Feb 23 2009 5:59pm

Not All Who Wander Are Lost in Translation

I’ve started a reading project that requires me to cart around all the stuff in the picture on the right: blank notebook, pen, Irish1 dictionary, Teach Yourself Irish, and the main feature, a copy of the first Harry Potter book in Irish. It’s called Harry Potter agus an Órchloch, or Harry Potter and the Golden Stone, and I’m only on page three after about nine hours with the book. Maybe half an hour was spent actually wading through new material, and the rest of the time went to looking up words in the dictionary, noting them with context in the notebook and paging through Teach Yourself Irish as a grammatical reference.

For example, you can’t just look up “órchloch” in the dictionary. You can try, but all you’ll get is “ór,” adjective, “golden.” There’s no entry for “chloch,” so it’s off to Teach Yourself Irish to look up adjectives and compound words; it turns out that most adjectives come after the word they describe, except for a few monosyllables like “ór.” When the adjective does come before the word, it causes an initial mutation known as séimhiú,2 a type of lenition where an “h” gets inserted after the first letter of the word. This turns the word “cloch,” with a hard “c” and throaty “ch,” into “chloch,” which is the sound I made when I first tried Jameson’s. It means “stone,” which makes sense, and when I apply my meager vocabulary and powers of deduction to the middle two words, we get Harry Potter and the Golden Stone.

I’m not quite crazy enough to tackle a totally unfamiliar language with a book and a dictionary, but like any graduate of an introductory course, my conversation is restricted to topics that Jane Austen would consider polite: the weather, the health of my family and what I did the other weekend. Reading Harry Potter would go faster if all they did was complain about the rain, announce the time, describe their clothing and go drinking a lot, but I’ll have to wait for the Irish Gossip Girl for that. A few times, as I sat with my materials arrayed around me on the living room floor or piled in my lap on the bus to Boston, I wondered exactly why I was doing this to myself. I haven’t taken three hours to read a single page since…well, ever. And it’s not like I don’t know what happens.

Despite having nearly as much to lug around as Kate Nepveu and Leigh Butler for a re-read of relatively miniscule proportions, I’m having fun, and my geeky joys in the project are twofold: one is that I know I’m (very) slowly improving my Irish, and I hope that by the time I finish Chapter 1 that it’ll only take me an hour a page. There are faster ways to learn a language, but few of them include the phrase “SCÓR AG GRYFFINDOR!” I like singing songs in Irish and I’d love to read poetry in Irish; once I master the modern dialect (read: once conjugating verbs in the past tense stops making me break out in a cold sweat), then Old Irish can’t be that hard, right? Then I could read the Ulster Cycle in the original. In short, I’m a Hibernophile all over.

The other thing that’s fun is just that I have to pick my way through the book so slowly, sentence by word by consonant mutation. The last book I read in another language was Alanna La Guerrera, a Spanish translation of Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure.  I read more slowly in Spanish, so it made me linger over moments and images that I might have rushed past in English, but it’s still a book I’ve read umpteen times in English in a language I studied for fourteen years.  I’ve stopped laboring over the fine points of Spanish grammar, but every little thing in Irish throws me off my game. I have to think constantly about whether “a” means “his,” “hers,” or “theirs” at any given moment, whether that prepositional phrase means “to have” or “to know,” and how on earth “bhfaca” and “chonaic” can both be forms of the verb “féic.”3 It’s not the same as my Irish-specific geeky joy; puzzling out sentences feels more like doing math or playing a video game, but even better because I’m still tinkering with language. As I said, I know what happens in the book, so reading a sentence two, three, or ten times until I have it all figured out doesn’t frustrate me; quite the opposite, in fact.

