Engagement: School students and research

How can we get younger students more engaged and interested in research? By offering them the opportunity to do some of their own.

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In May 2019, Project DaRT welcomed Sara Balboni, an Italian student from Bologna who has spent the year at school in Ireland, to participate in a small research project in conjunction with Project DaRT.

The rationale behind this short, 2-week project was to offer a secondary school student nearing the end of their compulsory schooling, the opportunity to engage in real, authentic research. A project was created that would emulate typical translation-based research, which could be undertaken in a short period of time, but that would still produce a set of valid results and conclusions for further research.

We believe that this project was a success and believe that it could be used as a model to engage more secondary school students in authentic research opportunities and to practise skills that would not necessarily be used at school.

An investigation into Cork City as a Translation Zone

by Sara Balboni

What is translation?

Sara Balboni completed at work experience at UCC in May 2019

Translation is the process of translating words from one language into another; more precisely, it is the communication of meaning from the source language to the target one.

The purpose of translation is to convey the original tone and intent of a message, taking into account cultural and regional differences between source and target languages.

The English word “translation” comes from the Latin word “translatio”, which in this case means “bringing across” from one language to another.

Cities in translation

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

The city is a communication device which speaks to us through every fibre of its being. Applying this idea to my own experience, I notice that walking down the main streets of Bologna, my hometown, quite often messages are communicated to the receiver through people talking, people’s movements, shop fronts.

This might be referred to as at “translation zone”, which originates from the term “contact zones”, social spaces where disparate cultures meet and clash with each other, and of course translation is one of the most important activities. The translation zone can be divided into 3 types: the physical, the sensory and the digital.

The physical aspect of a city, so what you can actually see, is an important aspect of this research because it can be considered key in the creation of meaningful spaces of contact and civic participation. Walking around in a city like Cork, there are several physical features that can be related to different cultures and languages (buildings, signs, writings…) and that are examples of translation.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

The sensory landscape is the audible surface of the city and language is a part of it. We can consider the sensory landscape of cities, from the perspective of language as their own music that “expresses” the movement and mutation of life.  

The language in this case is considered as sound, which in a city is ephemeral, it lasts for a very short time (think about sounds that one can hear in workplaces, or markets, or schools). Even though these sounds do not last forever (instead of buildings in a city for example), they are remembered as part of that city. I think this is the role of language in the area of sensory landscape, to give a further significance.

In the contemporary times, one dimension of the city is located in the physical reality of the built environment and the other dimension is the virtual skin of digital connectivity wrapped around urban spaces.

Photo by Adriana Radu on Unsplash

Looking at Cork City online we do not find many websites with offers of translation despite the multicultural population. Clearly, the main translation available is Irish; however, the Irish translations are often considerably shorter than the original English versions.

Every city has a translation zone, an area of intense interaction across languages and spaces. But they also have “resistance to translation” zones. This creates an idea of divided urban space.

Making a comparison between Cork City and my hometown Bologna, I found some similarities about whether these cities are translation zones or not. Considering physical, sensory and digital aspects of both cities, in my opinion they are not common translation zones as the main culture/language is focused on the country (i.e. Ireland or Italy in this case) or the multicultural population.

Photo by Adriana Radu on Unsplash

In Bologna, it’s hard to find physical features of translation beside some shops, as is the case in Cork.

The most common place where we can find translation in these cities is probably the sensory landscape, since it’s very likely to hear people talking in their native language in town.

As I said before, the digital aspect of these cities is lacking in translation: to prove this I did an experiment online looking for different languages on the websites of Cork and Bologna finding only Irish for Cork and English for Bologna.

Translation zones are elements through which translation can be considered a key to understanding urban life. Thanks to translation we can see whether a foreign population is marginalized, well-integrated, irrelevant or independent in the society.

History: people in Cork

Exploring the historical context helps us to understand why the present is the way it is. Historical facts can tell us about the movements of people, who was in Cork, when, and what traces can still be seen of their presence here. This is important for translation and its visibility because it can affect the society of today and its culture.

This data provides us with an overview of the movement of people and, therefore, the language. As we can see, in the past, the main nationalities were English, French and Spanish. From this data we expect to find a numerous population of Spanish and French, and as a consequence a strong presence of their culture.

