Saturday, April 9, 2011

High School Translators

From the American Midwest comes an encouraging story of 'real world' translating done by Native Translator high school students. The school is Hudson High School at Hudson, Ohio (see photo). It dates from 1885. It teaches grades 9 to 12 and it teaches Spanish.

A group of the fourth-year Spanish students are applying what they have learned in order to help a good cause. They translate letters sent from foster children in Zaragoza, El Salvador.
In the spring and fall, the COAR Peace Mission in Wickliffe, Ohio, receives about 700 letters from foster care children at the COAR Children's Village in El Salvador, according to Mary Stevenson, executive director of the Mission. "The letters are written in Spanish and must be translated before we can send them on to the sponsors," Stevenson explained. "Sponsors are located throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland and England."

Stevenson has translators from about 12 schools in Ohio. Hudson is just one of them.
"Hudson students regularly complete 100 letters, fast and accurately," Stevenson said. "That is not easy when you consider many of our foster children are very young and make spelling and grammar mistakes."

"The children of COAR write about games, school activities and holidays, which forces the HHS students to dig deep for cultural information and vocabulary," she said. "I also know that if we get caught short, if 50 or 100 letters come to us late in the season, it is Hudson we go to first to help us out of the jam. They always come through. If it weren't for the high school translators, I'm not sure we could run this program so well."

Students find the work both educational and fun, according to David Nelson, a Hudson junior. "It is a fun activity for our Spanish 4 class but it also makes you feel good knowing that you are helping people," David said. "I also enjoy translating the letters because it gives me a real life scenario where I get to use the Spanish I have learned over the past four years."

Translating the letters in class is sometimes difficult, but always rewarding, according to junior Sara Crane. Helping also leaves the students with a good feeling, knowing the children "sincerely appreciate our help," said junior Megan Bisbee. "Our help makes it possible for the sponsors to communicate with the children they support," she said.

According to Dr Rebecca Wiehe, another HHS Spanish teacher, "They really love it. Through the project, the students get to read real Spanish instead of 'textbook Spanish'."

"Students also learn that translation is not just looking up words, it is about meaning," said Martha Pero, HHS Spanish teacher and world language department head. "They spend time making the sentences sound correct in English instead of giving the literal meaning,"
This last remark confirms that a minimal amount of translation instruction is given and that these are Native Translators, though I would dispute that Natural Translators translate word for word and not for meaning.
"The students also learn about the culture of the children, many of whom are without parents or family," Pero added. "The grades and grade levels are much different than ours. They learn that the Catholic influence is prevalent in their writing. There are many references to God."
There are a number of admirable things about this project. The teachers at HHS are to be congratulated for having confidence in their students' translating ability and for hitting on texts that match it both as regards their level of Spanish and their knowledge of the world. The students benefit by extending their knowledge in both respects. Furthermore, they enjoy translating because working for the NGO not only helps a good cause, it provides that essential ingredient of language learning: motivation.

References
Tim Troglen. Gained in translation: students translate letters from El Salvador. Hudsonhubtimes.com, April 3, 2011. http://www.hudsonhubtimes.com/news/article/5009182.

Hudson High School (Hudson, Ohio). Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_High_School_(Hudson,_Ohio).

COAR Peace Mission. http://coarpeacemission.org.

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