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German workshop with Year 5: Ulrike Nichols

​Title: Translating a German children’s book
To identify key principles of translation and apply these in producing a translation in verse of a children’s book
Age group:
Year 5 (age 9–10)
Number of participants:
55 minutes

What we did

In this workshop we translated the German children’s book Henriette Bimmelbahn by James Krüss. We had two groups of Year 5 children, with 23 children in each group. When the children came in, they saw the cover of The Cat in the Hat in various languages projected on a screen. Once they’d sat down they tried to guess what the languages were. After a brief introduction and explanation of the difference between translation and interpreting we showed images of our story with no narration, just some Klezmer music playing in the background. When I asked them whether this was a happy or sad story, responses were mixed and the children were curious to learn more. I then read the story to them in German, resulting in some confused faces, after which the children worked in groups of four and five with a glossary, mapping the German words to their English counterparts. They noticed that the German sentence structure did not always make sense in English and we encouraged them to find natural sounding expressions. Each group had different pages and we pieced the whole story together when the groups read their pages to each other. We heard some first feedback and together revised some of the sentences.

Then it was time for physical action! The story about this little train lends itself to role playing to get a sense of its rhythm, which we needed in order to tackle the next task – putting the story into verse. The children turned their chairs to the front, moved their upper bodies, and started making train noises, going faster, slower, braking, etc. We used this energy to explain the final task. When the children had to find rhymes, there was some fear and frustration. Yet once they understood that they could change the words, they got going. The session ended with everybody sharing their rhymed page, revealing that they had succeeded in translating the whole book. Everyone felt very proud.

What we got out of it

Immediately after the sessions I had the chance to talk to the two teachers, who were both very pleased with the results. One of them said that she had taken notes on which techniques she could use in her own teaching; the other told me that she had learned more about translation and what it involves. The deputy head teacher wanted to discuss whether the workshop could be tailored to younger children, as the school is preparing to meet the new language-teaching requirement that takes effect in 2014. The children were very excited not only to have mastered the translation but also to have come up with rhymes that reflected the content of the story. The pages have been displayed on the wall so that everybody can read the story and admire the translation.