Does anyone else read in a language you’re not fluent in? Why? How does it affect your reading? What do you read?  I can’t be the only nutter with a dictionary in

1 “Irish – you mean, like, Gaelic?” Say this to the wrong Irishman and you will get punched. The way my first Irish teacher explained it to me was that, sure, the Irish word for the Irish language is “Gaeilge,” which sounds a lot like “Gaelic,” but “Gaelic” could just as well apply to any of the Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish and Manx). Calling it “Irish” connects it to Ireland and the Irish people; there was also something about the English being the ones to coin “Gaelic.” I mostly know that my friends in Cork who were into Irish were picky about it, so in an effort not to get called an amadán,4 I picked up the habit.

2 Pronounced “SHAVE-you.” Means the funny grammar thing.

3 Pronounced “fake.” Means “see.”

4 Pronounced “AM-a-don.” Means idiot.5

5 Pronounced “EE-jit.”

Angela Korra'ti
1. annathepiper
Ha! I've tried to start reading a couple of books in German since I studied it school *mumblemumble* years ago. And to tie into Kate Nepveu's posts, one of the books I have in German is in fact The Hobbit.

Now I feel like I ought to take another crack at it. :) And I'd totally try a book in Irish or Scots Gaelic if I could find one! I've got that Teach Yourself Irish book you mention!
Jason Henninger
2. jasonhenninger
Noticed in your footnotes that you mention Irish, Scottish and Manx, but not Welsh. Why is that? the Irish for gold is "or" (pardon my missing diacritic). Isn't that a cognate for the Latin? Was Latin an influence on Irish? I think that too is a question that could get me punched, but I'm curious.
Seth Wilson
3. eternalcow
I tackled a bit of "Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis" in Latin. I'm a language geek myself, so I heartily empathize with what you're going through, and I applaud it.

They need language classes for geeks, for the reason you outlined above. Most language classes teach you, well, practical things, like telling time, talking about the weather, and so forth. It'd be great to have language courses that catered to our sensibilities as science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. Dragons and warp-drives would of course be on the first week's vocab sheet.

Anyway, kudos again for the slogging! Probably few people outside of will appreciate what you're doing, but the work itself is its own reward and gives you a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment.
Seth Wilson
4. eternalcow
Jason: Latin and the Celtic languages both belong to the Indo-European language family, so there are tons of cognates like that. Having said that, it's possible that ór was borrowed more directly from Latin as a result of monastic influence.
John Chu
5. JohnChu
A couple years ago, I started reading Harry Potter in Chinese. I may have better luck with it now since my reading vocabulary has grown in the mean time. (I suspect if someone reads it to me, I'd have even better luck with it.) Looking up words in a Chinese dictionary can be a time consuming process.

Almost off the bat, I ran into an Interesting Translation Issue. It's unidiomatic in Chinese to refer to a female sibling as a "sister." It's almost always "older sister" or "younger sister." Any reference to Petunia being Lily's sister then has to become a reference to Petunia being Lily's older sister or younger sister. The translator picked "older sister." I honestly don't remember what is canon.

Other than that, the occasional translation error got to me. A couple of them were funny. e.g., "lemon sherbet" rather than "sherbet lemon." They used the American definition of "cupboard" when translating "the cupboard under the stairs" implying that Harry lived in a kitchen cabinet.

Actually, now that I have a dictionary that does handwriting recognition, I may try the second chapter. Having a computer recognize the character, then give me the definition is faster than searching for it in a dead tree dictionary.

(I also have the first HP book in Latin. I haven't tried it yet.)
Tudza White
6. tudzax1
Footnote #1 reminds me of this bit of dialog in Moon Over Morocco:

"They're Moors aren't they?"

"Well yeah, but don't use that word. Calling them that is like calling a Jew a Kike."

"But I can still refer to Moorish, like Moorish architecture?"

"Sure, nobody's ever heard of Kikish architecture."
Drew Shiel
7. Drew Shiel
Good luck with the Irish; I studied it for 14 years, and I still reckon I wouldn't be able to handle a novel in it. Hell, I have difficulties with a couple of paragraphs.

