Lola’s Ramblings: Does it matter in which language you read a book?

Posted September 3, 2015 by Lola in Lola's Ramblings / 32 Comments


Lola’s Rambings is a feature on Lola’s Review where I talk about me or ramble on about a book or non-book related topic. Usually these posts are everything that doesn’t fall under any standard header, like blog tours, book blitzes, cover reveals or reviews. Lola’s Ramblings posts are are personal discussions of a certain topic. Sometimes about book related topics and sometimes about non-book related topics. This feature was previously known as About Me. The banner for this feature is designed by Michelle from Limabean Designs.

Last week I talked about Why I read english Books. I talked about how I read only dutch books first and when I went to buy Twillight I discovered my bookstore only had english copies and the bookseller convinced me to read the book in english because in her opinion it was better to read a book in the language it was written. So today I want to talk about translated books and if it matters in which language you read a book?

Do I read translated books?

The Cat Who Came in off the RoofWhile I used to read a lot of translated books, nowadays I read most books in the original language they were written in, namely english. When I was younger and read dutch books I mostly read books that were translated from english to dutch or even some books from other languages. I also read books were dutch was the original language. At that age I never really thought about it. I could only read dutch books and I went to a bookstore and bought books that got my attention. I never realized which books were originally written in dutch and which were translated. So I didn’t realize most of the fantasy books I read were translated until later. I remember seeing the original title of a book being mentioned on the front pages of the book and only later realized that most books I read were translated. I never really noticed anything weird about those books. Although I can remember one book where a character was named “Opwekking”, which literally translated means Excitation or Animation and I really wonder what her name is in english. That’s the only instance were I can remember being aware that something might have gone a bit wacky with the translation. Beside that I usually didn’t notice I was reading translated books. I also had a time where I read lots of manga’s/ graphic novels which were all translated from japanese and I never really noticed that english wasn’t the original language. Some manga’s still use some japanese symbols and then explain what they mean when they can’t be adequately translated in english. Nowadays I don’t read a lot of translated books anymore.
Those who wonder about the picture of the book to the side, that’s a book I read in dutch and actually noticed it got translated in english, as far as I know that doesn’t happen often with dutch books. I came across this book on netgalley and thought I would include it in this post. I read the book in dutch wheni was younger and really enjoyed it.

What’s different in a translated book?

  • InwijdingDifferent Language. This one is the most obvious, translated books are written in a different language and languages obviously different from each other. In my opinion each language has a specific feel, so translated books might have a different feel in the translated language as compared to a non translated book.
  • Different Writing Style. I can imagine that writing style not always translates 100% and can’t be translated right in all instances, so I think part of a writing style might get lost when a book get’s translated.
  • Some things might get lost in translation. I’ve heard this sentence a few times about how some things get lost in translation. I think this mostly applies to jokes or words that can’t be literally translated, so there are differences in what exactly the characters say in the translated version. Not all words can or sentences can be translated.
  • Different Character Names. Character names sometimes are kept the same, but sometimes will be tanslated. I have read quite some translated books or movies were the names get translated as well to better suit the language it get’s translated in. Often that helps, but sometimes I wish they just kept the original names as it can be confusing when you talk to someoen who has read a different langauge version of the book.
  • Different title and/or cover. In dutch at least sometimes they keep the same title and or cover as the english version, but I’ve also seen instances where they try a different title or cover so it appeals more to the dutch audience. Some titles get pretty well translated, I’ve also seen some titles which fit the book, but mean something completely different. For example Twillight is still Twillight here, but Divergent is “Inwijding”. Which literally translated means Initiation, which fits the books, but does have a different feel and focus as Divergent. Same goes with covers. Although here in the netherlands they often keep the same covers as in english. I once visited a german bookstore and they have the most gorgeous covers for some fantasy books, much better than other versions in some cases. There were some books that got my attention that never would’ve looked at twice with the english cover. An example is the cover for the Vampire Earth series, which my boyfriend bought and read in english after seeing the book in that german bookstore.
  • Different Audience/ Broader Audience. Having a book get translated into another langauge means there’s a new audience which can now access that book. And often means the book can be read by more people. Different countries or languages might have different wants when it comes to books, so maybe that’s why not all translated books do well as there is no or little audience for it.

