In this week’s blog post, our colleagues from The Queen’s College Translation Exchange share details of their next International Book Club meeting – a really wonderful opportunity for school students to engage with literature from around the world!
The International Book Club for Schools is a chance for sixth-form students to explore foreign language books which have been translated into English with other like-minded, literature-loving peers. We meet once a term to discuss a foreign language book in English translation. No knowledge of the original language is required to take part. The meetings take place over Microsoft Teams, and places are open to school pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13/S4-6. Newcomers are always very welcome!
Our next session will be held on Wednesday 30th November at 7pm, and we will be reading Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos, translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey. Set in the 1980s in Lagos de Moreno, Quesadillas offers a lively, cynical, and satirical take on Mexican politics and family life, in a world where the possible and the impossible seem to have switched places.
For anyone thinking of studying languages at university, there will also be a chance to hear more about what this would entail during a half-hour Q&A session with current Oxford University students, chaired by the Schools Liaison and Outreach Officer at the Queen’s College. These meetings are a perfect opportunity for students to explore books that aren’t on their school syllabus and to engage with some exciting literature in translation.
Students can sign up to attend the Book Club by completing this Google Form.
To take part in the International Book Club, students will need to purchase and read a copy of the set book in advance of the session. If a student’s financial situation makes it impossible to purchase a copy of the book, drop us an email (email@example.com) and we will do our best to work something out.
If you have any questions about the Book Club, please do also get in touch at the email address above!
The Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project (2021–2022) has now come to a close. This was an AHRC-funded joint project between the University of Oxford and the Stephen Spender Trust.
On 30 September 2021 — International Translation Day — the nationwide competition was launched. Entrants were asked to compose a poem in a language other than English inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepted submissions in any language, and 136 entries were received in 26 languages — including Sindarin, a form of Elvish devised by J. R. R. Tolkien.
Up to 100 entries to the competition have been included in an anthology, which will be published online and in print in September 2022.
The Project drew on translation as an educational tool to explore how Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel has been translated since its publication in 1847 and how its plots and themes can be used as a springboard for new creative works. It comprised of three core activities: a series of translation workshops; a nation-wide translation competition (as mentioned above); and a bank of resources for teachers and pupils.
The bank of resources aims to allow more young people to enjoy creative translation activities based on Jane Eyre. Initially developed to support entries to the competition, these resources now provide a lasting legacy for the Project.
Three types of resources are available:
A handout that outlines an approach to creating a poem from a passage of prose (all languages)
PowerPoint workshops for teachers to deliver in school with accompanying worksheets (Arabic, French, Polish, Spanish)
The Project’s resources are available here and here. To accompany these resources, we’ve created a short video explaining what creative translation is, and why it’s important. The video is available to view below.
The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, in association with The Guardian, is now open for entries. Anybody in the UK and Ireland can enter, regardless of age or linguistic skill. The Stephen Spender Trust’s (SST) Resources hub is full of virtual resources to make the prize accessible from home, as well as teaching packs to bring poetry translation into the classroom.
This year, the prize is more inclusive and vibrant than ever, from British Sign Language translation to new prizes for first-time entrants. SST’s virtual poetry booklets collect together poems in more than 17 languages.
SST Director Charlotte Ryland:
“Poetry translation is a perfect activity for these challenging times: it is a gentle and structured approach to creativity, without the intimidating blank page that can put off many would-be poets; it is an opportunity for parents and children to work together, in particular in families where more than one language is spoken; and it is a task that can be shared with peers and teachers.”
This year’s judges are acclaimed poets, translators and educators Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee.
Closing date: 15 July 2022
Categories: Open (adult), 18-and-under, 16-and-under, 14-and-under
Top prize of £1,000
All winning entries published in the 2022 Stephen Spender Prize booklet
Special ‘Spotlight’ prize for translation from Romanian, judged by Gabi Reigh
We hope you all had a restful break with family and friends over the last couple of weeks, whether you were observing religious traditions or hunting for chocolate in the garden (or both!)
Here at Oxford, Trinity term is already underway and it looks to be another busy one, albeit much sunnier than the last!
To ease us back into the new term, here are a few exciting events and opportunities to get involved in over the next couple of weeks!
