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Paulo Freire in and on Translation

July 16, 2014

Abram K-J posted today his wonderful Spanish language “poem-prayer” inspired by his study of the works of Paulo Freire. Abram in comments below his post explains why he didn’t use Portuguese but used Spanish instead: La clase para que escribí un papel sobre Freire (la poema apareció al fin del papel) estaba una clase enseñaba en español. In other words, the professor and Abram and his classmates spoke and wrote in Spanish to study Freire in translation. And yet, he clarifies, in English, that when he read Freire’s most famous work it was in English translation.

Here’s a cover shot of the cover of one of the editions of this famous book:


This is one of the few covers of Pedagogy of the Oppressed that gives credit to the English language translator, Myra Bergman Ramos. What did Freire think about her and her translation?

Well, in Pedagogia da Esperança, co-written with Nita Freire (aka Ana Maria Araújo), he tells his thoughts about Ramos’s translating, and more.


Below we get some of that in the Freire’s Portuguese and in the English (translated by Robert R. Barr as Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed):





Additional detail of Freire’s work with Ramos is given by James D. Kirylo in his essay, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The Publication Process of Paulo Freire’s Seminal Work“:



I do not know, but I would imagine, that when in the United States teaching, Freire spoke with audiences and taught classes of students at Harvard in English (even if through an interpreter of his spoken Brazilian Portuguese). Given his play with and his practice of the power of language of the oppressed, it seems he had a great admiration for how young people — learners as pedagogues and pedagogues as students — would struggle with texts. He stays with this question, and I think he would appreciate what Abram has prayed in his poetry en español, as a translation of Freire’s language and ideas.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2014 4:05 pm

    I think you are either too kind, or give me more credit than I deserve, but thank you all the same for the kind words and additional comments on the translation process. It is very interesting!

    I do remember in some other writing (this time in EnglisH) I did on Freire (a paper co-written with the woman whom I would later marry!), how difficult it was to figure out how to translate his conscientizacion/conscientização. So we left it untranslated, I think.

  2. July 16, 2014 6:53 pm

    This book has had an enormous influence on my life. I was reading it while I was writing my thesis on literacy among a First Nations group in Canada. And part way through the book I realized this book was about me. I was profoundly shocked that I had not been aware that I put on myself the value and opinions that the men in my community reserved for women. It was a painful awakening. I can still remember that moment many years ago as if it were yesterday. THe words and phrases may seem complex, but if you are a part of this book, you read it in paragraphs, in great gulps of sorrow and hope.

  3. July 17, 2014 7:42 am

    Do you think I’m kinder and more credit giving that Freire was to the two English readers of his book in the quotation above? On the question of either somehow translating or simply borrowing from his Portuguese his phrase conscientização, I think you have lots of sympathy. In Pedagogy of Hope, translator Barr leaves the term untranslated (except for once right in the middle, after the earlier context has given a pretty good sense of all it might mean, where he uses an appositive: “If my position at the time had been mechanistic, I would not even have spoken of the raising of consciousness, of conscientização.”) Wouldn’t Freire just love your poem-prayer? Would you please translate it in English and also in Portuguese?

    Thank you for sharing how Pedagogy of the Oppressed influenced your scholarship and even your life. Reading your brief comment, I’m struck by how you felt convicted by the position you found yourself in reading the book. (I have to agree in my thinking with yours, and perhaps we share a bit of an experience. I remember reading this sentence again and again and again: “If men and women are searchers and their ontological vocation is humanization, sooner or later they may perceive the contradiction in which banking education seeks to maintain them, and then engage themselves in the struggle for their liberation.” Which forced me back up to this line repeatedly: “The ‘humanism’ of the banking approach masks the effort to turn women and men into automatons — the very negation of their ontological vocation to be more fully human.” I felt, and understood how, I’d gotten things backwards and upside down in my learning, and worse, in my teaching. Pedagogy has influenced now the way I administer the academic programs I direct at a university in north america working with individual learners and instructors from around the world. One of my now retired faculty members lived for years in Brazil and met Paulo and Nita at a party. In real life they live what they taught and wrote, it would seem.)

  4. July 17, 2014 4:50 pm

    *Do you think I’m kinder and more credit giving that Freire was to the two English readers of his book in the quotation above?*

    I couldn’t say, but I do appreciate (in both cases) the hermeneutic of charity and credit-giving!

    *Wouldn’t Freire just love your poem-prayer?*

    I honestly have no idea. Maybe? What do you think?

    *Would you please translate it in English and also in Portuguese?*

    Really? It’s funny–I actually have never done that, since I both thought it and wrote it in Spanish. But I could try, into English at least. (I do not speak Portuguese.)

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