Thursday, February 25, 2010

Japanese Translation for Language Proficiency

Earlier this year, Barbara Schramm engaged in an interesting educational experiment, using translations of William Stafford poems into Japanese as a means of enhancing the students' comprehension and vocabulary skills in English. She writes:

This is my tenth year facilitating an intensive three-day January Seminar with the Academy of International Education at St. Martin’s University. Established in California in 1981, the Academy of International Education (AIE) has been running its study-abroad program in Washington over the past twenty years, partnering with Saint Martin's University and other local universities and colleges. AIE founder, Dr. Toshio Ogoshi, bases his educational philosophy on building individual character while exposing students to American life and language. AIE offers various programs with the goal of building internationally minded Japanese.

Students are enrolled in ESL and the liberal arts curriculum simultaneously and have varying degrees of English language proficiency.

This January, Paul Merchant, Director of the William Stafford Archives, asked me to choose four of my favorite poems, poems I thought meaningful for the students, for translating from English into Japanese. I sent “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid”, “A Ritual To Read To Each Other”, “A Valley Like This”, and “Ask Me”, to the students in late October to “live with” the poems so to speak, knowing they wouldn’t have much time to study the poems given their academic schedules. On the first day of the seminar it became clear that most of the thirty-one students were considering the poetry for the first time.

Since I don’t speak Japanese, there is a senior student who translates my speaking into Japanese. The students ask me questions in English. This works well, better than one might expect. The student translators are fluent in English and, of course in Japanese. Through the years I’ve encouraged students to speak to each other across the room to help clarify each other’s thoughts and to help with translating my remarks. This works well. The class is theirs and is open and lively.

For this project we divided the class into six groups, five/six students in each group, making certain that third and fourth year students were in each of the groups. This year’s students were Kenta Toyomura, Hirotsugu Kojima, Kohei Shimada, Makoto Yuasa, Maki Korai, Yusuke Takami, Tetsuro Ohira, So Sato, Hirotsugu Kawai, Ryoko Wada, Kimiko Hakomori, Hiroko Momose, Takahiro Kato, Shingo Kojima, Kodai Kojima, Atsuhito Sekiya, Takumi Iizuka, Kokoro Iwano, Yoshiko Watanabe, Kaoru Fujita, Koshiro Ueda, Maki Endo, Ayumi Mikuriya, Hirofumi Kuroda, Yuki Otsuki, Tetsuya Yonetsu, Takashi Fujii, Yosuke Oi, Yuki Kato, Yasuyuki Shimada, Takuya Hashimoto, Mayumi Iwata, Ryota Mizutani, Eriko Nekomoto.

We began with “For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid,” one of the most difficult of the four poems. AIE students read the poem aloud first in Japanese and then in English, twice, using the poem as a meditation. (I’ve previously worked with the students practicing meditation so they understand the process and purpose). The other three poems were “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” “A Valley Like This,” and “Ask Me.”

The readings of each poem were followed by class discussion then writing in student journals, responding to questions such as: Write about the title, what does it seem to prefigure? How does it work to assist the ideas of this poem? Choose one line from the poem and respond to it: What are your associations with it? What does it remind you of? What question does it ask or answer? Why did you choose this line? Which one word is at the heart or core of this poem? If you had to choose one word to represent the entire poem, which would it be? Explain your choices.

It was a great joy to watch the lively activity in each group—laughing, serious conversation, questions for me, much work with hand-held computer dictionaries. There was a lot of language learning going on. At the William Stafford birthday celebration, one of the new students said the translating helped him realize how limited his own Japanese vocabulary is. We worked five and one-half hours for three full days and the students worked with their Winter 2010 Interim Director, Chie Yuhara, during the evenings, coming up with a final translation of the poems selected for the Friends of William Stafford website.

On the third day we concluded with an art project, an All Hands Poem. We divided into four groups---the students chose the poem they most wanted to work with. Students selected a line or two from their journal writing, wrote those lines on strips of watercolor paper that they’d washed, then glued the strips on tag board, also washed and shaped by their creative imagination. Their new poem was given a title with reference to the original WS poem and then signed at the bottom by each of the students. These were beautiful creations. I wish you could see them.

On Saturday, January 16, we held a William Stafford birthday celebration in Heron Hall on the St. Martin’s campus where we again read all the poems, eight students reading in English and Japanese. We discussed the translation process and students described the “All Hands Poems” that hung on the wall. One of the AIE students said he realized that his Japanese vocabulary was limited and wants to work to correct that. The students’ ESL instructor was one of the guests. He said he was amazed at the language learning that took place and asked to be invited next year to see their seminar work.

One of the St. Martin's monks attending our William Stafford birthday celebration told me that Stafford had spent time on campus through the years, attending the Washington State Poetry Association, or some such organization. How appropriate that we should have this opportunity to translate his poems into Japanese on the campus where, according to Father Benedict, he walked in the woods.

My heartfelt thanks to Paul Merchant for suggesting this excellent language-learning project, introducing William Stafford’s philosophy for student discussion. Thanks also to writer, poet and FWS Board member, Ann Staley, for sharing her process for the All Hands Poem project. Finally, I'd like to thank Takuya Otani, AIE Director, for his good-natured support throughout this project.

Barbara Schramm

The three most successful group translations (of “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” “A Valley Like This,” and “Ask Me”) are printed here.

William Stafford has been translated into Japanese in the past by two other translators. Yorifumi Yaguchi, a friend of William Stafford’s who collaborated with him on translations of Japanese poems into English, and also engaged with him in a handful of renga-type alternating poems, has published a number of translations of Stafford poems into Japanese. And Portland poet Ritz Kyoko Mori gathered a collection of her translations of William Stafford in the second William Stafford Chapbook series at Lewis & Clark College.

Collaborative translations into Japanese by AIE students, AIE Winter Seminar 2010

A Ritual To Read To Each Other 互いに読み合う儀式






A Valley Like This  このような谷





Ask Me たずねなさい




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