Thursday, 15 March 2012

Not So Lost in Translation

You can have an off -night with the course book and manage not to take it too personally.  It was a boring text anyway; you shrug to yourself, as you think ahead to the next lesson. However, a home made lesson which falls flat on its face brings with it a deeper sense of failure. There’s always an element of personal risk with such lessons, and I felt this strongly tonight as I hurried towards Adult Learning with the afore mentioned Faster than Witches and a folder of poems I didn’t understand in Polish, Slovenian, Spanish and Hungarian.
The lesson was not tightly planned. However, as the class filed into the room I had the strong sense that if I mentioned my plans for the evening ahead (poetry writing and translating) the whole group would run away screaming.  I told them the thought I’d just had, and explained that we would take this lesson bit by bit. So we started off discussing train journeys we’d been on, and what we remembered seeing from the window.  I then asked them to tell me what sound a train makes, and we began to choo-choo in chorus, which paved the way for the initial reading of From a Railway Carriage. This poem’s rhythm evokes a train perfectly, and the class were quick to see this.
The learners were each given a couple of lines from the poem, and they repeated these lines quietly to themselves a few times, marking the word stress and checking pronunciation with me. Then we recited the poem around the class and the rhythm and stress were, on the whole, really accurate.
Later on in the lesson I distributed the foreign language poems, hoping that there wasn’t anything too dodgy in amongst my selection. The learners took a few minutes to read the poems and I asked for their response. A few of them found a poem they really liked, while others went on line to print out a favourite. One learner chose a poem from her school days; another chose a song lyric.   I asked the learners to find out what they could about the poet in question and his/her circumstances at the time of writing. A lot of this research was conducted in L1, and the learners reported back in English. Then began the task of translation. The first stage is simply to translate the general meaning. Next week will see the translations taking on a more poetic form.
As the town hall clock struck eight, I had to repeat my request for the learners to finish off, so absorbed were they in their work. One learner said to me on leaving: You were right, not to tell us what we’d be doing at the beginning of the lesson. We would have run out screaming.” A back handed compliment, perhaps, but a compliment? I hope so…

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