Modern Languages Subject Day – Tuesday 10th May, Exeter College
If you are a Year 11 or 12 student who is interested in exploring your options for University, then this day is perfect for you! This Subject Day will include opportunities to experience sessions in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
To register for your place, please fill out this form, which should take around 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The deadline to apply is Tuesday 3rd May at 9am.
If you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Songs We Learn From Trees– Thursday 5th May, The Queen’s College
On Thursday 5th May, at 4:30-8pm, the Queen’s Translation Exchange are running an in-person workshop and readings based on Songs We Learn from Trees, the first anthology of Amharic poetry in English.
Sign up for free here to discuss and celebrate Ethiopian poetry in an evening of readings by Ethiopian poets and their translator, followed by a drinks reception.
The event will feature the following poets:
Hama Tuma [virtually]
Mihret Kibede [virtually]
with translator and anthology editor, Chris Beckett.
The poets will read from their own and other poets’ work in the anthology, as well as answer any questions the audience may have about the thriving poetry scene in Addis Ababa.
Modern Languages Open Day – Saturday 7th May, Examination Schools
There’s still a week left to sign up to attend our in-person Open Day at the Examination Schools, here in Oxford.
The Open Day will offer an overview of our modern languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning, with individual language sessions and a companions’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Academics, current students and members of staff from the Faculty will all be in attendance to answer your questions and give invaluable insight into studying languages at Oxford. You can view the full event programme here.
Please note that booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here.
Modern Languages Summer School – 15th-19th August, Wadham College
Wadham’s annual Summer School programme is an excellent opportunity for Year 12 state school pupils to be an Oxford languages student for a week.
Throughout the week, pupils will take part in an academic programme, live in College, meet student ambassadors studying at Oxford, and receive information, advice and guidance on applying to university.
The Summer School is completely free and Wadham will provide financial support to pupils to cover any travel costs.
You can find out more information and the application form here. Applications are currently open and the deadline to submit is Friday 3rd June at 5pm.
Entrants are asked to produce a poem in another language inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepts submissions in any language from learners in Key Stages 3-5 / S1-6, and all entries need to be accompanied by a literal translation into English. Pupils will be rewarded for their creativity. Up to 100 entries to the competition will be published in a printed anthology, which will also be available online.
Support materials are available on our resources page. Additional activity packs are provided in four languages (Arabic, French, Polish, and Spanish). These materials give learners and teachers the chance to take part in creative translation activities related to Jane Eyre at home or in the classroom.
The competition guidelines and selected passages are available on this webpage. The competition deadline is 1 March 2022.
Interested teachers and prospective entrants can receive regular updates about the competition (or the project more generally) by registering their interest using this form.
The Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project is an AHRC-funded joint project with the University of Oxford and the Stephen Spender Trust (SST), the leading UK charity for creative multilingual activities in schools.
Over 2021, the Project is running workshops in translation and creative writing for young people who are learning modern languages or are speakers of community languages. Using the classic novel Jane Eyre and research about how the text has been translated across the world since its 1847 publication, professional translators will deliver workshops to secondary schools in the UK.
A nation-wide creative translation competition will be launched on 30 September 2021 – International Translation Day! The competition deadline is March 2021. Entrants are asked to produce a poem in another language inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepts submissions in any language, and all entries need to be accompanied by a literal translation into English.
Up to 100 entries to the competition will be published in a printed anthology, which will also be available online.
Support materials will be available on our resources page: https://prismaticjaneeyre.org/resources/. Additional activity packs will be provided in the workshop languages (Arabic, French, Polish, and Spanish) by October 2021. These materials give learners and teachers the chance to take part in creative translation activities related to Jane Eyre at home or in the classroom.
The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, in association with The Guardian, is now open for entries. Anybody in the UK and Ireland can enter, regardless of age or linguistic skill. SST’s Multilingual Creativity hub is full of virtual resources to make the prize accessible from home, as well as teaching packs to bring poetry translation into the classroom.
This year the prize is more inclusive and vibrant than ever, from British Sign Language translation to new prizes for first-time entrants. SST’s virtual poetry booklets collect together poems in more than 15 languages.
