GCD: Multilingualism (Word Up)

On March 17th 2016 the YIS  Library held an event called WordUp. It was similar to what other schools call a poetry slam but the one at our school was not a contest. It was more to show and share poems from our culture.

 As I am originally from Germany I decided to share a poem from my own culture. The poem I chose was ‘Erlkönig’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. However as I did want people to understand what I was saying I preformed the english one afterwards.

These were the scripts:


Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

“Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?” –
“Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?” –
“Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.”

“Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel’ ich mit dir;
Manch’ bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.” –

“Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?” –
“Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.” –

“Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.” –

“Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?” –
“Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh’ es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. –”

“Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch’ ich Gewalt.” –
“Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!” –

Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Müh’ und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.


(I found this translation online but I changed the majority of it to make it sound better and so that it would properly send out the message that the german one is trying to convey)

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safe, he keepeth him warm.

“My son, why do you burry your face in my side?”
“Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our hide!
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?”
“My son, ’tis the mist rising over the plain.”

“Oh, come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
For many a game I will play there with thee;
On my strand, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold,
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold.”

“My father, my father, and do you not hear
The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?”
“Be calm, dearest child, ’tis thy fancy deceives;
‘Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves.”

“Wilt thou go, then, dear infant, wilt thou go with me there?
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care;
My daughters by night their glad festival keep,
They’ll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep.”

“My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?”
“My darling, my darling, I see it alright,
‘Tis the aged grey willows deceiving thy sight.”

“I love thee, I’m charm’d by thy beauty, dear boy!
And if thou art unwilling, then force I’ll employ.”
“My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
For sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last.”

The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread, –
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.

Why did I chose this poem?

I chose this poem as it represents german culture to me.When I was still going to a school in Germany we did a unit on poetry and I chose to study this specific poem. It uses a lot of ‘german’ techniques and even though the erlking is not a german legend it still occurs in Germany and is based on german history and legends.  By choosing to present this poem I attempted to teach the audience about german culture in a more abstract way. I believe learning about a new culture is more interesting when done through poetry than when it is done in a classroom where you just learn facts.

The preparation:

As we were told to memorize the poems I spent the entire week before  the performance trying to memorize the english version of the Erlking (I had already memorized the german version in a previous school). However I have extreme difficulties memorizing  texts so I could not get any further than memorizing the general words but I always messed up the less important words. I guess I could have performed like that an just improvised on the words I wasn’t certain about. Luckily on the day of the performance I told one of the organizers this and she told me that she had also not memorized her poem yet. This meant that I could take a script with me for the english part of my performance. I chose not to take a script for the german one as I wanted to practice performing just out of memory.

The performance:

As I have public speaking anxiety, this added an additional challenge to this event. When I started to perform I felt the tears rising up inside of me and my voice started to shake. I knew hat this meant that I was going to cry through out my entire presentation. However for the first time ever, I managed to continue speaking and finish both of the poems.


In my opinion a major part of reflecting on a performance is by listening to the feedback of others. This is some of the feedback I received from the audience.

My previos english teacher: “I noticed that you really started to gain confidence, especially throughout the second half of your performance.”

Librarian: ”I really liked you english presentation. I was surprise at how much I enjoyed the german one too.” 

My german teacher: “I though it was incredibly brave of you to perform in front of this group of teachers and twelfth graders. Then even selecting a German poem like the “Erlkönig”! Amazing.”

This feedback made me realize that maybe me performance wasn’t as bad as I thought. I guess that maybe the tears even made people feel more emotional about the poem. One feedback that I especially like is the second comment from my german teacher which was:

“In my opinion the best part about your performance was that at first most people did not understand what you were saying due to language barriers but then once they heard the english and understood what you had been saying it caused even more surprise.”

I liked this as it showed the power of language and poetry combined. In the german presentation people may have been able to recognize a word or two but they would not have understood the message. However once I told the poem in the universal language of english people understood what I was saying.