1. Rusti
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    Rusti New Member

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    read in different languages?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rusti, Jun 22, 2014.

    I speak four languages, Russian and Hebrew are my natives, English at a very decent level and French on a more basic level.
    My whole life I was reading in Russian and studying in Hebrew (school, university ), recently started reading in Hebrew too when started writing. In English I read mostly articles and a book once I while. Since I started writing read short stories also.
    My question is, does reading in different languages improve your writing? For example I read Isak Asimov yesterday in Russian, but I write in Hebrew, is it better to try to find a translation in Hebrew instead? Will reading in Russian and English improve my writing in Hebrew?
     
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  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's difficult to say, really. It does help with understanding the mechanics of a language/languages better, I think. It was easy for me to delve into the grammar of English after having to learn 3 languages at the same time at school, but this probably depends on the learner what and how much they can take advantage of their knowledge of other languages. Your vocabulary might also be larger if you know several languages. I've read e.g. anglo-francophone writers' works with very varied and rich vocabulary.

    I speak Finnish, Swedish, and English, but I don't read Finnish or Swedish literature to learn to write in English because the traditions and styles are different. Finnish story-telling is decidedly slower, even with "commercial" / genre lit. The importance of pacing seems less relevant, for example.

    When you know several languages, there's also the danger of mixing up similes, idioms, and metaphors. When translated, they rarely work. E.g. the English saying "in the long run" has entered the Finnish language, but it's grammatically wrong -- still people use it. I'm wary of slips like that, yet sometimes Finglisms slip through the cracks and to me that's just embarrassing.:oops:
     
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  3. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    in some ways it does, in some ways it doesnt, i'm one of the Anglo-Francophones that @KaTrian mentioned, and i find that sometimes for me, when i struggle with the grammar, i look at how the french language phrases it, then try it in my native english.

    i wont be the first to admit i dont have perfect grammar in either language, but it certainly gives you a better idea of how other countries like to phrase things.

    @KaTrian i think i may have chuckled at Finglisms :rofl:
     
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  4. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't be as good as I am in English if I hadn't started reading books in English six years ago. There are so many things, ranging from words to idioms, grammar to expressions, that I would never have learned if I hadn't picked up that thriller/crime/whatever book and tried to read it. While Swedish is my native language, I read almost exclusively in English and I still learn new things from every book.

    While it might be tough in the beginning, I think that one should always read books, papers, etc. in the languages one tries to learn. Even if it, for some reason, does not teach new words or grammar reading will still improve the reader's overall grasp of the language as a whole.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2014
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  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The worst one I can think of right now is "I saw a weird dream last night..." Finns see dreams, we don't have them. Usually it goes the other way around, like, in English you write something down. In Finnish you write it up, but I usually talk about writing stuff down even when I talk in Finnish and it sounds so weird. These are easy to spot, though, while foreign phrasing tends to sneak in more often. In my head, Finnish and English get mixed up, as do French and Swedish, but I rarely mix up e.g. Swedish and English.

    And I rarely read anything in my native tongue anyway apart from university books (in my field, a lot of research has been done in my native tongue instead of English). I feel like it just confuses things even more, so to me it just makes more sense to read in the language that I also use for writing.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Another polyglot chiming in. Spanish, English, Russian & Polish (Привет и добро пожаловать! ;)) It may in that it opens other traditions of syntax to you, shows you other avenues of description that may be natural in one language and not another, but still useful.

    From my bookshelf:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  7. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In Swedish we write things both up and down. Depending on the circumstances.
     
  8. Mike Kobernus
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    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

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    I like the idea that it could help colour your writing, such as introducing phrasing that is slightly different, or maybe somewhat original word order.

    I read in Norwegian, but am not writing in it. For me, it does not provide an additional layer to my style. But one can always hope.
     
  9. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Your bookshelf looks like ours; most of the books are in English, but there're Russian, French, Swedish, Bulgarian, and Finnish titles in the mix too. :cool:
     
  10. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    All of you multi-linguists amaze me and I'm completely envious...especially those like Wreybies who learned with a completely new alphabet. I attempted two weeks of Mandarin my first year of college and dropped it like a hot potato being so intimidated by it's differences. My mom is from Brazil so I can read and understand a decent amount of Portuguese but am not fluent in any sense and not comfortable writing or speaking much because I'll use the wrong tense, syntax, etc. Even not being fluent, a Portuguese background helped me tons with the school Spanish we were made to take, though...but they're closely related. The only portion I struggled with in Spanish was the speech tests...I was told I had a beautiful accent but that it was wrong, lol (the J's and T's always got me!). I wasn't made to go to Hebrew school so never learned to read or write beyond the very basics (there's that new alphabet again! And they write backward! :eek:). I can understand a lot but am not really comfortable speaking unless it's common prayers or something, not a conversation. I think if you really want to improve in any language, you need to read specifically in that one and not rely on another (like Russian or English to help in Hebrew in your OP example since they have little in common [that I know of]).
     
  11. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i am mildly ashamed that, as a norse pagan (or asatru) that i havent taken up old norse, i really should, this would probably be something pretty good
     
  12. Rusti
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    Rusti New Member

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    I'll probably start writing in Russian also. Perhaps translate and edit to a good readable style.
    They're both native to me but with both I have troubles. Sometimes I borrow grammatical structures from Russian to Hebrew, like for example saying "we and her went to the mall", meaning me and her.
    Same in Russian, I borrow Hebrew grammer and expressions. In Russian certainly worse because I have less people who are going to correct me.
    Would it be useful style wise? I think yes, I mean, a good writer is a good writer in all languages?
     
