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Reading books in different languages

  • Submitted: 18th July 2021

Reading books in foreign languages

Some of the readers of this blog will know that I read books in five languages. I decided to learn a few languages as a child so I could read more books. It’s that simple. I found the whole idea that people use different words for everything just fascinating. My dad read the novel Around the World in 80 Days to me as a child (well the children’s version of course) and I started to travel in my head just before sleep. The main character in the novel has a sidekick called Passepartout which means ‘ goes everywhere’. He’s French. So, travel, books and languages were pretty much in my head from day one.

Reading books in different languages

So why read a novel in another language?

 

New stories

Reading in another language is a joy. I have a few books I buy in all of the languages I read. It’s the same book but a different story in a new language. You’re looking at it through the eyes and words of the translator. Someone from another culture and another linguistic background as crafted that story for another audience. Now if that isn’t word wizardry I don’t know what is.

This is the Swedish version of The Lost Village….simply called ‘The town/village” in Swedish.

The Lost Village Camilla Sten

The Lost Village Camilla Sten

Titles

Titles change all the time.  There are often changes between book titles in English speaking countries like America and the UK. The first Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US. Apparently it sounds more magical to American children. Now, put these linguistic and cultural differences into another language and you have some fascinating insights of how one country sees different themes, issues and stories in novels:

 

Jane Eyre book

Rereading favourite novels

I have read Jane Eyre and 1984 in several languages now. A great way of helping me gauge how good my reading skills are. I know the original story so well I can guess words and phrases, explore language and how one language expresses something quite differently in another language. I love rereading stories and sometimes though I feel a little guilty as I have so many new books I want to read. Rereading a favourite in another language gives me a good excuse. Not that I need one as I often reread and so debunk my own daft theory haha.

Christina Wahldén

Literary Locations of Christina Wahlden

Books not yet translated

There are so many books I wanted to read from other countries that weren’t translated. There are so many books in Swedish, Spanish and French for example that I think English readers would love. So, I read them and them blog about them here to share them and hope to spread the booklove to the powers that be who translate these wonderful books!

Books where covers and titles travel

Do covers translate?

I loved The Lost Apothecary so much I bought it in English and Swedish. That same gorgeous cover travels well as does the story. I find it very comforting to have a shelf with one book in several versions on it. A bit like an author who gets a copy of their book in every language.

Why you need to visit Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Barcelona

A magical reading experience

Changing your brain

English is such a diverse language and lends itself well to literature. Some of the most famous writers in the world write in the English language. It’s such  a rich and nuanced language. Reading in French for example is quite a different experience. I like to read more slowly than I do in English as the language is more precise and the sentences longer and often the descriptions are too. Spanish is quick but more romantic and full of expressions that can’t be explained. Swedish is short and sharp so perhaps that’s why crime thrillers do so well as the language sounds inquisitive and the sentences are often short and snappy. I find that a new language changes the brain and that books refresh the parts of the brain other things can’t reach.

 

 

Susan x

 

Who else reads in more than one language and what do you like about it?

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