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Pamela J.

Hickey, Column Editor

Lingua Anglia:
Bridging Language
and Learners
Bridging Literacies: We decided to introduce their favorite poets and writers, and
translation. about how their languages work.
Poetic Translation as an We know, too, that the ELL
The use of translation in the
Act of Empowerment composition classroom is a com- environment presents many chal-
Kristin Winet plicated issue. Though some lenges to reading and writing
Rollins College scholars have argued that courses teachers, not least of which is for linguistically diverse students encouraging a classroom culture
require a methodology that values that can be accessed and used
Ryan L. Winet
Rollins College students’ “multi-­ competence,” or by all students. Therefore, as we a mind with “two grammars,” the developed our lesson plan, we
prevailing assumption for many recalled that many of our ELL
Two months into our first semes- teachers and instructors is that learners drew upon a rich Chinese
ter teaching developmental read- permitting home languages and literary tradition that is not always
ing at our former institution, integrating translation leads stu- honored in the introductory com-
we noticed a distinct hierarchy dents to develop a language crutch position classroom environment;
emerging between levels of per- (Cook 557). Critics of translation it is quite often entirely ignored
ceived ownership students felt often argue it is a descriptive—­as in lieu of promoting culturally
over the material: the ELL stu- opposed to prescriptive—­ method specific texts written by Western
dents were frequently deferring to that concentrates on rules and writers. Therefore, to honor our
their more proficient partners and vocabulary, rather than natural students’ rich literary traditions
silencing themselves in the pro- acquisition (Huang). We believe and to change the dynamics of
cess. The majority of our students that these criticisms follow a lim- the class in a playful manner, we
were multilingual, speaking Man- iting assumption, especially in decided to begin with these learn-
darin Chinese, Turkish, Korean, light of new research demonstrat- ers and did a little bit of investi-
and German as first languages, ing how the effects of globalization gating into Chinese poetry. Over
though some of our students were have made acts of translation an and over again, the same poem
monolingual English speakers. Up ever-­important theme for writing came up in our searches: Li Bai’s
to this point in the semester, we teachers to discuss in their classes famous and deceptively simple
had been engaged in an English (Leonardi). Instead of keeping quatrain 靜夜思, often trans-
language immersive environment, translation entirely out of the class- lated to English as “Quiet Night
encouraging all students to speak room or embracing it too heavily, Thoughts.” We printed out copies
and write in the target language. we believe there is a third way: that of the poem in the original Chi-
However, we realized that if we translation can be brought into the nese on large sheets of paper:
wanted to promote the idea that classroom not to promote the idea 静夜思
we are all learners of English, we of rules and regulations, but rather 床前明月光
needed to address that explicitly to invite students to dialogue, to 疑是地上霜
in class. We decided to do some- speak with their classmates about 举头望明月
thing radical. their home communities, about 低头思故乡

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Copyright © 2016 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.

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Lingua Anglia: Bridging Language and Learners

We then divided students into describe frost to their classmates homesickness, not nostalgia,
groups. Each group had at least and trying to figure out whether because the speaker did not men-
one Mandarin speaker, a multilin- or not the frost was a metaphor tion a specific event or moment in
gual speaker, and a monolingual or if Bai was actually observing time.
English speaker. We held up the frost on the ground outside his At the end of the lesson, we
poem in its original language and window. The intent, though, reconvened as a class and worked
listened as the Mandarin students was to pause on the language on one translation together. Kris-
began chatting excitedly about and consider its meaning more tin’s class focused on the personal
this famous Chinese poem, one carefully: while some students “I” and the thoughts and actions
they have had memorized, they had translated “frost” as “snowy of the speaker:
told us, since kindergarten. Other ice,” others had decided upon At the foot of my bed, bright
students looked at the poem in “ice chips,” or “frosty floor.” We moonlight
complete disbelief, feeling, they discussed the rhetorical choices It looks like frost on the floor
told us, how their Chinese part- behind each one, emphasizing, Raising my head, I gaze at the
ners must sometimes feel when for instance, the poetic liberty of bright moon
looking at an unfamiliar text. “snowy ice” and the literalness Lowering my head, I think
To begin the lesson, we asked of “ice chips.” fondly of my village
the Chinese students to guide the
The success of these Ryan’s class, on the other hand,
non-­Mandarin speakers through
decided to deemphasize the
an ideogrammatic translation translations is secondary to
speaker and instead focus on the
of each character, using both the success of the lesson ephemeral setting and the ques-
groups’ strengths to help “talk in creating an inclusive, tioning of the frost on the ground:
through” what each character
accessible environment.
means. The idea was to invoke In front of the bed, there’s
Robert Weschler’s claim that a At this point, we asked stu- bright moonlight
blend of grammar-­translation and dents to take their translations and Could it be frost on the ground
active communication can create compose them into poems that instead?
Lifting the head, gazing at the
“a new, more powerful hybrid . . . made poetic sense to an English
bright moon outside
in which the focus is more on speaker. As they worked together, Bending down, feeling homesick
the negotiated meaning of the more questions emerged, such as
message than its sterile form.” whether the connotations of the As we reflect on the students’
Though each group came up with last character—­ “nostalgia” or work, we realize that the success
slightly different translations, a “homesickness”—­ could be used of these translations is second-
common ideogrammatic transla- in English interchangeably. While ary to the success of the lesson
tion was the following: the monolingual English speakers in creating an inclusive, acces-
argued that the words had rela- sible environment. Our Chinese
[bed] [front] [bright] [moon]
tively the same connotation, the students were speaking up and
Mandarin speakers countered that grappling with new vocabular-
[suspect] [is] [ground] [on]
nostalgia is more closely related ies, and our other students were
to “late nights” and that home- learning about the reading process
[raise] [head] [look] [bright]
sickness can occur at any time. from another’s perspective, using
[lower] [head] [think of] [old]
One Chinese student mentioned their own linguistic competen-
[home village] that she envisioned nostalgia as cies to help finesse the words into
being an American emotion, one artful sentences. Several groups
We compared translations and that relies on a cultural fascination had naturally digressed into dis-
quickly realized students were with youth and the past, rather cussions of previous educational
pausing on characters like than an acceptance of the present experiences and anecdotes, creat-
“frost” and “home village,” moment. Others argued that pin- ing a culture of camaraderie and
grappling with how to properly ing for a “home village” invokes discovery regarding language