It's worth noting in general (though it will be of no use to you for this text) that I found the old Irish script easier to read, where the séimhiú was a dot over the letter, rather than a h after it, and the urú is a dot under the following letter. Having them as extra letters just confused things for me.
Agnes Kormendi
8. tapsi
Because Welsh is not Goidelic, but whatsitsname, the other branch of Celtic languages (along with Breton and the long dead language of Cornwall), they're not that closely related.

Be careful to pick a language where you can actually listen to / practice the pronunciation of the words and phrases you come across and also the arc or melody of sentences, or you might end up knowing how to read the language but not how to speak it. This is especially true with languages like Irish or Scottish where the letter to sound correspondences don't exactly lend themselves to an English speaker. Or a Hungarian speaker, for that matter...

I actually did something very much like this when I started to learn English, and it took me about a week to read 27 pages (and I didn't look up every single word, just as many as I needed to make out the meaning of the sentence). It was worth it. Reading in a foreign language is the best way to improve your passive (and to a lesser extent, your active) knowledge.
James Goetsch
9. Jedikalos
Ah I love learning a new language and reading like that! I remember when I had a year of classical greek behind me, and begin to work my way through the Agamemnon (by Aeschylus); well I remember all the stuff I hauled around with me (including this giant greek-english lexicon that was my pride and joy and seemed to weigh a hundred pounds (a birthday gift from my grandmother to her indigent student grandson). Your report makes me want to start a new language just for fun. I did this also with Goethe's Faust once in the German (in Fraktur type just for fun). I wonder if they have Harry Potter in German in Fraktur type? :)
Agnes Kormendi
10. tapsi
"Almost off the bat, I ran into an Interesting Translation Issue. It's unidiomatic in Chinese to refer to a female sibling as a "sister." It's almost always "older sister" or "younger sister." Any reference to Petunia being Lily's sister then has to become a reference to Petunia being Lily's older sister or younger sister. The translator picked "older sister." I honestly don't remember what is canon."

That is the same in Hungarian, we have separate words for older and younger sister, and sometimes it's very difficult to decide which one to use if it's not specified in the text. I remember looking up obscure medieval families to not to run foul of that (and made a complete mess of weaponry in the next chapter). It's very easy to make translation errors, especially of this kind...
Angela Korra'ti
11. annathepiper

Indeed, and thank you for the reminder of that good advice. :) This is why I do actually have the tapes that go with at least one or two of those Teach Yourself books. The main reason I haven't gone further with them is that I haven't yet gotten the data onto my iPod so I could actually listen to them easily on my commute!

And at least in the case of Irish, listening to a bunch of Irish and Celtic folk music doesn't quite count for learning the spoken language, I daresay, even though you do get an idea of how it's sung!
Megan Messinger
12. thumbelinablues
annathepiper @ 1, The Hobbit sounds like an awesome book to try in another language! I had a Spanish one years ago ("El hobbit," go fig) but lost it when I moved, before I got to read it. Also, re: that particular Teach Yourself Irish book, one of the Irish teachers at the NYC Irish Arts Center aparently taught himself completely from that book and the tapes that come with it, so I guess it's a good one! I like it so far.

jasonhenninger @ 2, Latin and the Romance languages have had an influence on Irish; for one thing, writing came to Ireland with Catholic monks (bingo, eternal cow @ 4!) so a particular subset of the Irish vocabulary is borrowed from Latin: there's a native word for learning (foghlaim) but Latinate words for writing (scriobh) and reading (leomh). And when the English first swept up into Ireland, they were still distinctly Norman, so you get words like "seomra" (SHOME-rah) for room, like the French "chambre." I would have thought the Irish had the word and concept for gold before the invasion, but maybe they picked it up to discuss money...?

JohnChu @ 5, Those are funny! It would get messy to carry lemon sherbet around in your pocket. :-P I'll have to see if I can find any silly Irish things like that.

Drew Shiel @ 7, I've mostly seen the dot-version on pub signs (to save space maybe?) and I get how it works for séimhiú, which is always the same mutation. For urú, would it just be, like, "Tá cota ar an gcailin," with a dot under the c? Or spelled with no g and a dot under the c?
Alena McNamara
13. aamcnamara
As a German student whose language classes have been, er, eccentric--to say the least--I've found reading books a very good way to practice.

