Authors Answer 5 – Foreign Language Books

So, I decided to give yesterday a miss as far as blog posts go, seeing as I spent a very long day travelling to Bristol and back, but then I totally forgot that today is Masterchef day. But then, so is tomorrow, and Thursday, so I’ll work around it. I did briefly look at the subject for this week, and it rather made me chuckle.

For the record, the question is Have you read any foreign language novels?

What isn’t entirely clear to me is whether this means just novels that were originally written in a foreign language, or whether I’ve read them in the original foreign language, but either way the answer is yes, I have.

I could be facetious about this and point out that pretty much every novel I read these days is a foreign language novel, since technically, English is a foreign language to me. I could also go the other way and say that if by ‘foreign’ you mean ‘not in the English language’, then the answer is also yes, since I have obviously read lots and lots of books in my native Dutch.

But let’s not take either of those approaches. I am fluent enough in English that I can’t really claim that it’s a foreign language anymore. My English is by no means perfect, but no one’s English is (certainly not the English of many, many native speakers), and I have no hesitation in saying that my English is better than many people who have spoken and learnt it from birth.

So if we’re looking at other languages, I have to go back to the good old days when I was still in education. For instance, in secondary school when I was studying for my final exams. One of my subjects was German, which meant that I had to read a number of books in German, or at the very least I had to pretend that I’d read them in German and answer questions about them in German. The one novel from that list that has actually stuck with me is Das Parfum by Patrick Süskind. I believe in English it’s just called Perfume and it’s an awesome book. I did actually even read it in German. Would I do so again? Hell no, I have a Dutch translation which is perfectly adequate, and I’m simply not comfortable enough in German to try it in that language again.

At university I studied Russian, and I did try and struggle my way through a number of Russian books, in Russian. Master i Margarita is the main one I remember there, but I don’t remember a thing about it. I was also simply not capable of fully understanding what the Russian version said without having a Dutch translation next to it. I did try, but God it was a slow, painful process.

Ultimately, I’m not hugely bothered about what original language a book was written in, though most of what I read these days was written in English. I’m just not aware of good Fantasy authors who write in other languages, with the exception of Peter Schaap, who is a Dutch Fantasy author. I believe I own two of his books, and I have quite enjoyed them. I should probably read them again, since I remember very little about them.

With regards to languages themselves – bring it on. I have always wanted to be a proper polyglot, and for the past few months have finally found a way of hopefully someday attaining that status. There is a brilliant little phone/tablet app (totally free!) called Duolingo (or you can do it on the website at, which allows you to learn a fair number of foreign languages without having to go to classes or pay a tutor or whatever. At the moment I am brushing up on my German, French and Italian, and have started learning Spanish, Norwegian and Irish*. Swedish and Danish are also available, but I’m holding off on those for now, because they’re too close to Norwegian and I’ll just get confused. Ditto for Portuguese, it being too close to Spanish. Turkish is available, but although I do want to learn it, I’m not starting it just yet.

(*’Why the hell would you want to learn Irish?’, I hear you ask. ‘No one, not even the Irish themselves, speaks Irish!’ The simple answer is, because I can. That said, it’s doing my head in, but that’s another story.)

Russian will hopefully soon be available (on the app, it’s already available on the website), so I can then start brushing up on that as well, and I know they’re also working on Czech, which was my second language at university, so I want to pick that one up as well.

Other languages (that I’m interested in) which are not yet available but which are being worked on are Welsh (I’ve always wanted to learn Welsh!), Greek, Hungarian, maybe Polish (but again, very close to Russian and Czech, so probably not any time soon), and maybe if I’m feeling really adventurous, Romanian and Hindi. I’m still hoping that someone will start working on Finnish at some point.

So, looking at all the languages that I am either learning or want to learn at some point, we have German, French, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Irish, Russian, Czech, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Hungarian, Welsh, Greek, Portuguese, Romanian and Hindi. Seventeen languages.

When I discussed this with my husband, he asked ‘is it even possible for someone to learn seventeen languages at the same time?’ to which my answer was ‘I have no idea, but I’m going to find out.’

And who knows? Maybe at some point I’ll even read books in any of those languages…

Original post can be found here.

3 thoughts on “Authors Answer 5 – Foreign Language Books

  1. Jay Dee

    You’re not the only one who wants to try so many languages. I’m currently doing French, Spanish, and German on Duolingo. But I’ve tested Irish, and am about to test Esperanto. I’m trying all of them out, though only concentrating on French and Spanish for now, and dabbling a bit in German until I finish the French tree. Then I’ll focus on German. You can also study Catalan from Spanish. Not sure if Romanian is an adventure, since it’s another Romance language.

    1. Erica Dakin Post author

      It’s a nifty little app, isn’t it? You’ll have to tell me what you make of Irish – it’s the first Celtic language I’m learning, and I still can’t quite get my head around it.


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