  13. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Not necessarily. Different languages may require completely different styles and techniques to achieve the same quality of writing. For example, I can write decent fiction in English but as it comes to Swedish I'm terrible (or at least not as good) because I don't really know the flow of the language well enough. Instead of sounding like fiction whatever I write will most likely sound like a research paper. ;)

    A good writer does not have to be able to write in all his/her languages. Mastering one is definitely enough of a feat.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    There's a small part of me that agrees with this. Science Fiction in Spanish just doesn't feel right. Spanish is a descriptive language with a rather low number of unique nouns compared to English, and little tradition of inventing words on the spot. When I've tried to write sci-fi in Spanish, it feels like all the sharp corners and crisp lines are worn away by having to dance around description that is just way to wordy.
     
  15. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And what's the big, disagreeing part saying? ;)

    Anyway, that sounds a bit like my experience with Swedish. The Swedish representations for a lot of English words used in sci-fi just sound so utmost ridiculous when used in any context in Swedish. Yet somehow Swedish writers and translators manage to make amazing creations/translations anyway. I bow to their prowess.
     
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  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The remainder of me is clucking its tongue and impatiently tapping its foot at the small part that just spoke up because it knows, academically, that anything that can be said in one language can be said in any other. It may not be in the same way; it may be with utterly different syntax; a single word may have to turn into a complete sentence and vice versa, but anything expressible in one is expressible in all. This is one of the root definitions for a language to be a true language within linguistics. This part of me feels like I am unduly disparaging Spanish for its lack of a unique and individual noun for every single little thing.
     
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  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I have similar experiences with Finnish, strange, huh? I loved the Finnish translations of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potters, I think it lends itself quite well to fantasy, but sci-fi just looks, reads, and sounds terrible. I think it's because a lot of the language of science (or natural sciences, at least) is in English and the "Finnish" versions of the words are merely English words forced to play with the Finnish grammar rules, and it's clunky and phony to my eyes and ears.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's interesting. I was recently speaking to a writer who is fluent in Scots Gaelic (he grew up on the Isle of Lewis) and English. He says he writes some of his poetry in Gaelic because there are thoughts that 'can't be expressed in English,' but that come naturally to the Gaelic speaker. I don't know if he meant they SOUND better in Gaelic, or whether he actually has thoughts he can't express in English.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would say there's a missing and implicit "eloquently" in his statement and perhaps a small dollop of artistic affectation on his part. ;) Interpreter and translator forums are rife with lists of famously "untranslatable" terms from languages other than English. The fact that one is able to talk about said terms at all in English (or any other language) belies the statement. The claim is over-robust. It should really be "there are words in other languages that don't have single-word translations to English". That there are thoughts that can be thunk in one language but not another? No. That sounds romantic, but... no.
     
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  20. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i like how this conversation is turning out, i think, with the different perspectives from many people who speak many languages gives us all an idea of what will work and what wont... im intrigued as to how easy it would be to write in Middle Eastern, Eastern Europe (Say Ukraine, Slovakia, Slovenia, ETC) and Asian languages.

    i wonder, is there anyone who can enlighten us on any of these?
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, yes, I agree. I think he meant it's EASIER to say certain things in Gaelic.

    One of my reference books about frontier life in the USA was written by a Gaelic speaker, back in the early 1800s. It was intended as a 'how-to' guide for people who were emigrating from the Scottish highlands and the Western Isles to live in North America (Canada in particular.) He wrote a wonderful book of things a new settler should know. The translator of my edition had the good sense to keep the idioms intact, and basically just translate the words and let the meanings take care of themselves.

    Consequently, this is a treasure trove of how thoughts are expressed in Gaelic. One of the phrases that sticks out in my mind has to do with the author warning people about bears. He said that if a bear approaches, you should never run away because the bear will chase after you ...'and the bear does not complain of his chest.' Meaning, of course, that the bear won't get out of breath or have a heart attack!

    This really made me laugh when I read it ...and it still does.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    James Joyce's Ulysses was recently re-translated into Finnish, and the translator actually invented a new personal pronoun to make the translation more authentic. It's an amazing translation, really taking it as close to the original as possible. It took him years to complete the translation.

    However, novels with heavy dialects are difficult to translate. Say, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. There is no "Southern" accent in Finnish, so the translator would either have to ignore the dialect or replace it with something close enough (use some countryside accent/dialect). An opposite example in our literary canon is Väinö Linna's The Unknown Soldier. It's chock full of dialects, and the translator who translated it into English chose to simply ignore the dialects (either there were no "equivalents" or he lacked the skills to imitate dialects and their phonetic representations in English). Unfortunately many of the soldier characters are strongly identified by their accents and original regions, so ignoring the accents changes the characters, as well as the entire feel of the novel. The cultural impact of the work won't be present in the translations, so I think there are thoughts, or at least elements, in some novels that simply cannot be conveyed through translations.
     
  23. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And that's the reason I keep telling people to read in books in their original languages (as far as that is possible). In my opinion a translation can never be the same as the original.
     
  24. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In principle, I agree. On the other hand, while some nuances will be lost, a lot can also be gained. I like The Lord of the Rings better in Finnish than in English. :eek:
     
  25. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    True, that. Though as far as I'm concerned LotR might be just as good in Russian or Spanish, because I've not read it in any language. :cool:
     

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