So far, I've read all of Harry Potter 1, and part of number 2; Tamora Pierce's Wild Magic; and part of Douglas Adam's So Long And Thanks for All The Fish in German. (Which last helpfully gave me all the adjectives I will ever need for talking about rain in German--talking about the weather is of course v. important.)

As far as I can tell, it does get faster with practice, and I, at least, find it rewarding. The third time that that one word you can't find in the dictionary comes up, and you finally realize what it is from context ("Oh, that's the word for wand!" or whatever). . . well, it's a great moment.
Karen Lofstrom
14. DPZora
I have long had a theory that I could improve my language skills with "ambient talk." I'd just listen to a language as much as I could and I'd *learn* it, just the way I learned English as a baby.

This worked, to some extent, when I learned Tongan. Stuck in a small village with no English speakers. However, it failed miserably when I tried to learn Japanese by watching Japanese television. All I learned were a few polite phrases and "Baka!" My Hindi, vocabulary, however, is slowly expanding :)
Alexander Gieg
15. alexgieg
This is the method I used to learn English, mostly. Sure, I had some English in school (I'm Brazilian), but it was very basic, hardly going beyond the verbs "to be" and "to have". Whatever else I know came from attempting to read books with a dictionary and grammar on the side. I knew I had accomplished it when I noticed I wasn't translating sentences to and from Portuguese in my mind anymore.

I'm starting to learn German and Japanese. It'll be the same all over again. I hope. :)

tapsi @ 8: Be careful to pick a language where you can actually listen to / practice the pronunciation of the words and phrases you come across and also the arc or melody of sentences, or you might end up knowing how to read the language but not how to speak it.

This is also exactly what happened with me. I can read and write it, but I'm horrible at understanding spoken English, and when I try speaking it I'm pretty sure my accent is awful. :(

Maybe I'll be able to get into some immersion program in the future and relearn the language in its proper form. I certainly need it.
Gabe Carr
16. Okorikuma
I am--well, was--doing the same thing with the Japanese Ico novelization. I'm just too lazy, so I haven't picked it up since about a year ago, when I was 70+ pages in. I wish I had your discipline.

I sympathize with JohnChu @5 (different language, of course, but we're both talking about looking up kanji, which is a massive pain). If I didn't have an electronic dictionary with a writing pad, there's no way I would've even started.
Torie Atkinson
17. Torie
One of the tools I used in learning Latin was the Asterix comics, translated into Latin. Now that was fun.
Sharon Corbet
18. Scorbet
I have a copy of "Harry Potter agus an Órchloch" which I should really try and read again.
I find reading a great way to learn languages, although I hate dragging a dictionary around. I think I have to be at the point in the language where I can use context to figure out remaining words before reading is fun. Spending three hours reading a page would drive me mad...

One minor point: "feic" doesn't have a fada in it, meaning that it's closer to "Feck" than "fake" (at least according to the more or less Dublin version of Irish I was taught). There is also "féach" which means "to look" which may be confusing you.
Megan Messinger
19. thumbelinablues
Scorbet @ 18, A little of both? I was definitely thinking of "see" rather than "look at," but I'll be the first to admit that my diacritical marks and pronunciation are shaky. (I was wondering if it was "feck," actually, because I was thinking of linking to this.) Thanks for the clarification.

