Translated Picturebooks

This week Tatia shares her experiences of using translated picturebooks in primary teacher education. Whereas Sandie & Gail, have shared specific title suggestions for PELT, Tatia focuses on the benefits for student teachers of including original and translated editions in primary English teacher education:

Many years ago, I was chatting with a Dutch primary teacher and I noticed many picturebooks in her classroom. I pointed to a book called ‘De krijtjes staken [The crayons strike]’ by Oliver Jeffers. The teacher explained how much she and her class loved this picturebook. I agreed and mentioned that the title in the original English language edition was “ The Day the Crayons Quit’. There was total disbelief as she had never considered that this book was a translation. After similar occurrences, I realised that primary teachers often assume that the copy they are working with simply is the original. Often, teachers do not wonder, or do not have time to wonder, about the author’s background. Generally, attention is paid to the story, the flow, the illustrations, and possible related learning activities.

So, one day, I arrived in class with copies of picturebooks in the original English language editions and the translated Dutch editions. Student teachers and I worked with the English language front cover, the title and considered possible translations into Dutch. We discussed the translated titles and considered implications for the reader and listener. For example, the title ‘Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth’ by Eric Carle is translated into Dutch as ‘De Luiaard die niet lui was [The sloth who was not lazy]’. The translator into Dutch favoured a play of words ‘luiaard’ is the sloth and ‘lui’ is lazy. Soon, student teachers realised that the translator had given the story away. Likewise, ‘Imaginary Fred’ by Eoin Colfer & Oliver Jeffers has been translated to ‘ Een Vriendje voor Altijd [A Friend Forever]’. Student teachers were most critical of this translation as it did not support the illustration (transparent looking friend) and missed the subtle connection between ‘Fred’ and ’Friend’. A final example was ‘The Truth About Old People’ by Elina Ellis translated to ‘Opa’s en Oma’s … [Grandpas and Grandmas…]’ which also received some criticism as every old person might not be a grandparent. Student teachers pointed out how the text in English contradicted the illustration but less so in Dutch. For example, a page with old people playing instruments reads in English ‘They say that old people are quiet’ and in Dutch ‘I also heard that grandpas and grandmas don’t make noise’. Student teachers felt the choice of ‘noise’ did not contradict the illustrations.

Working with copies of picturebooks in both the original English language edition and the student teachers’ language, has resulted in many hours of enriching discussions filled with speculation. It gives student teachers the opportunity to develop language confidence, language sensitivity, and visual literacy skills which they can then use to stimulate children in the classroom when working with the English language edition for primary English language teaching purposes. It also sparked their interest as they often asked me to bring in my own collection of Dutch picturebooks and their English translations such as award-winning picturebooks Tangramkat (Tangram Cat) by Rinck & van der Linden (translated into 9 languages including English ) and Vrolijk (Happy) by Mies van Hout translated into 16 languages (including English).

Thanks Tatia.

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