Does it matter if you read a book in the original language?

Harry Potter book and bookmarkSo the weird thing when looking back as how I switched from reading dutch to english books and when looking at my reasons for reading english books is that the reason that employee in the bookstore used to convince me to read Twillight in english isn’t among the reasons why I read english books. That employee made it sound like a big deal to read a book in the language it’s originally written. I am not sure if it is, I have never read a book in both languages. I have read Harry Potter and the Wheel of Time series in dutch, but never in english. Once I started reading books in english I read books in english only and not in dutch. So I can’t really compare the two. I do think that if you can read the book in the original language that’s great, but if you can’t does it really matter if you read a translated book instead? I think translated books can open a book to a new audience and I think it’s great that so many books get translated into another language.

Then when I look at my mom and grandma and how they can read Twillight, The Hunger Games, Maria v Snyder her study series and Divergent in dutch, I think it’s awesome they can. So they have to wait years before those books are translated and the selection of books to choose from is smaller as not all books get translated, but they can read those books. While they couldn’t if they were only available in english. Having those books get translated gives them the chance to read those stories and I think that’s wonderfull. Does it matter to them that it isn’t the language it’s originally written in? I don’t think they notice as they have nothing to compare it with. Same for me, I don’t read books in both languages and thus can’t compare.

Most people can and/ or will only read a book in one language. I made the decision to read only english books, my mom and grandma can only read dutch books. We can read the same story and we might experience it slightly different, but I am not sure if it matters. I think enjoying a book is more about the story, and what’s inside the book. Maybe the language differes when you tranlate it and the writing style might get lost a bit. I think that’s the part that bothers me the most, how a writing style would feel different in another language and I think that’s the hardest thing to translate. Or how the names of characetrs get’s translated. I remember having trouble with the Harry Potter movies when I watched them in english as everyone was called differently in english. Harry and Ron were the same, only pronounced differently, but the rest are called differently in dutch. Professor Dumbledore, is “Professor Perkamentus”, Hermione is “Hermelien” etc. Those translated names aren’t done badly, but it’s still weird how they are called differently. So all in all I feel like I can’t really form an opinion on this topic yet. I am not sure if it matter if you read a book in the language it was originally written as I have only read books in one language. I still plan to re-read Harry Potter in english once and I am curious if I have something more to say about this topic then.

Do you read translated books? What do you think is different in translated books? Do you think it matters in which language you read a book?


32 responses to “Lola’s Ramblings: Does it matter in which language you read a book?

  1. To my knowledge, I’ve only read one series that has been translated. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which was originally written in Swedish. As English is the only language I’m able to read with any real ability (I took some German in high school, but couldn’t read a book that was translated into that language now), so it works out okay for me. I didn’t have any issues with the one that was translated.
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    • I didn’t even realize that series was originally written in Swedish, it was so popular I always assumed it was written in english. I know some books get translated in english, but I do think that with other languages beside english it’s more common to read translated books as there are just so many books written in english.
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  2. To an extent I think it does.

    I commented last week that I can’t read romance in my language, however if it’s a classic, I prefer it to be in Filipino. Because some words and it’s subsequent effect on the conversation, cannot be translated in full.

    That said, I’ve also enjoyed Stieg Larsen’s The Millenium Trilogy. It’s a translation but I think the translator did Lisbeth Salander justice because I loved it. On the other hand, I also read this other novel that was originally printed in Hungary, and apparantly a hit in that country. I was offered the English version, read it, hated it. It was so dry!

    So I guess it depends on the translator sometimes. If it’s adapted well into English or another language, and managed to capture the essence of the story then I think it can work.
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    • I agree that some words cannot be translated in full and if you can it’s probably nice to read a book in the original language, so you get all the nuances and exact meanings an author wrote the book with.

      It probably also really depends on the translation itself and how well the translation is done. Translating books is probably pretty difficult. Or maybe it also matters form which lnaguage to another it’s translated? Or maybe with that Hungrary book it would’ve been dry in the original language as well, it’s hard to tell.

