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German workshop with Year 5: Gisela Boehnisch

Title: Translating a children’s book from German
To identify the key principles of translation and apply these in producing a nuanced translation of a children’s book
Age group:
Year 5 (age 9–10)
Participants: 23
1 hour 15 minutes

What we did

This German translation workshop was based on the children’s book Die Große Wörterfabrik. We worked with a group of 23 Year 5 students from a central London primary school, a handful of whom spoke a second language (Portuguese, Spanish, Somali). I started by setting the scene of the book (a place where words need to be bought before they can be used) and created two imaginary shop fronts for “kind words” and “silly words” as an icebreaker game. The children contributed words – from any language – that you could buy in such shops. This was followed by a silent run-through of the book on a projector, during which I introduced the three main characters: Paul, Marie and Oskar. The student translators then worked in five small groups on edited sentences, summarising the story of the book. For this task each group was supplied with ten sentences (each one on a separate sheet of paper) as well as a glossary box with colour-coded vocabulary cards (nouns/red, verbs/green etc). At the end of the session students from each group proudly shared their finished translations with the whole class and were allowed to pick a vocabulary card to take home as a keepsake.

What we got out of it

The feedback from the teachers was very positive and they loved the interactive nature of the workshop (shopfront game, vocabulary cards), particularly as the children in this class have a variety of learning needs and for some English is their second or even third language. The Year 5 coordinator was especially pleased to see the students getting so creative, applying different strategies to tackling translation tasks, and was pleased to see them so engaged throughout the session. I realised that, mainly due to time constraints, it is important to keep an open mind in terms of feasible outcomes. It was fantastic to see, however, the enthusiasm with which the children approached deciphering texts written in a foreign language and that they even asked to read out the German texts in front of everyone. Another teacher mentioned that they are keen to run a similar workshop for their younger pupils.