Monday, February 10, 2014

Guest Post: Multilingual Reading from Wensend

Today I have a guest post from Wendy at Wensend. She is located in the Netherlands and reads in a couple of languages, and I only read English, so I thought it would be really cool to hear her take on what it is like to read something in a secondary language. Here's Wendy.

Hi everyone! My name is Wendy and I blog at Wensend. Jennine has guest posted on my blog about a month ago on teaching books. Today she has given me the opportunity to guest post on her blog and I'd like to use this chance to tell you something about reading. Of course you all know a lot about reading from personal experience already, otherwise you wouldn't be reading Jennine's blog. But I suspect most of the American readers only read books in English, am I right? As opposed to that I read books in three languages (namely English, Dutch (my native language) and German) and I'd love to tell you something about that.
 
 I read a lot of books in English. While most of you would ask me "why don't you just read works translated into Dutch?", I have to say I'm sort of against reading translated work. While I admit you don't have another choice if you want to read the work and don't know the original language (which is why I sometimes do read translations), I always strongly advice people to read novels in the language they were written in.

Impact of language

While plot and characters are important aspects of a novel I think language is even more important. You can't be a good writer without knowing how to play with language. This is why I prefer writing fiction in Dutch instead of English: I can play with words and sentences more easily in my native language. With this idea in mind there are two options for reading. While reading in your native language is easier than in your second or third language, I think it's worth trying to read novels in the language they are written in, because that's the way the author has meant the work to be. By doing this you're reading the 'pure' writings of the author and you'll be able to do your own interpreting without the 'barrier' of a translator.

Impact of translation

I think translating is a craft. Being able to translate works in a meaningful way is a job, but it's also a talent: not everyone can do it. That being said I think reading translations next to the original work is interesting, because you can see how the translator manipulated the text from one language into another. Translating is not just saying the same thing in another language, because language isn't something that stands by itself: language is a coherent set of utterances that influence each other and the world around them and that have different connotations in different languages. Therefore literally translating something isn't possible. You're always adding meaning to the things you're saying or writing. I'm not saying translations aren't useful, because they are (especially if you don't know the original language), but I don't think they can substitute the original work. So if you're able to read the original, please do so. A lot of meaning in a text can be added, distracted and manipulated while being translated. Do you read translated work? You should check out who the translator is and what he or she has translated besides the novel you're reading.

Multilingual reading

Besides reading original works for the sake of the works, you can also benefit from multilingual reading yourself. Do you know you're training your cognitive abilities by using different languages in your daily life? Research has shown us that using more than one language can delay the onset of Alzheimer symptoms by a few years, which is something I think is amazing. So delete that Braintrainer app from your mobile phone or tablet and start reading in another language. ;) If you want to read more about multilingual reading theories, you can go to this theoretical article by Jill Fitzgerald. And if you want to know more about translation and why translating isn't saying the same thing in another language, you should read Is that a fish in your ear? The amazing adventure of translation by David Bellos. I hope you enjoyed reading this post and don't forget to leave a comment, because I'd love to get involved in discussion!

29 comments:

  1. I LOVE this post!! (You probably knew I would). As you know, I read in Italian and English. Very slowly in Italian, but it's sooooo worth the extra effort. I agree that if you can read a book in its original language, nothing really beats that. :) Thanks for reminding me about Is That a Fish in Your Ear? It's been on my TBR list for a while but I'd like to read it soon.

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    1. I'm so happy you liked this post! :) You really should read it. I've been reading it for a few months now (I read bit by bit), but it's totally awesome :)

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    2. I don't think I knew (or maybe I didn't remember) you could read Italian Monika. Very cool!

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    3. I lived over there as a kid and picked up the language pretty easily there (as kids tend to do). Then was way out of practice when we moved back to the States with no Italian community, and lost a lot of it. When C was born, I decided to speak it to her as much as possible right from the start. So I've been really pushing myself (and discovering that I had learned a lot of dialect and slang as a kid, ha!).

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  2. Great post. I must admit that my reason to read English books are way more selfish... they are cheaper!!

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    1. That's why I started reading in English initially :p

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    2. Double the benefit for you Ciska!

