Friday, October 19, 2012

Blah Blah Blah: Reading in Other Languages


I’ve been thinking of writing a post about reading in a foreign language for a while. I’ve been asked often why I read mostly (if not only) in English. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in a French environment, and I only learned English in my teens. People don’t always understand why I chose to read in English, when I could easily read the French translation.

To me, reading in English comes mostly from the way I was raised. My parents watch mostly movies and TV series in English, so do my sister. Since I started understanding English, I’ve always chosen the original version over the dubbed version. Maybe it was because the original version always is out earlier than the translation (for TV). Mostly, it’s because the translation always sounds wrong to my ears. I got used to listen to the voices of the actors, their real voices. I can’t stand to hear their French equivalent, since it sounds so wrong.

Now, when it comes to books, I can think of many reasons why I pick English over French. First, the books usually come out earlier. It was the main reason why I bought the first book in English (that I’ve read for pleasure, of course. I had to read a few in English classes before that…), which was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. With that book, I think I realized I could read in English as easily as I can read in French (I read Deathly Hallows in one day… even though I was working half of the day…) The second reason is that I read mostly Young Adult, and I’m always disappointed in the selection we have. There are not as many books in French, or so it seems. Many of my favorite books aren’t available in French. It sucks right?

Yet, I don’t think it’s why I keep reading mostly in English. I want to read the real voice of the author. I don’t want to read the interpretation of the translator. I get that they are usually pretty accurate, but some expressions aren’t easily translated. I just don’t want to miss those choices. I want the author’s words, not someone else’s.  I read in French when the authors wrote it in French first (Amelie Nothomb, Patrick Senecal…) and I would read in German if I could get my hands on the German versions of some books (like Ruby Red. I tried to find it in German, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in Montreal).

Reading in English made me fall in love with the language in a strange way. I now study in English. I don’t think I could go back to reading translation. Reading in English now feels more natural to me.

Any of you read in any other languages? Why? Do you think you could read in any other languages? 


  1. Hi!
    I am from Sweden and I read everything I can in english! I hate translations I have found many that is just not the same when translated. I also started to learn english in my early teens but had problems with the language so I only recently (about 3years) started to read in english and noe that is what I rather read and I am also a pretty fast reader. And it is like you said. When you read you want the voice of the author not someone elses!!
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  2. i'm a french native speaker but i read more in english at the moment. Some authors i love have only a part of their books translated or i need to wait years for those books so i prefer the VO but for my top favorite if they are translated in french i will pick both version ( i love to see for the difference and in a way it's also help those authors so^^)

    sometimes i pick a translation to discover a world and if i like it switch to the vo ( often english) so i don't have to wait

  3. I'm a Filipina and the only books I've read in our language would be those school-required ones. It would be very much easy to read/write using your first language but I guess reading english books and writing in english are a very good way to practice grammar and all that! Plus you are right, the translated editions come out at a later time! :)