Do you read in other languages?

Posted August 13, 2017 by Lory in discussions / 19 Comments

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I’ve returned from my trip to Switzerland as usual with a renewed wish to learn German, but I generally lose the impulse once I’m back in my English-speaking environment. However, I’ve made some small steps, and I’m now trying to read simple stories.

I never properly learned another language — French was what I studied in school, and I even earned a certificate for it in college, but I would not consider myself fluent. However, I would really love to get to that point sometime, particularly so as to be able to read foreign-language works in the original and appreciate something of their special nuance. This goes beyond being able to understand and translate the literal meaning; I really wonder what it would be like to get “under the skin” of another culture to the extent that one can experience the ineffable beauty of poetry, for example.

I’m curious whether any of you have had this experience. Do you read in languages other than your mother tongue? What is it like? Do you feel like you are still missing something? Do you have any tips for someone wanting to achieve reading fluency?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

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19 responses to “Do you read in other languages?

  1. How I wish I did. I used to have French lessons at work (having to travel to visit rural companies) many years ago, and we used Asterix in French to get a feel for some idioms. But I never went further! I can manage basic Latin and enjoyed bits of Winnie Ille Pu and some other translations of popular children’s books into Latin – but that’s as far as it goes again.
    I wish I had the time to devote to French again.

  2. What an interesting question for discussion you’ve chosen! Especially as it’s claimed that familiarity with more than one language has all kinds of mental and social as well as economic advantages.

    I’m effectively monolingual, with all that implies for a subconscious cultural imperialism, but I wish it wasn’t so. I have a working engagement with French, a smattering of Latin and even less Ancient Greek (which exam II failed at age 16), and have spent time on Italian and Welsh (though I can claim fluency in neither). Still, French is the only language I feel confident in reading silently.

    What I’ve found most useful are those parallel texts, MFL on the left, English on the right. But — and here’s the downside — I need to speak aloud the MFL to get the full effect, a real disadvantage in company. Otherwise I just stick to the translation, which defeats the object of the exercise.

    • I really wish I had done Latin and Greek when I had a chance. And I agree about speaking aloud the foreign language being important, but it’s hard without complete privacy!

  3. When I was younger I was being fluent and able to read Italian. Alas, I did not keep up using it and I have lost much of it. I wish that I had kept at it. If I had I would be reading original works in Italian now.

    Learning another language is a very worthy thing to do.

    • I bet you could brush up your Italian more quickly than you think! When I was in Switzerland I was surprised that I could still read simple texts in French (the comparison to my lack of fluency in German helped make me feel more competent). If you have a basis, I think the details will come back quickly if you’re able to give some time to them.

  4. My son reads poetry in Russian, and translates some of it for us, always explaining how the Russian word conveys more than the English word he’s found to try to get the idea and feeling across.

    • It’s so fascinating how words are more than simple one-to-one correspondences. That’s especially important — and untranslatable — in poetry.

  5. If only this were possible. I can do a reasonable job of reading a French newspaper article and getting the key points but literature requires a far deeper understanding of the tenses and subtleties of expression than i’m capable of

    • When I’m reading an English book lately I’m noticing the parts that would be hard for an English learner to understand. For example, I’m reading a PG Wodehouse book that is riddled with unattributed quotations, idioms, and other phrases that would baffle a basic speaker. Even “light” literature can be very complicated!

  6. Read read read. I recommend finding a children’s book in the target language. Once you know the basic grammar and how to use the dictionary, you’re good. Keep a small notebook of major new words you learn. Baby steps. It’s so rewarding to finish a story in a new language. So much more rewarding than reading a story in your native language.

    • There is a lot in language that can’t be translated. That is something you only experience when you learn a new language. French has a “texture” to it that English lacks, and vice versa. French unfortunately doesn’t translate well into English, so I’m not ever tempted to read most French works in English.

      • No, the “texture” is definitely lost in translation. That’s what I hope I can get a sense of, in time. Thanks for your great suggestions!

  7. I am effectively monolingual. I took Spanish in jr. and sr. high school, but did not keep it up and it is a big regret. I took French and Latin in college, but did not keep up those either. I don’t have any advice for you, but think well of you for your interest!

  8. English? Haha. I’m ecuadorian, so my mother tongue is actually spanish. We are taught english all through school, but only a handful actually prefer reading in english. I guess it’s a little different because the books I prefer are originally written in english, so when I began noticing the differences between the original and the translations, I found translations positively cringe-worthy. The romance scenes in spanish are just CRINGEEE. So, no, in my particular case, I love reading in english.

    Now achieving that kind of reading fluency is a slow process. But it’s worth it. I lead an english language club in which we do exactly that. A lot of people here experience the same difficulty but with your language XD So, it’s just a matter of familiarizing yourself with the words. Pick a book you really want to read, keep the google translator close (translate only words, never sentences obviously) , read it, finish it, pick another one, and chances are if it’s the same genre, you’ll find you need the translator less often and less often, until you don’t need it at all. Oh, and read reviews in french about it! Blogging was a huge help with my english!

    I totally get what you mean. There’s a difference between being able to read in a foreign language, and getting ‘under its skin’ like you put it. I’m able to read in french, for example, but not at the level I’m with english AT ALLL. So just don’t give up!

    • I like the idea of reading reviews in the target language! That would be a good way to reinforce what one has learned from reading a book. I need to find some German-language book blogs…

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