Why (and how) to get your school involved with translation

Today Anam Zafar shares some ideas about how to introduce younger children to translation in the classroom…

Dear school teachers and librarians: you may think your students are too young for translation. Whether or not your school offers basic foreign language lessons to the whole class, has an after-school language club, or doesn’t provide language lessons, perhaps you see translation as something more suited to older students with more advanced language skills.

Think again.

Spoiler alert: Neither you, nor your students, need “advanced language skills”!

Intrigued? I hope so. But first, you may be wondering why you should even care in the first place.

Picture of a world map with images of book covers stuck on it showing the origin of the books
Make a wall display!


To increase diversity

Think about the books available at your school for your students to read. Are the characters from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures, or do the stories all seem to represent the same worldview, the same life experience, based in a small number of the world’s many countries?

Translated books teach children about the world through authentic representation

Stocking schools with books translated into English from other languages is an easy way to ensure your students’ reading diet has a healthy amount of diversity. This is important for multicultural schools, so that each child can see themselves represented in the books they read, and they can be confident that anyone can be an author, illustrator—or interesting book character. It’s just as important for schools without high levels of multiculturalism, since translated books are one of the best ways to learn about other cultures in a way that relies on authentic representation rather than stereotypes.

Some books your students may know, without perhaps realising they started life in another language, include Inkheart (original language: German/Germany), The Little Prince (original language: French/France) and Asterix (original language: French/France). There are a huge number of translated picture books out there, too.

To celebrate languages and multilingualism

It’s likely that your classroom is already multilingual, since a huge percentage of young people living in an English-speaking country speak, or at least have exposure to, another language at home. Acknowledging these languages at school may encourage students who feel embarrassed about their multilingualism to confidently celebrate all aspects of their identity. Plus, the more language engagement there is at primary-school level, the more likely it is that students will choose to study languages at secondary school and beyond.


Teachers, librarians and students don’t need to have advanced knowledge of another language – or any at all – to engage with translation. If you have more ideas to add to the list below, let us know!

  • Curate a “translation shelf” in the school library or classroom. Giving translated books their own special shelf will encourage students to take interest. Use our reading lists and book reviews* to help stock your shelf.
  • Start a translated fiction book club. Take inspiration from this one set up at Colmore Junior School in the UK! It works just like any book club, with the bonus factor that all the books read and discussed started life in another language. Again, use our reading lists and book reviews* to help choose books.
Some of our reviews by young readers
  • Write reviews of translated books. This can be a fun way to develop writing skills such as summarising and expressing opinions. Find a book review template here. We can publish your school’s young readers’ reviews on our website, whether you send a single review or several. Seeing their writing online is bound to boost a child’s enthusiasm for reading and writing!
  • Lead a translation workshop.
    • The Multilingual Creativity resources hub, from the Stephen Spender Trust, offers guidance on leading translation workshops. The hub is full of ideas and activities, including video tutorials, worksheets and booklets.
    • The Stephen Spender Trust is developing a series of webinars for autumn 2021 for everyone interested in integrating creative translation into their teaching. Register your interest here.
  • If you’re in the UK, host an interactive translation workshop at your school.
    • The Stephen Spender Trust offers translation workshops in schools, led by professional translators. The workshops are an introduction to translation, with activities based on comics, picture books, plays, poems and even sound effects—no previous language knowledge necessary!
    • The Creative Translation Ambassadors scheme, run by the Queen’s Translation Exchange, trains university students to deliver workshops to pupils aged 8–18. Workshops can be led either in the classroom or virtually, with an emphasis on translation as a creative, inspiring, and aspiration-raising activity.
    • Shadow Heroes is an education initiative supporting young people in embracing all sides of their linguistic and cultural heritages, through creative translation workshops that explore issues of representation, self-expression, colonial history and the power of language.

We hope you’re feeling inspired to introduce translation to your younger students. It’s easier than you think, and incredibly rewarding. When your school has started its translation journey, feel free to share the good news with us!

*Our book reviews and reading lists span a huge range of reading ages and original languages, and are regularly updated. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.


Based in Birmingham, UK, Anam Zafar translates from Arabic and French into English for misrepresented communities who tell their own stories on their own terms. She was longlisted for the 2021 John Dryden Translation Competition. She was a 2020/21 mentee on the National Centre for Writing’s Emerging Translators Mentorship and was the Centre’s translator in residence in May 2021. She is also a social media administrator for World Kid Lit. Find her on Twitter at @anam_translates, and at www.anamzafar.com.