Aleksandra Majak is currently working on her DPhil in English and Slavonic literature of the twentieth and twentieth-first century. In her project she looks on how the influx of Central Eastern European poetry in translation has galvanized a new, more ‘direct’ mode of poetic expression in the Anglo-American lyric of late modernism. In this post she shares some thoughts on the work of the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk.
‘Literature is built on tenderness toward any being other than ourselves,’ said Olga Tokarczuk in a deep, calm voice as she addressed the audience during her Nobel acceptance speech. In 2018, the Swedish academy honored her work for ‘a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life’. That – after Henryk Sienkiewicz, Wladyslaw Reymont, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska – made Tokarczuk the fifth Polish author to receive Nobel Prize in literature, and quite possibly the coolest one.
Tokarczuk is a feminist, activist and ethical vegetarian. Still, the most intriguing thing about this author is the way her at once intricate and disturbing books encourage readers to consider the boundaries between the real and the imagined; how, perhaps somewhere on the verge of both, we live in the world of stories yet untold. Indeed, she believes that ‘a thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes’. Much of her work muses on an ostensibly simple but ultimately rather complex question: why does storytelling matter?
Since her 1993 debut, The Journey of the Book-People, Tokarczuk’s works have explored stories of borderlands; often occurring at the intersections of languages, flowing between literary genres, and taking place botheverywhere and nowhere at once. Early responses to Tokarczuk’s work often focused on its peripheral status vis-a-vis more mainstream tendencies within Polish mid-1990s fiction, until her Primeval and Other Times (1996) – in which a fictitious village evolves into a microcosm of turbulent twentieth-century history and the lives of its eccentric characters intertwine – became her first widely appreciated novel.
Written in Polish, her books have been translated into over 37 languages, each translation offering a subtly new interpretation of the original. Here, meaning is not – as Robert Frost’s oft-quoted line asserts – ‘lost’ in translation. Instead, it is through translation that literature otherwise ‘foreign’ to some audiences comes to matter. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, an alumna of MML at Oxford and now an award-winning translator of Polish literature into English (including Tokarczuk’s novels), sees a rising interest in contemporary literature in translation but also hopes to see more lost or forgotten classics revived: ‘postwar Polish literature is full of neglected gems.’
So what exactly do critics – most of whom read Tokarczuk in languages other than Polish – have in mind when they esteem the writer for her ‘narrative imagination’ and ‘crossing the boundaries as a form of life’? Part of the answer has to do with the writer’s fascination with the possibilities of telling the same story in multiple ways. Her most complex novels are narrated with unusual ease but in purposefully fragmentary threads – told by unreliable or eccentric characters, or emerging in moments of narrative breaks and silences.
In fact, the author’s keenness for decentralised, maze-like, and box-within-a-box plotlines took is rooted in her interest in psychology, which she went on to study at the University of Warsaw. The novelist once told The Guardian that reading Freud in her youth was her first step towards becoming a writer. Exploring his works on psychoanalysis brought her to the realisation that there are countless ways to interpret our experience – that storytelling, akin to the human psyche, is made up of constellatory rather than linear structures. This excerpt from the English translation of her Nobel lecture captures her desire to challenge narrative linearity (this is at 48:08-50:09 of the online recording of the lecture):
I keep wondering if these days it’s possible to find the foundations of a new story that’s universal, comprehensive, all-inclusive, rooted in nature, full of contexts and at the same time understandable.
Could there be a story that would go beyond the uncommunicative prison of one’s own self, revealing a greater range of reality and showing the mutual connections? That would be able to keep its distance from the well-trodden, obvious and unoriginal center point of commonly shared opinions, and manage to look at things ex-centrically, away from the center?
I am pleased that literature has miraculously preserved its right to all sorts of eccentricities, phantasmagoria, provocation, parody and lunacy. I dream of high viewing points and wide perspectives, where the context goes far beyond what we might have expected. […]
I also dream of a new kind of narrator―a “fourth-person” one, who is not merely a grammatical construct of course, but who manages to encompass the perspective of each of the characters, as well as having the capacity to step beyond the horizon of each of them, who sees more and has a wider view, and who is able to ignore time.
