Have you ever tried learning a new language...

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...just so you could read one author in the original? Seems like too much madness.

Was thinking about doing this w/Russian - fuck knows when or how though.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 18:56 (eight years ago) link

I hate people who claim to have done this more than just about anything! I mean, how long would it take to pick up the nuances, the ironies, the double meanings? A decade or more I reckon. It's just something to try to impress people at parties.

Stick with a good translation I say. By all means learn the language for other reasons though.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:13 (eight years ago) link

I tried learning Japanese once because I was (and still am) a fan of a bunch of Japanese bands, it turns out pretty much everyone in that class was there so they could translate their favorite animes or something, nothing against that but it was not really the kind of atmosphere I could stand

frogbs, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:16 (eight years ago) link

I imagine Japanese is harder than Russian, but even still, I can't imagine anyone who isn't crazy doing this, there's really no way this will pay off for you

frogbs, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:16 (eight years ago) link

I'm usually one for translations, always. But what if the book hasn't been translated: probably because translators struggle w/the nuances, the ironies, the double meanings, and the wait is frustrating.

I say one book but obviously that would mean I'd be able to read lots of others in the original...so not gonna happen. xxp

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:18 (eight years ago) link

Yeah, funnily enough I've loved many Japanese bands in the past and have always wondered at their lyrics. Love a few japanese authors but don't feel there is a lack of translations out there for the ones I like.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:19 (eight years ago) link

My French is pretty good, off the back of five years at school, two years at uni, a year living there, and five years of sporadic classes since. But if I tried reading a novel (by coincidence, I actually am about to do just that!) I'd still at least have to stop & think on every line - whether to look up a new word, work out the conjugation of a verb, judge whether an idiom's worth unpacking, etc etc.

Starting a language from scratch for the same thing - I just can't imagine it. One might conceivably be able to follow the skeleton plot, but still... It'd be like getting War & Peace in infants' story book form.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:34 (eight years ago) link

Also the thing about working in a foreign language - no memory. You work so hard to finish a sentence that the next one along knocks out the first. You'd have no idea who knew who, what they thought of them, their backstory, all that stuff. Doubly so if you read when tired.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:37 (eight years ago) link

xp - there is one musician in particular that I really do love, and I've been reading this blog that does all sorts of translations of his lyrics, which seem to be very 'literary' and thoughtful. Truth be told, I really do think you need a deep understanding of both languages to really translate any book worth reading, and that could take years and years to achieve. In the case of this blog, the guy knows his Japanese, but nearly every line comes with footnotes, saying "well this could be a double meaning for this word, or it could be a reference to this Japanese cultural touchstone", sometimes I wonder why he bothers at all!

frogbs, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:39 (eight years ago) link

Attended a talk with Haruki Murakami, and he mentioned that he only reads the English translations of his work (rather than his original effort) and that it reads like a completely different author, enough so that he often forgets what happens next. Not sure if this was a knock against his translators or not but it was funny.

it's a meme i made and i like (Steve Shasta), Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:43 (eight years ago) link

learning to read in a foreign language by reading something you're very familiar with in translation is very satisfying.

j., Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:49 (eight years ago) link

^ that's a terrific idea, I can totally see how that would work

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:51 (eight years ago) link

I'm mostly for this, maybe as a pretext to learn a language, which is a good thing. It doesn't matter that the goal is distant: the journey would be worthwhile in itself. Learning a language inevitably throws you into its history, culture and resonant words: you'll come out with more ways to get at an author than if you never tried.

I think everyone's caveats are correct. Russian is hard, and it'll take time: it'll likely be years before you can read fairly plain literary prose; the denser stuff may never be available to you. And you'll never see a page like a native speaker. But I don't think this means you shouldn't try.

