banner













  • Subscribe to our e-letters



  • Facebook_icon

Creative Translation in the Classroom, a Translators in Schools programme run by the Stephen Spender Trust

Lucy Christmas, a translator from Spanish based in Barcelona, ran a workshop at Waddesdon C of E school with MFL teacher Ann Coulter

I led a workshop based on translating an Argentine comic, Mafalda, with a group of boys in Year 11. We first looked at onomatopoeias and then at various comic strips, discussing meaning and more in-depth aspects such as humour, context, and cultural differences. By the end of the session they were translating on their own and even managing the very tricky task of translating jokes!

I was blown away by the boys' enthusiasm: by the end of the session they needed little prompting and would quickly offer suggestions and raise interesting points. They were eager to finish tasks and worked together collaboratively, discussing various options and challenges within the text. Not only did they have to think about the words, but also format and space within the comic. Many of the students commented on how much they enjoyed doing activities that were so different from their usual school day. I tried to stress the importance of creativity and imagination, that there was no "wrong answer" in translation. The students fully embraced the change of pace and readily took on the challenge of translating into English. It was a delight to see them all engaged and code-cracking together!

Before starting the first task, we looked at various tools for translation and reliable resources they could use such as dictionaries, thesauruses and so on. The students all opined by the end that Google translate was "rubbish" and vowed to use it sparingly and always alongside more trustworthy sources. We did a practice translation first, without any dictionaries, and the students were surprised by how much they already knew. By breaking down the language, they used the skills they already had to "code-crack" and understand the text. They felt less overwhelmed by the foreign text and confidently deduced the meaning, relying on their brains, instead of reaching for an iPad! They learnt to use online tools properly, and only when absolutely necessary. These skills will aid them in their exams across the syllabus, but especially with languages, as GCSEs now have a translation component.

As well as giving them useful tools for their GCSEs, they also honed their literacy and critical thinking skills. They learnt to correct their own work and reflect on what they had done and they came away with confidence in their language ability and a newfound enthusiasm for languages. Learning a language had changed into something that was not only enjoyable, but also a viable career path. It was a pleasure to take part in the programme.

Lucy Christmas


Ann Coulter, MFL teacher at Waddesdon C of E, introduced an innovative cascade structure to this workshop.

Once the boys had got to grips with their own translation practice, they were tasked with training up a group of girls from their year in the same skills. In this way, Lucy's work travelled beyond that initial session and provided ongoing inspiration for MFL teaching in the school:

"Waddesdon C of E School were delighted to welcome Lucy Christmas to work with a group of 20 Year 11 boys who are studying either French or Spanish at GCSE. Nationally boys tend to perform less well than girls in languages and their enthusiasm tends to dip in the final year. Thankfully this was not the case for our session and the boys engaged readily with the material and wide range of activities Lucy had planned. They were relieved not to have to do much writing and they enjoyed the thinking skills that were required to work out challenging vocabulary and understand jokes in the target language. The boys were introduced to new tools such as Linguee and the conjugation function on Word Reference to help them with their language development. They also enjoyed the freedom to have more than one right answer or interpretation of a word. The workshop sessions will be followed up with the boys redelivering their favourite activities to the girls in their next lesson. We are glad to be able to cascade the good practice and the repetition reinforced the learning for the boys. On a professional level, it was uplifting to have the support of a fellow linguist and inspiring to be able to share resources and ideas. We are certainly keen to continue this partnership and run a similar workshop on a yearly basis. We would like to build on the use of Google Translate and how, when used correctly, can be a worthwhile language tool."

Creative Translation in the Classroom was generously supported by the Rothschild Foundation.