Creative Translation and Global Reading in the Classroom

I regularly design and trial new workshops for primary and secondary schools, exploring languages and literature for young people in an interactive and interdisciplinary way through creative translation and creative writing activities.

The following are workshops which I have delivered or co-hosted with teachers in schools since 2018. Please email me for more information or to make a booking for your school.

Key Stage 1 (ages 5-7)

Round the World Book Tour 

Globe showing the country of origin of some children’s books in translation

Time: 30 mins

Where do books come from? Which books do we know that came from another country and another language? What if you could read a book from any continent? Where would you go?

Spin the globe and land on three continents, and hear three stories, one from each continent. And learn a phrase from each of the countries we visit!

Mixed story session from my box of books from many countries around the world, translated from many languages. 

Suitable for: 

  • World Book Day (March)
  • Refugee Week (late June)
  • European Day of Languages (26 Sept)
  • World Kid Lit month (September)
  • Black History Month (October)

The Dot (that Couldn’t Sit Still)

Time: 20-30 mins

The Dot by Gulnar Hajo

A playful story about a fidgety dot whose inability to sit still inspires his friends to get creative. Storytime in Arabic, followed by the same book in English, in my translation. 

We work out what’s happening in the story from the pictures and talk about the process of transforming a book from one language to another. 

Pupils will learn a couple of Arabic words to listen out for, experiencing the satisfaction of being able to recognise elements of a foreign language 

Suitable for:

  • Topics on modern and abstract art eg. Klee, Kandinsky
  • Egyptians: placing Ancient Egypt in the context of contemporary Egypt and the Middle East; where is it? What does Arabic look and sound like?
  • Conversations about creativity, personalities, learning styles
  • Exploring the questions: what’s a book? What’s a story? Could be paired with other unusual picture books e.g. Press Here or It’s a Book

Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11)

Around Europe in 6 Books and 6 Languages

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

A whistle-stop tour of Europe, exploring connections between different language families. Pupils learn a few phrases, find they already have the tools to read another language, and discover some great chapter books in translation. 

Dipping into 6 children’s books translated into English from 6 European languages, pupils spot similarities between different languages, and work out why these connections exist, thinking about the role of history, conquest and migration on the languages of the UK and Europe.

  • Using their existing codebreaking and inference skills, pupils discover they can decipher a text even in a foreign language they’ve never seen before
  • We consider what is involved in learning a new language and how to start at home
  • Hear about 6 great novels for this age group and think about the value of global reading: why read books from other countries?

The book selection and codebreaking activity sheets can be tweaked according to topics of interest to the class and pupils’ home languages. 

Around the World in 6 Books and 6 Languages

Time: 60 – 90 minutes

A whistle-stop tour of the world, exploring connections between different language families. Pupils learn a few phrases, find they already have the tools to read another language, and discover some great chapter books in translation. 

Similar structure to the Around Europe in 6 Books workshop, but introducing pupils to books in translation from 6 languages from the Americas, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The book selection and codebreaking activity sheets can be tweaked according to topics of study and pupils’ home languages. 

Around the World in Translation: language discovery through creative translation

Time: 45 minute sessions, suitable for standalone sessions or as part of a series

From September 2021, I will be offering a selection of short taster sessions in European and world languages. Using a picture book, song or illustrated text as a starting point, pupils use their codebreaking and detective skills to decode texts, identify similarities and differences between world languages, and in the process make discoveries about English and the many languages that have fed into it throughout history.

Key stage 2 and 3: Creative Translation workshops

Arabic tasters

Alya and the Three Cats

علياء والقطط الثلاث (Alya and the Three Cats)
by Amina Hachimi Alaoui, illustrated by Maya Fidawi 

Time: 60 mins – 90 mins

For pupils with no prior knowledge of Arabic

Miriam has three cats and they enjoy her undivided attention. But she disappears one day with a swollen belly and comes home with a strange new creature – baby Alya! How will the three cats react to this noisy intruder in their peaceful household? 

Exploring this funny and charmingly illustrated story from Morocco, this workshop provides a taster of Arabic and of translation, following a 3 step process: decode > translate > create!

Answer Me Leila!