  3. As far as I’m aware, the only translated books I’ve read have been Japanese manga. And that’s usually after I’ve started or completed watching the anime. When I watch anime, I listen to the Japanese version with English subtitles. So I get used to hearing/reading the Japanese names. And a lot of times when manga is translated into English, they change the names. Which annoys me. The one that bugged me the most was the old translations of Sailor Moon. Where the main character is named Usagi which translates to Rabbit. But in the English translations she was called Bunny. It would pull me out of the story every time I saw it.

    I’ve also heard of instances where the company didn’t approve of something said in the manga, so they changed it when they translated it into English. Sometimes unbelievably so.

    So yes, sometimes it would matter what language you read the book in. But since I can only read English well enough to read a book, I’m stuck with however said book is translated and just have to hope it’s close to the way the original was!
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    • When I watch anime I do that as well, japanese version with english subtitles. I watched Sailor Moon when it was here on telivion translated in dutch I think and she was called Bunny, which was a lot better than if they would’ve translated it to “Konijn” de dutch word for it. Although I think if they just kept her name Usagi it would have been better instead of trying to translate it. Having her name have a meaning just makes me think of that word and not easily see it as a name. I have read a book where the character was called Gin and that did work.

      I think how the translation is doen is very important as well. I haven’t any books in both languages so I cna’t really say anythgin about that either, but I plan to read Harry Potter in english once.

  4. I’m not sure if it matters in a sense that you feel cheated or are cheating the system by not reading it in the original language, per se, because I believe that story is king over prose. But I have only ever read books in English so I’m not sure if I can be a good judge of this!
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    • I think that story is the most important thing and being able to experience the story in the language you can read is probably more important than some of the prose getting lost. Although having a good translation is probably important as well.

  5. I’m not opposed to reading books in another language. I’ve tried Harry Potter and the Lux series by Jennifer L Armentrout in Spanish and I SO agree that some words just get lost in translation, making it harder to understand. :/ As far as the character name changing I’ve actually never seen this happen (but I imagine it would kind of confuse me?…) well, maybe not but maybe just a little. πŸ™‚ did it ever confuse you if the character name changed?

    • Changing names can be confusing, especially when you see the movie or such in another language. I had that happen with Harry Potter, read the books in dutch then watched the movie with english text and I got confused about who some characters were. I still don’t know the english names of some Harry Potter characters.
      Some words do get lost in translation indeed. I probably also depends on how the translation is done. If the translated version is confusion that’s not too good.
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  6. To my knowledge, I’ve only read a handful of translated modern books. I’ve read a few books that were written in Italian, French, and Korean. The Korean was a modern fairy tale and I know for a fact it would have been better in the original language because the poetry and timing of the story was all off for me. One of the Italian versions needed a better translator b/c it was choppy and distracting. However, the other Italian and the French book translated well and I had a good time with those.

    All that to say, I think for some that have a more descriptive, poetic turn to their writing then original is best. And for all, a good translator is absolutely necessary.
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    • I cna imagine how poetry would be hard to translate. And that’s a shame the italian translated version you read needed a better translater, it must be very jarring when you notice it’s translated and not doen well. Luckily I haven’t encountered that so far. I agree that a good translator is absolutely necessary and even then some small things might get lost, as long as the reader doesn’t notice that I think it’s good.

  7. I HATE when they change names. I didn’t know Hermione was called Hermione for the longest time, because they translated it to Hermine in German. Which isn’t ACTUALLY that horrible a decision, but it really bothered me when I first find out, and it took me ages to get used to it. But then they did keep most of the names – no Professor Perkamentus for Germans. πŸ˜€ I mean Hermione and Hermine are fairly similar at least, but in that case I’d just be hella confused who people are talking about! I also think it’s perfectly fine to keep English names – the story’s set in England OF COURSE they have English names.

    Okay, so my experience was fairly similar to yours: read everything in German when I was younger and never really thought about whether books were translated or not, started reading in English and didn’t really go back. I DID read a couple of books (mainly the first three Twilight books, parts of Harry Potter,…) in both languages and it does feel slightly different. Harry Potter feels more… well, British. πŸ˜€ A lot of stuff DOES get lost in translation, either because there’s just no direct translation for something (I struggle with that every day) or because the translator is just whack.

