Why I translated my Getting Ready To Go To Big SchoolBook Into Other Languages By Gradle Gardner Martin
I was born in Greenwich and grew up in Southwark, two very diverse London Boroughs and I am very glad to call London my home. The London boroughs are all unique in their own ways, with children from many backgrounds who speak many languages in their homes. The last census highlighted London’s diversity by showing more than 100 different languages being spoken in each London borough. So, it is important that children’s books reflect this cultural linguistic legacy.
I did not go about writing Emit the Multi Coloured Lion and Erica Get Ready to Go to Big School with the sense that I would translate it into other home languages. I wrote Emit & Erica as a resource to help support the communication between a child and caregiver when it is time to start school. I hoped that such a story could enrich the diverse communities within London. But I knew straight away that by only providing my book in English I would be adding to the hurdles and boundaries that some families experience. This I knew especially as someone who comes from a diverse community and who has worked with diversity as a London based social worker.
As a young child, my first reading books were stories of Fairy folk lore, the dictionary, and nursery rhymes borrowed from the library. I listened to my older sisters reading and began reading myself. I don’t remember my mother reading to me from books, she read labels from food products, medicine labels, newspapers and magazines. I watched TV, listened to music on the radio and records on the record player in our home. That is how I learned to read and recite things. I didn’t go to nursery or attend any preschool classes, I went straight to primary school. My mother was a single parent who came to England from Jamaica in the 1950’s. I can understand most forms of Jamaican Patois which was also spoken in our home as well as English, but cannot read it as there were no suitable books for me to read it as a child.
My story of learning to read is probably typical of my generation; born in the 60’s of working class parents who came to England and lived during difficult times. Not dissimilar to most working class children whose families have lived in London for generations. But is this going on now? Do children really not have books written in their first language, that they can enjoy reading with their parents? What we also know is that the meta skills evident in, and relevant to, reading is pan-linguistic, even if they are not pan- socio/cultural. This means that if a child is reading a book with their parent in any language they are acquiring the skills that are relevant to this activity.
The time that I grew up in was very different to our current knowledge about why children and parents should be encouraged to read and develop together. We know that there is a major connection between reading at home and language learning for children. We know that this gives better outcomes for children and for families. By providing enriching resources at the preschool level we can as writers and educationalists have a profound effect on the achievements of many young children.
Polish was the first language I translated Emit and Erica my starting school book into. I also was fully aware that of the London’s 32 boroughs, 7 of them have Polish as listed as the second most commonly spoken language (Barnet, Bromley, Ealing, Lewisham, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth). A good friend of mine has parents who escaped persecution in communist Poland and settled in England in the 1940s as children. She and her family have a Polish heritage and speak Polish, she went to Polish school and learned to read and write Polish from a young age. Not every child whose parents first language is not English can go to a school which teaches their first language, not every parent would want to do this or can afford this. So, making children’s books available in a variety of languages will not only help a child to read, it will also help a child grow into who they are.
We benefit from child development researchers helping us to understand that we have multi - faceted, shifting identifies that start as children and that this is complex and includes gender, religion, socio - economic status, language, and ethnicity. Translating certain books in languages for children and their parents is a key step in supporting home school communication and child attainment and good child development. Making a child’s early years all about positivity, engagement, and self-esteem.
I have translated Emit the Multi Coloured Lion and Erica Get Ready to Go to Big Schoolinto Somali, Portuguese, Polish, French, Arabic, Spanish and Igbo with the intention of further translations as soon as possible.