This whole regional accents thing is fascinating, though; my first teacher was from Belfast, so he dropped a lot of final "dh"s and "gh"s as well as pronouncing "maith" as "my." My new teacher is from Galway and I got so confused when he said "maith" as "ma." Subsitute teacher from Donegal? Back to "my." It's madness, I tells ya! Does your dialect have any distinguishing characteristics?
Colleen Parker
20. GibbousMoon
I have asterix and pogo comics in french. I have read the little prince and harry potter and the half blood prince in french as well. One of my most prized posesstions is a poster for Harry Potter et le Prince De Sang-mele that I got while staying in Quebec for the winter.
Drew Shiel
21. Daniele A. Gewurz
I have never read a whole book in a language I didn't know (yet!), but I enjoy taking once in a while a short text, or a poetry, and trying to decipher it one word at a time. And I remember a suggestion by Fruttero and Lucentini, two Italian writers and "intellectuals", about learning or practising a new language (I believe they were mentioning German, a typical "fourth language" for an Italian): get a translation into that language of a book by Agatha Christie - who is supposed to have a plain enough style and vocabulary - and go through it.
Sharon Corbet
22. Scorbet

There's really no such thing as a Dublin dialect of Irish - just Ulster, Munster and Connacht. The problem is that we end up with a mixture of teachers from all three areas, so one year it's "my" for maith and the next "ma". So the version of Irish I had leaving school was an odd mixture of all three dialects.
zaphod beetlebrox
23. platypus rising
Recently I've tried to make sense of an article in Danish without looking at words in the dictionary - basing myself only on the similarities with the other Germanic languages I know and guessing the more common vowel/consonantal shifts along the way.
After a bit of initial problems it went fairly well.
I do read books regularly in Italian (native) English and German (very fluent) from time to time in French or Spanish (fluent) plus the odd book in Portuguese or Dutch (good passive knowledge, active less so).
Drew Shiel
24. Suw
@jasonhenninger - Just to clarify the explanation that Tapsi gave: The modern Celtic language is split into two branches, Goidelic or Q-Celtic, which includes Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic; and Brythonic or P-Celtic, which includes Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.

The P- and Q- business comes from the way that the languages developed from Proto-Celtic, with the K sound transforming into P and C, e.g. the word for head in Welsh is pen, in Irish is ceann. (The P and Q don't come from the letters used, but the sounds.)

I would dispute that Cornish is dead, although the last native speaker has long since gone. But there are very passionate Cornish speakers who are working hard to revive the language. So perhaps it would be better to call it an undead language...

Welsh certainly has some words from Latin, such as ffenest for window and pont for bridge, but also has influence from French, such as eglwys for church. Obviously lots of loan words from English, but Welsh is also creating new words, which are commonly used, such as cyfrifiadur for computer (from cyfrif, to count).

Me, I have a copy of Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett, in Welsh - Dim Ond Ti All Achub Y Ddynoliaeth. I have had it on my shelf for many years, and promised myself I would get good enough at Welsh to be able to read it without a dictionary. I have lots of books in Welsh that are designed specifically for adult learners, which is really a great way to polish up my skills, but I fall at the first word, sadly. I've always resisted the idea of writing in books, but maybe that's what I need to do.

Another great way to learn, though, is to set up a Twitter account and follow just people that speak the language you're learning. It's actually a lot of fun, gets you meeting new people and using the language daily.
David Lev
25. davidlev
I wonder if I can use this technique to improve my Maori, once I've acquired it, of course (I've only just started). I'm kinda lazy about these things, but it sounds like a cool way to do things. One of these days I should try to learn myself Yiddish this way
Agnes Kormendi
26. tapsi
Oh, I cheer for the comeback of Cornish! I didn't know about that, but it sounds great.

I don't like writing in books, either, but I often use thin, folded sheets as a bookmark / notepad, the advantage is that you have all your notes handy and you can always file the sheets later on.
Doug Tammany
27. dougward
I've been meaning to get the first Harry Potter in Ancient Greek. I also used to spend my idle moments translating altrock songs into Latin - a couple of songs by Cake, one by Warren Zevon. It's a great way to practice your grammar, let me tell you.
Torie Atkinson
28. Torie
@ 27