In all its contradictions, the concept of ‘a fourth-person narrator’ is both odd and fascinating. It combines as well as transgresses the well-known forms of narration that we first got to know in school: first or third person narrator; omniscient or limited perspective; direct address or the detached observer. Here the dream for ‘a fourth-person’ narrator, imagined as a tender and curious observer, is not only about the actual narrator but about the dream itself. Its potency, rhetoric, and creative power is able to transcend all the boundaries of traditional narrative. And if the project is intentionally left unfinished, why do you think that might be?
Her polyphonic vision of narration is also important if we consider the political situation of contemporary Poland. In this climate, literature has had a long-standing patriotic obligation towards promoting a monolithic idea of the country and its culture, which – as the noted historian Norman Davies, who works on Central Eastern Europe, has remarked – allows ‘myth to flourish’. Many of these myths have left their mark and much of the Anglo-American accounts of Poland became homogeneous in responding to this.
When the popularity of translation increased rapidly in the mid 1960s, commentaries promoted a naive belief that East Central European literature might be characterised by a few political clichés, prizing its universal aesthetics, and offering the reader an interpretation typically full of loose references to turbulent history or the poetry of witness or survival. It would be tempting though ultimately trite to look on the phosphorescent structures of Tokarczuk’s plots as a counter-balance to the daily reality of a country now overshadowed (and gradually damaged) by the politics of the ruling homophobic Law and Justice (PIS) party.
Tokarczuk’s polyphonic narration resounds ever more meaningfully in the growing popularity of autobiographical writing, particularly the type of one-season celebrity-authored work which has little to offer beyond self-promotion. One of Tokarczuk’s concerns about today’s printing market is the dominance of tales that ‘narrowly orbit the self of a teller who more or less directly just writes about herself and through herself’, thus creating an paradoxical and alienating opposition between the ‘I’ and reality. For Tokarczuk, this presents yet another potentially fruitful opportunity for her to cross the boundary.
Still, if reading Tokarczuk is an exercise in boundary-crossing, it is not without a certain paradox, for to cross the boundaries is to admit that they do exist. The author references this contradiction in a scene from her untranslated book Final Stories (2015), where one of the characters tells the story of an undefined borderland moved during the night to some entirely different place, leaving the people ‘on the wrong side’; as the speaker adds with irony: ‘as humans cannot live without borders, we set off to find one’.
Other than readily available online resources, such as the full version of her Nobel acceptance speech, for a first read of Tokarczuk’s somewhat challenging work I would recommended Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of a Dead in the translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. This riveting novel toys with the genre of crime-fiction in its witty but dark quest to solve a mystery troubling the local community. Comparing the narrative to its film adaptation Spoor (2017) directed by Agnieszka Holland might spark a fruitful debate, especially in considering how the atmosphere and humour of the novel is translated into the visual language.
Our colleagues over at the Queen’s College Translation Exchange are once again running their International Book Club this term. The club meets once a term to discuss a novel translated into English from any language. The next event will be held via Zoom on Wednesday 25 November 2020 at 8pm, and the conversation will focus on Gine Cornelia Pedersen’s book, Zero, translated from Norwegian and published by Nordisk Books in 2018. The translator, Rosie Hedger, will also join the discussion.
For more details about how to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity to think about the process of translation, take a look at the International Book Club’s webpage. You’ll also find information there about how to get a special discount from the publisher if you purchase a copy of the book being discussed, and details about the books which have been the subject of previous International Book Club events.
In recent months we’ve been enjoying one of our favourite podcasts, LinguaMania, produced by the Creative Multilingualism programme. We were particularly intrigued by this episode on translation, as it’s a question we get asked lots by students who are thinking about what role languages can play in their future. On the surface of it, translation may seem like just the kind of skill a robot could pick up, but it’s actually a very nuanced process which requires a great deal of empathy and creativity. Let’s let the experts tell us more…
Some people ask why they should bother learning a language when there are online apps and websites which can translate quickly and accurately.
In this episode of LinguaMania, Matthew Reynolds and Eleni Philippou argue that translation is so much more than just changing words from one language into another. Translation is creative, it’s personal, and it can help build communities. We also hear from Adriana X. Jacobs, Professor of Jewish and Hebrew Studies, and Yousif M Qasmiyeh, doctoral student researching the translation of Jane Eyre into Arabic.
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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