Interview _ Eva Malessa

Eva Malessa is an educational professional who also works as a translator and an academic proofreader.

In this interviews Malessa talks about migration, adult late literacy acquisition, and Journeys in Translation.

How would you describe the work that you do?

My bilingual background and my passion for languages and literature drove me to pursue the study of Finnish, German and English.

As a qualified language teacher, I have gained considerable work experience in various educational settings in Finland and the UK, e.g. as a foreign language assistant at the Glasgow Gaelic School. Most recently during my MA studies at Newcastle University I have gained experience of teaching multilingual groups of home and international students giving German conversation and beginner classes in addition to Finnish and German language tasters to promote language awareness and learning.

I have also been working for the Action Foundation and First Step charities in Newcastle, assisting refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants in their English learning process as an ESOL volunteer.

What has influenced you the most?

Working as a full time teacher is very time-consuming. However, in addition to teaching, I have been occasionally working as a translator and academic proof-reader. In most cases purely for the joy of discovering even more linguistic details about my languages.

I am an avid reader and being able to read fluently in three languages can be both a blessing and a curse as there is simply too much to read. Yet I could not imagine spending a day without a book in my hands.

My academic interest in late literacy resulted, last year, in a postgraduate dissertation exploring behaviour of non-literate and low-literate adult second language learners in a computer-assisted language learning context of the Digital Literacy Instructor (DigLin). This European DigLin project aims to advance literacy training for adult immigrants learning for the first time in a language other than their first language. My study investigated Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition (LESLLA) learners learning to read for the first time in Finnish.

How have your personal experiences influenced you in this?

So far I have studied and worked in Germany, Finland and the UK. As a European citizen I have enjoyed my freedom of movement and residence and taken it mostly for granted, even though Brexit has changed things and had a great impact on my professional and private life.

Growing up in highly-literate countries one easily forgets that not everyone has the opportunity to be(come) literate.

In the light of the most recent humanitarian migration to Europe special language and literacy training for low-educated, low- or non-literate adults is urgently needed. In Finland, however, adult non-literacy is a new phenomenon and while there is little research on how non-literate adults acquire basic literacy skills, the challenge to acquire simultaneously oral and literacy skills in Finnish is enormous.

One driving force for me to conduct my study and explore the potentials of adult late literacy acquisition in the online DigLin learning environment is the fact that literacy is one major factor in preventing social exclusion, as it enables active participation in literate societies. [Editor's Note: More information on current research on Low Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition (LESLLA) for Adults is available at the LESLLA online research forum.] 

What would you say has been your most recent achievement as a writer?

Last year I participated in a German writing competition, entitled ‘When Cultures Meet’, organised by the DAAD London, the IMLR, and the Goethe Institut in London.

The task was to continue storylines on themes of migration and flight based on launchpad texts provided by German-speaking authors Anja Tuckermann from Berlin and Ulrike Ulrich from Zürich.

My text won the competition in the native speaker category.

The awards ceremony in London earlier this year was a great opportunity to meet the two authors and the other participants and hear their own versions, complex stories of hope and despair, full of emotions and surprising ends.

How did you get involved with Journeys in Translation?

I have not translated poetry before and when I read on social media about the Journeys in Translations project, I decided to give it a go and translated four of the 13 poems into Finnish.

I chose the following poems: "The Man Who Ran Through the Tunnel" (Ambrose Musiyiwa), "Waiting" (Kathleen Bell), "What's in a Name" (Penny Jones) and "Dislocation" (Pam Thomson), as they skilfully capture fleeting moments and memories in words and create strong visual and vivid images.

I felt drawn to a world of strangers, a strange world that became more and more approachable by applying words of my own language. To quote Pentti Saarikoski, a Finnish poet, "Suomen kieli on minulle ikkuna ja talo. Minä asun tässä kielessä. Se on minun ihoni." (The Finnish language is my window and house. I live in this language. It is my skin.)

I hope my translations can convey the essence of these poems of human nature and need. Moments and memories can, in my opinion, be encoded in language to make people think about and question their own behaviour and hopefully also relate to other people’s experiences and endeavours through the means of poetry.

Kathleen Bell’s “Waiting”, Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) p. 62. Translated into Finnish by Eva Malessa.

What would you say is the value of initiatives like Journeys in Translation?

I believe that in times of crises and uncertainty we need literature and poetry to reflect our lives and find ways to overcome difficult times by building and repairing bridges from one person to another. Language is one of the most powerful tools to do so. In Nelson Mandela’s words, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

Editor's Note:

Journeys in Translation aims to facilitate cross- and inter-cultural conversations around the themes of home, belonging and refuge.

The project encourages people who are bilingual or multilingual to have a go at translating 13 of the 101 poems from Over Land: Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) from English into other languages and to share the translations, and reflections on the exercise on blogs, in letters and emails to family and friends, and on social media.

So far, the 13 poems that are being used as part of the project have been translated into languages that include Italian, German, Shona, Spanish, Bengali, British Sign Language, Farsi, Finnish, French, Turkish and Welsh. Currently, over 20 people from all over the world are working on the translations. More translations and more languages are on the way.

In Leicester, Journeys in Translation will culminate in an event that is going to be held on September 30 as part of Everybody's Reading 2017. During the event the original poems and translations will be read, discussed and displayed.

Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) was edited by Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee and Siobhan Logan and is being sold to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)Leicester City of Sanctuary and the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum.

Copies of the anthology are available from Five Leaves Bookshop (Nottingham).

More information on how Over Land, Over Sea came about is available here.


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