Today, Stefan Åge Hardonk Nielsen, an English teacher at Vonsild School near Kolding, Denmark, is leading his young students in translating simple English picture books into their native Danish language. These U.S.A. focused books were originally published in English for “new readers” of any age, but are deemed appropriate content for all children ages birth though early primary. Mr. Nielsen’s students read for full understanding of the English and then recapture those ideas in a new version, culturally and linguistically appropriate for children in the Danish language community.
In Denmark, children begin English language learning in Grade 1. A busy man, Mr. Nielsen teaches 8 year-olds Danish and English, as well as religion and music, while working halftime as the school’s librarian. Teachers at his school do what folks in the U.S. call “looping,” moving along with a group of kids as they progress through three or four school grades.
Straightforward books about colors and food are easy for Nielsen’s young linguists to work their translation magic. Those are no problem even for his 2nd graders. However, some of Unite for Literacy‘s books’ content just can’t make it across the Atlantic at all. For example, the common U.S. children’s traveling game, “I Spy,” found in the book “I Spy on the Road” is very difficult even for Nielsen’s 8th graders. What Americans call I Spy is called something quite different in Scandinavia and so the book does not translate.
Nielsen says his students are very excited about performing meaningful work useful to others all around the world. They love the idea of being authentic translators and narrators, taking English language meanings apart and putting them back together for Danish schoolmates. He also sees students who are tired of school work in general, finding that this unique challenge reinvigorates their enthusiasm.
Obviously, his students see a direct connection between reading the English books, understanding them as well as they can (using dictionaries to help) and then translating and recording narrations of text to appropriately fit with their own culture and language. These comprehension elements are found in English curricula worldwide. For children, this trans-cultural work underlines the international dimension Vonsild school tries to incorporate in their daily school life. For them, this great opportunity to collaborate globally is captured in their motto “To teach the students to become Global Citizens.”
Parents are naturally proud to hear their own children “reading for real” when their sweet young voices are captured for posterity and then delivered via the Internet from across the world for the enjoyment of family, friends and Danish speaking children everywhere.
Unite for Literacy’s library collection is available in nearly 40 languages. Bilingual individuals and groups from 7,000 language communities in the world are invited to step up for the world’s youngest readers and add their mother tongues to this free online library. They too can then take the meanings apart, add their languages and cultures, and then put it all back together.