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Creative Translation in the Classroom launch day

Our Creative Translation in the Classroom programme was launched on Friday October 11 2019, when thirty-two translators, education practitioners and teachers from primary, secondary and supplementary schools came together at Waddeson Manor for a day of workshops and practice-sharing. Over the course of a rich and animated day, facilitated by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Holmes, participants workshopped ideas, learned new skills, shared best practice, and networked.

Translators and workshop facilitators Sophie Hughes, Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, Ed Doegar (PTC), Maja Konkolewska, Miriam Nash (PTC), Rahul Bery

Participants were treated to presentations by the five translators at the core of the project on the new workshops they are currently developing for the programme. Nadia Siddiqui, Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Westgate School in Slough, shared her exciting work integrating the Stephen Spender Prize into the whole school, and her plans to make it even more cross-curricular. Her model showed how every class could be inspired by the Prize, using it as a springboard to engage with poetry and translation in a variety of ways.

This exciting new phase builds on the Stephen Spender Trust's established work on bringing creative translation into school settings. The process of creative translation develops close reading and writing skills, boosts intercultural awareness, raises confidence and self-esteem among multilingual students, and promotes creative aspiration.

The schools involved in the launch day

Having a Go, by Lucy Timms

Lucy is a PGCE student in MFL, currently training with the NML (National Modern Languages) SCITT (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training).

I went back to my placement school setting buzzing with ideas. My mentor was intrigued, and took a copy of some of the classroom activities for himself, and patiently listened to my tirade of narrative describing the day and how much I had enjoyed it. I asked him to let me know if he ever felt there was space to run a similar activity in any of his classes. A week later, he said there was a Year 9 lesson on the last day before half term. I set about plotting and planning my chance to implement the things I had learnt in the mini workshops.

The lesson was to be right after lunch on the last day of school. After lunch meant I could potentially move some desks around to facilitate group work. I considered whether everything might just descend into chaos if too many new things were introduced at once. The tables and chairs would stay where they were. In the interest of pertinence and coverage, I found three short texts to use from the next chapter in the Spanish textbook. Enough familiarity, enough challenge. The title? Hotel Transylvania. Very appropriate to the season.

I planned lots of structure and set clear expectations for this set. I gradually elicited types of text from them, encouraging out-of-the-box thinking. They rewarded me with some fantastic suggestions, such as road signs, snapchat messages and tattoos. We zoomed into the function, challenges and purpose of translators and translation. I bestowed upon them the title of Mini-Translators, and advised them that there would be some checkpoints on their way to Fully-Grown Translators in half an hour's time. They successfully navigated the tasks I threw their way, working in pairs, then groups, then on their own. They debated the best translation of 'nam nam'... would it be yum yum, yummy or mmmmm? I let them make their own minds up on the matter. Would they anglicise the names of the zombies and vampires? Well, some did, and some didn't.

Quite separately, that morning, I showed my mentor a poem I had come across by chance, called Un barrio de Los Ángeles. It was an intriguing poem with immediately obvious literary features and a content that made you stop to think a while. Perhaps there would be time after the Year 11s speaking exam to try it out with them, my mentor ventured.

Long story short, the Year 10s and 11s ended up fully engaged in the pre-amble I gave about the Stephen Spender projects, the role of a translator, and the kind of work they could consider doing themselves if they persevered in their language study. They puzzled through the stanzas that felt almost nonsensical, as the poet reminisced about childhood memories of his abuelita who called him niño barrigón and spoke with the chairs. The Year 12s looked at it too as a fun end-of-term treat, and spent time on the form and structure. Could they really leave out capital letters and punctuation entirely? Sure, it's up to you. What about yerbabuena, how could they navigate an indirect translation in a poem where each line offered just two or three words at most?

The structures I had been presented with on the CPD day gave me the confidence to stretch the children and guide the groups. Now that they've done it once, I'm wondering where I can go next. I'm drafting ideas to sneak creative translation in all over the place. Quite aside from the Spanish that they learnt and revised today, pupils' literacy skills were enhanced and their ability to debate, justify and critically examine their own and their peers' decisions was remarkable, and extremely valuable.

