Project Altai/English Translation

Altai School Children Toast Marshmallows & Discuss Plans for Translation Project 

Thanks to the enthusiasm of Kulada English teacher ‘Marina’ the opportunity has arisen to initiate a project for Kulada (Ongudai) school children which incorporates aspects of the Altai ethnographic culture into English language learning. Marina has a creative group 5 (eleven year olds) willing to take part in our joint Altai/English language project.

The project – Indigenous Altai English language pupils describe their material culture in English

The project aims to equip English language pupils with the linguistic competence to describe their specific cultural world in the English language. The children will work with ‘Marina’ and the Kulada Local History Museum. The children choose the museum exhibit they like the most and then produce an illustrated 6 page booklet that tells the story of the exhibit in English, Altai and Russian. The booklets will be on display in the museum for foreign and Russian visitors.

The growing tourist industry creates a demand for English language speakers among the indigenous population.

As the tourist industry develops in Altai the need for translators and interpreters  among the Altai indigenous population increases. Without specific knowledge of the Altai culture non-local translators often struggle to translate specifics which can lead to generalisation in the translation process. 

Tethering post, ‘Chakyr’. For example, the Altai ‘chakyr’ translates as ‘tethering post’. The tethering post is an essential and powerful symbol both in Altai villages and taiga. In Altai literature and epics it occurs as a symbol in the same semantic group as the mountain at the centre of the world or the tree of life. Despite this, very few translators would automatically have the word ‘tethering post’ in their English vocabulary or even recognise the ‘chakyr’ as being a tethering post. The same goes for ‘rhunic inscription’ and ‘rock art’ which are a dominant part of the local spiritual landscape.

 Toasting marshmallows – outdoors English class – the project begins

Marina organised a car and with her class we travelled to the nearby lake. Here we played English language speaking games whilst toasting marshmallows. In turn the children had to say their name and something they liked, such as pop music accompanied by some physical gesture. The game was played as a memory game in the format of ‘I went to market and I bought…’ Each child had to remember what had been said before and only then add his own information. Participation was rewarded with toasted marshmallows, not something known to the Altai indigenous world… It would be naive to think that the outdoors English lesson was the key priority or sole object of attention.

For the school children the marshmallows were key and on discovering that the kebab sticks had been left behind in the village the boys produced a hand-made one immediately. It was not only the children who were absorbing a cultural experience. We were too. I never trekked to an outdoor English class on my father’s horse as two of the boys did here; at the approach to the lake Marina said a blessing and carried out the Kyira ritual. We sat for a few minutes under the branches of the trees to which the white strips of cotton were tied before continuing our ascent. The children had made a fire and produced the roasting sticks within minutes and a sign beside the picnic area informed us of the traditional Altai custom of worshipping the hearth and ‘feeding’ the fire wherever one was staying. I doubted that any of this cultural experience would normally be carried into the children’s English class despite the high probability that at least some among them would need to be able to speak to the world about their culture in the future either for its preservation or a source of income.

  Step 2 – Finding Altai & Great Britain on the globe and making the 6 page booklets. 

Next update on this project end November



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