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Literature and Translation matter to Language Learners (PLUS: Book Giveaway)

language study and translation - literature translated from foreign languages matters to language learners.This is a shorter post, but lots of food for thought in one quick update. Plus, there’s a free book in it for you! Read on and leave a comment to win it.

1. Translating Up and Down: Some Languages Seem Better Than Others

Three percent of the books present on the U.S. market are translations from languages other than English.
In other words, the book-reading Americans miss out on other languages and worldviews 97% of the time. They are stuck in the English-speaking, English-reading, English-thinking mindset. (Let’s not even try looking for statistics on how many Americans actually read, OK?)
This is not a unique phenomenon. UK is just as guilty of dominating the translation scene: a British book usually gets translated into several languages, but getting a book translated into English is much more difficult.
David Bellos talks of “translating up” and “translating down;” it’s a linguistic discussion, but also a political one. Let’s see why you should care.

2. Be the Librarian: how to curate your multilingual reading list

Cass Sunstein is right: if we end up listening to our own voice and sticking to things we agree with and expect, it’s mostly our own fault. And if we want to reverse the process – start listening and reading in the areas previously unexplored, research languages and voices which we wouldn’t have chosen before – then asking for it is a good first step.
For language learners, being aware of a culture of the region is crucial at every stage. Knowing the literature, at least some part of it, means getting to grips with a way of thinking. And this, in turn, informs the way we speak a foreign language. It’s a subtle process, so don’t expect language courses to sort this out for you. Start doing this now – alongside, or during your language classes. This is also foreign language work, and should not be neglected.
Translation is a good first step here.

3. Book Giveaway: “First Lines”

The launch of this little gem in London was quite an experience. Several short works and fragments of longer novels – even a play! – translated from a variety of languages, into English. And read (or acted) out on stage.
I guess you had to be there to savour all the intricacies and shades of English that translation can bring. But today, you get the next best thing.
Two copies of “First Lines” are up for grabs. I’m sending them out, free and no questions asked, to two lucky draw winners.
Here’s what you have to do:

  • 1. Head over to the comment section below this post.
  • 2. Your comment should answer this question: “Which of your favourite books should be more widely translated, and why?” – there’s no word limit.
  • 3. Leave your email address so I can get in touch with you if you win.
  • 4. The deadline is 30 June. Good luck!

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One Responseso far.

  1. “Three percent of the books present on the U.S. market are translations from languages other than English.”

    “American’s miss out on other languages and worldviews 97% of the time.”

    I wrote a whole paragraph about why this logic didn’t make sense before I realized that I wasn’t thinking very straight. Now that I understand where you’re going, I see that it’s a very profound and thought-provoking idea. When I think about it, the same thing applies to movies, music, etc. Unfortunately, I even held the belief for some time that foreign television was inherently worse than American, but thankfully I was able to dig deep enough to discover that there’s some really good stuff out there. In a lot of cases though, the American market is just so much larger that it is bound to produce more high quality material.