Do you read books in different languages? I don’t mean books translated from foreign languages. I mean, actually reading in other languages.
I think being able to read something in the original language is absolutely the best way to experience any given material. It’s not always possible, but if you are able to do it, you should.
Personally, I love languages. A part of my goal in becoming a polymath is to be able to speak/read/write seven languages fluently. I can do so in three at the moment, and getting a move on with Spanish.
Here are four reasons you should read books in foreign languages:
1. Reading improves language skills
Once you get past the basics, reading is hands-down one of the best ways to improve your skills in a foreign language. It doesn’t matter if the only things you can understand are baby books. Start with those. It will give you an instinctive understanding of how that language works, how the sentences are structured, as well as the colloquialism of that particular language.
Reading can also be used to improve your skills in your native language. You can use it to enhance your vocabulary. (the vocabulary builder in the new Kindle Paperwhites is a good way to use modern technology).
2. Reading familiarises you with another culture
Read the original material in any language and you will have a snapshot of that entire culture before you. Stories are the backbone of humanity. Stories have been passed down, first through oral traditions, and then in writing from one generation to another. Stories tell us what any society thinks, or finds important, at any given moment in time.
Read the best material available in any culture and you will learn more about that culture in a span of a book than you will ever learn from watching the news.
3. It makes you more knowledgeable and conversational
Even if you only read fiction, you will still pick up more knowledge about all sorts of things than you can imagine. All good stories base their fiction on facts. That means, all good authors do their research, and all the details of the world you see in their books, are based on reality. I’m not saying use it as the ultimate source of truth. However, you can learn a lot from fiction, if you start paying attention to those details, and take them as a starting point.
Here, for example, is a picture of the journal spread I made while reading “The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith. This is a map of all the cultural, historical and literary references made in that book. Just imagine the amount of knowledge I would accumulate if I read up on all of those specific things. (I haven’t – but just writing down these references have added to my cultural knowledge).
4. It makes you a better person (or gives you an opportunity to be so)
Reading in a foreign language means getting a foreign perspective. Did you know that Winston Churchill who is a hero from the British Perspective is actually a bit of a villain from an Indian perspective? One man, two views.
The same thing would apply to Christopher Columbus, who may have discovered new land for the Europeans to get rich on, but who ruined things for the Native Americans.
Reading those original texts gives you a perspective that broadens your world and your thoughts. It makes the world more grey, and that can be difficult. But it’s important, because by considering those differences, perhaps you wouldn’t be too quick to make judgements or decisions that may affect the lives of others.
Do you read in other languages? Share your answers in the comments below.