqued.

So, what is TigerSharks?

TigerSharks was an animated series created by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass of Rankin/Bass in 1987. As you might have guessed from the intro and the names I just mentioned, the production company were also responsible for ThunderCats and SilverHawks.

The series featured a team of human hybrid heroes that transformed into different marine animals. The main characters were:

  • Mako – A scuba diver and unofficial leader of the TigerSharks. He transformed into a mako shark hybrid and his superpower was super speed underwater. He could also slice through metal.
  • Walro – A STEM (science, tech, engineering, mathematics) genius who created the Fish Tank (the device used to make everyone transform). He transformed into a walrus hybrid.
  • Dolph – A scuba diver and second-in-command. Dolph transformed into a dolphin hybrid, which gave him super agility underwater.
  • Octavia – The captain of the SARK (their ship). Octavia transformed into an octopus hybrid.
  • Lorca – A mechanic. Lorca transformed into an orca hybrid.
  • Bronc – A teenage assistant in the SARK. He transformed into a seahorse hybrid.
  • Angel – An assistant in the SARK and Bronc’s sister. She transformed into an angelfish hybrid.
  • Gupp – The TigerSharks’ pet dog. He transformed into a… seal? Sealion? I dunno.

The plot

The story was that the TigerSharks were humans who transformed into human/marine animal super hybrids using a device called the Fish Tank. Their base was a spaceship called the SARK and it also contained the Fish Tank as well as other facilities used for marine research.

This all took place on a planet called Water-O (pronounced Wah-tare-oh) which sounded very similar to the post-apocalyptic version of Earth in Waterworld (spoiler alert: Kevin Costner was a human/marine animal mutant hybrid in the film).

While on a research mission, the Tigersharks became defenders of Water-O against the evil T-Ray and a handful of other villains that appear on the show.

A damp squib of a series

Unfortunately, the show only lasted for one series of 26 episodes. It aired as part of a cartoon anthology show called The Comic Strip alongside equally-forgotten titles such as Street Frogs, The Mini-Monsters, and Karate Kat.

Its short run meant there was hardly any merch to go with it and the toys you can find on eBay today are rare and expensive. The show did make a cameo appearance in the ThunderCats reboot in 2011 which suggests it could technically come back if rights owners Warner Bros lost their minds and brought it back. Not likely – it’s WB after all.

Where you can watch TigerSharks

Due to its lack of popularity, the series was never released on VHS (at least not in full – two episodes came out as part of a Comic Strip series), DVD (but there are some bootlegs), or Blu-Ray (although the naming ideas write themselves for the latter). But someone on YouTube has made a playlist of episodes and other related videos to enjoy, including reviews, podcasts, the other cartoons from The Comic Strip, and a video about actual tiger sharks.

I strongly recommend you stream the Toy Galaxy episode below because it’s very funny and Dan Larson is awesome.

The breathtaking street art of Odeith

I love any kind of graffiti or street art so these kinds of illusory murals are right up my alley (pun intended).

Odeith is a Portuguese street artist and regarded as a pioneer of anamorphic graffiti, an art technique that uses projection and vantage points to give the illusion of a larger 3D imagery.

He was born in 1976 and started his love affair with street art in the 80s, doodling on the walls of Damaia. But the 90s saw his first forays into graffiti as he spread his work across Damaia and the wider areas of Amadora in Portugal.

With his work, Odeith creates incredible works of art depicting giant spiders, frogs, and even cockerels. But how does he do it? Freehand. Well, mostly. The Lisboeta says before he works on a big piece, he uses a computer to preview his designs.

But words don’t do his work justice so check out Odeith’s website, his Instagram and his Facebook page.

Swiss gruyère wins World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin

It wouldn’t have been my choice but a Swiss gruyère was named the world’s best cheese at the World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin on Thursday 5th March.

The win gave Michael Spycher of Mountain Dairy Fritzenhaus in Bern, Switzerland his second victory (his first was in 2008). In fact, it was a Swiss 1-2 as a hard cheese called Gallus Grand CRU finished second.

This year’s tournament, the first since 2018, received a record 3,667 entries from 26 countries but due to international travel restrictions, 30 Japanese university representatives couldn’t attend.

