Translators in Schools training program captures the zeitgeist

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Director of the Stephen Spender Trust Robina Pelham Burn introduces an exciting new schools translation scheme she helped start.

Sarah Ardizzone, Sam Holmes and I are united by our enthusiasm for language learning, our desire to celebrate the many languages spoken in schools throughout the UK and our interest in using translation as the basis for creative multilingual workshops in schools.

Sarah is an award-winning translator from French, Sam is working on a PhD in multilingualism, and I graduated in Chinese, edit translated fiction and have been the director of the Stephen Spender Trust since 2001.

Sarah and Sam devised the programs for Translation Nation, an initiative started in 2010 to encourage children to explore literatures and cultures from around the world. Translation Nation revealed how few people there are with the skills to develop and deliver creative translation workshops.

The Translators in Schools (TiS) professional development programme addresses this through two strands of training aimed at those who speak English and at least one other language.

Non-teachers are invited to attend a series of three training days that are spread out over three or four months to allow time for preparation between each stage. Day 1 includes fun translation activities, lesson planning and classroom management, as well as a taste of a real workshop. Day 2 requires participants to put into practice what they have learnt, and sees 20 of them working in pairs to deliver to small groups of 8–11 year olds a book-based workshop and games involving translation. On Day 3 participants bounce ideas off one another and try out activities as part of the process of developing their own original workshop, which they will later pilot for free in a school in order to become an accredited graduate of the programme.

The training also teaches participants how to approach schools and demonstrate how their workshop ties in with the National Curriculum. An online forum enables graduates to continue exchanging ideas.

Multilingual primary and secondary teachers are offered a standalone training day to help them to engage particular groups of pupils or parents with the aim of developing broader literacy skills. The teachers also learn how to organise after-school or lunchtime clubs focusing on creative multilingualism, enrich particular lessons/schemes of work, and promote interest in writing in the home language as a first step towards sitting a GCSE in the home language.

It is worth explaining what is meant here by translation: code-cracking/semantic transfer on the one hand and creative writing that picks up on all sorts of story-telling clues (including the visual and non-verbal) and nuances of register on the other.

Crucially, children who take part in the workshops don’t need to speak or read the source language in order to transform it into creative expression in the target language. What matters is the journey between both languages, which will develop the children’s literacy skills, as well as their grasp of cultural, grammatical and syntactical nuance.

The children who served as guinea pigs at a recent training day translated books from Bulgarian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Spanish. There was a real buzz created by the exposure to new languages and a sense of epiphany as the children discovered subtle differences for the verb to tip-toe in different languages, to take one small example. By the end of the day they had learnt how language concretely, intricately shapes our worlds, our imaginations, our ability to tell stories.

Creative multilingualism is about finding a voice: engaging imaginatively with mother tongues and other languages, as well as developing flair and originality in written English. It is as relevant to schools with a preponderance of monolingual children as it in schools where 70 per cent of the children do not have English as a first language. As a way to excite children about learning other languages, encourage them to value the ‘home languages’ they and their peers speak, and help them hone their powers of expression in English, the TiS programme seems to have captured the zeitgeist in the UK.

Members of the APWT and other readers of LEAP+ are welcome to take part in a TiS programme in the UK. We can also explore ways to deliver the program in countries in other parts of the world. To date, our target language has been English. The next big adventure for us is to move beyond that.

Robin Pelham BurnRobina Pelham Burn