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Russian workshop with Year 5: Maria Kozlovskaya Wiltshire

Title: Translating a Russian story
Objective: To introduce children to Russian and practise creative writing skills by recreating a Russian children’s story in English
Age group: Year 5 (age 9–10)
Participants: 20
Duration: 60 minutes

What we did

During the session with Year 5 pupils, none of whom spoke Russian, we translated a short story aimed at 4–5 year olds from Russian into English. First we warmed-up with ‘Simon Says’, which taught the children the Russian words for four parts of the body. Then I showed them a PowerPoint presentation of the book and asked them what they thought the mood of the book was: was it a happy story, a sad one or anything else? We looked at the story from different perspectives and the children enjoyed creating the ‘world’ of each potential mood, suggesting adjectives that we noted down for the translation work we would do later in the session. Even those who had initially been quite shy played an active part. The children were surprised to see how a tiny detail could change the whole tone of the story (calling it a ‘grey day’ ultimately made the story quite glum!). The class was then split into four groups and each group had to make up a story in a particular mood based on the pictures in the book. Two groups were asked to write a happy story, one had to write a sad story and the final group had to make up a horror story (the session was just before Halloween so the horror story was particularly popular!), after which each group read out their story in front of the class.

In the next activity, the children used glossaries to make rough translations from the Russian. A late start to the workshop meant that each group had to divide the pages between them rather than work together on the whole story; this saved some time, but also challenged the children, who had never worked on different parts of a task within a group (the head commented on that later and said it had been good for them to have a change from their normal pattern of working together). We then worked on a nuanced translation together, with the children suggesting ways to turn each sentence into polished English as well as a possible title for the story, and ended by reading the final version aloud.

What we got out of it

The different versions that the children created were detailed and imaginative, and turning a rough translation into a nuanced one taught them about revising and editing their work. The children completed a short questionnaire about the workshop. They wrote: ‘I liked finding out about a new language because it means I can experience more’; ‘Translating is a job for people with good understanding’; and ‘A bit of translating is about making it up’. When asked if they would like to do another workshop most of them answered ‘Yes!’

The head teacher said that it had been a useful exercise which introduced the children to a new language, allowed them to practice their creative writing and made them aware of translation as a career. She wrote: ‘The children found the session engaging and well structured… I would recommend this workshop to introduce not only the Russian language but also the whole process of translation.’