    Don’t get me wrong. I think translations are GREAT in general. They make books available to a wider audience, and that’s always a good thing. Some translators are great. Some translators even make the book sound better than it actually is (which comes back to your point of translators changing the “voice” of an author). I really take offense when translators change the meaning of something even though there’s an expression for it in the other language. For example, I went to see Avengers 2 in English and then in German. I wouldn’t usually notice little changes, but there was one instance where they just changed the meaning of a scene slightly even though there was no reason too. It didn’t change the story of the movie in any way, but it still pissed me off.

    So, generally translations = awesomesauce, but small things can get lost. The story is usually the same, and you’ll probably take away the same things you would have than if you’d read the original, but little jokes can get lost fairly easily. And new things can be invented because sometimes books or movies talk about something that doesn’t exist in the other culture. It happened really often with Gilmore Girls for example, which I’ve watched copious amounts in both German and English. I think being a translator is REALLY hard, because there’s such a fine line between what needs to be changed, what you need to explain further and what you can just translate directly. And there are always SO many interpretations of one sentence. You can literally spend hours debating about whether to translate one sentence this way or that way. That’s why I’d never want to be a translator, even though I totally could with my study program.

    I mostly read in English, because I just really like the flow of the language. It’s somehow more fun than German, and some things sound better, but I can’t really tell you why. Some things also sound better in German. I guess it’s very subjective! (I should have probably written a response post about this with how long this comment is rather than spamming your blog haha)
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    • Thanks for your long comment, you’re one of the few bloggers who is in a similiar situation, having englihs as a second language, so it’s interetsing to hear how you experience it. I think you do have enough material here for a post of your own πŸ˜‰

      The names in Harry Potter here where changed well, but it still bothers me. I keep forgetting what the english name is of one of the side character as I only know him as Marcel. Hermione was indeed subtle translated here as well to Hermelien. It especially was confusing when I watched the movies with english and I sometiems simply didn’t know who a character was as they wer enamed differently. And like you said the book/ movies take place in England, so why not keep the british names? I think keeping the names british would add a certain feel to the book which would fit as it takes place in England, now it feels like they try to make it sound dutch while in my opinion that isn’t necessary. Although I can kinda understand why they do it, probably to make it easier for dutch people to remember the names and make ti sound more natural?

      Overal I do think that translations are awesome especiall yiwht the whole reaching a new audience thing, even though indeed small things can get lost. And some translators probably do a better or different job. My boyfriend is actually going to do a master’s degree for translation dutch- english. It does sound difficult and you always have to decide whether to translate directly or be more free-er and have it fit the new target audience and culture more. It’s interesting, but difficult as well. I think jokes are one of the most difficult things to translate which is a shame they get lost, but at least they don’t influence the real meaning too much.

      I also like the flow of english better, it just sounds better than dutch. A few things sound better in dutch. And some words like “Gezelligheid” can’t be translated to english, which can be annoying as it’s such a common word here and there’s no good english word for it, you need a whole sentence or two to even get close to explaining it.

      • Togetherness? Not actually a word, I guess. πŸ˜€ Yeah, some words like that are hard to translate. And I often come across words that DO have a translation, but a different connotations as well. For example “awkward” in German might be “unangenehm”, but it just has a different feeling to it. Or “pathetic” – I guess there’s a German word for it, but it’s just different. And it often happens with expressions too – when I’m with people who are also into English (like people from uni), then I just use the English phrase, but in every other situation it just sounds pretentious. And I can hardly use German expressions when I’m speaking English even though there might not be an English equivalent.

        Yeah, I might still post about it too haha. Marcel Who? That’s just hella confusing! You’re definitely right when you say it would add a certain Britishness if they kept the names! I think part of the reason they translate them can also be that sometimes the names say something about the characters. In Harry Potter especially there are a lot of telling names. Speaking of, I think I’m going to watch Harry Potter now. πŸ˜€
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        • Yes I know what you mean with different words havign a different feeling in two languages! I can remember my boyfriend and I had a conversation about a word like that recently, but I cna’t remember which one it was. Phares or expressions are hard to translate as well.
          Awkward would be “ongemakkelijk” in dutch, which isn’t right I often use the word awkward even when I am speaking dutch as there’t no good translation for it. Oh google translate translates pathetic to “zielig” in dutch, which doesn’t the same feel either.

