Interview Tips

Interview: Anam Zafar on judging the Anthea Bell Prize

Lots of exciting new initiatives to encourage young people to explore languages and translation have emerged in the UK in recent years. One initiative is The Anthea Bell Prize for schools. French and Arabic to English translator Anam Zafar takes a moment to tell us what it was like to judge this exciting translation competition for budding translators.

ETN: Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you learn your languages?

AZ: University was when I became “serious” with my languages, where I did an undergraduate degree in Arabic and French, but I had already started with both languages before that. French was available to me at secondary school, and I learned to read Arabic as a child, as many non-Arab Muslims learn to do. I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree but I enjoyed French too much to give it up, and it was really important for me, as a Muslim, to get a proper grasp of Arabic. My university was based in the UK, but I got to improve my fluency by spending a year in a language school in Jordan for my second year and working in France in the university holidays.

ETN: How did you get involved with the Anthea Bell Prize? And what is it exactly?

AZ: Through the ETN, in fact. In spring 2021, I saw a callout from the Queen’s College Translation Exchange. They were looking for translators for a new project—including translators from French—who were based in specific regions of the UK. I fit those requirements, so, curious, I emailed to find out more. When they explained they were looking for judges for the Anthea Bell Prize, I knew I would love to be involved. At that time, I had recently started volunteering for Project World Kid Lit and was in the process of applying for a training programme with the Stephen Spender Trust to design and deliver creative translation workshops in schools. Being a judge on the Prize was a great way to extend my work with young people and I was delighted to be invited back in 2022 to be a regional and national judge for French again. Earlier in 2022, I also helped the Prize team to source new French texts for future competition and classroom resources, as part of the Translation Exchange’s Inclusive Outreach through Translation project. The aim of this project is to develop more inclusive Prize materials and ensure existing resources are accessible to all, to reach and engage more young language learners across the UK.

ETN: It must have been really interesting reading all the entries! Could you share a few things you learned from judging the competition?

AZ: When someone is enthusiastic about their work, it really shows in the work. We shouldn’t hide our enthusiasm.

There are an infinite number of ways to translate the same text. Don’t be afraid to try things.

There are many ways we can challenge young people’s preconceptions about who is “allowed” to be a linguist. We should continue to support them.

ETN: Has reading the entries influenced your own translation practice today?

AZ: I have found comfort and confidence in thinking about what I would say to the young people whose entries I read and turning those comments on myself. Things like “Looking up words is normal, it doesn’t make you a bad linguist or less worthy to be a translator,” and “Your adventurousness with this piece really paid off.” Being involved in introductory initiatives to translation, such as the Prize, is a chance to remind myself why I personally wanted to work in this area and what makes a linguist.

Anam Zafar is an award-winning translator working from Arabic and French into English. In 2022 she guest-edited the “JOKE” issue of ArabLit Quarterly. She is also the winner of the 2021 Gulf Coast Prize in Translation and the 2021 Stinging Fly New Translator’s Bursary. She runs translation workshops for young people and volunteers for Project World Kid Lit. Her translations have been published by ArabLit Quarterly, Gulf Coast, The Markaz Review, and The Stinging Fly, among others. Follow her on Twitter: @anam_translates.

By Johanna McCalmont

Johanna McCalmont was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in Brussels, Belgium where she works from French, German, Dutch and Italian. Her work has been published by the Los Angeles Review, Asymptote, Lunch Ticket, New Books in German, No Man’s Land and the European Literature Network. She loves connecting writers with audiences when interpreting at literary festivals and has a particular interest in African literature.

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