translator: bhavit mehta
In summer 2013 Colvestone Primary School was one of two Hackney primary schools who stepped up to the Translation Nation challenge. Classes through from Reception to Year 6 alike were enthralled in the opening assembly when translator Bhav drew them into the Indian tale of ‘Laghu the Clever Crow’ and found that they were able to understand this universal story even without being able to speak the language of its storyteller as props, illustrations and expression gave them all the clues they needed.
This was but a taster for the core Year 5 class taking part. They spent the remainder of the first project day sharing the languages spoken amongst them (which included Greek, Ghanaian, French, Bengali, Turkish and Italian) and exploring linguistic registers and the idea of re-interpreting stories focusing on themes, characters or morals.
On the second day the Translation Nation challengers were joined by four parents who generously shared tales using their home languages, and the rich storytelling continued with a further eight pupils retelling fables to the class that family members had shared with them at home. The children were also excellent listeners. Their teacher commented that the “parent workshop was very powerful – to listen to parents read stories in other languages and their child translate ‘live’ was brilliant”.
Five of the stories were chosen to become Translation Nation tales and worked on in translation by groups of pupils to produce well written and engaging versions in English. At the end of the day, with promising written work emerging, the children commented that their favourite part of the day was telling and sharing stories from different cultures.
The final day of the project kicked off with pupils reading the drafts of their stories to their peers and receiving constructive feedback and encouragement. The group were eager to be likened to great writers like JK Rowling, and to continue with improvements and edits to their work.
Final amends and a swift rehearsal period later, and the groups took to the stage to perform in front of the whole school, teachers and around 15 parents. They managed superbly and it was a tough job to decide the winning Translation Nation story. ‘Feinmacool and the Salmon of Knowledge’, a story originally told in Gaelic by Katie’s Mum, eventually pipped its competition to the post and the group of five classmates who had brought it to life in English were given special congratulations.
Final reflections by the children included enthusiasm for writing their own stories and being creative, and a thrill from acting in their own plays. Teachers also remarked that the process of producing a piece of writing in groups had really enhanced the children’s work and that it was lovely to see them going on a journey over the three days which culminated in a complete and fulfilling outcome. They also felt that the project had brought an awareness of “the richness of language in Year 5 and the school” and added “although we know how many children speak more than one language, to see this used in the context of storytelling from their culture was truly inspiring”.
Translation Nation will leave behind a strong legacy at Colvestone, as the school now plans to invite parents from all year groups to come in and share stories and a picture book project has been introduced for Years 5 and 6 which builds on methods promoted in Translation Nation.