Oh I second that. In high school I translated some Radiohead songs into Latin--talk about weird. Another great exercise is translating children's books. I did a project translating Maurice Sendak's Pierre. That was so much fun.
Drew Shiel
29. Pixie
Considering Harry Potter is mainly aimed at children the Irish is very difficult in it. I tried reading it to my class when it first came out and found I spent more time translating than reading. Even reading it myself was tough. The problem is that there are 4 dialects in Ireland which can be completely different. Projects like this should be written in the caighdeán (standard Irish which is generally understood by everyone) rather than a specific dialect such as Munster, Ulster, Leinster or Connacht Irish. I know I have great difficulty with some of the dialects and you may have problems with translation using a dictionary.
Drew Shiel
30. Runodraco
I encountered an odd problem when I started trying to read the first Harry Potter book in Finnish (Harry Potter ja Viisasten Kivi) - the first few pages are much more difficult than most of the rest of the book. I think it's just that they just use unusual vocabulary and complex grammar. I instead tried opening to a random pages and reading from there, which is much easier - and I know the book so well that I can tell exactly where I am almost immediately. Maybe I'll try reading the whole thing straight through one day, but for now I have fun doing it this way, and seeing how the magical words are translated ("invisibility cloak" = "näkymättömyysviitta" - a fun word if ever I've seen one.)

I also once tried tackling the Italian edition (a language I have never studied) armed with only an Italian-Latin dictionary (having studied Latin for four years.) The two languages are very similar, but I was still surprised by how easy it was.
Angela Korra'ti
31. annathepiper

Yeah, if I can only muster the discipline and the time, I'm very much looking forward to getting into Der kleine Hobbit. I was stunned to stumble across it in Barnes and Noble.
mm Season
32. mmSeason
So exciting to find so many like-minded out there! I've hardly met anyone in my life who would understand the comments about enjoying this kind of thing! Woo-hoo!

I have Winne ille Pu (Latin) and a copy of the New Testament in Greek. And the Ladybird Book of Magic Tricks in both English and Arabic, which may teach me more if i dig it out today than it did when i was little. I love when a shop assistant says, 'Do you realise you've picked up the Arabic (or Swedish, Swahili, whatever) version?'

More seriously, i've done this kind of thing - loved doing it, but never got through a whole book. I'm really impressed at your blogging about it before you're sure of finishing!

platypus rising @23
I've also done that, used my familiarity with other languages to piece something together with no dictionary. The excitement for me comes from working out the grammar even more than the vocab.

A friend of mine, who has never learnt any foreign language, has just started with Welsh. Ye gods. I keep restarting studying Old English, myself. Reading texts is all they seem to recommend in OE, rather than a workbook.

Of course the more 'slangy' - casual - the language in a book, the more difficult for a non-native trying to read it.
Pixie @29 - This is also why children's books are usually more difficult.

Oh, and i have the CD of Teach Yourself Klingon.

eternalcow @3
'Language classes for geeks' - i suppose those are billed as philology, linguistics, that kind of thing.

jasonhenninger @2
Why would that question get you punched?
(eternalcow has answered it exactly as i was going to. 80) )

Jedikalos @9
Would that have been Liddle & Scott by any chance?
I had exactly the same reaction reading this post. Me wanna!

alexgieg @15
There are two innate ways of learning a language IME, the 'osmosis' way which is what i call the one you describe, and the 'grammar' way which starts from the other end. I am the only person i know who naturally does the latter, possibly cos i'm the only linguist i know whose brain is a scientist. I have always found the speaking/listening far harder than the reading/writing. I thought Japanese would be the exception to that(!) but when i lived there, once i cracked a 'way in' to looking at the characters, i still got on better with the reading/writing even in that language.

Torie @17
I wouldn't have thought the puns really work in Latin?

Suw @24
That Twitter idea is a great one. Must join Twitter...

Look how excited you've got me. I NEVER comment at such length. ;0)
Megan Messinger
33. thumbelinablues
Suw @ 24, the Irish for window is also from Latin, although I didn't think of it at the time - "fuineog" (FWIN-yug). Awesome idea about Twitter...lemme see....

