Saturday, December 10, 2011

It's Saturday!

Hello! Kirky here.

To be honest, I wasn't completely sure what to do for today. I'm much better when assigned a topic, because otherwise I get so many ideas that I don't know which one wot pick. Well, I've had more than a month to consider this now, and I thought I might bring up a topic that most bloggers probably wouldn't think to mention: reading in translation.

I think some of you are aware that I live in Brussels, right? For those of you with decent European geography -- that little country sandwiched between France, Holland and Germany that also borders the North Sea? Yeah, I live in the capital of that country. Belgium. For those of you who are as geographically challenged as I am, all you really need to know is that it's in Western Europe (er... you know Europe, right?), produces the world's best chocolate, makes fantastic waffles, invented French fries and legally enforces recycling. Yes, I love it here. But the bins annoy/confuse me. In terms of more trivial stuff, Brussels is considered to be the capital of the EU, has who official languages and has a very easy metro system. Oh, and last Monday, we finally got a government after more than five hundred days (and you guys thought Iraq held a record for that). I say "we", but technically I should use the third person since I'm not actually Belgian.

Anyway, I'm wandering off topic. Those of you who've seen my inkpop profile page and made it past the meat cleaver may've noticed that one of my suggestions for curing writer's block is trying to translate a chapter or so into a different language. It's a lot harder than you might think. The reading experience is very different in a different language. French is my second live language (my fourth language if you include Latin and Greek), and I've been reading a lot in translation since I arrived here. Books are really expensive, though, if they've been translated.

Reading in another language is a very good way to increase fluency, but it's also tiring. Until you start thinking in the other language, there's an overwhelming tendency to try to translate everything into English. My advice? Don't. It's extremely tiring and it just gets annoying if you try to look up every other word. It's much better to get the gist and move on. Reading books you've already read in English can be extremely helpful, since you can sometimes guess at what a phrase means if you're not entirely sure but remember the English phrase from a similar part in the book. I think the book I've so far learnt the most French from, without even touching a dictionary, is Eragon. You would not believe how many times the characters sigh or shrug their shoulders in the first half of that book. I didn't know how to say "shrug" OR "sigh" in French until about two months ago, when I got a French version of Eragon.

There are always some things about a translation that are going to fall flat, and above all, this involves jokes. I remember reading Harry Potter seven in French not long after it came out, and the Weasley twins weren't nearly as funny in French. Sometimes, the beauty (or an understanding of) the original language is needed in order to be able to fully understand the text. The translator has a difficult task of trying to strike a balance between a literal translation and conveying the right sense and tone to the reader. I honestly don't know what they did, but the translators of the Twilight series seem to have done something amazing to those books, because they seem to have quite a big following in Belgium and France.
I honestly thing whoever translated the Tintin and the Asterix and Obelix comic books into English was a genius. I was quite surprised the other day to discover that a lot of people don't realise that Tintin was created by a Belgian artist and originally written in French (similarly, the Smerfs were created by a Flemish-speaking Belgian). I've read Tintin and Asterix in both English and French, and I can tell you that there is next to no trace WHATSOEVER that they weren't originally written by and English person. The puns, the jokes -- everything has not only been translated, but put into a sense that an English person without any comprehension of French is going to find funny.

The only book that I can say is like that (that I've read), is the English translation of All's Quiet on the Western Front, by Enrique Maria Remarque. It is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, and I didn't realise until I read the ending that it had all be written in German. The translation was flawless. It's the only book that's ever brought me close to crying.

Reading in translation is a very different experience, but a very powerful one. Unless you come across a gem of a translation, you tend to lose about 70% of the humour and about 50% of the beauty of the original.

I'm off for the weekend. Bye, people!


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