Learning resource: why should I read books in translation?

Why should I read books in translation?


Why is reading books in translation not only a good thing but really hot right now? That’s what we’re going to investigate in this session!


A download of this learning resource will be available soon.


It would be great if you can have a few books to hand that are translations. It would be even better if some books really look like they’re in translation and if others might somehow get away with it – as if they’re written originally in English.

Introduction activity

Ask the group – who’s definitely read a book in translation? Who’s definitely not read any books in translation? And who’s not sure? With these questions, get the group to run to the relevant point in the room – so that you have three groups of people in different parts of the room. Get them to compare stories before coming back to watch the video!

Watch the video

Run the video – after the video, you could show the group Ann Morgan’s A Year of Reading The World website too if you like.

Enquiries & Activities

  1. Understanding the world   Ann Morgan just loves to read books from all around the world! She spent a whole year reading a book from every country. Imagine that! Could you read a book from every country in the world? Why does reading a book from another country help you understand the world? Run a group enquiry, using mind maps, to explore why reading books in translation might help us understand the world better. If you need to, ask someone to play devil’s advocate and pretend that they don’t believe reading books can help you understand the world. What reasons would they come up with for that?
  2. Looking at the world through their eyes   Ann mentions this phrase a couple of times but what does it mean? Draw a pair of eyes on the board and mind map what this might mean. This is a group enquiry about empathy through  international literature so embedded in this enquiry are questions about knowledge, personal experience, objectivity, morals, peace and conflict. Try and pick these things out and cover the board with the ideas of the group. Why might international literature be able to save the day?
  3. An African in Greenland   Ann mentions reading a book by a writer called Tété-Michel Kpomassie. Research Tété-Michel on the internet. You might like to read out loud the Wikipedia entry to the group. Say you’re going to ask questions to the group afterwards! Here’s the questions: What country was Tété-Michel originally from? Why did Tété-Michel fall in love with Greenland? What was the aim of his travels? How did Tété-Michel learn languages? What prize did he win? What exhibition was organised in New York based on Tété-Michel’s adventure? Where is Togo? Draw a map of Togo!    
  4. Make yer own translated fiction  As a group, come up with the title of a book (the title you come up with in English is therefore the translated title of the original!). What language was it originally in? What’s the book about? Storyboard it – breaking it down into different chapters.  What’s important in telling a story? Does it use slang? What special kinds of vocabulary might a translator need to translate it? (Any specialist language, for example, like forensic science or ornithological words?) Get everyone to draw their own idea of what the cover would be and then put the pictures  up in a gallery. Give everyone a chance to show their drawing and share  their ideas.

In your own time

Why not set up your own project, like Ann did? It doesn’t have to be as enormous as Ann’s – but how about something like: I’m going to read my first book in translation; or, I’m going to read three books in translation by the end of the year; or, I’m going to read a book in translation out loud to my brother/mother/sister/auntie; or I’m going to read out loud a book and I don’t know the language it’s in and I’m going to get sponsored for it! and so on… Why not record your translation project on a blog or keep a journal?


This learning resource was written by Philip Cowell. Why should I read books in translation? is part of a series of five learning resources called Brave New Voices, funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The video animation was created by Valgas Moore and directed by Azhur Saleem. Thanks so much to Ann Morgan for being so generous with her time!




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