Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project – Arabic workshops and resources

Nisah Sajawal is a freelance translator and proofreader from Spanish and Arabic into English. She graduated with an MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies from the University of Manchester in 2017 and also holds a BA in Spanish and Arabic. She enjoys both technical and creative translation. Her work has ranged from medical and legal texts to song lyrics and short stories.

Nisah designed Arabic support resources for the Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools project and ran workshops for students in KS3-4 and KS5 at Brampton Manor Academy, Luton Sixth Form College and London Enterprise Academy. Here, Nisah reflects on her involvement in the workshops and why students aged 11-19 who speak any language to any level of proficiency should enter the competition.

I remember the first time I read Jane Eyre: I was 12 and had just devoured Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier when my English teacher presented me with Brontë’s magnum opus. I was completely absorbed by the story and, even then, I felt a certain camaraderie with the main character.

Over the years, I have come back to the novel time and time again; Jane is like an old friend whose door is always open. So, when I was asked to design and run in-person Arabic workshops, as well as develop website resources for the Prismatic Jane Eyre project, I jumped at the chance.

When I set to work on the Arabic support materials and activity packs, I was aiming to make them accessible to any student regardless of their level of Arabic. Most of the students in the workshops would probably have learnt the language orally at home or in a mosque setting, they would not necessarily be comfortable with the written form of the language. Modern Standard Arabic (the Arabic used in the translations of Jane Eyre) can be daunting even for a native speaker who receives their entire schooling in Arabic, due to the discrepancies between standard Arabic and the numerous dialects that exist. I did not want this to be a barrier when it came to engaging with the workshop material. I ensured the materials were accessible to all by transliterating all the Arabic text into the Latin script and providing a comprehensive glossary.

I had the pleasure of working with students from Brampton Manor Academy, Luton Sixth Form College and London Enterprise Academy with various levels of Arabic — from complete beginners to native speakers — and all really got their teeth into the translation exercises and fully embraced the creative adventure of reworking passages from Jane Eyre in Arabic. It was very gratifying to see how enthusiastically students responded to the workshops.

Each group of students brought something new to light with their unique observations on the passages we looked at in the workshops. Some of our most interesting and fruitful discussions revolved around the Arabic translator Hilme Mourad’s decision to completely omit descriptions of Bertha in an excerpt describing the fire at Thornfield (Chapter 36). Why would Mourad deprive us of these descriptions of Bertha when she has precious little air time elsewhere in the novel?

The competition, which is open to all young people aged 11-19, is an exciting opportunity for students to express themselves creatively in a language they don’t necessarily use in an academic context. It allows them to showcase and celebrate linguistic skills which are often undervalued. It is also a chance for students to take the language skills they have acquired in school or in their spare time one step further with an emphasis on creativity rather than grammatical accuracy.

This is a competition accessible to students at all levels of secondary education and with any level of fluency in any language. I hope that students feel inspired to enter the competition in the knowledge that this is for anyone with an interest in Arabic or any other language.

Finally, I’d like to extend my thanks to everyone who made the workshops possible and especially the students who participated. Reader, it’s been a pleasure.

The Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools translation competition is accepting entries in any language until 1 March. Teachers and prospective applicants can find support materials (including general resources and language-specific resources for Arabic, French, Polish, Spanish) and competition details and selected passages on our webpage. Contact with any queries.

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