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

Rilke Shaking it up: Shadow Heroes ran three workshops at Headington School, with MFL teacher Tim Kendall

In January 2018, the two-translator team that is the core of Shadow Heroes met at Headington School, Oxford, to lead a day of workshops. In June 2017, we had been lucky to join a Rothschild Foundation and Stephen Spender Trust-supported initiative called Creative Translation in the Classroom. It began with a professional development day at Waddesdon Manor, where we presented our workshop ideas to teachers who considered which they might like to take on and develop back in their own schools. Following that day, Shadow Heroes was matched with Headington's Tim Kendall, head of German at the school. Together, we planned what became a series of three workshops spread over the course of one day, a kind of Shadow Heroes crash course in translating ideas and practice for students of a range of ages.

On the day, the first off was a select group of Key Stage 5 students, whom we tossed straight in the deep end: within two hours we had them translating not just poetry they'd never seen before but Portuguese poetry. With no lusophones in the group, all started on practically the same footing. We took them on a whistle-stop tour of essentials: a discussion of the basics that make poetry poetry and a toolkit to use whenever translating poetry – any poetry, from anywhere, into any other language. Then, with the fast-forward help of some literal translations, the students embarked on their own translations of two poems by Brazilian poet AngĂ©lica Freitas, from her collection Rilke Shake. This smart, funny, deceptively simple collection by a woman writer aware of her peripheral relationship to any canon proved inspiring material. The best of the students' translations appears here.

Next was a group of greener but equally keen KS-3ers. These students hadn't yet encountered translation described as such, though with their work in English and all the languages they were using at school and at home, they were a classic sample of translators in the rough. We adapted our introductory workshop to take into account the all-girls group, the number of students and their language-spread. We concentrated on translating the visual – captioning comic strips – to start with, then moved on to looking at idioms from Gujarat, Poland, Sudan, French-speaking Canada, and more. A strange phenomenon, idioms are by turns and sometimes simultaneously the translator's delight and their nightmare. As ever, the students came up with solutions we couldn't have dreamt of without them and the classroom setting proved invaluable as a crucible of inspiration. The best translators do not work solo – and the Headington students seemed to understand this instinctively.

Last up was a KS-4 group. This is the year-group for which we began our workshops in the first place: at a crucial stage of growing up and decision-making, these students are simultaneously getting deeply excited and being pushed to get serious. Curriculum pressures become particularly heavy at this stage and the essential elements of excitement and fun can be lost in the midst of focus and prioritising. So we polished up our 'It's all Portuguese to me' workshop and, we hope, provided two hours of indirectly relevant linguistic playtime and creativity. In this workshop, students discuss and refine a toolkit for approaching translation from a language they don't know – in this case, Brazilian Portuguese – and then, via various translation tasks using video clips, audio and visual as well as writing, work their way up to translating the script of a Brazilian telenovela scene. Portuguese is the guerrilla language we often choose because students are unlikely to know it yet may have many other linguistic ways to approach it. We are currently developing this workshop format to use with Arabic and Korean. For now, Portuguese works well at defamiliarising and then restoring and even building new levels of confidence. Explore the Headington students' work here and here.

Sophie Lewis & Gitanjali Patel

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