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  3. Wendy, I only read and speak English, and yet I totally agree with you on this post. I've been doing Greek word studies within the Bible. It's really interesting to see how poorly English translates some of the meanings of Greek words.

    I also have read some Russian works (Anna Karenina mainly) in different English translations and found that all translations are not equal. You can just translate something and then there's getting it as close as possible. I read all Russian lit from a certain translator now that I've seen the difference.

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    1. Awesome you're learning Greek. I used to learn that in high school too, but I found it so difficult. And I think it's a great idea to compare different translations even though you cannot read Russian. I should do that too. :) Which translator do you read?

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    2. It doesn't stick very well, I just get a better understanding of the scriptures I study. The Russian translators I read is a pair named Pevear and Volokhonsky ...love them.

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  4. Such a great post! It makes me jealous too, lol. I'd love to be able to read and/or speak any other language. I'm stuck with just English ;)

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    1. You could pick up learning another language. It's not too late haha! But I agree with Jennine: you could also read different translations to get a grip on what's out there without learning a new language.

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  5. Really great post. It's interesting because I have recently heard a few discussions about picking the blah blah translation as opposed to the blah blah translation of a book. I didn't realize that translating the book is more of an art than just something a machine can do!

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    1. I didn't think much of it at first either, when a friend insisted I should reread Anna Karenina in a specific translation, but it's true! And I passed it on to another friend and she think so too now.

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  6. I think you make a great point, but sadly I don't think I'm likely to pick up a second language any time soon. I have so much fun reading in English, I'm unlikely to devote the time to learning to read anything above an elementary level in another language. Maybe some day though :)

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    1. You shouldn't do it when you don't feel like it, but I still think it's important to realize you're reading a translation instead of the original when picking up one. ;)

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  7. Thank you, Wendy. This post was both informative and entertaining!

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  8. Great post. Dutch folks are unique in the world in being able to easily transition between multiple languages like it's not a big deal! It is! I was born in the Netherlands and learned English when I was 6 and unfortunately lost a lot of my Dutch. I always try and track down translations, either of English books in Dutch, or Dutch books in English, but it's not so easy! Do you know of a book shipping website that I could find Dutch books to ship to Canada?

    All translations are definitely not equal. I read The Dinner in English and could see that things weren't necessarily the way they would have been in Dutch, culturally and for sure in terms of the language. I love what you said about playing with language when you write. It's like how you don't truly understand another language until you can tell a joke in it.

    I remember trying to get through War and Peace and then trying to find a comparable copy and being surprised that they weren't all the same. Some of them are 800 pages, others are 1200 and it all depends on the translator!

    Great idea for a post! So much to talk about!

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    1. Cool! I didn't know you were born in the Netherlands!

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    2. I didn't know you were actually Dutch: awesome! Maybe you could try The Book Depository? They sell some Dutch books. :) And Awesomebooks.com sells secondhand books, so maybe there are some Dutch ones too? If you like to we can exchange books sometime and then I can send you some Dutch secondhand copies if you want! :)

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    3. I will look into Awesomebooks.com - so far every time I've looked for books in Dutch on The Book Depository it hasn't worked out. Otherwise I would love to exchange books!

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  9. Great post, Wendy! I'm jealous you can read multiple languages! I took a few Italian classes in college, but I just couldn't get it to stick in my brain. Being able to read a book in its original language seems so valuable!

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    1. If you're not talking to people who are natives in that language it's hard for a language to stick in your mind: I agree. That's why my English is much better than my German for instance: I talk to English/American people all the time, but German not so much..

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  10. Great post! I so agree! Even though I'm more comfortable reading in English than French, I still prefer to read a French book in that language. There are many expressions and thoughts that really can't be translated, but rather described or explained in another way. In fact, a good translation is often almost a re-write of the original book!

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  11. I had no idea that reading in multiple languages delayed Alzheimer’s! If that isn’t motivation for me to brush up on my Spanish skills then I don’t know what is! I think it’s amazing that you can read in three languages but, as an American who’s not required to learn a second language at all (dont’ get me started on that one), I’m jealous that you can read in two! I was never “required" to learn a second language so while I took some courses at the urging of my parents, I’m nowhere near able to utilize it!

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