World of Story

: is a collaborative project which is part of a community service learning course taught by Robert Kirchner.

Robert Kirchner - 17 December 2010

Two undergraduate students, Paula Frigon and Allison Husband, collaborated this semester with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomer's annual 'World of Story' family literacy project, collecting translations of an Indian folk tale, "The Mice and the Elephants", into over 25 languages of Edmonton's immigrant communities. This collaborative project was part of a community service learning course taught by Robert Kirchner, with generous technical support from Ben Tucker.

The project serves the goal of literacy by making stories available to immigrant families in their first languages, encouraging parents to tell and read stories to their children and thus build up their vocabularies. A number of studies have shown that literacy in a first language facilitates learning of English as a second language and literacy in English. The project will be featured at a Family Literacy Day celebration at Edmonton City Hall in mid to late January.

Native speaker/storytellers were recruited through EMCN. Starting from an English version, the storytellers translated the story into their native languages (in some cases modifying the story in culturally appropriate ways), and then came in to the Linguistics Dept., a few each week during November and early December, to be recorded in sound booths by the two students. The students then edited the recordings to eliminate breathing noises, excessive pauses, false starts, and the like.

The recordings will be made available online at Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. EMCN will also produce text translations in some of the languages. The linguistics department will retain archival copies of the audio data for possible use in future research.

This year's story concerns a herd of elephants who repeatedly disturb a village of mice by stampeding through on their way to a nearby water hole. The mice ask the elephants to warn them before coming through the village. The elephants agree, but laugh at the mice's offer to return the favour. Subsequently, the elephants are trapped in nets by some hunters. The mice come and gnaw through the nets, freeing the elephants. The story appears to be a variant of Aesop's fable of the mouse and the lion.

Allison commented, "Working with the individuals in the community has granted me a different 'real-world' perspective. I have learned how classroom knowledge translates to society and how it impacts our community." Paula added, " I have learned about important issues surrounding litercy in immigrant populations, about the programs offered by EMCN, and about the language communities in Edmonton."

Robert Kirchner hopes to offer this World of Story community service learning class again in Fall 2011.