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Russian workshop with Year 4: Elizabeth Guyatt

Title: Translating a Russian children’s poem, “Ya Rastu” (I’m Growing), by Agniya Barto
Objective: To introduce pupils to the experience and principles of literary and general translation through translating this six-stanza poem into English.
Age group:
Year 4 (age 8–9)
Participants: 60 in total
Duration: 2 hours

What we did

The workshops took place at two primary schools in Lewisham. My fellow translator Valentina Marconi and I were requested to run our workshops at both schools, to tie in with the year group’s “globetrotting” topic.

The sessions began with asking the approximately 30 children in each class about the languages they knew. The children at Edmund Waller were seated at six tables as agreed with the teacher and there was a similar arrangement at Holbeach. Pupils attempted to put the three images illustrating the poem in order and speculated about possible story lines. They examined the original Cyrillic text for features such as possible rhymes. The groups then worked on one transliterated stanza each, using a glossary, to produce rough translations, which they read aloud; I then summarised the poem. After a break, pupils worked on their polished translations. The diverse approaches taken by the different groups meant that the translated stanzas ranged from versions faithful to the original to exuberant, free translations. In the subsequent informal “question and answer” session, aspects of translation such as project management, decoding and encoding were touched on. The second session was refined based on observations and reflections on the first.

What we got out of it

I had great pleasure in observing the children’s confidence dealing with a language that was unfamiliar to most – particularly where children overcame initial trepidation. As well as the results, I was impressed by the skill and enthusiasm with which the children handled the translation process.

Some at Edmund Waller requested extra copies of the glossary, so that they could continue translating the poem at home. Some children at Holbeach gave feedback about the session on their class blog ( The class teacher at Edmund Waller commented that the discussion of articles (definite and indefinite) was very timely as the class was about to study these in English.

Pupils at both schools were very positive about additional languages: as well as speaking various languages at home, pupils at both schools study Mandarin; this may have helped lay the foundation for their very impressive achievements in the workshops.