Why Don’t I Read in My Own Language?

This topic has been on my mind for quite a long time. Often, when people (in real life) ask me about my love for reading, they are surprised to hear that I only read in English. I barely ever read anything in Dutch anymore. I don’t think I’ve read a fiction novel in Dutch in years. I do have my reasons for this, but at times I do feel bad for ignoring novels in Dutch. Here are the reasons I read in English. 

I prefer to read books in their original language whenever I can. Obviously, that’s not always possible because I only speak a few languages. However, I prefer to read a book in its original language. I find that a lot can get lost in translation: jokes, witty banter, wordplay, etc. Those are all aspects of books that I happen to adore, yet they don’t do well with translation. It just so happens that almost all of the books I’m interested in reading are written by English speaking authors. 

I feel like I wouldn’t be able to review a Dutch book for my blog. My blog is in English,  yes. Most of my readers do not speak Dutch. And therefore, it would feel pointless to review Dutch/Belgian books? Even if I write the review in English, you’d still not be able to read it unless it got translated later on (which I don’t think happens very often). My blog is very important to me. Especially since I’ve had less time to read lately, I want to make it an objective to review every book I read.  

I feel more comfortable when I’m speaking (or reading) English. I know that sounds strange. After all, it’s not my first language. But I find it much easier to express myself in English. Explaining your feelings just feels so much more genuine in English. I don’t know what it is. 

But at the same time I feel so guilty at times. I feel like I’m abandoning Belgian writers. I feel like I’m disappointing my home country and language. I do love Dutch. It’s just that some things tend to sound really cheesy and weird in Dutch, while they’re normal or romantic in English. Maybe I’m not appreciative enough of Dutch. The one thing is that I would never read a book from a Dutch-speaking author translated. Like I said, I do prefer the original languages. 


Do you have this “problem” as well with your language? Or if your native language is English, have you read books that were originally written in other languages? 

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39 thoughts on “Why Don’t I Read in My Own Language?

  1. I think one of the main challenges, too, with reading in your native language is learning a new alphabet. With a lot of the European languages, the Latin alphabet is used. But my first language is Armenian, and that has it’s own alphabet… with 38 letters!

    Maybe it’s different for everyone else, but when I learned Spanish in high school, it was mostly about memorizing vocabulary. When you have to learn a new alphabet completely, it’s when things get a little trickier. For me, it’s easier to relearn reading Armenian if I start with children’s stories or folklore I’m familiar with so I can retrain my brain to recognize some letters that I may have forgotten and sound things out. As for translated works, you’re right: it “loses its flavor,” so to speak, and some words that are unique to the language aren’t always translated well into English.

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  2. I am always so in awe of readers who are so fluent in multiple languages that they can read an entire novel in each. It’s seriously impressive, especially for us Americans who, well, generally never fully learn a second language. I tried- I was actually a Spanish major in college, with a minor in French. But I couldn’t do it. We had a Spanish Literature class, and I simply couldn’t. There were several pages of a book, and it would take me forever to figure it out. I got a B in the class, but I probably deserved… well, to fail, because I was so bad at it!

    Anyway. I have read one or two translated books I think. But not many. Probably because there are just SO many English language books to choose from, that it has never really occurred to me. Plus, they’re harder to find here. I do enjoy reading UK and Australian authors, and even they are nearly impossible to find in the US. Thank goodness for Book Depository! I do wish that the US would get its act together and at least TRY to learn other languages. We don’t even have the option to take a foreign language until high school, even though it has been proven to be easier to learn the younger you start!

    Oh, and don’t feel bad about not preferring Dutch books, or Belgian writers. You should read what makes you happy! 😀

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  3. I know how you feel. I used to read translated books all the time but I do agree, so many good parts of a book can be lost in translation. I really want to read more classic literature from my own country Indonesia, though. They are just as good as English book in my opinion. Also it makes you feel closer to home when you’re abroad like I am ☺️

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  4. Oooh I understand you. All my life I’ve come to love English books and barely read any Tagalog ones. It’s a bit sad to say, but I find it easier to read in English than Tagalog. I think it’s due to the fact that I’ve been introduced to reading English books ever since I could remember, and only read in Tagalog in our Filipino classes or when I’m talking to my friends.

    Of course, I love my country and I’ve been thinking of reading books in Tagalog more, but I don’t know if there are any interesting YA ones that will catch my interest yet (most Filipino autors I’ve found have their books written in English themselves). Hopefully there is. 🙂 Really good post, Jolien!

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    • Thank you so much! It’s interesting that the Filipino authors you’ve found mostly have it written in English! I feel the same way though. On one side, I’d love to support publishing in my country more. On the other side, I just want to read what I’m interested in?

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  5. I would prefer to read a book in its original language whenever I can too, because so much can be lost in translation. With respect to translators who do excellent work, sometimes certain ideas or idioms just don’t come through as well in another language. I know I have such a hard time translating certain sayings in Chinese (my mother tongue) to English when trying to explain to my husband (who only knows English).

    I find it interesting though, that I’m reading your post now when I just got a book this week for review that was Dutch translated to English, HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt!

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    • I often have trouble too, explaining a Dutch dialect word or idiom into English! Oh, that sounds intriguing! I should look up that book. It would be very interesting to see your thoughts on the English translation, and then see how I feel about the original Dutch work!

