Reading in english as a german native speaker

by Mike A. Wants

Reading in english as a german native speaker

October 3, 2013 Miscellaneous 0

First of all I should say that I’m terrible at learning languages. And I had to learn enough languages to know that it’s my bane. I’m genuinely bad at it. English is the only language besides german I’m comfortable with. Even though I should be able to “speak” french and latin too, I only barely got the grades to pass.

I didn’t learn english in school either. Before I started reading in english I had a grade that was as close to non-passing as possible. That changed when I started reading in english. On my graduation I actually had a good grade in english, but you can’t attribute that to my teacher. As soon as I was comfortable enough in the language I started reading everything I could in english. There are more than enough reasons:

  • First the most obvious: I can read new books as soon as they are on the market. I don’t have to wait for a translation, which can take considerable time.
  • English books are often cheaper. One reason for this is that the german translation often has more books than the english original. Take Wheel of Time for example. There are 14 books all in all. Now look at a german translation. There are 37 installments priced at 13€. Same with A Song of Ice and Fire. All the books are split into two parts, so we are already at ten installments, all priced at 15-16€. Granted, german paperbacks have a high quality, but that’s not crucial for a poor student.
  • German translations can be bad. For example: Some names in A Song of Ice and Fire were made more accessible for germans (they just flat out changed them), whatever that means. So they decided to change something in such a great series without any apparent reason. I’m reading english fantasy for years now and I never had any problems with names. Another big problem are always the translations in itself. Translation studies are amicable in the statement that however good a translation is, it’s never true to the original. There are many things you can do wrong in a translation, especially when you translate in as hard a language as german. A good example for this is comedy and jokes. I’ve watched a couple of TV-series and most of the jokes got destroyed in the german translation. Not sure if it’s because we aren’t funny…The same thing happens in book translations. Much of the greatest joy in fantasy comes from the subtle use of language, and that’s something that’s very hard to translate. That is one of the main reasons I read even those books in english that are already translated into german.
  • Not everything gets translated. A mayor part of fantasy literature probably never will, because they are from indie-authors and there is no real market for a translation into german. Especially since a translation is normally very expensive.
  • English fantasy is on a higher level than german fantasy. As I’m reading up on writing more and more, I realized that german authors seem to disregard some of the key aspects of writing modern fantasy. Things like creation tension, writing action scenes, making plausible/interesting characters, and much more. I’m not saying that german fantasy isn’t worth reading. We have some very good authors with very interesting stories (if you’re ever interested in reading something in german, check out Richard Schwartz’s Das Geheimnis von Askir). But in the end the best books/series I’ve ever read are from english writing authors.
  • English is not my native language. Now that’s obvious so why would I mention that? It’s because english sounds different for me than it does for a native speaker. It “sounds” like a very interesting accent; much more foreign and as such often much more fantastic than reading in german. It just fits better to a genre like fantasy.
  • Some german covers look really ugly. I don’t know what the people in charge thought when they commissioned them.
  • last but not least: I’m learning english through them. That’s a very valuable skill, because you can use it virtually everywhere.

There are many reasons to read in english, but in the end it comes down to what you enjoy the most. I can read english fluently, so I’m very comfortable with it. When I began reading in english it was hard, because I couldn’t understand everything. There were always parts I had to figure out afterwards or parts I only understood vaguely. But sticking with english until I could read it perfectly was definitely worth it.


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