Creativity, inclusivity and linguistic sensitivity in language learning: collaborative translation workshops

by Georgia Wall and Gioia Panzarella

How can we look beyond national borders in language-learning? What could a ‘transnational’ language teaching approach look like in practical terms? In light of exciting contemporary perspectives which seek to undermine the myth of monolingualism and the container culture of the nation-state, we wondered how our roles as language teachers in Higher Education might be implicated. Bringing together an interdisciplinary team of early career researchers, students and community practitioners, the project ‘Collaborative Translation: A Model for Inclusion’ investigates the implications of translation as a collaborative process that addresses and enhances a range of disciplinary skills. We applied this model of translation in a series of English and Italian collaborative translation workshops for undergraduate and Erasmus students at the University of Warwick.

Linguistic sensitivity and cultural awareness

Escher’s famous ‘Drawing Hands’ lithograph seems the most accurate symbol of the process of collaborative translation from a didactic perspective, with each language drawing a fuller yet more nuanced comprehension of the other. The emphasis is on translation as a creative and critical process, rather than the production of a finished text. Participants discuss the potential multiple meanings of the source text and focus on the challenges of reinterpreting different connotations in their own language. Working collaboratively encourages learners to think about variation within their own language – regional variations, accents, dialects and even ‘family’ words all contributed to a lively interchange. We see this as a way to practically undermines the myth of bounded, homogeneous cultures and languages – whilst developing language skills! In the words of one participant, ‘the discussion made me question things from English which is a transferable skill you can use in learning any languages’.

How does the model work?

Teachers and students communicate in the primary language of the students, which is also the target text language. The departure point is a text in the primary language of the teacher. For example, English-speaking students who want to learn Italian collaborate with an Italian teacher, translating Italian source text into English. With the teacher acting as the source-language collaborator and students as target-language collaborators, students are invited to query the meaning of the source text and re-interpret solutions. We found it productive to use source texts from a variety of media – our first series of workshops used song lyrics, proverbs, a literary passage and an interview. As there is no expectation to produce a final written text, there is also great potential for intermedial, critically-engaged interpretations of the source text: students can develop the translation in line with their areas of expertise, which enhances confidence and creativity in language learning.

Confidence, creativity, inclusivity

Because collaborative translation is process-oriented, it has significant classroom potential for exploring language and culture from an interdisciplinary and intermedial perspective. We found participants’ creative interpretation and contestation of the images of a music video source text impressive and productive. To make sense of the source texts, students naturally drew upon their own interest and experience to participate in the ‘translation conversation’: in our workshops, different backgrounds enriched the classroom discussions by raising questions of etymology, folklore, and social class in both the source and target culture. Collaboration on close reading of a short piece supported by visual media makes this method suitable for students who have just begun learning a new language, too.


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