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Creative translation in schools

The focus of the Translation Exchange is on bringing students from the Medieval and Modern Languages, Oriental Studies, Classics, and English faculties together with teachers and pupils from local schools for translation workshops. With an emphasis on translation as a creative, inspiring, and aspiration-raising activity, these workshops will channel the students’ expertise in translation and enthusiasm for language-learning and literature into enriching literary experiences for young people from primary age upwards. 

Our first schools workshops took place in June 2019, when our student ambassadors delivered creative translation workshops at Cheney School, Oxford Spires Academy, Wheatley Park, and St Christopher's Primary in Cowley. 

Our ambassadors - students from MML and Oriental Studies - developed outstanding workshops on a range of texts, including contemporary and classic German novels; a Mexican picture book; an Italian poem; and a French graphic novel and film. Their training began in January of this year, with a series of workshops run by Queen's alumna Gitanjali Patel and British Library translator-in-residence Rahul Bery. You can read about the training below in a blog by the chair of the Exchange's student committee, Matthew Hines.

In January we also launched our research and networking programme for modern languages advocacy and creative translation. In partnership with the European Commission Representation in the UK, a forum of teachers, translators, and practitioners came together at Queen's to discuss how translation is currently being used in the classroom, and how this practice can be developed and broadened to enrich the study of languages at all levels. A full report on the forum can be downloaded here.

creative translation workshopcreative translation workshop
Little Red Riding Hood

Minimalist interpretations of Little Red Riding Hood and a moustache ‘filthy with revolcado’ in Asturias’ Mister President – all in a day’s work at the Queen’s Translation Exchange’s first training day. On 12 January, the Exchange’s first batch of eager workshop leaders-to-be experienced first-hand how the concept of creative translation works, in particular for those of us not voiced in Spanish or French. Gitanjali Patel and Rahul Bery expertly guided us through workshops that enable schoolchildren to experience the spontaneity and flexibility of creative translation, and also elucidated the principles and ideas on which the concept is founded.

Through poetry, picture-book and prose, each of the Exchange’s new student volunteers got to grips with how an extract in the original language, with difficult or unfamiliar words glossed, can be picked apart and transformed into a new idiom. Starting with a literal translation, we sought to highlight what vocabulary we did not recognise, which aspects stood out as particular or unusual in the passage’s language and style, and then discussed how we understood the passage and the world it created. With this interpretation in mind, we set about transforming our literal translation into a more vibrant, creative text. Reading it again without the original, we corrected any less idiomatic phrasing and transformed it into a natural-sounding English passage.

This exercise in creative translation occurred not in a merely theoretical realm but through practice, which gave this first experience of the ‘creative translation’ concept an even more convincing kick. Moreover, Gitanjali and Rahul carefully guided us through the different forms of literature we will, in our pairings, deliver in schools. Beginning with Marjolaine Leray’s picture-book Un petit chaperon rouge, they demonstrated how a text dependent more on its images than the individual words or short phrases in the French could carry a translatable message. Geared more towards younger children, the picture-book workshops make access to foreign-language literature possible to those who still have very little foreign-language knowledge, but for whom creative translation remains a very accessible medium.

In the afternoon, after a well-earned lunch break, we split into two groups, looking at prose with Gitanjali and poetry with Rahul. Not only did they each deliver another workshop, this time solely with textual extracts which (especially for those of us without any target-language knowledge) provided a challenge for creative translation, they also explained along the way how and why they were saying or emphasising certain aspects. This was an invaluable exercise in seeing how the workshops function in practice, and also in understanding how each stage is best communicated or explained. Crucial along the way were warm-up games, using for example an image of an animal and attaching as many words (in English or otherwise) associated with it to the drawing, or playing a game of ‘I went to the market and I bought…’ using examples from a whole host of different languages – quite a challenge!

The day succeeded not only in validating the concept of creative translation itself, but also in communicating to us how to structure and deliver the workshops we will offer to Oxford-based schools later this year. Particular thanks go to Charlotte Ryland and Jenny Higgins, who organised the day and offered sound, enthusiastic advice throughout, and to Gitanjali Patel and Rahul Bery, whose demonstrable experience, expertise and infectious zest for the project set us on the right path for the exciting months ahead.

Matthew Hines, Queen’s

Un petit chaperon rouge (‘A little red riding hood’), by Marjolaine Leray, is available in English translation by Sarah Ardizzone (Little Red Hood, Phoenix Yard).

Little Red Hood