The Anthea Bell Prize for Young Translators

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The Translation Exchange at the Queen’s College, Oxford, launched a brand-new competition for schools in September 2020. The competition is inspired by the work of the translator Anthea Bell OBE (1936–2018), one of the finest and most influential literary translators of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The competition takes place in March 2021, but we wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a one-off event, but something that could be integrated into the year’s teaching. To that end, we’re developing three sets of resources for MFL teachers to use in the build-up, focusing on translating poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction. The competition and resources are targeted at four levels in four languages (French, German, Mandarin, and Spanish).

Here I reflect on the first set of resources that we produced on translating poetry, what we aim to achieve with the resource packs, and the wider goals of the competition.

Promoting creativity in the classroom

We founded this competition to promote language learning across the UK and to inspire creativity in the classroom. By providing teachers with tools to bring translation to life, and to introduce more authentic texts into the classroom, we hope to motivate more pupils to study modern foreign languages to GCSE, A Level and beyond.

The poetry resources for secondary-school beginners aim to equip students with the confidence to approach a poem in which they may not know all, or any, of the vocabulary. Students are introduced to konkrete poesie, Guillaume Apollinaire’s calligrammes, Chinese idioms, and a Spanish poem about a rooster in which onomatopoeia conveys meaning.Students are encouraged to use visual and aural clues to interpret the poems and produce their own creative translations by producing images or recreating sounds.

Making poetry accessible

The resources on translating poetry for the second of the four levels, which broadly corresponds to the final year of Key Stage 3, encourage students to reflect on how they encounter poetry in their daily lives in unexpected places: in the football stadium, on public transport, on graffitied or decorated walls of city streets, on social media.

These resources aim to make poetry accessible while bringing other cultures to life. Students explore new vocabulary and sounds by identifying rhymes in a football chant or in a poem about the city, and in doing so we highlight familiar experiences while also celebrating difference.

Complementing the curriculum

The resources for GCSE learners ask why poetry is used in advertising. Students are presented with the context in which poems by, for instance, Goethe and Éluard were originally written and received, before comparing how these poems have been repurposed by a public transport company and a TV channel.

Presenting the poems in context in this way echoes how poetry is approached on the English Literature GCSE course, and there is also the potential to make cross-curricular links to Media Studies GCSE. This is a chance to celebrate the interdisciplinarity of languages: linguists are required to be attentive to the close detail of a text while also demonstrating an awareness of the context in which texts are produced and received.

The teaching resources for Key Stage 5, which include a Mapuche protest song and French slam poetry, could be used to complement the music topic at A-Level, while the content of the resources is relevant to topics of diversity and protest. We hope that students will be inspired to read further around these topics for their Independent Research Projects.

Black History Month

The first set of resources were designed to mark European Day of Languages and International Translation Day (26 and 30 September) but we have also heard that for some schools they are complementing what they have been doing to mark Black History Month this October.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer we felt it important to include poems which respond to this moment and to highlight writers such as the Afro-German poet and activist May Ayim, after whom a Berlin street – formerly named after a German colonialist – was renamed in 2011.

Languages for all

Our aim for the competition is that more than half of the participants are from state-funded schools, and our regional structure will ensure that schools from the whole of the UK are represented. We hope that this competition can inspire students from all backgrounds and all corners of the United Kingdom to continue with languages.

The competition task to be run in March will give students the opportunity to test out their creativity as translators but it is equally important to us that the series of resources which accompany the competition task are used to introduce thousands of students to new cultural content with which they can have fun.

Register for the competition

If you are interested in receiving the first set of resources on translating poetry, there is still time to register your interest. Once you have run the first lesson you will have the opportunity to confirm interest in receiving further resources and the competition task.

The Anthea Bell Prize for Young Translators has been established in partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust. It is generously supported by The Queen’s College and St Hugh’s College, Oxford, the Independent Schools’ Modern Languages Association, the Institut français, the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK, the Instituto Cervantes in London, the Swire Chinese Language Foundation, the Austrian Cultural Forum London and the Association for Language Learning. 

This competition is inspired by the ‘Juvenes Translatores’ competition run by the European Commission, for which UK students are no longer eligible. We are grateful for the advice and support of our colleagues at the former European Commission Representation in the UK, which closed in December 2019. 

Holly Langstaff is Coordinator of the Anthea Bell Prize for Young Translators at Queen’s College Oxford.

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