March 14, 2024

Woman sits in a red upholstered chair holding a copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff Mirta Suquet, assistant professor of Spanish studiesThree Billy Goats Gruff is a 19th century Norwegian fairy tale that tells the story of three goats that must outsmart a villainous troll to cross a bridge to fresh feeding grounds.

Students in Mirta Suquet’s spring 2023 course Grammar and Composition crossed a different kind of bridge when they translated writer Mac Barnett’s adapted text into Spanish for Scholastic Corporation.

“Traditional grammar classes tend to be dull and dense, and students who’ve encountered this style of teaching in high school often approach the subject with fear or resignation,” said Suquet, assistant professor of Spanish studies. “I introduced several translation projects to inspire motivation and illustrate that learning grammar isn’t just about reviewing rules and exceptions; it can be applied to practical life.”

Natalie Doebley ’27, a double major in Spanish studies and computer science from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, said impostor syndrome played a big role in a project like this one.

“Being a nonnative Spanish speaker and only a first-year student when we started the project, I often doubted my ability to speak and write in Spanish outside of the classroom,” she said. “Working alongside my professors and the publication of our translated book have shown me I possess all the skills to succeed in the real world.”

Lessons learned from story and translation process

“The moral of the story encompasses not just lessons about avoiding greed but also about being clever over resorting to violence to overcome obstacles,” Suquet said. “This amusing picture book brought laughter to us, and realizing that we will bring joy to many children is a significant accomplishment.”

Throughout the semester, students conducted theoretical and practical lessons on translation and translated poems by Monica Prince, assistant professor of English & creative writing, and Latina writer Jasminne Mendez. Their final project was the translation of Three Billy Goats Gruff, which involved collaborative workshops that began with reviewing the English version, discussing nuances and identifying potential challenges. Then, working in teams, the students collectively decided on the most suitable Spanish words, ensuring clarity, cultural relevance and a similar tone to the original.

“Working on this project taught me two main lessons: the value of teamwork and how to persevere through problems like self-doubt or getting stuck on translation,” Doebley said. “Working with a team can be helpful to overcome obstacles and lift each other up. This project brought our class closer together as we helped each other through the process.”

This is Suquet’s second class translation for Scholastic. Two years ago, students in her Spanish for Heritage Speakers course translated The Story of Ruby Bridges. As the first to translate Robert Coles’ children’s book, Suquet’s class received credit for their translation inside the book’s cover.

“My goal is for students to cultivate a deeper understanding of language intricacies, cultural nuances and the significance of context in translation. I aim for them to acquire practical skills in applying grammar rules and vocabulary in real-world scenarios,” Suquet said. “This project sought to foster a love for language and literature while honing valuable translation skills, emphasizing that pursuing a career as translators is a worthwhile choice.”