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Bringing Research and Language Together: A Student Conference on the Theme of “Translation: Above and Beyond Wor(l)ds”

Written by Christopher Da-Silva and Anna Johnston |

Following a successful pilot in March 2019, we organised a student conference open to students from Essex University, Durham University, Newcastle University and the University York with our colleagues Dr Thomas Jochum-Critchley (University of York) and Dr Isabelle Ruegg Alter (Newcastle University).  Dr Géraldine Crahay (Durham University) and Laura Lewis (Durham University) also contributed to the organisation and running of the conference. 

This conference aimed to tackle a perceived partition, often found in Modern Languages research, between culture and language, between teaching and research, and between specialist and non-specialist students. This project thus aimed to do away with these dichotomies. It also had as objectives to develop students’ research identity when it comes down to language learning; to create opportunities for student-led and student-centred research; and to enable students to experience, study and reflect on language through new fields and perspectives.

Politically and ideologically speaking, the project aimed to highlight the relevance of languages in negotiating various cultures at a time of withdrawal from the continent; to send a strong message as to the importance of languages at a time of closures of Schools of Languages (e.g. Sunderland, Hull, Salford); to enhance the study of languages in today’s world, where political tensions are constantly questioning the future of languages; and to set the stepping stone for further collaboration between schools of languages and Institution-Wide Language Programmes (IWLP), and between IWLP themselves.

So as to ensure that the above outcomes reached a meaningful target audience, the conference was open to UG, MA and PhD candidates both from language departments and language centres with a view to exposing a research aspect to students not traditionally involved in research. It also aimed to celebrate language learning in its broadest meaning, amongst a student population that displays lower take-up rates of language learning.

The conference’s theme was “Translation: above and beyond wor(l)ds”. The key theme was deliberately broad and the question intentionally remained open to leave room for students to reclaim this axis as their own, within their own field(s) of study, so that they could formulate the research question(s) they wish to explore. Indeed, the title elicited questions based on the very act of translating, as well as broader questions on how one translates - in its broadest meaning - the experience of a foreign culture to their own understanding, how one can translate a language experience on their own terms, and how views of the world translate across different cultures. Contributions from all languages and study areas were welcome, with presentations on lesser known cultural and linguistic areas encouraged in effort to decolonise the conference programme.Tina Kover

Thanks to the support of ILCS and UCML, we were able to support students via grants ahead of the conference, and prizes following the conference. We were also able to invite Tina Kover, an award-winning translator, as our keynote speaker as part of a roundtable discussion.

We are pleased to report that, in many ways, the conference met the immediate objectives of the project in so far as both participants and the audience came from a variety of backgrounds; and approached the theme of the conference via a focus on different languages and through varied lenses 

Participants also submitted blogs post-conference. These can be found at: Dynamics of Languages in Society (2022) – Scholarship in language education.

We are now aiming to run a third edition of the conference either this coming academic year (2022-2023) or next (2023-24). So as to maximise impact, we intend to open the conference to all universities in the British Isles and to open the conferences to A Level/IB learners as well. To make it accessible, contributions will be accepted in a variety of formats, such as papers, roundtable discussions, flash papers, posters, and group presentations.