“It’s important not to mind too much if you sound ridiculous, or childlike” | Professor Francis Jones in New Statesman

German for dummies: how (not) to master a new language

I’ve been living in Berlin for over a year, yet I remain in a near-constant state of panic.

I have read the American author Jhumpa Lahiri’s New Yorker essay “Teach Yourself Italian” a number of times. It’s an account of more than ten years spent struggling to acquire a new language, a roll-call of textbooks, tutors, grammar drills and trips overseas, which ends on a heartening note: “Translated, from the Italian, by Ann Goldstein.”

The message of the piece is that if Jhumpa did it, you can do it, too. The journey from linguistic exile to a new home is long, but it is possible.

Except not for me. I’ve been living in Berlin for over a year. I have attended classes of varying quality, downloaded apps, puzzled over children’s books and watched bad German sitcoms, yet my own journey might be characterised as a near-constant state of panic, brain fade and isolation, interrupted here and there by brief flashes of insight and comprehension.

In truth, I feel a greater kinship to a different American author, Mark Twain, who concluded his 1880 essay “Die schreckliche deutsche Sprache” (“The Awful German Language”) by arguing: “A gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in 30 hours, French in 30 days, and German in 30 years.”

Just another 29 years to go, then. And I certainly would not consider myself “gifted”. In a fit of irritation, both at myself and a language “so slippery and elusive to the grasp” (Twain again), I sought out some linguistic prodigies to ask them where I might be going wrong.

“It’s important not to mind too much if you sound ridiculous, or childlike,” said Professor Francis Jones, reader in translation studies at the University of Newcastle. “Speaking a language is probably one of the highest-level cognitive skills we do, perhaps equivalent to learning to fly a jumbo jet, and yet we all learn at least one.”

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EVENT | LIMESTONE COUNTRY An evening with poet Fiona Sampson, 19th October, Sandy Films, Rotherhithe

fiona sampson

Limestone, found across the world, is a sedimentary rock, ceaselessly reshaped by time and water, made from the bones and shells of vanished oceans.

In Limestone Country, the prize-winning poet Fiona Sampson paints a lyrical and very personal portret of four particular limestone landscapes: a farming hamlet in Perigord, southern France, the Karst region in Slovenia, a rural perish in England, and Jerusalem, a limestone city, that has long shaped people’s believe, ways of life, and imagination.

These stories, vital and human, are told through farming routines, snapshots of daily life, and through encounters in streets and fields with wildlife and human history.

Limestone country is a meditation on how people liv in a landscape, how they alter it, and how the landscape, in turn, shapes them. It is also a love letter to a sedimentary rock, exploring how different communities around the world are bound together by their shared geology.

Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 7:30 PM 

Sands Films is a busy film studio and production facility set up in an 18C warehouse in Rotherhithe since 1975.

Sands Films Cinema
82 Saint Marychurch Street
SE16 4HZ London
United Kingdom

 

“Really living in these landscapes means paying radical attention to how they behave”| New Statesman reviews Limestone Country by Fiona Sampson

The rocks under our feet shape every aspect of human existence

John Burnside

From agriculture and art to our emotional and psychological weather.

The only image that remains in my mind from school is a map on my geography teacher’s wall showing, as its title elegantly proclaimed: “A delineation of the strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland; exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names.”

I loved this map, though only as an object of beauty and of some strange knowledge that I knew I would never possess.

At 15 I was too foolish to take an interest in geography; if I had, I would have known that this beautiful object was “the map that changed the world”, paving the way for Darwin’s theories and revolutionising the study of geology. It was created by William Smith, a blacksmith’s son whose life was dogged by betrayal and poverty (including a spell in debtors’ prison), but who, in later life, gained something of the recognition he deserved.

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LECTURE | Collaborative Translation of Poetry: The PoetTrio Experiment

Francis_Jones

On 22nd March 2018 PoetTrio principal investigator Professor Francis Jones will give a lecture about the PoetTrio project and collaborative translation as part of the Translating and Interpreting seminar series at the Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester, UK. 

Thursday 14.00-15.20

Simon Building, Room 4.63

Check out the website and the Twitter account for more detail. 

http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/ctis/

https://twitter.com/ctismanchester

Poettrio chat to Jen Calleja, Translator-in-Residence at the British Library

jen calleja

photo: The British Library

A few months ago, Poettrio researcher Dr Rebecca May Johnson chatted to the British Library’s inaugural translator-in-residence, Jen Calleja.

Hear about how Jen got into literary translation, how she built a career in translation, what she’s got planned for her tenure as the British Library, how she approaches translating prose and poetry, and much more.

Sean O’Brien discusses Paradise Lost on BBC Radio 3

Poettrio poet Professor Sean O’Brien discusses Paradise Lost on BBC Radio 3’s show, The Essay:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09491jc

“Milton’s Paradise Lost was first published 350 years ago. It remains the most important long poem in the English language. It came out of a time of revolutionary upheaval in Britain and is a political poem as much as a theological one. Poet Sean O’Brien discusses Milton’s adventurousness. Producers: Tim Dee and Siobhan Maguire.”

Poettrio Youtube Channel!

Research associate Dr Sergio Lobejón Santos has built a YouTube channel to share videos from events and research from the Poettrio experiment. It’s just gone live so visit and see what we’ve been up to! 

Watch the Translation as Collaboration event curated by research associate Dr Rebecca May Johnson, which saw translators, writers, artists and performers from across the UK present collaborative translations to an audience in Newcastle. 

Soon we’ll post videos readings produced during Poettrio Translation workshops, as well as panel discussions featuring principal investigator Professor Francis Jones, co-investigators Professors Bill Herbert and Fiona Sampson and translators and visiting Dutch poets involved in the project. Watch this space.