Alas, there weren’t any pule or moose cheese entries in this year’s finals.

The World Championship Cheese Contest in numbers

55 – The number of judges who inspected and tasted all the dairy products on show

19 – The number of nations represented by each judge

132 – The types of cheese, yoghurts, and milk available to judge

3 – The number of local cheese that made it to the final (all of which finished in the top 20)

Reniqua Allen on hope and black millennial burnout

Does anyone know what a millennial actually is?

The year range varies depending who you talk to but it’s somewhere between the early-1980s and the mid-1990s. For black millennials, that meant living their adult lives in a new millennium that hasn’t given them the safety and recognition they’ve deserved.

That provided the subject matter for Reniqua Allen in her latest book, It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America. Talking about the perception of millennial success:

“Discussion about millennials and their ideas of ‘success’ are often deeply rooted in the experiences of privileged White men and women — think more Lena Dunham than Issa Rae.”

I hear that! For Longreads, Danielle A. Jackson spoke to Allen about the book, millennial burnout, and hope in a hopeless time.

Mental health discussions in the black community

As a black man, I’ve experienced a lot of burnout in recent years due to a regular build-up of microaggressions. That has resulted in a lot of time off work due to mental health, which Allen touched on in her interview.

“People are really struggling, which I think is very pervasive in the stories I collected. I feel like mental health treatment has been taboo in the Black community, so it’s interesting that people are so willing to talk about it now.”

Sick and tired of being sick and tired

The conversation then moved onto burnout and Tiana Clark’s Buzzfeed article called This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like, a response to Anne Helen Petersen’s How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. Allen spoke to Clark for her book and mentioned her own burnout preventing her from responding to Petersen’s piece, which she felt was “interesting but very rooted in a White experience”.

To my fellow black millennials, I recommend you read the interview and check out Reniqua Allen’s book.

Pink things

Some blog post ideas are nothing more than a phrase.

For this one, it was “a pink experience”. I was inspired by my previous post on the colour gold but I thought I’d elaborate more with this one.

I don’t think I own any pink things. It’s a lighter shade of my favourite colour, red, but in terms of clothes, I’ve only gone as far as some black socks with pink patches on the heels and toes. I do like salmon though so maybe that’s something?

Some facts about the colour pink

  • Pink’s etymological origins are unclear but it’s likely that its name came from a flower of the same name.
  • Surveys in the West suggest pink is most often associated with qualities such as politeness, charm, sensitivity, and tenderness, as well as the most well-known association – femininity.
  • But there’s nothing inherently feminine about the colour pink so anyone, regardless of gender, can use it for whatever they want and screw what anyone else thinks.
  • Impure forms of the mineral rhodochrosite can be pink and it’s Argentina’s national gemstone
  • Flamingos are born with a red/grey plumage but as they mature, they become pinker by eating food that contains certain bacteria and beta-carotene. The shade of pink can determine desirability when it comes to mating – a vibrant flamingo is considered the most desirable compared to a paler flamingo.

A visually pink experience

(Photos courtesy of Paweł Czerwiński, Wesley Tingey, Miroslava, Meiying Ng, beasty ., Freshh Connection, Fabian Møller, Elena Koycheva, and Anders Jildén on Unsplash, Lil Nas X on that Old Town Road, and Rihanna.)

100 deep burns by Dr Niles Crane

50 Best Niles Crane Burns
50 More Niles Crane Burns

Frasier might be coming back and while I’m not sure it’s going to be the same (especially without Martin Crane RIP), I’m looking forward to more of Niles Crane’s scathing comments.

While Frasier could throw some decent intellectual punches, Niles’s delivery sliced through to the point of speechlessness. And now you can watch not 50 but 100 examples of his witty comebacks.

And as for the Frasier revival?

“We’ve got a couple of TV things coming up, a possible Frasier reboot […] We’re getting a script now and we’ve pitched the idea, we’re putting it out there.”

Kelsey Grammar on the possibility of a new Frasier series

Let’s see how many burns Niles can fit in for that. In the meantime, stream 100 of his best below.