Service Translation Class Offers Skills and Insight

LEXINGTON, Va., April 26, 2016 – “This is the Spanish class I’ve always wanted.” That’s quite a pronouncement from Apostolos Cominos ’16, a student in Col. Mary Ann Dellinger’s service translation class.

The advanced Spanish class is engaging in real-world translating projects.  Whether it’s a religious text for use in a church or a picture book for children, the cadets are finding that learning a language is not just an academic achievement; it is also a valuable skill, a skill they can use to serve the community.

“In foreign languages for some time we’ve been emphasizing what you can do in the language.  So when I studied language, or even my first years as a teacher, we taught about the language [itself],” Dellinger explained. “This is the way you conjugate a verb, this is the preposition that you use – that’s about the language, that’s not using the language.”

The cadets chose from a selection of projects presented by Dellinger or a project they had in mind, and she is making sure the final products go to a useful destination. 

Kristen Whitehurst ’17 is writing a children’s book to send to the day care where she worked in Cusco, Peru.  Whitehurst was part of last summer’s Peru program led by Dr. Ivelise Faundez-Reitsma, instructor of Spanish.  The experience had a big impact on the cadets.

“I definitely got to see how little resources they had to learn and be creative.  So giving back to them is huge for me. … I want to see that development,” said Whitehurst.  Several copies of her book, She’s So Lucky, will also go to Rockbridge County schools.

Another cadet, Aidan O’Connor ’16, is writing and drawing a coloring book for Waddell Elementary School.  The book aims to make students from Latin America feel more at home in Lexington.

“I have siblings who have studied abroad in Latin America when they were very young, and they had trouble speaking the language. So I thought it would be good to have some kind of book that would interest kids,” said O’Connor.

  Cominos has even bigger ambitions.  He is translating a Greek Orthodox liturgy from Greek to Spanish. Cominos hopes it will be published and sent to churches Latin America.  There are very few Orthodox Christians in the mostly Catholic Latin American countries, explained Cominos, making some resources scarce. 

“There are no translations readily available,” he said. “I wanted to spread the knowledge.”

Dellinger finds that this practical use of the language deepens cadets’ understanding of the cultural differences and similarities between English speakers and Spanish speakers.

For example, the title of Whitehurst’s book was a challenge.

“‘She’s So Lucky’ is an English thing to say.  Saying that in Spanish, would I say, ‘She has a lot of luck’ or ‘She is fortunate?’ It was hard to translate,” Whitehurst said.  Whitehurst settled on the latter, “Ella Está Afortunada.”

To prepare the cadets for these kinds of challenges, Dellinger had them practice by translating in a variety of genres and levels, including slang.  They talked about how Spanish has different registers – formal versus informal address – like English does. She also had the cadets do semiotic translations, translating from images instead of words.

In spite of all they’ve learned, however, the cadets find the most appealing aspect of the class is the opportunity for community service.

Said Dellinger, “Cadets are our clients.  And for them to stay in and study Spanish – it’s because there’s some reason – something they see. ” To find out just what that was, she had the cadets fill out index cards at the beginning of the semester saying why they were interested in the course.  All of them were eager to serve.

 – By Kelly Nye



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