Creative Translation Workshop: special strategies for the classroom
By Katharina Jakobi & Céleste Robillard

Céleste Robillard and Katharina Jacobi are two PGCE students in MFL, currently training at the University of Reading.

'Translating is boring, or rather tricky.' This is the feedback we usually get from our students. But translating is much more than just translating a text or poem word by word.

Being able to attend the Creative Translation in the Classroom launch day in Aylesbury as PGCE students of Modern Languages made us realise how exciting and fun actually translation is, as well as what we can do to promote creative translation in our school.

During the training we had the opportunity to meet other trainees, MFL secondary and primary teachers, and translators. All of us took part in different meetings and workshops, enabling us to understand the purpose and benefits of the Stephen Spender Trust's Creative Translation in the Classroom project, which promotes a partnership between schools and translators. While teachers and translators were working together on their projects, we trainees attended a workshop led by school teacher Katrina Barnes. She presented strategies to bring creative translation into the classroom in a fun way. One learns best by trying it out, therefore once Katrina had explained the purpose of the activity, she put us in three teams of three to have a go. She had put three different extracts of a text in the source language (in this case Spanish) across the room with a team number on them. In our teams, we had to nominate a runner and two writers. The runner had to find the text, and to remember a part, run back to his or her team to share the content and dictate the lines. The rest of the team was in charge of writing down what the runner had told them and translating the text into English. Once finished, we swapped translations with another team and improved or changed their translation. We then swapped the translations once more, and wrote down our final translation on a big piece of paper. When we had finished, Katrina asked us to read our translations out loud. We discovered that the extracts were part of the same text and that even though we were not all Spanish speakers, we were able to understand the overall meaning of the text.

The activity showed us that bringing creative translation into the classroom is possible without too much preparation. We asked Katrina how to implement it with our students and she advised us to select some texts from the textbook we use in class, and cut them down into extracts. This exercise allows students to cooperate and share their knowledge, fostering a really good cross-curricular skill. Also, the students are not only practising their writing skills but also their reading, speaking and listening, as they have to read what the other teams have written, the runner has to say what he has read and the writers have to listen to the runner. We will definitely use this translation game in our future lessons.

A big thank you to the Stephen Spender Trust and everyone involved in the workshops for inviting us to this event and for inspiring us future teachers.

Translation workshop taster sessions
By Holly Bickerton

Holly is a PGCE student in MFL, currently training with the NML (National Modern Languages) SCITT (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training).

After a fantastic lunch, we played the role of pupils in five different creative translation workshops that the translators and teachers had been working on together in the morning session. The translators had just five minutes each to offer the group a taster of the full sessions that they will be running in schools.

First up was Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, with a workshop based around a German children's picture book. Ruth gave us each a key word from the book, and got us to work out what each word meant. We did this by predicting and inferring from the pictures, and by using a process of elimination. This then built up to us each shouting out 'our' word when Ruth got to the page in the book with the corresponding picture.

In the second workshop, Miriam Nash and Edward Doegar from the Poetry Translation Centre had prepared a 'literal' translation of a poem in Portuguese for us to use as a 'bridge' translation, i.e. a basis for creating our own, more polished translations. Miriam and Edward had cut up their 'literal' translation into small fragments, and our first job was to put these pieces of paper into what we thought was the right order, using the Portuguese original and a glossary to guide us. Once we'd done this, we could then focus on changing things like word order and using idiomatic English.

This was followed by a workshop from Rahul Bery, based on the names of four Asterix characters. We were given the French and English names and tasked with working out which belonged to which character. It quickly became apparent that the English wasn't a direct translation of the French, but a play on words. With this in mind, we then had a go at coming up with some names of our own.

