My native language is not English. It’s Slovenian, a small South Slavic language with some two and a half million speakers (that’s how many of us there are in the world).
But nowadays, a vast majority of the books I read are in English. I like English. I feel comfortable in it, it’s a stretchy language that is relatively easy to learn for practical communication but takes years (decades, really) to master. I liked learning it, I like using it and writing in it.
But I wasn’t born with a sufficiently high level of English to read books, obviously, so most of my childhood was spent reading translated books. I discovered some of my favourite authors this way – Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Elizabeth Goudge, the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, J. K. Rowling…
But I read a lot of translated English books even later, in high school, when my English was certainly already good enough to understand most of the literature. I fell in love with Mr Darcy in Slovenian, first read Romeo and Juliet, and followed Frodo on his quest to destroy the ring in Slovenian, too.
I even became a translator to be able to put into my mother tongue the words of people who don’t speak my language. This may sound like some lofty, idealistic goal, but was really born of the wish to discuss the newest Harry Potter book I’d already read in English with my schoolmates who had to wait for the translation.
If I only read English (or French, I speak French, too) books now, I wouldn’t even need translation anymore. But I’d never have been able to read Russian, Japanese, Italian or German books if my fellow translators hadn’t done a wonderful job translating these works into Slovenian. I never would have met Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, or read Murakami’s wonderful novels, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, or any other classic novel, really.
One of my resolutions this January was to read more non-English books. I haven’t been very good at that, apart from one French book and my current read, a translation of Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men. So what I’m saying is that I really should read more books in translation, books from languages other than English, because novels like that made me the reader that I am, shaped my taste as I was growing up. And I miss them. I miss getting out of my comfort zone.
So this is my little ramble on a topic that is very important to me, and my pledge to try and do better and read more translations.
Do you read translations? Ever?
If you have read “the Classics” – Dostoevsky, Tolstoi, Flaubert… – did you think about the fact that you were reading a translation?
Do you like to get out of your comfort zone sometimes?
I’d love to hear from you! :)