Visit Our New World Language Collection

By Rebecca Ballenger, Coordinator of Outreach and Collections, Worlds of Words

Worlds of Words in the University of Arizona College of Education added a World Language collection of over a thousand texts to its main collection of 36,000 global books. Due to what the book industry refers to as the “translation gap,” it’s likely that fewer than 3.7 percent of WOW’s new World Language collection has an English version.

World Language Collection

“The collection provides support for community and university members who want access to picturebooks in world languages to facilitate language learning as well as scholars who want to research literature from particular global cultures,” says WOW Director Kathy Short, who is also a professor of Language, Reading and Culture.

Over time, supporters of the collections at WOW have donated books they’ve gathered in their world travels. As the books in the main collection target English-speaking students in order to gain global perspectives, these world language books have been in limited use. That changed with a donation of over 300 books in Russian, including Soviet-era texts, from Brenda Frye and Sergey Cherkis.

“I chose to donate to WOW so that Russian language and literature could be distributed to children of all ages in the Tucson community, hopefully for many years into the future,” says Frye, Assistant Astronomer and Assistant Professor with the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

Soviet-era Picturebooks

WOW’s World Language collection includes books in many languages such as Arabic, Korean and Swedish but the three largest sections are Chinese, Russian and Spanish. None of the books are translated from published work in English, but a small number of books in the collection are translated from a language other than English into another world language. The bulk of the collection are published in their original language.

“Many Americans do not realize the high quality and range of books for children being published in countries around the world because they only see the small percentage that are translated into English,” says Short.

Language is a barrier for publication in the U.S. as American publishers need people on staff with diverse linguistic skills in order to evaluate transcripts or to prepare translation samples. Additionally, people in the U.S. have Western European perspectives and are more comfortable culturally with books coming from Western Europe. This explains why, of the small number of books translated to English, most are Western European.

The translation gap has been attributed to a stereotype of Americans as culturally insulated or lacking curiosity, but most publishers of translated works depend on academic or philanthropic support. This indicates that the translation gap may not be addressed quickly enough for young people who are already connecting to the world through online platforms.

The new World Language collection is located in the teaching workshop and classroom at Worlds of Words. The collection is free to visit and open to the public. For more information or to schedule a guided tour, contact wow@email.arizona.edu.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Check out our two online journals,WOW Review and WOW Stories, and keep up with WOW’s news and events.

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