Irish phrase-a-day on Twitter, one user and one Irish tweet aggregator, and the Twitter account for the Irish-language radio station.

Any really good ones for other language people have found?

Pixie@29, Oh, good...I'll keep that in mind.

Runodraco @ 30, Finnish is so cool! I took a Kalevala class in college. We read in translation, of course, but the professor insisted we be able to mangle the Finnish out loud as well, and those long double vowels and consonants are so out there for an English speaker that it was fun. We had to memorize a bit for the final...ennempa heitan herkkuruuat...something something. :-P "Invisibility cloak" is an awesome word indeed.

mmSeason @ 32, the punching thing is from my first footnote. If I waited until I was done with the book to I blog about it, I wouldn't have to blog; I could beam my impressions directly into all of your heads with the advanced technology that will be available in the year 2045. :-P
Jennifer A.
34. Jenett
I have the Harry Potter in classical Greek which has a *lovely* commentary by the translator over here that's interesting (I think) even if you don't know classical Greek. His comments on how he went about picking a consistent style and vocabulary are particularly fascinating (also some of the bits about colors and time).

I am, however, so rusty that last time I tried to work on this, it took me about half an hour to do two sentences. And then work ate my brain, and has not given it back yet. Maybe a summer project.

I've also got Tela Charlottae (Charlotte's Web) on my bookshelf, but my Latin is even rustier than my Greek, so that one will be waiting a while.
Drew Shiel
35. the Captain
I've got Harrius Potter et philosophri lapit, and last weekend I read that out loud while my roommate read it in German, which was pretty funny.

I learned from working on translating the Hobbit into Latin that the first pages can be disproportionately difficult (in this case, because Tolkien lists maybe 50 adjectives to describe Hobbit holes). And in Harrius Potter the last chapter is definitely the most fun to read. Lots of italics, all caps, and sentences like 'erat Quirrell!' (it was Quirrell!)
Drew Shiel
36. annafdd
I can read Spanish and French relatively easily, Spanish more than French, based on my native Italian and lots of listening to Chilean protest songs as a child. I can make sense of a bit of Dutch based on German and English, although curiously German is a lot more difficult for me.

But I would encourage people who want to read in foreign to choose books written originally in that language, because that is the only way you have to access the original book. All translations are reflections and interpretations of the original book, some of them more faded or more distorted than others - and generally, the good ones are plenty distorted.
mm Season
37. mmSeason
annafdd @36
Good advice, i'd agree though i hadn't thought it through cos this thread has been so interesting. 80)

the Captain @35
I've got Harrius Potter et philosophri lapit, and last weekend I read that out loud while my roommate read it in German, which was pretty funny.

- What, all of it?
- Taking it in turns, like being interpreters for each other, or speaking over the top of each other?
- Wish i'd been there. Wish someone had been there to throw the Japanese in at the same time...
Drew Shiel
38. Caroline Reich
I've stumbled through Harry Potter in French, a language I studied too long ago for the reading to come at all easily. Still, it's kind of fun!
Chuk Goodin
39. Chuk
@36, that was my idea, too. I was doing The Three Musketeers in French (and I once tried The Outsider, too, but I think it'd been too soon since I read the English version).