Sophie Hughes brought in an audiovisual element for her workshop. She showed us a short video clip from a play, and our task was to use visual and contextual clues to translate half a dozen frequently used words. Despite none of us knowing the language – which turned out to be a made-up one! – we found that we were able to work out the meaning by paying attention to things like body language, props, costumes and gestures.

The final workshop saw Maja Konkolewska exploring the idea of native language. She gave us the English and Polish versions of three poems side by side and asked us to work out which was the translation and which was the original. As most of us didn't know any Polish, this meant looking at the language used in the poems in English and trying to spot translated poetry versus original poetry. The answers were surprising and the exercise forced us to think about what a translation is. Each of the five workshops showcased a different aspect of translation and all of them were fascinating in their own right. The real pupils are in for a treat!

Creative Translation and its application in secondary schools
By Caroline Brandon-Cox and Anna Little

Caroline Brandon-Cox and Anna Little are PGCE students in MFL, currently training with the NML (National Modern Languages) SCITT (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training).

As PGCE students, we were lucky enough to take part in this wonderful workshop day at Waddesdon Manor around Creative Translation in the Classroom. Very explorative, the aim of this project is to establish partnerships between qualified teachers (with curriculum expertise) and translators. The teams then co-deliver translation workshops in school through enjoyable, hands-on activities designed to empower learners.

Yet, how do we define 'translation'? For school pupils, the idea of translation is often associated with lines of text that they have been asked to accurately convert into another language. Teachers may consider translation a rigid exercise, primarily focussed on the pupil's knowledge and application of grammar, as this is the preferred style of many exam boards. However, CTiC exposed us to the idea that translation is an exercise of transplanting ideas from one text to another, as well as using the original text to create our own version (trans-inspiration).

It was equally inspiring to think about the role of translators and the actual skills used in translation. Questions that arose in this process included: What type of text is being interpreted? How are we to decode the language? How much should we adapt and explain it to the target audience? Also, how can we work around cultural sensitivities and stay loyal to the author's intentions, without compromising comprehension along the way?

As we experienced it throughout the day, Creative Translation can truly enhance key skills and abilities including literacy and creativity.

In May of this year, Nadia Siddiqui, Head of MFL at The Westgate School, Slough, encouraged the school to take part in the Stephen Spender Translation Competition. She submitted all attempts the pupils made, as well as holding a competition within the school, with prizes ranging from a free meal at Nandos to English tutoring with a local company. It was clear to see the sheer excitement that Nadia had when talking to us about her experience of the competition and it was encouraging to hear about the excitement of her pupils, too, many of whom were translating poems from their native tongue. One result of the competition that Nadia had not expected was that it not only increased engagement in the MFL classroom, but also increased literacy skills. One of the requirements of the competition is for the translator (in this case, the pupil) to write a 300-word commentary on their translation. Nadia decided to work with the English department on this, who helped to coach their pupils in writing commentaries.

Creative translation increases imagination and creative thinking. One of the takeaways from the day was that teachers wish there was more space in the curriculum to allow for creative translation. Despite the restrictions of the exam marking schemes, creative translation increases literacy skills and independent learning. Ultimately, it helps to engage learners with the idea of multiple loyalties that permit ambiguity, which, beyond the GCSE scheme, is what being a linguist involves.

It was a real benefit for us to join in and we were invited to become ambassadors for the programme; an opportunity that we will relish, and we look forward to promoting this style of learning in our future classrooms.


We are grateful to The Rothschild Foundation and The Polonsky Foundation for their funding of the programme.

The schools involved in the Launch Day were:

Comberton Village College Seconday, Cambridge

Haydon Abbey Primary, Aylesbury

Highcrest Academy Secondary, High Wycombe

Polish Saturday School, Amersham

Polish Saturday School, Oxford

Royal Grammar, High Wycombe

Royal Latin Grammar, Buckingham

Sir William Ramsay Secondary, High Wycombe

St Christopher's Primary, Oxford

St Edward's Primary, Aylesbury

St Louis Catholic Primary, Aylesbury

The Mandeville Secondary School, Aylesbury

Westgate Secondary School, Slough