Fuelled by the conviction that translation is the perfect means of engaging learners of all ages in languages and literature, I founded the Queen’s College Translation Exchange in autumn 2018. Throughout my career I’ve sought ways of making literature and language a shared experience – of recreating the buzz of the tutorial and seminar in other settings. Translation has proven the ideal vehicle for this, as translation workshops enable participants to read and write both collectively and individually. Good translation is the ultimate close reading, and workshops the best way of making literature interactive. These convictions, coupled with sincere concern about the decreasing uptake of languages at GCSE and A Level in the UK, led me to establish the Translation Exchange (QTE) in 2018 with literary translator Jenny Higgins, and with seed funding from The Queen’s College and the European Commission Representation in the UK.
QTE is an outreach and research centre that seeks to raise the profile of translation and international literary culture through events for the public and for schools. We have developed a broad programme of translation-related activities for students, schools, and the public, which will grow in years to come.
Putting translation centre stage
Only 5% of books published in the UK are in translation, and our termly International Book Club spotlights some of the excellent writing from overseas that does make it into English. Our meetings last year, attended by students and members of the public, have provided rich opportunities to reflect on works by Mauritian, Chilean and Austrian writers. In each case we conducted a Q&A with the book’s translator in advance of the session, so that their answers could feed into the group’s discussion. Our next meeting takes this one step further, as we have chosen a book whose translator is a member of the University. Marilyn Booth, Fellow in Oriental Studies at Magdalen, translated Celestial Bodies by Johka Alharthi, for which she and the author won the International Man Booker Prize 2019. We’re delighted that our book club members will be able to hear from Marilyn herself at the meeting.
This will be the second time that the prestigious International Man Booker (IMB) has featured in our programming, since our Trinity 2019 translation workshop was with Chilean author Alia Trabucco Zéran and translator Sophie Hughes, both shortlisted for the IMB. We run workshops of this kind at least once a term, aiming to give an insight into the working practices of literary translators, and to give participants first-hand experience of literary translation.
Workshops and masterclasses are also at the core of our annual residencies. This November we hosted Canadian poet-translator Erín Moure, who ran a discussion group with graduate students, a masterclass for undergraduate students of Advanced Translation, and a ‘multilingual poetry translation workshop’ open to all. The residency culminated in a visit from Galician poet Chus Pato, who joined Moure for a shared reading and discussion about their collaboration. We’re delighted that in 2020 we’ll be partnering with Pushkin House for a Russian residency, with poet Galina Rymbu and translator Helena Kernan spending part of Hilary Term at Queen’s, St Edmund Hall and University College.
For each of these events, we encourage local MFL teachers to spread the word amongst their pupils, ensuring that those young language-learners feel as welcome at the talks and workshops as our own students do.
‘Events like this workshop help our pupils to start looking beyond school and get a taste for what might come next. The work you do to reach out to our pupils is really valuable, especially for those whose parents did not go to university themselves: Oxford can seem so out of reach, and our most talented linguists have been pleasantly surprised to find activities such as the translation workshop accessible enough to be enjoyable.’ – Vivienne Arnold, Curriculum Co-ordinator for Modern Languages, Wallingford School
Taking creative translation into schools
That engagement with schools is key to all we do at the Exchange, and is most prominent in our Creative Translation Ambassadors programme. We have developed a training course that gives university students the skills and resources to deliver translation workshops in primary and secondary schools, with the aim of raising aspiration amongst young language-learners and widening participation at university. Trained by translator Gitanjali Patel and by translator and former teacher Rahul Bery (most recently Translator in Residence at the British Library), the students design and deliver their own schools workshops, last year on texts ranging from a Mexican picture book to a contemporary German novel. The idea here is to develop creative content for students’ visits to schools, so that both students and pupils become active participants in inspiring workshops. The impact is therefore twofold: it gives pupils the opportunity to interact with foreign languages in a new, exciting and creative way; and it brings them into inspiring, informal contact with students who are currently immersed in the pleasure of studying languages, of travelling and perhaps of living abroad. Our first cohort of ambassadors delivered a series of fantastic workshops in Oxford schools in June 2019, and we have just begun to train a new group for this academic year. The energy in the room on our (Saturday!) training days has been testament to the power of translation to enthuse and excite, and we’re looking forward to watching as that enthusiasm is transmitted to pupils in classrooms across Oxford.
We have been delighted by the enthusiastic response to the Translation Exchange’s beginnings, from students, teachers, alumni and the wider public, and look forward to developing it yet further in the years to come. You can find out more about our activities on our website (www.queens.ox.ac.uk/translation-exchange) or on Twitter and Facebook (@TranslationExch).