Anyone have any good French SF suggestions?
Megan Messinger
40. thumbelinablues
It doesn't appear to be in French, Chuk, but I just saw this on George R.R. Martin's blog -- Spanish, Swedish, Finnish, and Dutch editions of the Song of Ice and Fire books. I'm tempted, I must say....
Edward Gauvin
41. EGauvin
re: Chuk, what kind of stuff are you looking for? If you read French, Francis Valery's Passeport pour les etoiles is a good starting point--basically a long reading list with entries in chronological order. It offers a global survey of the genre from a French POV, and so situated French works among American and British classics.
There are several short story writers I like from the 70s, who've appeared here and there in translation, usually in forgotten anthologies or magazine back issues: Gerard Klein, Jacques Sternberg, Jean-Pierre Andrevon.
Rene Barjavel is kind of the grandfather of French SF, and among younger writers, Fabrice Colin isn't bad. Maurice Dantec is probably the latest writer to make it into English, and he's generally considered cyberpunk-postcyberpunk, but I find his style a bit overburdened. If you're up for something slightly more experimental in the postapocalyptic vein, check out Antoine Volodine: he's decidedly less genre than the other names I've mentioned, but he and his invented "post-exoticism" are pushing the envelope.
Two older personal faves are Pierre Pelot's Delirium Circus, and Ayerdahl/Dunyach's Etoiles mourantes.
Edward Gauvin
42. EGauvin
Megan, this isn't exactly an answer to your question, since I read French at least partly for a living, but what invigorates me about doing so is that, on a regular basis, I still run into more words I don't know than in English, my native language. But this reminds me of when reading was like that: when I was the nerd sneaking into the library's adult section for books I could, among other things, show off for their stylish thickness. It reminds me of forging forward without a dictionary, and depending on context: when English, as deployed in fuller glory by proficient adults, was partly a foreign tongue. Reading English is to me these days a somewhat abstract task: words are detached from their referents, and I'm more aware of the language as a series of rhythms and sonorities than symbols that denote images. Whereas when I read French, I actually picture things (again? still?) to help me see what I'm reading. As when I was learning.
I actually envy those who read Chinese, Russian, Belarussion, or even Bengali for being able to read those Potter knockoffs that all too briefly flourished but sound wondrous:
Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon
Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass
Porri Gatter and the Stone Philosopher
Harry Potter in Calcutta
But more on those here:
Kimberly Woods
43. Calli
It's been a while, but I used to read Japanese -- specifically, materials that have piqued my interest somehow but are (or were at the time) unavailable here in the US. Things like Moto Hagio's manga adaptations of various Ray Bradbury stories, at least one series by an artist I stumbled across by pure accident via an imported copy of Shounen Ace, and the unavailable-at-the-time manga Azumanga Daioh. I made my way through on sheer stubbornness and a certain amount of linguistic instinct (I don't know how to better describe it), armed with a kanji dictionary and a couple of supplemental texts on things like verbs and basic grammar. I'd like to take a class (or two, or ten) on Japanese, but the nearest ones are several hours away -- not an option.

There were a few titles I did eventually read the official English versions for: a couple of Yuu Watase's series that I had started in Japanese out of impatience, Azumanga Daioh, and a novel series called Seikai no Monsho, or Crest of the Stars in English. Only the latter two are worth commenting on, if only because of my ultimate disappointment in the official US English versions. Azumanga had several problems, though most of those improved over time (I still found the text stilted all the way to the end), but Seikai...oh, Seikai.

At the risk of arrogance, what with not being fluent or having a formal education in the language, I call foul on a lot of the English text of the first novel, Princess of the Empire. However, I trust my language instincts enough that, given the disparities between what I've gone through of the original text and the original English version, I have to conclude something went awry with the localization. (The blue raspberry yogurt hair description still incites an urge to headdesk.)

Add the fact that I'm also into conlangs, and the conlang Morioka created for his series has been mangled to varying degrees in every iteration (anime, manga, novel) of the Seikai series in English -- it's extremely frustrating. I still can't reread the first novel in English, and I don't dare touch the sequels. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say.

So, in sum...reading in a language you're not fluent in can have a very strong and sometimes painful effect. Knowing that you aren't fluent in the original but something smells rotten in an official English translation makes it even worse.
mm Season
44. mmSeason
CayceParkaboy @42: You made me remember something my old French n Russian teacher once said: You read a book in your native language and don't understand a word, you think, 'Crap book,' but you read a book in a language foreign to you (she was talking about French that day) and don't understand a word, you think, 'My French is terrible.' ;0)
Chuk Goodin
45. Chuk
@41: CP, wow, thanks, that's a great start.

I'm not looking for anything too experimental, some short stories is a good idea because then it'll be easier for me to finish them.

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