Linguists lost in translation find new life in poetry

September 24, 2004

Portsmouth University has brought a twist to studying the languages of Dante and Schiller, Cervantes and Proust.

Modern language students are being encouraged to get in touch with their creative side to produce short stories and poems rather than standard grammar and translation exercises, writes Olga Wojtas.

On Monday, Sir Trevor McDonald, patron of Cilt, the National Centre for Languages, will present Portsmouth with a European Award for Languages to mark the European Day of Languages.

The project was instigated by Venezuelan-born Elizabeth Maldonado, who teaches Spanish in the School of Languages and Area Studies. Students were already "examed out", she said, but she proposed an annual competition for final-year students with book token prizes for the top three entries.

"Writing creatively is a great way of really getting a feel for a language," she said.

Experts from Portsmouth's School of Creative Arts, Film and Media have helped provide workshops in creative writing. The project has been running for two years, and Portsmouth is compiling a second booklet of about 20 examples of the best work. Ms Maldonado hopes the competition will extend to language departments in other universities, who might act as external judges for one another.

"We could then have a competition at national level, where each institution selects their winners, and an overall winner is selected."

Two other academic institutions are among the 17 winners of this year's European Awards for Languages. Hull University created a module in doing business in French, ensuring that language skills matched workplace needs.

Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Scotland's Gaelic college on Skye, devised an "access to Gaelic" course for adults learners, designed to take beginners to a level where they could study for a degree.

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