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

Shazea Quraishi gave a workshop on 'Translating a poem from Spanish' to pupils at Sir William Ramsay School, with MFL teacher Lea Ottocento

The collaborative nature of this project is what most interested me. In my meeting with Lea and Sarah Ardizzone at Sir William Ramsay School, it quickly became clear that my ideal workshop length (1.5-2hrs) would need to be abandoned for one that would fit their schedule: this turned out to be 4 1-hour sessions with Years 8-10. Quite a challenge.

My session involved translating a poem by the Spanish poet and playwright Frederico García Lorca. However, literary translation is a complex and subtle art requiring a certain depth of engagement with the text that can't be rushed, so how to convert this into a bite-sized, hour-long session? I turned the question on its head and asked myself instead, 'what is possible in a one-hour session with key stage 3 and 4 Spanish students?' 'What would benefit them most?' 'How to best awaken their curiosity and inspire them?' Because although I want them to think creatively about how best to express an idea or emotion, carrying it from one language and culture to another, and to develop their understanding of Spanish language, culture and the historical context of the poem, I also want them to have fun with translation. I want them to play with language and enjoy the puzzle of it.

All in a one-hour session. The school of course had their own aims for the workshop, which included: learning a range of translation techniques out of the workshop (check); an understanding of what translating involves (check); and an insight into what the job of a translator involves (easy to add). These were all great ideas which I used as a framework to structure the session. And it meant that we would have around half an hour for the translating of the poem.

On the day, any nerves I felt vanished (more or less) once the children filed into the room, curious, full of energy and eager to practise their Spanish. Discussion was lively, students were engaged and enjoyed healthy competition when we were discussing the merits of different translations.

By the second session I was better at pacing the workshop so the translating exercise felt less like speed-dating. Listening to the teachers talk about their students and schedule and lesson-planning over lunch gave me valuable perspective: imagine doing this five days a week!

By the time I welcomed my last group of students, I had learned the quickest way to get the attention of a noisy class: get a student to call out 'Silencio!'. But it was the energetic discussions and always-interesting ideas – the opposite of 'silencio' – which I enjoyed most about the day I spent translating Lorca with students at Sir William Ramsay School.

Shazea Quraishi


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