Monday, July 22, 2013

Young Interpreters in Jordan

ICS Students' Calendar
The latest issue of the Young Interpreters Newsletter has arrived from the Hampshire Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service (EMTAS). Besides the usual enthusiastic news of the movement's progress in many schools in multilingual Britain, there's an item that stands apart. It's the one about the International Community School (ICS) in Amman, Jordan. News about Jordan always interests me particularly, because I taught there for a while and I'm eternally grateful to the late Muhammad Hasan Ibrahim, able and warm-hearted head of the translation programme at the University of Jordan, for inviting me.

Jordan is a very enjoyable country for two principal reasons:
  • The friendliness of native Jordanians, who take great pride in their hospitality. I cherish memories of my colleagues, some of them Expert Translators, like Henry Jibran Matar, a displaced headmaster from a secondary school in Bethlehem who had become a translator for the Royal Jordanian Scientific Society; and of my students, all Native Translators and most of them teachers or travel agents (it was a graduate programme).
  • Its richness in archeological and historical sites, the star of them being Petra, "A rose-red city half as old as time." Go and see it before it's completely buried again – under tourists. When I visited it in the 80s there were still Bedouin living among the ruins and only two hotels for visitors. Today the Bedouin have been relocated and there are more than 40 hotels.
Now to get to the point...

Amman is a great city for expatriates and their families. While expatriate can mean any person living outside their native country, a restricted meaning is 'a person living and working more or less temporarily in a foreign country.' Such people, along with their children, are an important source of bilinguals. Many of them survive inside a bubble of their own nationality, but many others learn the local languages assiduously for work or for socialising. When there are enough of them concentrated in a city, they usually open schools for their children so that the latter can be educated in an amalgam of the education systems in their own countries and those of the host countries, including of course the languages. There are several such schools in Amman and ICS is one of them. It was founded in the 50s for children of British military personnel stationed there, but it’s changed with the times. Today it’s a cosmopolitan melting pot providing British style education from Nursery to Year 13. It has 600 pupils who represent almost 50 different nationalities and speak over 15 languages.

It usually happens with such schools that they also attract the local elite to send their children there. (The schools tend to be expensive.) This is partly because of the quality of the education and partly for the snob value of association with equally elite foreigners. But whatever the motivation, the children's cultures rub off on one another and they pick up at least a smattering of each other's languages. In the case of ICS, though, languages are taken seriously: "A choice of Additional English, Arabic or French is introduced as part of the curriculum from Year 1 onwards."

What better place to start motivating and training interpreters while they are still young? So ICS has joined up as an Arab world outpost of the Young Interpreter movement inspired and organised by EMTAS in culturally far away England. (For earlier posts about the movement, enter young interpreters in the Search box on the right.) This year's report says,
"We successfully trained 9 interpreters. These pupils have embraced the scheme wholeheartedly and have been extremely helpful in our ventures. They have helped host EAL parent coffee mornings, translated for teachers and pupils, been involved in a leaflet for our infant transition, helped at our new parents evening and are truly responsible young people of whom we are very proud. Sadly our year 6 pupils are moving on and we have therefore trained up next year’s group, with our current interpreters helping at the training sessions."
As their coordinator comments, "Developing the Young Interpreter Scheme is a great way to celebrate our children's diversity and the variety of languages they speak, as well as to strengthen our school's inclusive nature." Once again we see how translating isn't only a product of education; it aids education.
  • International Comunity School, Amman. Wikipedia, click here.
  • Astrid Gouwy and Liz Perry (eds.). Young Interpreter Newsletter 10. Basingstoke, UK: Hampshire Ethnic Minority and Traveller Achievement Service (EMTAS), July 2013. For information and regular updates:
  • The line "Rose-red city..." comes from John Burgon's poem Petra, 1845. Although Petra had been rediscovered for Westerners by Burckhardt in 1821, Burgon never actually saw it.
Petra. Source: ICS


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