I taught myself Attic Greek a few years ago because I wanted better access to that swathe of literature & history etc (also I felt dimly insulted by untranslated greek in old books and church monuments. Like it was a 'keep out' sign. Oh, and I hated how much time I was wasting on the crossword and figured it would put the same bit of my brain to better use). It's always ongoing, I usually need a crib to get through anything, & I'll never, I think, be able to read poetry. But I'm glad I did it, and that it's there for me. A hobby, I guess.

you don't exist in the database (woof), Tuesday, 16 August 2011 20:39 (eight years ago) link

xyzzzz, which author?

nakhchivan, Tuesday, 16 August 2011 20:41 (eight years ago) link

detective instinct says platonov

you don't exist in the database (woof), Tuesday, 16 August 2011 20:49 (eight years ago) link

even when you haven't advanced so far as to pick up all the nuances, it's not that hard to be aware of points where a translator has made some decisions that don't jibe with the original, so at least you can study them more carefully and then put some nuance BACK that was left out.

j., Wednesday, 17 August 2011 00:46 (eight years ago) link

two years pass...

An example to us all

I read the Recherche when I was working as a legal intern at an American law firm in Paris. I was trying to learn French, so I read all seven volumes in French. Every night I drew up vocabulary index cards with lists of the new words that I’d learned from Proust. But luckily I found that the lists became shorter and shorter as I made my way deeper into the book! In any case, it was with Proust’s work that I first began to read authors in the original French. And that was something I continued with other French authors.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 12 November 2013 07:03 (six years ago) link


Piggy (omksavant), Tuesday, 12 November 2013 12:10 (six years ago) link

what's wrong with Muzzy

Piggy (omksavant), Tuesday, 12 November 2013 12:10 (six years ago) link


Pazz & Jop 1280 (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 12 November 2013 12:11 (six years ago) link

Tbh thought that would be link to an M. White post.

Pazz & Jop 1280 (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 12 November 2013 12:28 (six years ago) link

For french I think all the scandalous 19th C poets (Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Nerval, Verlaine), are good for improving language skills. In an edition with facing page translations you don't have to keep looking stuff up all the time, plus the subject matter (booze, sex, corpses, drugs, depression) is invariably enough to keep you awake. And plus plus some of the mid-20th C artistic translations, particularly of Baudelaire, are pretty amazing.

Proust... I don't think I'm ready to even read it in english yet

Piggy (omksavant), Tuesday, 12 November 2013 17:09 (six years ago) link

I am thinking of improving my dismal spanish via borges and don quixote. An hour a night attempting this couldn't hurt...

tɹi.ʃɪp (Treeship), Tuesday, 12 November 2013 17:35 (six years ago) link

what about learning a new language (Spanish) in order to write (poetry) in it? because I have totally done that, with middling results

Not A Good Cook (bernard snowy), Thursday, 14 November 2013 12:10 (six years ago) link

I am thinking of improving my dismal spanish via borges and don quixote. An hour a night attempting this couldn't hurt...

It could make your conversations in Spanish very interesting.

alimosina, Thursday, 14 November 2013 21:55 (six years ago) link

i tried mandarin chinese last year. it was fun for a bit but after a while i found i just couldn't retain any more of it.

Pingu Unchained (dog latin), Friday, 15 November 2013 14:39 (six years ago) link

Jean Hyppolite learned German by translating Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, he must've been a blast to talk to in German.

I may give some of those 19th C French poets a go, presumably a more fun language-building exercise than the untranslated minor phenomenologists I'm dealing with now...

Merdeyeux, Wednesday, 20 November 2013 04:09 (six years ago) link

five years pass...

So US still wait until middle school to teach kids a foreign language???? Wtf. Or is this just an Illinois thing? So dumb.

A True White Kid that can Jump (Granny Dainger), Friday, 11 January 2019 22:05 (one year ago) link

two weeks pass...

The reverse makes more sense: you read so that you can train and understand the language. Then it becomes a loop between learning and reading. Books are not such a bad choice - handy, self-sufficient - if you don't have people available to torture with your slow monstrous sentences.
Russian and Japanese seem daunting / near-impossible though - you'd need additional motivation than just being able to read Tolstoi in the original.

Nabozo, Sunday, 27 January 2019 17:48 (one year ago) link

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