Writing poems using literal translations of common expressions

Lesson Introduction

A second language, or translation, can be the spark that shows us our own language anew. This, in a wider sense, is what poetry does. 

This lesson will look at playful use of language + translation (including bilingual poems and homophonic translations), and will finish with students playing with language themselves, using literal translations of common expressions (i.e. it costs an arm and a leg / ça coute les yeux de la tête) as prompts, or sparks, for their own poems.


Learning Objectives

In this lesson, students will have an opportunity to:

  • tap into the potential for playful poetic enrichment when working with a second language 
  • study poems that incorporate words from another language, with conscious attention to the ‘foreignness’ of the other language, to gain a new angle on our first, or working, language 
  • compose their own original poems using literal translations of common expressions in the sister language

Materials and Resources

To teach this lesson, you will need:

  • Mots d’heures gousses rames
  • Fryer Jerker / Jaunty Ally Wetter
  • Definition of homophonic translation
  • Screenshare or handout for each student of “Un petit d’un petit” and “Hâte, carosse bonzes” (for an Anglophone class) or “Fryer Jerker” and “Jaunty Ally Wetter” (for a Francophone class) - alternatively, pairs of students can share this handout
  • List of examples of expressions in French and English

Choose 2 or more of the following poems and use screensharing or make handouts for each student

  • “Homophones” by Rebecca Salazar (optional)
  • Untranslatable” by Adriana Oniță
  • The planets pass” by Jessica Moore
  • “Villeneuve Villanelle” by Linda Besner (optional)
  • I’ll teach you Cree” by Gregory Scofield
  • "The Woods, " by Erin Robinsong (optional)

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