Book Talk: The Importance of Having Classics Translated

08:56 Cilla P 1 Comments

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In the last year, I've noticed that more and more classical English novels grace the main displays of one of the biggest local bookshops. Persuasion, Anne of Green Gables, even Les Miserables. When I first saw these books, my train of thoughts went like this:

"Oooh look at these gorgeous covers!"




"Wait. This isn't in English."

These books were, in fact, the translated version, from English to Indonesian. That stopped me short. I couldn't imagine not reading 'it is universally acknowledged that...' when I open Pride and Prejudice, or how Anne Shirley would proclaim people her kindred spirits in Indonesian. I actually turned to my mother, pointed to these books, and went, "How odd would reading those be?"

Then during lunch last week, my friend and I started discussing translated books. According to her, in the translated version of Matilda by Roald Dahl, the insults Matilda received from her father are less harsh than the original lines. He's nicer, somehow. She also referred to this line from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
"You've forgotten the magic word," said Harry irritably.
This phrase - 'magic word' - doesn't really make sense when translated directly, just like 'cold turkey', or 'fat chance'. We both agreed that it's so much better to read a story in the language it was written in. In translation, things may get toned down or changed, and the nuances of the language may be lost.

However, we are also both English teachers. I taught my teenage students the difference between 'jog my memory' and 'refresh my memory' yesterday and was reminded of how difficult it can be to understand this language. Hell, I still find classics headache-inducing; how difficult would it be to read Persuasion for my students? How many of them would even want to try reading it? Not many at all.

Anyway, I grew up on translated books myself; I probably won't recognise a quote from any Enid Blyton book if it wasn't in Indonesian. When I was even younger, my mother read Secret Garden to me, translating as she went along. In recent years, I've read a book translated into English from French. The language didn't matter; all I knew was that I loved the stories. That's the most important part. The fact that I can now appreciate the poetry of the sentences is a big bonus.

Besides, I only speak two languages. If I turned my nose up at all translated books, I'd never be able to read stories from China, or Japan, or other parts of the world; I'd be missing out on so much.

Thinking of my students, I would want them to fall in love with the stories first, in a language they can understand. Then I'd tell them to work harder on their English, so they can appreciate those stories in all of their glory.

Let's talk!

Have you read books translated from another language? Is there a book you'd like to read, but can't because you don't speak its language?


1 comment:

  1. I think that approach makes good sense - encourage your students to enjoy the translated versions for now and then hopefully they'll eventually want to try out the originals!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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Thanks for reading! It makes my day to hear your thoughts and I will respond asap. :)