What is UKLO?

The UK Linguistics Olympiad (UKLO) is a fun but challenging competition for any school-age student interested in language. It is much like the Mathematics Challenge, but with all problem sets taken from language. In a typical UKLO problem, participants see data from one of the world’s 7,000 languages and need to work out how a specific aspect of this language works based on these examples. Cracking the code is good for analytical skills, but it also shows participants how fascinating languages are.

Linguistics olympiads, which started in the 1950s in Moscow, have spread and now involve over 40 national competitions (such as UKLO) and an annual international competition, the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL)  (one of a dozen international competitions).  The UK is a relatively recent arrival – UKLO launched in 2010 – but our national teams tend to perform outstandingly well. Unlike most other countries, we offer the competition at different levels of difficulty, from Breakthrough to Advanced, so the competition isn’t just for sixth-formers – our youngest competitors ever were in Year 4, and many of our competitors have been competing for years. The Advanced competition selects for Round 2, a residential weekend, and eventually for the IOL; but every competition offers Gold, Silver and Bronze certificates. The competition is equally popular among girls and boys, so foreign-language teachers see it as a way of engaging boys and of giving the study of language, typically more popular among girls, the status of a STEM subject. Thanks to generous support from the academic community, the competition is completely free to both schools and competitors.


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