Iowa Teens Translate Books into Arabic for Iraqis Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has just mailed a shipment of children's books to Iraq — translated by the school's Arabic class. The teacher behind the project, Ikram Easton, talks with Melissa Block about Easton's effort and why translating Dr. Seuss is no small feat.
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Iowa Teens Translate Books into Arabic for Iraqis

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Iowa Teens Translate Books into Arabic for Iraqis

Iowa Teens Translate Books into Arabic for Iraqis

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For some Iraqi children whose families have stayed in Iraq despite the violence, a welcome distraction is on its way. This morning, Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa sent two shipments of children's books to Iraq. They'll be distributed by U.S. soldiers there. Teacher Ikram Easton had students in her beginner's Arabic class translate them. So what does Dr. Seuss's foot book sounds like in Arabic?

Ms. IKRAM EASTON (Teacher): (Speaking in foreign language).

BLOCK: That's Ikram Easton who joins us from Washington. Hi, and Ms. Easton, how does this program work? How is the translation going?

Ms. EASTON: The original project started for my first year Arabic students as a way to review the alphabet that we finished in the first semester. And I realized that some students were having difficulty with position and the number of the dots that go over either the letter or under the letter in Arabic. So when I proposed the project, they were very excited. And we started with selecting three books for each student. And so they translated the words. And they brought it to class and we went over the translated version that they brought in.

BLOCK: You know, with Dr. Seuss especially and a lot of kids' books, rhyming is so key. Has that been sort of lost in the shuffle?

Ms. EASTON: It has lost. You're right. We won't be able to deliver the actual beauty of rhymes of Dr. Seuss into children in Iraq. But however, we decided to do this project because it had a tremendous educational benefit.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. I guess you'd want to avoid, you know, "There's a Wocket in My Pocket" or something like that. It would just really drive the kids crazy.

Ms. EASTON: Yes. We couldn't actually - this is one of the phrases that we couldn't really find an exact meaning, so we just made it up.

BLOCK: What did you change it to?

Ms. EASTON: We changed it to (speaking in foreign language). And that means there is monster in my pocket.

BLOCK: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Has there been a book that you realize, gosh, this sounds really great in Arabic?

Ms. EASTON: Yes. One of them is the, actually learning to ride a bicycle, (speaking in foreign language). And that was very interesting because sentence structure was very close to what it is in Arabic. Oops, I fall a few times. Oops in Arabic is Oof(ph) (foreign language spoken).

BLOCK: Ms. Easton, have there been any books that you had to rule out because of cultural sensitivities? I was just thinking about, you know, "Green Eggs and Ham," for example.

Ms. EASTON: Actually, no. We didn't get that book donated to us. But you know, to be honest with you, I don't think this project has anything to do with politics and with cultural sensitivity. It's mainly for our American students, first of all, to learn. At the same time, when they were doing that, they were thinking of children in Iraq. And they could be children in Sudan, could be children anywhere or even people anywhere.

BLOCK: Well, Ms. Easton, it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much for telling us about this.

Ms. EASTON: Thank you so much, Melissa, and I appreciate the time.

BLOCK: Ikram Easton teaches Arabic in Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her classes are sending children's books to children in Iraq. Each night, she reads to her 2-year-old daughter in English and Arabic.

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