Our Favorite Experiences in International Education, Vol.2: Translating the Context

December 10, 2018

In the course of developing our lessons, we’ve come to the point where we’re about to exchange the lessons that each partner has put together and tested in the local context so that we can test them on a transnational level. This is a very important point for our whole project, because the assumption upon which we planned it lies in the possibility of being able to transfer the individual lessons for use in different cultural contexts. It will be interesting for teachers and students to compare experiences, then, with communism and with state socialism in various countries of the former Eastern bloc.

While preparing to transfer the lessons, we have to pay close attention to a few basic limitations and possible complications that could come up.

A Knowledge of Context

It may seem as though students today don’t have a great knowledge about the social reality of the period of state socialism and communism in Czechoslovakia, and therefore they would essentially be in the same situation as a foreigner when dealing with a lesson on the subject. Looking at it this way, culturally translating the lesson shouldn’t be so complicated — however, it’s not that simple. In working with audiovisual and other sources from anywhere besides the local context, students can run into a lack of understanding that isn’t because of the foreign language and can’t be easily fixed with a linguistic translation.

This mainly comes up with the social context, which doesn’t change that quickly. Many cultural practices that were normal during the period of state socialism in Czechoslovakia have, in some way, lasted until today — for example, the Czech practices of spending time at cottages outside the city or by gardening. A foreigner wouldn’t necessarily get the full meaning attached to those practices that a Czech would while using a source that involved characters going to the cottage with their parents for the weekend, or going to spend the summer holidays with their grandmothers; it would certainly surprise that foreigner, then, when a character in a film clip compares going to spend a holiday with his relative to a “concentration camp” (which takes place in this clip: https://www.socialismrealised.eu/catalogue/a-serious-conversation/).

This doesn’t mean that material containing a line like that thus becomes completely unusable, but it’s just necessary to think about how you’ll have to fill in the context more and look for equivalent cultural practices in the local context. Showing the ways in which cultural practices in the countries of the Eastern bloc were the same and the ways in which they were different is, however, precisely one of this project’s goals. Therefore, we can’t put off the necessity of a cultural translation.

Global, or local/national (Czech) history?

Another problem that we might encounter in transferring the lectures to an international context is the strong tradition (at least in the Czech Republic) of separating national history from world or European history. Into which of these categories, then, would a lesson about everyday life in state socialism in Slovakia or Yugoslavia go? In what context should we teach about the borders between Bulgaria and Turkey? Fundamentally, of course, these fit into European history. Our lessons, however, are meant to create a bridge between local history and European history; they should help students to understand Czech history in connection with the history of other countries. This isn’t referring just to political connections, but rather to everyday societal practices. How was everyday life during the period of state socialism different in the Slovak and Czech parts of Czechoslovakia?

These are nuances that don’t receive a lot of emphasis during normal instruction, and they can nonetheless be key for understanding further historical developments. Therefore, we shouldn’t weigh ourselves down with the fact that it isn’t entirely clear where to categorize the individual lessons and whether they count as Czech or European history. They’re really about Czech history in a context that matches up with the current Czech curriculum and the emphasis on the international connections within it.