Cork today: Census

A Census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is the statistical agency responsible for the gathering of “information relating to economic, social and general activities and conditions”. 

Census data is important for this research as it gives us factual information about the population to which we can refer with the purpose to find aspects of culture and language. Analysing the last census in Ireland (2016), in particular focusing on the Profiles 7 (Migration and Diversity) and 8 (Irish Travellers Ethnicity and Religion), it is possible to find data about Cork City that relates to the languages you might see/hear and the nationalities who live here.

A clear feature that emerges is the high percentage of people identifying as Polish in Cork City (3,209 in 2016) compared to German (1,119) and Spanish (1,003). As we can see, the Polish population is almost three times bigger than the others. From this research we would expect to see a remarkable presence of elements from Poland and a littler one from Spain, according to census data.

Another interesting fact that emerges from profile 8 is that the Asian population is only 2,667 according to the 2016 census (definitely a low number considering the numerous Asian activities in town, such as Asian restaurants and take away).


To carry out this research I used different sources of information such as the article by Michael Cronin and Sherry Simon “The city as translation zone”, the data of the last census in Ireland from the CSO, and in particular an application on my phone.

The app that I downloaded is Flickr and it allowed me to take pictures and then see them on a map. I used this app in order to have a visual idea of the concentration of languages and translation in the city centre.

The area of concentration appears to be in the two main streets of Cork, St. Patrick’s Street and Washington Street.


From the research carried out we can come to the conclusion that the languages spoken in Cork City, beside of course English, are mainly Polish, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Italian.

However, despite this diversity, the instances of translation in the city and the presence of other languages apart from English and Irish is quite minimal. Where we do see evidence of translation and language, it is not representative of the largest minority groups in the city.

Also, despite the ample translation in Irish, it is very unlikely that you will hear someone speaking Irish.

All these languages can be found in typical parts of the city such as in the streets, in shops, on shop fronts or in restaurants.

Sadly, the extent of these languages is limited to words and it’s almost impossible to find sentences or paragraphs.

The function of the use of these languages, in particular for commercial aspects, is in my opinion a way to spread a culture and try to involve people. But, I don’t think there is a real purpose of identity and patriotism behind this choice, I find it more as a way of exoticising the city for the Irish that live here.

Also, the results obtained show a rich diversity of languages and cultures expressed only in a very small part in the society we live in.


Considering the history of the population of Cork City we expect to find a multicultural society based on ethnic groups present in the past, such as Spanish, English and French. Also, we would expect to see more Polish influence as this constitutes the largest group of foreign nationals in the city. Instead, as we can gather from the pictures taken for the research, there is no relationship between the history, census data and the photos taken. In fact, apart from Irish, the most predominant group visible in the city was those from Asian backgrounds despite the fact that they constitute one of the smallest groups in terms of population.

This tells us one of two things. Firstly, that perhaps Polish immigrants are unable to promote their presence in the city for any number of reasons (e.g. economic). Secondly, it seems like the different nationalities living in Cork are either normalised or integrated, but at the same time their heritage is not included in the society, it could be absorbed and already forgotten, or it could have never been considered as part of the Cork’s heritage.

It is an interesting fact about Cork that came to light, is that history does not affect the society of today in terms of population but, as a matter of fact, many cultures and traditions would appear to have been lost, normalised or ignored and excluded.  


The purpose of the research was to find out whether Cork City is a translation zone by looking for instances of translation and how these reflect the diversity of the city. Despite Cork’s diversity, the presence of translation and languages in the city is very little and doesn’t reflect the diversity.

It would be interesting to explore the sensory side of Cork to see if this is also the case. It would also be interesting to extend it beyond the city centre because in other towns and villages there might be different concentrations of people and minorities.

This research project was a very interesting opportunity for me and I really enjoyed it. It gave the possibility to experience something new related to what I’m studying and helped me to better understand what I want to study after secondary school. I’ve also learnt from this project in terms of general knowledge, and it gave me a more accurate idea of the city I’m currently living in.

We want to thank Sara for engaging so positively with this opportunity and we hope that she might consider further research opportunities in the future. If you would like a copy of the booklet used to support Sara, please download below. 

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