Translation can reinvigorate the role languages play in young people’s education - RSA

Translation can reinvigorate the role of languages in young people’s education

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Students are increasingly looking to study subjects that have relevance in ‘the real world’. Meanwhile, uptake of MFL at UK schools and universities is plummeting. We need to re-frame the benefits of language-learning for students and translation is the way to do it.

Students are increasingly looking to study subjects that have relevance in ‘the real world’. Meanwhile uptake of MFL at UK schools and universities is plummeting. Languages are relevant not just because they allow us to work or travel abroad with ease. They teach us how to think flexibly and problem solve. They teach us how to understand someone else on their terms. Languages have the potential to teach students to be responsible and engaged global citizens in a fun and creative setting. And translation is the way to do it.

At Shadow Heroes, we believe that translation is an untapped resource for training students to critically engage with the world around them. We believe in its power to teach students to question their assumptions and develop their self-awareness in a creative setting.

This year, Shadow Heroes will run two workshop series funded by the RSA Catalyst grant. Throughout the series, translation will be used as a means to develop students’ critical thinking skills and linguistic dexterity, to reframe language learning as a relevant and socially inclusive endeavour. The workshops are designed to empower students, helping them to express and address unconscious biases as they engage with new languages and cultures, drawing on and sharing their own linguistic backgrounds and skills.

The series will run over five weeks, in two state secondary schools in the Camden borough, William Ellis and Camden School for Girls, and will feature workshops run by four exceptional translators who are new to our collective. We are thrilled to be working with two literary translators from Arabic: Sawad Hussain, co-editor of the English-Arabic dictionary, and Nariman Youssef who part-time manages a translation team at the British Library. Ayça Türkoğlu is a literary translator specialising in Turkish and German, and Yuka Harada-Parr works between English and Japanese as a translator, interpreter and is also a cartoonist. More details about their work can be found in the guest collaborator section of our newly redesigned website.

Illustration by Caterina Miralles Tagliabue: school pupils contributing to classroom discussions or working independently


The workshop series
All Shadow Heroes workshops are tailored to the student group in question, and these upcoming series are no exception. With focus groups conducted prior to the series, and close liaison with the class teacher, we take into account the full range of languages spoken by students (both inside and outside of the classroom), their educational needs, and their interests. Our aim is to create a socially cohesive learning environment, challenging the value that is currently placed on certain languages over others. Along the way students will gain a deep insight into translation and the skills it teaches from a range of leading professionals. They will come into contact with new languages, art, writing and film from across the globe.

In our opening workshop, students will learn to find the translator in the text. Becoming language detectives, they will explore the implications of our linguistic decisions and develop an acute sensitivity of how our different life experiences shape the way we interpret texts. They will go on to compare Japanese and US versions of the same film trailer and question the impact dubbing, music and shot selection has on how Japanese anime is presented to the Western world. Yuka will support students in producing their own translations of this multimedia art form, while carefully considering how to recreate a character’s uniqueness in translation. The workshop series will encourage students to broaden their ideas about language-learning, and they will be required to think creatively as they go on to translate an Arabic webcomic. Following a discussion of the different purposes of a text and translation, Nariman and Sawad will task students translating to a range of briefs, moving away from the idea that there can only be one correct end product. Ayça’s workshop will have students translating a Turkish pop classic, through which they will discover the unique role of sound and onomatopoeia in the Turkish language. The series will return its focus to the UK for the final workshop all about translating slang. During this dynamic workshop students will explore the power structures evident in our own language and navigate these in their translations of a popular rap song.


Our goals
This Shadow Heroes series seeks to furnish students with linguistic confidence, empathy and a critical awareness that will enrich their approach to any subject or career path. Students will gain a taste for a range of new languages, and emerge from the workshops each having created five original pieces of work.

We’re looking forward to sharing the outcomes and achievements over the course of the series. We would love to hear from teachers and educational practitioners who are interested in getting involved with future iterations of our project. Whether you have expertise you’d like to share, or questions about the upcoming series, please contact Gitanjali at [email protected], or contact her via MyRSA.

Photo of Shadow heroes workshop facilitator speaking with students in classroom

You can read Gitanjali's first blog about the project here. (June 2019)

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  • This sounds fabulous - a creative model to support and challenge young people to get stuck into the nuances, creativity and joy of languages. Will bilingual students be encouraged to reflect on the role that having more than one language plays on their identity? See Sujata Bhatt's poem 'search for my tongue'?