Realizing the importance of language

Senior high school isn’t usually the place for creative activities, according to students in the final year at the 1st General Senior High School of Markopoulo. In the normal course of the school week, they never have a chance to set their imaginations free and forget the pressure to earn good grades. But a translation workshop changed that. «We realized the importance of language, of even one word,» as one pupil explained. «We looked at a text from a different viewpoint in the workshop.» The project began when the pupils met with professional translators at the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI). When their Greek teacher Athina Peppa suggested they try their hand at translating some poems, they liked the idea and the workshop came into being. «Meeting the translators [Efi Giannopoulou and Margarita Zachariadou] made a big impression on us. They spoke so tenderly about the books they’d translated. We felt like that, too,» said another pupil. «When we finish translating a poem and read it to the others, it fills us with a sense of joy. It’s as if the poem belongs to us; it shows our effort. It’s gives us moral satisfaction.» Children of migrants Thirty pupils from different disciplines attend the workshop. They choose texts attuned to their personality and interests. «Some children are more cerebral, others have an artistic streak,» said Peppa. We’ve had poems by [Walt] Whitman, [Pablo] Neruda and [Lord] Byron as well as essays and songs. Andreas is translating lyrics by Pink Floyd and Jim Morrison, while Eleni is working on an extract from Euripides’ ‘Medea.’» «I’d heard about ‘Medea’ at school for years but I’d never actually held the book in my hands,» said Eleni. «The teacher gave it to me and I was so happy. I leafed through it; I read it. At last, I had an opportunity to find out about ‘Medea’ in depth.» The idea came up of bringing pupils whose parents are migrants into the workshop. Erion from Albania, a high-flying pupil with a talent for Ancient Greek, is translating Ismail Kadare. Yuri from the Ukraine is thrilled to be translating the poet Taras Shevchenko. «We realized that translation connects cultures and highlights shared characteristics, such as the love of language and homeland,» he said. Translation has to be squeezed into a crowded school schedule. The pupils steal 20 minutes from their religion class and 10 from their break. They usually work in groups, which always include one child who doesn’t know the text and can be an objective judge. They start by translating word for word. That disrupts the harmony of the verse, so they go over it again and again with their teachers till they can deliver it in Greek effectively. The pupils admitted they had never before read foreign literature in the original. In regular English classes they use a dry textbook, learn tenses and do loads of exercises. But translation gets them involved, they told Kathimerini. They discuss translation issues of the sort that confront experienced translators, and they agonize over how best to render words. They cited solutions they had found for phrases in Anne Frank’s diary and a poem by Byron. Two pupils who chose not to do translations will illustrate the poems, while others will accompany readings on guitar and flute. Routine School routine can be deadening. The pupils spoke of endless hours of study, pointless rote learning and pressure. They lamented the lack of free time, of opportunities to do something at which they could excel and that would help them discover what they want to do. It wasn’t only the pupils who benefited from the translation workshop. The three teachers who took part in the group acknowledged that their pupils often knew foreign languages better than they did. They relished the experience of learning. «Roles change,» said one, «and school becomes lively, which is what it should be.»