          I still can’t remember who Marcel is in english, I always forget his name. The other usually are sort of similiar, but his name was very different. Guess I’ll finally remember his english name once I read the books in english. Most people probably wouldn’t encounter the name in another language so then you wouldn’t get confused either.

  8. I don’t read multiples any longer but in high school I was in advanced English and Spanish classes and we often read the same books in each (classics mostly).

    It is interesting how things can be lost in translation or humor not quite the same when in another language. I never read for fun in multiple languages though. It’s been so many years I don’t think I could anymore either. So bad! I can’t believe I let that happen. Ah well.
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    • I always read books in english and so far haven’t read a book in both dutch and english. So I am not really sure how that experience would be. I have read Harry Potter in dutch and then saw the movies in english whcih wa sabit confusing mostly when it came to the characters names. It is interesting to see how they translate certain words or names. Humor is hard to translate indeed. And soem words just don’t translate right.
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  9. I haven’t read a lot of translated books, the only ones springing to mind are Anne Frank’s Diary and The Little Prince but I have some on my shelf to read – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Shadow of the Wind. It was interesting to hear about your experiences and to see that you think it doesn’t really affect the reading experience reading a translated version. I think it’s great that translated books just allow the book to be read by a wider audience, that’s always a good thing.
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    • I agree it’s nice that translated books means a wider audience can read the book and as long as the book is translated well i think translations are a good thing and most people won’t notice the differences betwene the translation and the original edition.
      I haven’t read a lot of books translated in englihs, only a few books that I read in dutch when i was younger.

  10. I’m finally catching up on that post, phew, I really wanted to contribute !
    It does matter, the language of the book I’m reading, but mostly if it’s a translated book. I wouldn’t read a French book translated into another language, it wouldn’t make sense. I wouldn’t read an English book translated in French either, I’ve experienced it and the quality of the reading vastly varies according to who the translater was and, also, which audience it targets on the French market. American Ya translated into French ? It doesn’t feel the same at all, it aims at a much younger audience and the vocabulary used in the translation shows it. There is a lot more slang and familiar language in French than there is in English, I think. On the other hand, I tried reading Shakespeare in the original text but I could really use a French translation near at hand, lol !
    For example, the first time I watched Buffy the vampire slayer on TV, I watched it in French. The second time around, I had bought the DVDs and watched it in English with French subtitles. Believe it or not, in French, in English and the subtitles were three different dialogues ! Now I watch all English language shows in English, period. The Danish ones, I have no choice, subtitles it is πŸ˜‰
    There’s one more thing : I love dirty talk in romances in English, I find it hot and so very sexy – exotic ! But I’ve never read dirty talk in French. So I made the experiment to buy a book in English and in French, in order to point the differences, see if it would disturb me in French or not πŸ™‚
    Great post Lola, language and a good translation are the essential parts of novels and I love words πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for contributing, I haven’t read or eatched many books or shows ind ifferent languages, so it’s hard to decide if it does matter. In case that I cna read both languages (the original and the translated one) I probably would go with the original one just because that’s clsoer to how the author really wrote it, but if I cna’t read the original language? I wodner if i notice it’s translated or not. As with many of the dutch books I read when i was younger that were translated form engish I didn’t really notice they weren’t written in english.

      That’s so interesting to hear they actually do change a lot of the dialogue when translation. I wonder if that really helps or only because they think it helps? And how the YA books seem aimed at a younger audience when translated, that’s weird, I wodner why that is?

      I remember my boyfriend once wachted a very badly translated anime episode, the sentences in english didn’t read right and he know enough japanese to know the translation wans’t doen well. Sometimes it’s probably better if you don’t notice how badly a translation is done.

      I am curious to hear if dirty talk disturbs you in french or not. I can’t image reading a dutch sex scene, I think that woudl be cringe worthy and I haven’t felt the urge to test if that’s true yet. I would be interested to try it once buy a book in dutch and english and see how they translate it and what’s different.

  11. For me it doesn’t depend on the language, but on the translator. There are some amazing translators out there who can even amplify the writing even more. It’s just like in audiobooks, I think… there are voice actors who simply make the experience more fulfilling. I’ve read a couple of books in French, and I never really encountered any probleme because the translators were always excellent πŸ™‚
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    • I didn’t really think about the role of the translator when I wrote this post, that’s one of the things that many people mentioned in the comments so far and I certainly think a translator can make or break a translated book. The books I read in dutch when I was younger I never noticed they were translated, so that’s good, but I know not everything get’s translated that well.

