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Beyond Words: How Translation Enhances Learning

Telling stories has been delightful for me as it has been a wonderful avocation that has taken me away from the dreariness of the academic world. The opportunity to engage in translation added another layer of appeal, allowing me to contribute to preserving our mother tongue, which I believe is a responsibility we all share. 

-Prof. Esther Syiem, North Eastern Hill University, Meghalaya 

Characters from multiple TFFP books

One of the significant tasks of the Forgotten Folklore Project team (TFFP) is the curation and translation of 45 contextualised storybooks, which are designed to introduce young children to their cultural roots. The journey of these books evolved into translating them into their regional languages Khasi, Pnar, and Garo. Several artists have been involved throughout the content creation but translators have played a crucial role in ensuring that the cultural-linguistic authenticity of the books stayed true to their roots. 

Conversations with some of the translators that TFFP collaborated with over the past year have introduced us to a new perspective on translation. Initially, we viewed cultural learning and translation as concepts that did not necessarily share similarities. However, with each new book we translated, the team discovered new insights, and the translators shared their experiences. In this blog post, we explore how TFFP now views the concept of translation. Its definition has become more expansive for us than when we first began.

Getting Involved with TFFP 

At first, translating the books appeared to be a simple task. The team scouted multiple people across all three regions. In this search, they needed to find individuals with a perfect blend of expertise and a deep understanding of the regional languages and their alphabets. 

For example, for Daohi Manar, a translator from Jaintia Hills Region 

the journey began with a profound love for cultural heritage and storytelling. 

In addition, translating cultural folk stories requires a deep understanding and respect for the original transcript of the storybooks. During the process, translators wanted to make sure they captured the true meaning and feeling of the stories while making them easy and fun for children to read.

Through the works of translating these stories, I immediately recognized the critical importance of preserving our cultural legacy for the generations to come.

-Daohi Manar

Much like Daohi, other translators like Prof. Esther Syiem shared that in translating such stories and bringing out the essential spirit of the stories she had to get into the heart of the story, tread slowly and carefully, and listen to the sentiment behind the written word as it were. 

Language plays a significant role in a child’s foundational learning. A child grows and the first thing they develop are words from their mother tongue. According to UNESCO, education in the mother tongue is essential as it comprises inclusion, and quality learning and also improves the learning outcomes of a child. Language also fosters a sense of understanding and respect for one’s culture and heritage and helps preserve them.   

On a similar note, Kamkam mentioned that during the translation process, he learned a lot of new things, especially from the Khasi and Jaiñtia Tribe- from their myths such as the river nymph of the Myntdu River to the Diengsong village with thousands of steps, from the cultural festival of Shad Suk Mynsiem to Chad Sukra, and a lot of their vocabularies which help me to compare it with my language, and our cultural perspective.

Translation of the TFFP books allows a cross-cultural exchange of information for children of all three regions in the state of Meghalaya. It is essential to note that through the translation of the books, children belonging to the rural background have equitable access to different forms of learning experiences. 

Discoveries and insights with every new word 

During the translation process, translators have shared their share of cultural experiences that influenced their work. For example, when it comes to translating a specific extract from a book, translators were required to sensitize its meaning as translations may not appear the same in the English version. In context, Prof Esther Syiem shares: 

In terms of culture and cultural insights, the stories gave me a view of different lifestyles even within the community that I belong to. Stories from different parts of Meghalaya sensitized me to local sentiments and aspirations, as in the story about Red Rice, which I had only associated with the Bhoi region. In translating such stories and to bring out the essential spirit of the stories I had to get into the heart of the story, tread slowly, carefully and listen to the sentiment behind the written word as it were. 

In addition, they have also shared their learnings and insights into cross-cultural learning while in the process. Kamkam, a Garo translator explained,

One of the most important lessons I learned is that you can't translate a language word for word. Each language has its unique structure and way of expression. I realized that some words used to describe specific concepts have no direct equivalents in other languages.

Therefore, retaining the cultural and linguistic authenticity of the content is a significant aspect of the process.

A section of the storybook Myntdu in Pnar and English language.

Language Preservation Beyond Narratives

As stated by the NCF 2022, stories create a pathway for children to greater imagination, a sense of understanding, and social relationships. Similarly, it also prioritises contextualising content and language education by promoting the native language as the medium of instruction. 

People often overlook the importance of translating books into regional languages, thinking they might be less valuable than the “English” versions. However, through this project, it became clear that translated books are crucial to children's education. As mentioned in the NEP 2020, the policy also stresses the need to amplify its focus on promoting all Indian languages and mother tongues, irrespective of their status.

With the adoption of policies as stated in the NEP 2020, the TFFP team promotes not just the preservation of documented folk stories but also highlights the significance of preserving the languages of the state of Meghalaya. In a world of rapid growth and changes, Dr Daiarisa Rumnong, Department of English, Saint Mary's College, Shillong shared,

I am happy that the project has been able to rekindle interest in our folklore and folklife, which is important in an age of globalisation. 

Printed version of TFFP storybook Yellow

Daohi, our translator from the Jaiñtia Hills also shared his experience,

The Forgotten Folklore Project stands as a timeless tribute to our cultural legacy, weaving forgotten tales into the fabric of our collective identity. Its enduring nature continually inspires, linking generations through the power of storytelling. 

Hence, by translating the stories into multiple languages, the project ensures that these books are not only accessible to children of the state of Meghalaya but to a broader audience, which includes children from across the world and nations. It not only strives for younger generations to preserve their cultural identity through the documentation of stories but also that these books may serve as cross-cultural learning materials for people within the country and beyond. 

By Nazarene F Jyrwa with the Forgotten Folklore Project & Sauramandala Foundation Team


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