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  6. My primary language is English. I can speak a scant amount of French (enough to get by in a pinch), but I prefer to watch things in their original language (for comparison) and read subtitles. Even though obviously it’s being translated, I fell that the emotion of the words comes through better in the native tongue as opposed to dubbing.

    That is a definite dilemma, and I can understand how you can feel that way. I follow a YouTuber who has one channel in English and the other in French for his francophone viewers. Do you think it would possible for you to create an offshoot blog for Dutch/Belgian works? That way you could continue what you’re doing on your main blog, but resolve that issue.

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    • Oh, I understand that. In fact, I hate dubbing. I can’t deal with the sound not matching with the mouth movements? It just disturbs me. I would love to do a separate blog for Dutch/Belgian works, but I honestly don’t think I’d have the time to manage this blog, that one and university…

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  7. I am the absolute same with everything you mentioned above, except that my native language is German. There are a couple German books translated, like the works of Kerstien Gier or Cornelia Funke … but still. I feel a little guilty, but in the end I also feel more comfortable with English.

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      • I am not a huge fan of her writing in German, but maybe I am just tired of the language :/ From what I gathered people love the ruby red trilogy, but I find it sooo teen-y and banal at times, even though it could be more awesome. All the people who said that though, read the English translation, so that makes me curious whether they are better in that language or not.

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  8. Ha, I have the same problem, I haven’t read a book by a Slovenian author since high school, probably, which is really, really sad. One of my resolutions for 2016 is to read more non-English books but so far, I only managed one Swedish novel (in English translation…) and one French novel. I feel like I should really pick up a Slovenian story.

    I work as a book translator so I’m basically dependent on Slovenian publishers for my livelihood, so it would totally make sense for me to support Slovenian publishers by reading Slovenian books, but I never seem to get to it. There are just so many great English books I want to read!

    Another factor is that my preferred genres are fantasy and romance and we just don’t have a very strong presence of these two in Slovenian. I mean, we have a lot of translations (of varying quality) but not many original works, which is just sad, since there definitely seems to be a market for them.

    Great discussion, as always, Jolien! 🙂

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  9. I feel exactly the way you do. I barely read Norwegian books ever and I feel bad about it, especially because I work in a bookstore and sell a lot of Norwegian books XD I’m reading a Norwegian book now though, I decided to pick it up because I went to an event where the author was presenting the book. It’s so weird, I feel like books in my own language are so awkward? Like you I just feel more comfortable reading and writing English.

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    • YES! It feels a lot more comfortable in English.That’s so fun though, that you work in a bookstore! I’d love to work in my local one (which is probably the only English bookstore in Brussels aside from Waterstones) but they never seem to need people 😦

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      • I know what you mean! There are two bookstores in my city that have a large English section but those never need people. The one I work at has a decently sized English section but it could’ve been better. It’s still fun though, I love working there 😀

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  10. Although I consider my first language to be English it’s technically Spanish, but it’s so hard for me to read books in that language. It’s a lot more complex and complicated and there’s more literary fiction than anything else which is my least favorite genre. So I tend to stick to my English preferences

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  11. I completely agree with everything that you said! I started reading in English because the books I was interested in didn’t get a translation in Dutch or they stopped translation halfway through the series (if lucky).
    As a Fantasy reader, not a whole lot gets translated, so I find my fix on the Engish market – which is also way cheaper than going to Standaard or Fnac. I will buy books from Dutch authors if they interest me enough, but that doesn’t happen all that much, to be honest..

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    • I DID THE EXACT SAME! I started reading in English when it took too long to translate my favorite fantasy series at the time (Eragon). Which must have been when I was 13 or 14? There’s such amazing fantasy out there, but almost all of the ones I find interesting are written in English.

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      • I hear ya! Sad thing is, is that translation is really not that on point with what’s trending. It’s a bit better when it comes to YA I guess – feels like they’ll just translate it all – but adult Fantasy not so much. My bf owns a bookstore and it’s been, what, two years now since Mistborn got translated. Only half the world has already read it years before that.. Oh well.

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  12. I have the same problem with books in Greek! I just can’t get behind them (the font doesn’t help my eyes either actually) so it’s been years since I last read a book in greek.

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  13. I feel exactly the same for French, since I started reading more in English, I’ve completely gave up on French books for the exact same reasons as you. I think that the last book I read in French was American Gods by Neil Gaiman and I really didn’t like it and I think that one of the main reason was that the translation was really bad.

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    • Translations can sometimes really ruin a book! That sucks though. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book in French, aside from those really easy ones for kids I had to read in school? It would be good for my French, but I just can’t get myself to do it.

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  14. Yep, I have exactly the same problem! Only I don’t really feel guilty about it, I have no interest in Belgian or Dutch writers. I don’t even know why, I’m sure they write great books. I just feel kind of detached from it all? I’ve always leaned towards the English language.

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  15. I have a similar problem. While I can speak a couple of Indian languages I can’t read them very well and I don’t even try to read books written in them. I actually have translated versions of them. It makes it difficult, I almost feel like I’ve betrayed my country.

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  16. I recently read a book that had been translated from its original language, (Japanese), and I thought it was brilliantly done.However, a friend who has read much more translated books didn’t think it was well done.

    I’m always after books from other countries that have been translated so maybe if you come across books like that, you could review them.

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