      I can imagine it’s similiar to audiobooks indeed, although I haven’t listened to audiobooks myself yet, so I can’t say much about that. But from what I’ve heard from other bloggers having a good narrator is very important.

  12. I don’t read translated books anymore, unless English is the language they’ve been translated into (can’t come up with any books like that on the tip of my tongue that I’ve read but there might be some). When I was younger I did what most people do, read books in my native language (Norwegian). I’ve read Harry Potter 1-6 in both Norwegian and English and I much prefer the original. I feel like the Norwegian translator went a bit overboard on translating the names. I understand making SOME of them easier to pronounce for the mostly younger audience, but some of the changes are a bit ridiculous especially because in some instances I feel the translated names are ever harder to pronounce, LOL. And some really simple names like Luna turned into Lulla. And Ginny to Gulla. Ugh. Stop. I prefer it when translations keep the original names.

    I prefer reading books in their original language because that way you’re sure you get exactly what the author intended. With Swedish or Danish books I read Norwegian translations though, because the languages are so similar it doesn’t really change that much.

    • The dutch translater also did translate a bit too many names in my opinion, although that probably differs from person to person if they want to see names translated or not. I plan to read Harry Potter in english once to see how much it differs and determine which version I like best.

      I guess I can understand that sometimes the translated name works better in that language, or the original language is hard to pronounce in the lanagueg it get’s translated to. But in the case of character names I think keeping the original names fits the feel of the book. I was talking with another blogger about how even in a ducht book it wouldn’t be annoying to have the characters have brittish names as HP takes place in England anyway.
      Oh wow Gulla sounds pretty weird. Here they did keep Luna and Ginny as those are quite normal names here, but they did translate Hermione, most professors, most of the house names etc.

      I think how similiar the languages are also matters, I can image that languages that are similiar are easier to translate.

      • Gulla is pretty weird yes. “Gull” in Norwegian is “gold”, so it’s kind of like “Goldy” in a way hahaha. Hermione is Hermine here, I think it’s Hermine in lots of other languages too. Most professors and all the houses have different names too. I can think of very few characters that kept their original name, it’s pretty much just Harry LOL. Fred and George turned into Fred and Frank. And James Potter is Jakob Potter. Why???? And then we’ve got Severus Slur, Minerva McSnurp, Ronny Wiltersen, Albus Humlesnurr (this translates to “bumblebee-twirl” so that’s kind of hilarious I’ve never minded this one). And then there’s the weird case of Sirius Svaart. Black in Norwegian is “svart” so I have no idea why the translator decided to add another A in there, especially because two A’s turns into a completely different vowel. So weird.

        Like you said, keeping English-sounding names shouldn’t bother anyone when it takes place in the UK.

        • Goldy, that’s just weird. Hermione is Hermelien here, which is the literal translation and still sounds sort of the same, just a bit more dutch.
          They translated Sirius his surname to the dutch word for black here, Zwart. I guess that makes sense. Although really if they just kept the original names it would’ve been okay too. It was especially confusing when I saw the movies in english.

  13. For me it matters what language I read a book in since I’m fluent only in one language. I do speak, read, and write in Spanish but not as fluently. I can read a book in Spanish but it will take me a significantly longer time to finish it. (actually, I should read in Spanish more as it’d increase my fluency!) I do think that reading a book in the language in which it was originally written is important, mostly because I think things are lost in translation. But I do read books that have been translated. This is a great topic, Lola! And very relevant to you. I didn’t realize you only read books in English. That’s impressive. πŸ™‚
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    • When I started reading english books it also took me longer, until I started reading english study books and then my english improved a lot. It’s normal to only read books in english now as I prefer it and am fluent in english as well.
      I think translations are great and if I would have the choice between a book originally written in dutch and translated in english I am not sure which one I would pick. I think I would go for english as I prefer reading in that language. On the other hand it is also true that some things get lost in translation, but with a good translator it still would be an enjoyable read.
      Lola recently posted…Review: The Storm Behind Your Eyes by Alicia Kat VancilMy Profile

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