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Spanish poetry workshop with Year 7: Annabel Booker

Title: Translating Spanish poetry
Objective: To identify the key principles of translation and apply these in producing a nuanced translation of a selection of poems from a children’s book of poems in Spanish
Age group: Year 7 (age 11–12)
Participants: 20
Duration: 2 hours

What we did

To start the session and break the ice, the children tackled some Spanish tongue twisters, which certainly warmed everyone up. To continue the fun, we looked at an array of foreign language signs which, to our delight, had been mistranslated and led to a valuable discussion of the challenges of translation. Once we had unpicked the intended meaning and identified where things had gone wrong, we moved onto TV adverts (in English and Spanish, some well known) and talked about the rhyming and sonic aspects employed to make them successful. Having identified the key principles of translation, including sound and rhyme, we turned our attention to a very colourful and beautifully illustrated book of Spanish poems about Cuba (with a letter of the alphabet representing a theme for each poem). Without revealing the title and text, and with Latin jazz music playing in the background, I showed the children images of the book and encouraged them to suggest a possible title and guess what the book could be about. In small groups the children then studied a wordless version of their assigned poem to encourage free thinking about what they would like to see on the page. To stimulate further discussion, I read one of the poems and showed the children the accompanying illustrations and cultural notes, encouraging them to think about the meaning of the poem as well as the lay out and rhythm of the language. The children were then given the text of their assigned poem and, working in pairs, went on to make a rough translation of the poem using glossaries and cultural notes. Following a short break (when sweets were handed out), and a swift round of Taboo to get everyone using their powers of expression, the children tackled the personalisation of their poems, applying their knowledge of the different stylistic techniques of the adverts to the poetic language of their poem. Creativity was key in producing a more polished and individual version of the poem, which was then shared in the final stage, when groups read out their poem and discussed whether they had retained the original style and form.

What we got out of it

It was clear on the day that the students were engaged throughout and were buzzing with ideas to share. I have taught this year 7 class Spanish for a year and this was a great opportunity to try something that was unexpected. Feedback (from the pupil questionnaire) included their enjoyment of a fun, interesting and varied afternoon working with new people and tackling very different material from that usually seen in class; there was certainly something for everyone. Pupils liked the opportunity to translate slogans and use their imagination in creating their own versions of the poems. They went away feeling more confident about using literary terms and inspired to be more creative in their writing, some even expressing a desire to purchase a book in another language. The group presentation stage of the session saw eloquent observations about the challenges of translation, some well thought out ideas about how to personalise poems and explanations of the reasoning behind their final choices of language and style.