Can you read in more than one language? Not just basic sentences or even short paragraphs–could you sit down and read a book written entirely in another language?
If you’re anything like me, then your answer is going to be a resounding no. I took a couple of foreign languages in college and occasionally even can recognize words from those languages when they pop up on a movie or on the internet. But there’s no way I could read anything that wasn’t in English, which sadly limits my reading knowledge to publications originally written in the language or those someone has taken the time to translate.
I must confess, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about translations, though I have read my fair share of them. I have talked to some people who have very strong feelings about the subject, though–they either prefer to avoid them (because they think a lot of the nuances of the original are forever lost, no matter the translator’s skill) or prefer to read only select ones that they know are of good quality.
The only time comparing translations ever occurred to me was when I was reading world literature for school. I had a particularly scarring experience as a teenager trying to read George Chapman’s 16th century translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Now, I was someone who liked Shakespeare even as a teenager, but the combined weight of Chapman’s Ye Olde Timey English combined with what seemed like millions of characters I didn’t really know made that reading experience one of the longest and most confusing of my entire life. A few years later, I was a college sophomore in World Lit I and had to read The Iliad again. I was dreading it all the way until I opened up my textbook and found a decidedly less confusing, more modern translation.
As a result of that experience, I paid attention to translators for older works that were required readings in classes and even developed some rather decided opinions about which translation of Dante’s Inferno I’d rather read, but it wasn’t something that much affected my reading for fun. The main reason for that was, unlike a lot of classics that tend to generate multiple translations, the world literature I wanted to read for fun usually only had 1 English translation, so options for different versions weren’t a factor in my decision-making process, beyond sometimes wondering if I would have liked a particular book better if it had been translated by someone else. And every now and then, I’d harbor a particularly delusional fantasy that I was going to learn to read in Norwegian, so I wouldn’t be at the mercy of waiting for translations of Karin Fossum’s work, but the motivation to actually follow through with that goal never materialized.
What are your thoughts on translations? Can you read in more than one language? Who are some of your favorite authors you’ve only ever read in translation? If there was one language you wish you could read in, what would it be? Tell us in the comments!