7 Tips for Getting the Most out of Foreign-Language Books ...


If you'd like to start reading foreign-language books, it can be difficult to know where to begin. There is some fantastic literature written in other languages. Whether you want to read them in the original language or in translation, foreign literature opens up a new world to the reader. Here are some tips for getting the most out of foreign-language books …

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Read in Original Language

If you have some knowledge of the language, then the best way to read foreign-language books is in the original language. However good the translation, something does get lost in the change from one language to another; it's impossible to translate every sentence exactly. You're also closer to the author's original prose and intentions.


Choose Your Translation

Still, it's better to read a book in translation than miss out on it completely (and you may be able to read the original version one day). If you have a choice of translations, pick the one that speaks most to you. For example, classics like the Iliad and the Canterbury Tales have many different translations; pick the one that you find most pleasing and you'll get further with the book.



It often helps to be able to put the book in context so that you can get the most out of it. Can you really appreciate Russian literature if you understand nothing of Russia's history or culture? The story will make much more sense if you have at least a passing knowledge of cultural references.


Your Level

Before starting a book, flick through it to see if you can understand a fair amount of the text. Choose a book that is closest to your level of understanding. If you don't have an advanced knowledge of the language, choosing a complicated text will ensure that you don't get very far with the book. It's hard to really appreciate the story if you have to look up every other word.


Short Stories/Poetry

Short stories or poems can be an excellent introduction to foreign-language literature. These give you 'bite-sized' chunks that you can dip in and out of. You're more likely to be familiar with the words in the shorter sentences of poetry. If your knowledge of the language is not that advanced, short stories will be brief enough to ensure that you don't get bored.


Movie Adaptations

Many movies are adaptations of books, so try reading books that inspired movies you have seen. Even if the movie isn't a faithful adaptation (and they rarely are), by having seen the movie you'll be reasonably familiar with the story. This makes it easier to understand the book that you're reading.


Type of Language

Finally, if you read in the original language, avoid books that use a lot of slang or dialect if you're not familiar with it. Pick one that uses more 'pure' language. Even native speakers may not understand dialects very well, so a non-native speaker would be totally lost!

If possible, it's better to read in a foreign language. But don't worry if you have to read in translation; it's still a useful introduction to the richness of foreign literature. Plus reading in another language can be a great way of improving your vocabulary. What is your favorite foreign-language novel?

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