Time: 90 mins

 !​ليلي ..ردى علي (Answer Me, Leila)
by Nadine Kaadan

For pupils with no prior knowledge of Arabic

A modern telling of Rapunzel with a twist: Leila is deaf so her ‘prince’ doesn’t get very far calling to her from the bottom of her tower. How else can he get her attention?

Interpreting the illustrations, pupils decode the text in groups, using a glossary to decipher the Arabic and translate it into English, considering style and vocabulary choices for reading to younger children. 

Workshop developed in conjunction with Shadow Heroes 2019

Suitable for topics:

  • Contrasting classic and contemporary versions of fairytales
  • Deafness, sign language, and inclusivity in fiction and culture

Think of Others

فكر بغيرك (Think of Others)
by Mahmoud Darwish, illustrated by Sahar Abdallah

Time: 90 mins – 2 hours

For pupils with no prior knowledge of Arabic

Exploring a thought-provoking poem about empathy by popular 20th century Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, pupils will have the chance to decode short Arabic verses with the help of structured worksheets and bring the poem to life in a new English version. 

Suitable for topics: 

  • Refuge and seeking asylum: past and present
  • Refugee Week, June
  • Empathy Day (9 June)

German tasters

The Red Thing

Das rote Ding (The Red Thing)
by Heike Herold and Ebi Naumann

Time: 90 mins – 2 hours

For pupils with no prior knowledge of German

We explore what lurks beneath the water in this playful picture book, and in the process we turn the rhyming German text into English verse, producing an English translation to perform or read to younger children/reading partners.

Workshop developed as part of Stephen Spender Trust’s Creative Translation in the Classroom project 2019-20

Suitable for topics:

  • Germany, Anglo-Saxons, history of English language: many of the key words in this book are similar to English words (the Germanic origins of English)
  • Verse forms, poetic metres, rhyme schemes

Mr Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets

Der Geheimnisvolle Koffer Von Herrn Benjamin by Pei-yu Chang 9783314103827  for sale online | eBay
Der Geheimnisvolle Koffer Von Herrn Benjamin (Mr Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets)
by Pei-yu Chang

Time: 90 mins – 2 hours

For pupils with no prior knowledge of German

A puzzle-solving and creative workshop taking pupils through the codebreaking process of working out what is happening in the pictures, decoding the German text, through to the creative step of writing an idiomatic and engaging translation in English. 

Mr. Benjamin is a philosopher with extraordinary ideas. But when his country begins punishing people for being different, he must escape. Over hills and valleys he trudges with his heavy suitcase. What could he be carrying? 

Workshop developed as part of Stephen Spender Trust’s Creative Translation in the Classroom project 2020-21

Suitable for topics: 

  • World War II and Nazi occupation of France
  • Dictatorship and why tyrants feel threatened by intellectuals
  • Refuge and seeking asylum: past and present
  • Real life stories: representations of historic figures in fiction (based on the life of philosopher Walter Benjamin)

Russian tasters

The Two Trams

Два трамвая (Two Trams)
by Osip Mandelstam, illustrated by Anna Desnitskaya

Time: 90 mins

For pupils with no prior knowledge of Russian

This picture book is based on an award-winning short film by Svetlana Andrianova and a classic children’s poem by Soviet poet Osip Mandelstam.

Exploring this poem about a father-son relationship between two trams, pupils solve a linguistic puzzle: decoding short Russian verses in groups and piecing together a jigsaw to compose an English translation.

  • Russia, the Cold War, the Soviet Union
  • Family relations, father role models, growing up

Maltese taster

Is-Sinjura Klaws (Mrs Claus)
by Clare Azzopardi

Mrs Claus / Is-Sinjura Klaws

Time: 90 mins

For pupils with no prior knowledge of Maltese

The perfect creative translation activity for the winter term, this picture book from the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta puts a new spin on the traditional story of Father Christmas. Santa Claus is too ill to deliver the presents this year, so Mrs Claus takes up the reins to deliver them instead.

Pupils read the pictures and decode short texts from this Semitic language (which combines elements of Arabic and Italian), finding they can translate a story from an unfamiliar language, perhaps one they’ve never heard of before!

Workshop developed as part of Stephen Spender Trust’s Creative Translation in the Classroom project 2020-21

Topics:

  • Gender roles, Christmas, adventure