Marga shows her video of Lucas

Here he is with a speech bubble

The children translate and add their own speech bubbles

These are the (very dark – sorry! my camera’s not up to it) pictures from the YouTube subtitling workshop that Marga Navarrete from Imperial College ran last week at Lawdale Junior School in Tower Hamlets.  Marga has run this workshop many times before as part of the brilliant Routes Into Languages programme, but usually with older children, around year 9 or 10. This was Free Word’s only  translator-in-residence event for children, and it almost didn’t happen – we weren’t able to find any schools near to Free Word whose pupils are learning Spanish and were available during the period of my residency, but luckily Marga had her own contacts in this beautiful Victorian school just off the Old Bethnal Green Road.

The school has an incredibly high percentage of Bangladeshi students due to its location right in the heart of the East End, and most of the pupils speak English, Bengali and Arabic, since they have to start studying the Quran from the age of three. So translation, for these kids, is no big deal – they live it every day, at home, in school, and in their  heads.  The kids in this workshop were aged between 8 and 10, and the oldest had been learning Spanish for 3 years. Their level of language was pretty good, and their confidence astounding, so what we wanted to do with this workshop was to give them a chance to use the language skills they already had in order to add some fun speech bubble-style subtitles to a video Margo had created of her son talking in Spanish.

In the video, 8-year-old Lucas tells us, all in Spanish, his name, where he’s from, who his brothers are, what he likes to eat (and doesn’t like to eat – tomatoes being a particular dislike), and his favourite toys. Marga began the workshop with an icebreaker game of throwing a ball and saying phrases in Spanish, then she introduced the language used in the video by showing the children a freeze-frame image of Lucas and asking them who they thought he was. We then played the video all the way through, and asked the children what he was saying. Once they had translated what Lucas was saying from Spanish into English – which they were remarkably quick at – they took it in turns to come up to the computer and use the YouTube annotation software to add speech bubbles to the video, which was then relayed onto the Smartboard so that all the kids could see it.

The software is really easy-to-use (it didn’t even take me that long, and I’m a veritable Luddite compared to these kids who’ve grown up with the internet), and it’s a really good way of adding informal subtitles, in any language, to a pre-existing video, or one that you’ve created yourself. The kids loved it, Marga and Lucas were stars, and hopefully their Spanish teacher María will be able to use what she learned in the workshop to help the children create a subtitled film about themselves as an end of term project.

Muchas gracias a Marga, María, y Annette, la directora de la escuela – y a los niños, por supuesto!