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Bridging Literacies: Poetic Translation as an Act of Empowerment

and culture that had not existed We believe that we have effec- of diverse home languages and
before. The energy infused the tively responded to Vanessa Leon- cultures. 
rest of the semester: A Hawaiian ardi’s call for a reevaluation of
Works Cited
student stayed after class one day translation as effective practice
to show Kristin and a small group in an increasingly globalized and Cook, Vivian. “Evidence for Multi-­
Competence.” Language Learning
of students how to write common multilingual world. As writing 42.4 (1992): 557–­91. Print.
greetings and how to pronounce teachers, we are always seeking Huang, Harry J. “The Role of Transla-
the vowel-­dominant words in her ways to engage, connect with, and tion from First to Second Language
in a Course of Writing in a Sec-
native Hawaiian. In Ryan’s class, honor our students. Though we ond Language.” Letras de Hoje 26.4
students saw how excited the recognize that using translation (1991): 105–­26. Web.
Mandarin speakers were about remains a hotly debated topic in Leonardi, Vanessa. The Role of Pedagog-
ical Translation in Second Language
receiving a poem in their own immersion settings, we are now Acquisition: From Theory to Practice.
language. It inspired other stu- convinced that reconceptualizing New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Web.
dents to bring in, share, and trans- this space will help instructors Weschler, Robert. “Uses of Japanese
late poems written in languages reach students in more compel- (L1) in the English Classroom: Intro-
ducing the Functional-­ Translation
such as Indonesian, Korean, and ling, meaningful ways, ensuring Method.” The Internet TESL Journal
German. the respect and appreciation 3.11 (1997). Web.

Kristin Winet is the director of the First-Year Writing Program at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. She has been a mem-
ber of NCTE since 2014. Ryan L. Winet is a PhD candidate in literature at the University of Arizona and a lecturer at Rollins

English 101
She wanted to be an actress, Mrs. Accardo, my first college English teacher with the short brown hair that
curled like a poodle’s soft fur. She didn’t believe in makeup. She asked if anyone was a feminist and I was
hooked. I couldn’t get enough of her lectures and the way she flailed her hands about like a sparrow in a
birdbath, soft, unassuming, as if one heavy hand could snap her in two. We wrote in her class, really wrote,
filling three journal pages every day. It didn’t matter what they said, just as long as those pages were
bursting with long, scribbled cursive thoughts that flowed from our minds like spilled coffee, dark, rich,
and sweet. Steamy hot, delectable words stung our insides and woke us up. They made our eyes red and our
hearts race. She stirred our minds with a swizzle stick, poking and prodding until the truth poured out. All
that remained were the used up grounds at the bottom of the cup, bitter and gritty reality.
—Jennifer Novotney
© 2016 by Jennifer Novotney

Jennifer Novotney ( earned an MA in English from Northern Arizona University. In 2014, she was a
Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner for her novel, Winter in the Soul. She taught at Pennsylvania State University
before settling at MMI Preparatory School. She can be reached through her website, Jennifer has
been a member of NCTE since 2012.

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