A Wooden Tortoise and a Bag Full of Cuddly Toys: Translators in Schools

At the end of last year, I attended an initial Translators in Schools training day at the Free Word Centre in London. As well as learning about lesson planning, behaviour management and so on, leaders Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Holmes took us through a translation workshop that they had created based on Little Red Hood. This helped us see how pupils can be encouraged to think about translation and language, between languages and within their own language, as well as the ways art and drama activities can be used to go beyond the text.

It was a very inspiring and stimulating day, but working with other professional translators is a very different matter from delivering a workshop to primary school children! So it was with a mixture of excitement and terror that I arrived at Europe House last Monday for the second part of the course. Now we were going to be let loose on actual children… How would year 5s (ie 9 and 10-year-olds) react to being asked to work on a picture book for little kids? Would I be able to remember anything from the previous event? Would the children be cooperative? Would it be fun for them, or us?

Fortunately, I was working to support another translator who had taken the lead role, chosen the book etc, so I just had to turn up, armed with a wooden tortoise and a bag full of cuddly animals, ready to face the day (well, almost). The children were coming by train from their school and then walking up from Victoria, and as we were finally feeling prepared, we heard that their train had been delayed… Cue jangling nerves and a hasty reworking of the schedule. Still, once they got there, the day went much more smoothly and yes, it was even fun!

Tortoise/turtle and toys

OK, so it’s actually a turtle, but shh, don’t tell anyone!

We were working with a group of 7 charming, lively and imaginative kids who, after a few initial teething troubles and with a little prompting to stay on track, produced charming, lively and imaginative translations of 3 pages of text. We ended up with a song from one pair, a rhyming text from another group and some innovative wordplay. What do you call a tortoise who’s a scaredy cat? A scaredy-toise of course!

There were things we hadn’t appreciated – that they would really need every single word of the text in the glossary, for example, or that the glossaries would work differently according to whether they were arranged chronologically or alphabetically. We were also blessed with an abundance of teachers, teaching assistants and other helpful adults, due to the logistics of herding that many children around on public transport, and their knowledge of individuals was also invaluable on occasion. We started off with one pair who just wouldn’t talk to each other, for instance. Once swapped by a teacher into other groups, though, both children worked brilliantly well.

We also gained firsthand experience of the difference in productivity on either side of the lunchbreak, and the effects of a lack of fresh air – we were able to get out at lunchtime but the children were definitely a bit stir-crazy by the end.

But it was fun. The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, and to take real pride in their acchievements. The teachers seemed to appreciate it too. I certainly learnt a lot! So, stage 3 is where it gets really exciting/scary. I’ve applied. Now it’s wait and see…

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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2 Responses to A Wooden Tortoise and a Bag Full of Cuddly Toys: Translators in Schools

  1. Pingback: Twerking Lizards, Wizards and Creative Writing: Translators in Schools 2 | a discount ticket to everywhere

  2. Pingback: London Book Fair Musings | a discount ticket to everywhere

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