Reading Translations vs. Originals (A Behind the Bookwyrm Feature)

POSTED ON May 17, 2018 BY Austine IN Behind the Bookwyrm, Guest Post

Good morning, book lovers! Today, Ianthe of Pagefuls is joining me here on NovelKnight to talk about reading translations compared to reading originals and I think y’all are really going to enjoy this one!

International book bloggers will all understand the struggle of deciding whether to read in English or in your native language. I’m not sure I still qualify as an international blogger since I relocated to the United Kingdom from Belgium about a year and a half ago, but I remember that growing up, I had a lot to say about this topic.

I learned English from the age of eight, after my family relocated to Hong Kong for several years. Between the ages of eight and eleven, I went to English speaking schools and read English books. From age eleven onward, I was back in my home country of Belgium. In school, we read books in Flemish/Dutch.

I detested when my teachers instructed us to read translated books, for two main reasons:

  1. There were plenty of excellent books by Belgian/Dutch authors that I would rather read instead.
  2. Translations don’t reflect the true voice of the author.

If my teachers were going to insist on reading in Dutch, then why not select one of the many brilliant authors from our own country? Due to the focus on English classics, there remained an enormous pool of undiscovered authors.

I always rebelled and read the original English version instead. If the book is originally written in a language I understand, I will always prefer to read the original. A book is more than just its story. Translations contain the same story, but lose part of the author’s original voice.

Of course, there are many incredible books that are originally written in a language that I don’t speak (the Millennium trilogy comes to mind). It’s not exactly feasible to learn Swedish just to read a book I’m interested in, so I do read translated books on occasion. Great books have been written in many languages, and it’s impossible to be fluent in all of them. But when I’m reading translations, I always wonder if perhaps some of the emotion got lost in translation. For people who are lucky enough to be able to read in multiple languages, it usually comes down to personal preference.

When it comes to my first point, however, I will not budge. I wish that high school/secondary school teachers paid more attention to the value of discovering local authors, over reading a translated version of Wuthering Heights (and this is coming from someone who thinks everyone should read Wuthering Heights!) Supporting, and encouraging students to read, local authors is something that I strongly belief should lie within the responsibilities of teachers.

What do you think? Are you able to read in multiple languages, and if so, do you prefer to read in English?


About Ianthe @ Pagefuls

I'm Ianthe, a twenty-five year old Belgian book blogger, living and working, but mostly sleeping in the United Kingdom. When not busy moaning about the Brighton weather, I read (a lot) and talk about the books I've read (too much). My biggest blogging challenge is my cat, whose favourite place to sit is on my keyboard while I'm writing. Thanks Morty.


Behind the Bookwyrm is a guest post blog series where members of the book community come to NovelKnight to share their thoughts, opinions, interests, and anything in between! This series is intended for book bloggers, booktubers, bookstagrammers, booklrs, etc. If you’re using a platform to talk about books, then this is for you!

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4 responses to “Reading Translations vs. Originals (A Behind the Bookwyrm Feature)

  1. Interesting post! English is the only language that I can read well, so I have to read translations. If I could read other languages, I’d always choose to read the original text. I’d want to read the story the way the author intended.

  2. I’ve read a reasonable number of translations since English is the only language I read/write fluently. I do agree about the importance of teaching regional literature alongside classics, though. And my preference (were I able) would always be to read books in their original language! For the same reason that I prefer subtitled films over dubbed—every step you take away from the original presentation dilutes the story’s power, even if it’s just a little.

  3. When i was in college I would refuse to read translations as well but now that I am older I have certainly budged on this as I’ve stopped just looking at me. In the end not every one can read English as well as we do (Dutch native speaker as well) or any other language as you pointed out, and it is great that the translation exists for them. As such I try to support the publishers on occasion. Also not everyone has the luxury to find all books in the original language. Libraries here rarely have a big selection of English books as you probably know.

    I do however agree with your point that in high school they should focus on books from the own country. When I had literature class (like 14 years ago) we only read books my Dutch authors. Though to be fair we also didn’t have a reading list and there were maybe 2 or 3 we read with the whole class.