Teaching Translation with the Public Domain
by Catherine Addington
This lesson plan uses one of the poems in Robert Frost’s New Hampshire, “Plowmen,” for an exercise that teaches the basics of poetic analysis, translation principles, and U.S. copyright to novice translation students. In publishing this lesson plan, this project aims to demonstrate two major benefits of using public-domain resources in the translation classroom:
- Since public-domain materials may be reproduced in full for free, they are ideal for classroom use. They may also be collected and anthologized for free to create DIY textbooks or source materials for translation projects.
- Students may publish their translations of public-domain materials without securing any translation rights. This enables students to build out a translation portfolio, in addition to providing an authentic audience for student work (whether work is made public or limited to peers).
As Emily Mellen’s translation of “Plowmen” and reflection on her process demonstrates, this poem is well suited to teaching translation not just because of its short length and straightforward content, but because of the importance it places on wordplay, rhyme, meter, and local context. For students who are new to translation, working on such a poem would encourage them to move beyond word-for-word, diction-focused translation by taking these factors into consideration.
In addition to guiding students through the process of poetic translation and articulating their principles of translation, this lesson plan also asks students to consider how copyright and the public domain affect their work as translators. Upon finishing this lesson, students will not only be able to seek out public-domain materials they can use to build out their portfolio, but also make informed decisions about their own status as copyright holders.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
As such, you are encouraged to adapt this lesson plan and make any necessary changes to the texts, exercises, or languages used. Suggestions on how to do so are given in the possibilities for extension section at the end of the lesson plan.