Thursday, May 24, 2007

Parlez vous?

A question from Julie:
I had an idea for a BTT question when I was taking a peek at one of my bookcases yesterday and spotted my old copy of the Aeneid in Latin sitting there. Maybe this question has already been done—but if not… Do you have any foreign language books and if so can you (still) read them?
Good question, especially the part about still being able to read them. I'd love to be able to read Japanese but I'm quite a pathetic student (meaning I haven't put much effort into it and so really can't be surprised at my lack of progress!) so the books I have by Japanese authors are all in English translation.

But I do have a small collection of books in French that inspire guilt whenever I see them. Being Canadian, where a few years of French is compulsory, and having studied it a bit at uni as well, plus my year as an exchange student in France...well, it's the only other language I'd have a chance at reading in the original. The problem is at school we only basically memorised some words, and very basic grammar without learning how to have a conversation, and while I was speaking reasonably fluently after my year there, that was well over 15 years ago and I haven't had much opportunity to speak it since.

But that never stopped me from going to the lovely FNAC everytime I was in Paris or Brussels and coming away with several books. Each time trying to convince myself that I'd get back into French through reading. I did read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in French a couple of years ago but other than that, they've just sat there smirking at me.

Besides my old copy of Le Petit Prince, a few of them date back to the courses at university so they have technically been read but so long ago I don't remember anything about them. Some of the newer acquisitions (unread) are stories that I've already read in translation, thinking that would be a good start. For example, I've got some Amelie Nothomb, Maxence Fermine's Neige and Le Violon Noir, and Dai Sijie's Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise. Then there are a few classics that I've never read like Camus' L'etranger. And then a few contemporary ones that caught my eye. I was very tempted to get Suite Francaise back before it was even published in English. It's probably best that I didn't since at least the English translation I have in the stacks now has a better chance at being read somewhat soonish. And...let's just say there are a few more.

Because I know it'll be a bit of a challenge to read them, and I know I'd need to look things up having forgotten so much, therefore needing a dictionary nearby, I always put it off. Plus then I justify it by thinking that I should really be focusing on Japanese right now, and I do tend to get mixed up if I have 2 languages besides English swirling around in my brain at a time. If only I were actually studying Japanese. The curse of the eternal procrastinator, I guess. All I can hope is that someday I'll have the motivation to finally read these.


  1. Great response, Tanabata! I think you hit the nail on the head with your description of your French classes. That was pretty much how my Spanish classes were too. I really wish I had more of a chance to practice--some sort of immersion program.

  2. You'll have to blog on your progress if you do get around to reading them. Japanese is hard - I did it in school for about seven years but I can't even write.

    I'm not sure if I left you a comment already but I tagged you for a quick meme - no obliation though.

  3. I couldn't get through The Aeneid in English let alone Latin!! It was assigned reading in my Freshman Comp. class in college and it was the first and only time I ever got a D on a paper (blue-book essay). I was devastated.

  4. Thanks Literary Feline.
    My French classes left me completely unprepared for my student exchange to France. But it was definitely an immersion as I was in a small town with no other English-speaking students. Unfortunately I've lost so much of it over the years.

    LOL. You may be waiting a while but I'm sure if I do read any of them I'll mention it here.
    As for Japanese, tell me about it. Kanji is fascinating but oh so difficult. I'll get to the meme in a little bit.

    I've never read The Aeneid in any language so you're one up on me! I've always thought it would be interesting to learn Latin but have done absolutely nothing more than have that thought!

  5. Oh Nat, I'd give anything to be able to read in French! I hope you pick up your French books again. I know it might be slow going, especially at first, but it'll soon come back to you. Keep us posted on your progress!

    I used to be able to read Hindi novels, but when I picked one up a couple of months ago, I found it so tedious because I am now so unused to reading anything in the Hindi script. I am not sure I will attempt another one again soon!

  6. It's too bad you don't read Japanese very well. I'm a huge fan of Haruki Murakami and have been curious how the English translation stacks up to the original text.

    I'm a terrible student, too. I've been trying to learn Chinese for going on five years now. Need to study more.

  7. Lotus,
    LOL. Mentioning it on the blog is now going to shame me into reading something in French. One of these days I'm going to get off my butt. :P

    Tell me about it! I'd love to read Haruki Murakami in the original. Maybe someday...


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