Talk English – Birds and Butterflies

Manchester Museum is a treasure trove of objects from all over the world, from fossils to frogs and from elephants to Egyptian mummies. The collection encompasses the weirdest to the most wonderful, with the gallery spaces so often filled with excited chatter and punctuated by moments of quiet contemplation.

One of the important roles of the museum is as an inspiration.

“Manchester is a city in Greater Manchester in the north west of England.  It has a population of just under 500,000. In the 2011 Census, 3.5% of the population said that they could not speak English well or at all. Up to 200 different languages are spoken in Manchester.”

Talk English Manchester

Talk English is a project working with adult learners with low levels of English to help them improve their language skills and get more involved in the community. The project is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and runs in parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Merseyside. Talk English includes courses, cafés and activities at venues like museums and art galleries for people learning English so they can meet others, practice speaking and do something fun and different.


Manchester Museum regularly hosts Discover and Talk English sessions, when learners, teachers and volunteers meet and take part in activities themed around the museum’s objects and exhibitions.

Last week’s Discover and Talk English was all about Birds and Butterflies.


Living Worlds and Nature’s Library at Manchester Museum are galleries stuffed with wings and feathers and brilliant colours from all corners of the globe, and with them comes a whole vocabulary of words, phrases, sentences and ideas; the perfect setting for the learners to get involved in the conversation.


As always, Talk English Manchester organiser Elena Jones’ meticulous planning in collaboration with Anna Bunney, Engagement Manager at Manchester Museum, provided learners with activities and puzzles involving theme-specific vocabulary …

… Followed by the chance to explore Nature’s Library, with a treasure hunt type gallery activity of finding, naming and discussing some of the winged creatures on the gallery, from the tiny hummingbirds to the giant harpy eagle.

The final part of the journey of conversation and discovery was a craft workshop with wirework artist Lucy Cutler in The Study, in which learners were led by Lucy to make their own three dimensional multi-colourful wirework butterfly.

Lucy is a member Manchester Craft Mafia, a curated collective of artists and makers living and working in Greater Manchester; a not for profit collective of designer makers, workshop leaders and community artists promoting local craft and design ventures through a diverse, creative network.

“My current work is generally inspired by natural forms … Images I work from are just sketches or pen line drawings from life and photos, although sometimes I will go directly to just ‘drawing with the wire’. The very nature of the wire being a ‘live’ material means that no two pieces will ever be exactly the same.”

Lucy Elisabeth

This workshop allowed the Talk English learners the opportunity to unleash their creativity, with some spectacularly beautiful results!


“Talk English is an inspiring project and it’s wonderful that we can welcome the learners into the Museum.  It’s always a delight to hear their conversations and interest in our collections.  One of the best things of working with Talk English is all the amazing people involved – Elena and the Talk English volunteers, our Museum volunteers and staff from across the organisation.”

Anna Bunney, Engagement Manager, Manchester Museum

Collaborations like this are just one of the many ways that Manchester Museum’s collection is used to entertain, educate and, especially at last week’s Talk English, inspire people of all ages.

Michelle Scott

For more about the museum’s public programmes please visit Museum Meets, and for more about the museum’s collections visit the curator blogs; Nature Manchester and Entomology Manchester

More Stories from the Museum Floor from Michelle:

The Gods and Their Makers
There be dragons here…
Murder in Mesopotamia?
From Shrunken Heads to Collective Conversations
Encountering Corpses

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