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Hindi workshop with Year 4: Rohini Chowdhury

Title: Translating a Hindi children’s book
To understand the process of translation and its inherent challenges, while producing a nuanced translation of a children’s book
Age group:
Year 4 (age 8–9)
1 hour 15 minutes

What we did

We produced a nuanced translation of an illustrated Hindi children’s book, Gajapati Kulapati: Chapākkadādhom by Ashok Rajagopalan, with special focus on the translation of onomatopoeic words. We began by discussing the meaning of translation and playing Chinese Whispers using onomatopoeic words – to start thinking about the transmission of words and meaning, and to focus attention on onomatopoeia. I then introduced the book, and showed the class a Powerpoint of the original, pointing out the Hindi script. We discussed the setting, mood and tone of the book, and its target readership, as indicated by the illustrations. I then showed them a second version, with the Hindi script transliterated into Roman. I read this aloud, asking the class to listen for alliteration and onomatopoeia. The students caught the Hindi sound patterns without prompting.

Using the glossary I had prepared, the students worked in pairs to translate their individual (transliterated) pages, decoding the meanings of the Hindi words and then putting them into sentences that ran smoothly in English. As each pair read out its translation my support translator typed it onto the Smartboard. Working as a class, we read the full translation, smoothing out the kinks until we had a complete, nuanced version. The students handled the translation of onomatopoeia with imagination and inventiveness.

We had decided as a class to postpone the translation of the main character’s name to the end, since his name also formed part of the title. We therefore ended with an animated discussion about his name, deriving from it an appropriate title for our translation.

What we got out of it

The children loved the story with its gentle humour and vivid illustrations. Given their total immersion in the task, it was evident that they found the translation activity interesting and engaging. They particularly enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with onomatopoeia that this particular book provided. When the children realised that in a single afternoon they had translated not just a complete book, but one from Hindi, a language that none of them could read (though some Urdu speakers could follow some of the words), they were amazed at their achievement, and justifiably proud. The teachers commented that they had learnt a lot about translation and its processes that afternoon, and realised the value of this exercise in terms of language teaching and learning. It was an ambitious workshop, and it was good to see its success.