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Workshops in Bognor Regis, facilitated by Maja Konkolewska
Adventurous attempts at preserving rhymes: Polish poetry translation

Maja Konkolewska, a translator and interpreter from Polish, qualified teacher, EAL specialist and Translators in Schools graduate, ran two days of 'Polish Spotlight' workshops in March 2019. Held in two primary schools in Bognor Regis, these workshops were funded by the British Council. Here she describes her experience:

At the end of March, Year 5 children in two primary schools in Bognor Regis immersed themselves in the wonderful world of creative translation. The texts and format used on both days were the same, but the workshops were slightly different due to the allocated time and group sizes. During these workshops, the children worked with four poems: 'Skarżypyta' by Jan Brzechwa, 'Krople' and 'Kubełek' by Dorota Gellner and 'Miś' by Michał Rusinek.

On day 1, I was a guest at Southway Primary School, where I ran three workshops with three Year 5 classes (28–30 children per class). The allocated time was 50–60 min per workshop, the children worked in groups of 4–5 and there was at least one Polish-speaking pupil in each class.

On day 2, I visited Bersted Green Primary School, where I ran two workshops with twelve Year 5 children. The workshops lasted 80–85 min and the children worked in groups of four. Again, there was at least one Polish speaker per cohort.

After the initial introductions, the children got into their smaller groups and brainstormed the concept of poetry. They created 'mind maps' of anything poetry-related, and then each group shared their ideas with the rest of the class. I then introduced the poems to the children by reading them out loud in Polish, and the Polish speakers turned out to recognise a few of them. We had a few very observant non-Polish speakers who listened carefully, noticed rhymes and deciphered the meanings of some of the words. Having more time on day 2 meant that I was able to allow the Polish-speaking children to tell their peers what each poem was about – it was lovely to see the children's pride at being able to share their understanding of the Polish language with their classmates.

Having heard the original versions, the children thought of ways to make it possible for everyone, not just the Polish speakers, to understand the poems, which led us to the concept of translation. In their smaller groups once again, the children discussed the work of translators: What do they do? How do they do it? What skills must they have? What resources do they use? Each group then shared their ideas and we briefly discussed the similarities and differences between translation and interpreting – at this stage it became clear that each classroom has a fair share of young interpreters, experienced in helping their family members and friends. Again, on day 2 we could spend a little more time on this, allowing the speakers of various languages to share some of their experiences of talking, reading and writing in their 'other' languages, as well as helping others by acting as young interpreters.

At this point I introduced the main task of the workshop: each group would translate one of the Polish poems into English. The initial shock at translating from an unfamiliar language subsided when I distributed glossaries for each group to use. The children immersed themselves in the task of translating each poem word-for-word, some of them soon noticing that the English versions they were producing made little or no sense. They noticed issues with grammar and word order, the absence of rhyme and rhythm, and a lack of articles. Everyone felt relieved when I explained that this was not the 'end product'. We then talked about ways to make the poems make sense and sound good in English – compromising on rhythm or rhyme, or keeping these features by making changes to the text, all whilst preserving the meaning, sense and message.

Instructed to forget the glossaries, the children then created their own versions of the poems. Most of the children tried to stay as close to the original as possible, but we had a few adventurous attempts at preserving rhymes. At the end of the session, each group had a chance to present their final poem to the rest of the class. It was fascinating to see how proud they all were and how many of them enjoyed this activity. It was also lovely to see that the more able students were always keen to help those of their friends who found the task a little bit more challenging.

©Maja Konkolewska 2019