Place: Abu Dhabi

Inter-Lingual Translation as Pedagogy: Arabic Text Simplification

My ultimate objective is to bring different manifestations of Arab culture closer to learners, to keep them interested in the language.

This interview marks the beginning of an ongoing conversation led by Asymptote’s new educational branch about the role of translation in the classroom. In addition to its Educator’s Guide released every quarter, Asymptote for Educators will soon host its own blog where readers and educators can find more classroom resources, lesson plans, contextualizing materials, and articles discussing the benefits and challenges of integrating global literature in diverse classrooms. Stay tuned! And if you’d like to participate in this new project, or tell us about your experience teaching literature in translation, do get in touch!

Claire Pershan (Asymptote for Educators) met Laila Familiar at NYU Abu Dhabi, where Laila was Claire’s Arabic language instructor. Among her many projects and accomplishments, this interview focuses on Laila’s innovative work as editor of abridged contemporary Arabic novels for Arabic language learners: Hoda Barakat’s Sayyidi wa Habibi: The Authorized Abridged Edition for Students of Arabic (Georgetown University Press – 2013). Sayyidi wa Habibi [My Master and My Love], by celebrated Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat takes place during the Lebanese Civil War, tells the story of Wadie and his wife Samia and their flight to Cyprus. Laila’s adaptation provides introductory materials and exercises that develop linguistic and cultural competencies. (Free audio files of the author reading from her work as well as a recorded interview are available on the press website.) Additionally, she is project manager of Khallina, an open source website dedicated to the teaching and learning of Arab cultures through audiovisuals. The topics of Khallina’s cultural modules range from calligraphy to the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila. Check it out!

The interview below is from their email correspondence.

Claire Pershan (CP): What do you call this practice of adapting novels into language learning resources? Do you consider it a form of translation or editing?

Laila Familiar (LF): The practice of adapting novels into language learning resources dates back to the 1930s. There is evidence in the scientific literature that this was done to help learners of French advance their language skills. Some call these works “adapted” texts, but they are also named “abridged” or “simplified” versions. There are differences in the meaning and connotations of each term, but I would not call it “translation” because the new version is in the same language as the original and the plot is usually the same. When a series of texts is adapted within the various proficiency levels of language learners, we call these Graded Readers. It is definitely a kind of editing.

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A Dispatch from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

"Languages are not islands. Relationships between languages are necessary for one another’s growth."

Although it may not yet have the statistics or the industry renown of the Frankfurt or London book fairs, each year the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair attracts writers, readers, and book folk from across the world, from wherever Arabic is spoken, and then some. The event was held this year for the 26th time—not bad for a country that’s only 44 years old—and boasted a record number of exhibitors (1,260), as well as 500 cultural initiatives, 600 authors, 20 artists, and a handful of 3 star Michelin chefs. This year booksellers from 63 countries set up their stalls in the ADNEC convention center, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is itself emerging as an important location for conversation and cultural exchange. For Lebanese publishers and Sudanese translators, for Indian illustrators and Nigerian publicists, the Abu Dhabi Book Fair provides a place to meet in the middle.

I spent the better part of a week wandering through the massive convention hall, who’s striking resemblance to an airport reminded me just how much, and how rapidly, this city is redirecting flight paths and avenues of discussion and innovation. I was able to navigate by flipping between my four overlapping program guides, and weaving through the rows and rows of Arabic books—contemporary, mass market, antique, translated, children’s, cooking, coloring. Fortunately, the hall was never too crowded; the only occasional traffic came from groups of children wheeling suitcase-shaped book carts, courtesy of the event, that rivaled them in size.  READ MORE…

Untranslating Children’s Nonsense Poems

"The Bengali literary mafia would say: 'This is untranslatable.'"

When Indian author Sampurna Chatterji was growing up, she lived between several languages. Her father taught English, while her mother taught Bengali. In Chatterji’s own schooling, the instructional language was English, but she also learned Hindi and Sanskrit.

“All this creates a sort of strange cacophony in the head,” Chatterji said at a professional seminar at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, held from April 30 to May 5.

But this “cacophony” also creates wonderful opportunities for linguistic connections. As she developed as a writer, Chatterji decided not to write in Bengali. “The burden of being Bengali was too much for me,” she said. Her teenage rebellion was not to go off and smoke, but to write in English. READ MORE…