Notes: Museum Curator
My name is Campbell Price and I’m the curator for Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum. I became interested in languages other than English when I was quite young. I went to a museum when I was maybe five years old and I remember looking at a coffin of an ancient Egyptian in the museum case. It was covered with strange, squiggly writing and I wondered, “What does that writing say?"
I remember my mum got me a book on ancient Egyptian texts and hieroglyphs and that probably sparked my interest in writings in languages other than English and made me want to study languages.
What other languages have you learned?
Apart from Ancient Egyptian, I have learned some languages that people still speak!
I started studying French when I was in school and I remember writing to an Egyptologist when I was about sixteen years old. I asked what subjects I needed to study at secondary school and he really encouraged me to study French and German. I studied French at school but wish I had studied German more because Egyptological literature is written either in English, French or German. I started to study French at school when I was twelve and continued to study it until I was eighteen. I still study French and I’ve made a special effort to improve my German because I didn’t study that as extensively at school. I’ve also learned colloquial Arabic from Egyptian colleagues.
Do you have a ‘EUREKA’ languages moment? What’s your most memorable language related experience?
My Eureka moment with French was when I took part in a French exchange with a school in France when I was seventeen. I remember being at the dinner table with my French exchange partner and being able to make myself understood in a language other than English was extremely stimulating and made me want to speak and read the language much more when I got home.
When and how do you use your language skills?
One of the most important parts of my job is to go to Egypt and participate in archaeological field work. The people I work with in Egypt sometimes have no English at all, so the only way to communicate is to use Egyptian Arabic. I found that really, fundamentally changed my attitude towards languages other than ones from Europe. Again, the ability to make myself understood in someone else’s language was so satisfying that it made me want to stay on longer in Egypt so I could perfect my colloquial Arabic on the field.
I use languages quite a lot in my profession because a lot of Egyptological literature is not in English and that makes me want to devote more time to learning French and particularly makes me want to practice reading in German.
As an Egyptologist, I work in an international field. I go to a few international conferences every year and it always surprises me the incredibly high level of English that my colleagues from across the world possess. In my profession it is accepted that you communicate in English at conferences but the amount of literature that is in other languages would be preclusive if you didn’t understand French and German.
Do you have a message to share with us about languages or language learning?
My message to schools, based on my own experiences of learning languages would be to make languages as “core” a part of the curriculum as possible.
I enjoyed my French and German lessons very much at school, but if they had incorporated other parts of the curriculum I think they would have been more useful. For example, I was given a German recipe book and had we had a Home Economics lesson in German that would have really improved my knowledge of a German menu. I think a thematic approach to learning a language, sometimes taking it outside the confines of a Modern Languages classroom would have been really interesting.
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