Found in translation

5th March 2004 at 00:00
The Talking Machine. I know someone who is a talking machine, She's a chatterbox.

In Spanish we would call her parrot.

Sometimes I think she has batteries Otherwise she would slooooooww down from time to time And even stop.

I have heard her talking in her dreams!

Does she have a button to switch her On and off?

Gloria (aged 11)

Many teachers of this age range would probably be quite happy to receive a piece of work such as this from their pupils. But this poem was written by a young Spanish writer from Hastings School in Madrid. She shows an ability to play with language and make poetry fun and has an appreciation of line movement. She even makes us aware that she has more than one language.

The poem grew out of work that took place at a number of Spanish schools I had been invited to by Hastings headteacher Jim Shallcross last November.

My aim was to help develop poetry writing among eight to 11-year-olds, most of whom had English as a second language.

So how do you inspire children to write poetry in English when it is not their first language? To start with, it helps if you speak a little slower and perhaps use ideas that you would normally use with slightly younger pupils who speak English as their mother tongue.

Pupils in Years 3 and 4 may have translation problems. Moving up the age range, however, such problems will become less evident as older children start thinking in English rather than thinking in their first language and then translating into English. The important point is to see their first language as a source of creative ideas and new experiences. Second-language pupils can see things from a different point of view, surprise us with their choice of vocabulary and express ideas in different ways. Their vocabulary may be a little more limited in English but they can learn to use it well.

With children who may be making their first attempts at poetry in a second language, begin with a poem structure. For example, I am sad whenI and If I were a shapeI'd beI With this framework in place, they do not have to worry how the poem should be set out. The structure helps them get started or think of a punchy ending, which is what they often find hardest. Once words are on the page, they can start changing and moving them around.

This method is reassuring for many children but can be limiting for others, so always say it is fine if they want to change the structure or go off in another direction. They should be encouraged to use the structure freely and imaginatively. Often they just need the confidence to let their imaginations go. At this early stage they need to get the words down and not worry about correctness. Sometimes second-language students become over-concerned about grammar and spelling. This should be dealt with later through re-drafting the work.

I am sad when a friendship breaks. Like. A teacher gets disappointed. when there are no more cakes in the staffroom. Like. A fish gets discontented. when we throw rubbish in the sea. Like. A poem gets doleful. when people don't read it. I get sad when a friendship breaks. Claudia (age eight)

Claudia's imagination ranges freely as she has a structure to follow. She also chooses words carefully and sensitively.

Good use can be made of a thesaurus in finding alternatives for "sad". The teacher can also prompt children to look for alternative words and to make use of their different languages. For example, "doleful" can be compared with the Spanish word dolor, which leads to discussion of synonyms in both languages and the exact meanings of words. Try this using other feelings, such as frightened, happy, embarrassed, bored. You could also get children thinking about what they would be if they were somebody else, or even something else.

If I were a shape I'd be a circle.

I'd be a ring you could never take off.

I'd be a clock where I will say the hours and the seconds.

I'll be a ferris wheel where I will go round and round until people start screaming.

Ignacio (aged nine)

It can be hard for second-language pupils to think of metaphors. But the effort is worthwhile, as Ignacio shows. They can offer different ways of seeing and bring a freshness or spark to the language. Everyday Spanish, for example, is rich in metaphor. Some are similar to their English counterparts, others are startlingly different, so try to get children to use such similarities and differences creatively.

With older children, try taking an over-used simile and freshen it by stretching the idea. "As fast as a cheetah" becomes "As fast as a cheetah on roller blades" or "As fast as a turbo-charged cheetah". You can use similar ideas in poems about magnificent creatures: My hyper horse is as strong as a gorilla the size of Godzilla and as angry as a shark when woken from sleep.

Prashant (age 10)

My impressive mouse is as thin as a feather on a diet but as strong as Hercules after two hours in a gym.

Paloma (age 10)

The fabulous creature can be developed with ideas about its size, strength, speed, noise, smell, how much food and drink it consumes, any special features it possesses - claws, tail, wings - and if it is fierce or friendly, and so on. Again, these are just prompts for those children who need them. Others may wish to take off in a different direction and should be encouraged to do so if they are still within the aims and objectives of the session.

It is useful to take people and situations from everyday life and prepare the children for the writing. Tell them some stories and anecdotes. For example, discuss character with Year 6 pupils. What features make someone different or memorable? Can the children list five things about a character - clothes, hobbies, home, mannerism, car, pet, irritating habits and so on? This person should not be someone whom they see regularly, such as a close family member or teacher. It could be a grandparent whom they see infrequently, a neighbour, family friend, someone they met on holiday or someone they encounter occasionally. From the list of five things, find a starting point for the poem: I thought the shopkeeper who lived next door to my house was an alien.

He must have beamed down to earth one day.

That would explain Those massive, square blue glasses that he wore That looked like telescopes so he could communicate with his people.

David (aged 11)

Children should remember, of course, that they are writers and that, although this poem begins from first-hand experience, there is nothing to stop them stretching their imaginations and taking risks.

In Spain, John Shallcross and I told the children many times how amazing they were and that we could not have begun to do what they were doing at their age.

They seemed nonplussed - it was all part of a day's work to them. Some of the children spoke three languages. One boy had been born in Turkey, learned Spanish when he moved to Madrid and was now writing in English.

Such children have much to teach us.

The poems featured are from children at Hastings School, Madrid and the British School of Cordoba

Brian Moses's latest project is Poems Out Loud, abook and CD of performance poems for key stage 2 (Hodder Wayland)

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