Read this…

Liz Truss culpa de su caída política al ‘establishment’ económico del Reino Unido

La ex primera ministra conservadora defiende su rebaja de impuestos y asegura que “nunca se le dio una oportunidad real” de impulsarla

El modo más fácil en política de admitir errores sin admitir culpa es asegurar que todo fue un problema de comunicación.

La ex primera ministra del Reino Unido, Liz Truss, cuyos 55 dias en Downing Street y su temeraria rebaja de impuestos hundieron la credibilidad internacional del pais y zarandearon los mercados financieros, ha escrito un ensayo de 4.000 palabras en el diario Sunday Telegraph para reivindicar su breve legado.’

El País

If you are a fluent Spanish speaker, and reader, you will likely find this task manageable. Alas, my long forgotten Spanish GCSE means I am up to the task. I am forced to grapple with the arduous act of translation.

Perhaps, like me, you can activate some prior knowledge of Liz Truss’ recent exploits and derive a gist of the test. You may locate some cognates, such as ‘económico’ or ‘diario’, and be able to careful craft a richer comprehension of what you have read.

The act of translation is one that teachers of Spanish, German, French and Latin, teach each day, and the difficulties are all too familiar. And yet, the more lessons you observe across the secondary school curriculum – and primary school too – the more you recognise that the most effective teachers have to work hard to translate the ‘academic code’ of their subject and the topic at hand.

The special language of the curriculum

Around six years ago I followed a pupil (David) throughout the school day. I catalogued the challenge of jumping from German to chemistry, maths, and more. In the last month, I’ve observed the self-same challenges in primary school classrooms too. Each corner of the curriculum is clothed in its unique academic code.

It is still easy, in the travails of the busy school day, to miss the wealth of background knowledge required to read and access the school curriculum. In his book on ‘Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know’, Prof. E.D. Hirsch put it pithily:

“To grasp the words on a page we have to know a lot of information that isn’t set down on a page.”

E.D. Hirsch

Think of how much background knowledge rested on nouns like Liz Truss, ‘económico’ and Daily Express, in the earlier El País article. Our pupils can coast through dense informational texts and have a surface understanding of many of the words they read clearly from the page.

In the past six years, the excellent work of Beck and McKeown on ‘Tiers of vocabulary’ has become popularised. They describe the challenge of both Tier 3, subject specific words and phrases, such as ‘photosynthesis’, ‘metaphor’, and ‘ecological validity’. More crucially perhaps, they helped recognise that there are many Tier 2 words that trip over pupils. Put simply, these are the general sophisticated words we are exposed to when we read academic texts.

More and more, when you work with different subject leaders and teachers in secondary schools, you recognise the act of translating the language of the subject is subtly different. Yes – Tier 2 words – such as exam command words like ‘evaluate’, or broader Tier 2 words like ‘rehabilitate’, ‘markedly’, or ‘ambiguous’, can matter in every subject, but translating the language of the subject can have important differences too.

For example, in Music, you might be exposed to tricky new words like ‘allegro’ and ‘adagio’ via soundscapes. You would beat out the tempo, talking and bring these words to life in sound. Whereas in art, if you are using the language of artistic techniques, you need visual representations and demonstrations.  For dense nouns like ‘photosynthesis’ in biology, a diagrammatic visual representation of the process may be required.

How do we ensure our curriculum if successfully translated?

To grapple with the academic code of the classroom, teachers invariably need to work collaboratively. Generic CPD on language development, the challenge of reading, or explicit vocabulary instruction can be a very useful start. This then needs to be followed by training time that delves into the subtleties of subject specific language.

What can help is to expose expert teachers to the unfamiliar experience of difficult translation. It could be Spanish, Welsh or Swahili – but the principle is to experience attempting to master the challenge of a different language, and to reflect deeply upon the academic words we use and expect pupils to be able to read.