Alternating languages

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My native language is English, but my language of habitual use is Japanese. It has been for the past 20 years. I am a translator, so I spend most of my days reading Japanese documents. I’m so used to it that I read Japanese at the same speed I read English.

At the beginning of the year, I thought about spending the year reading only Japanese novels. The idea is appealing. I love reading in Japanese, and some of my favourite writers are Japanese. However, I decided against it, and chose to alternate my reading – one book Japanese, one book English, etc.

I’m doing this because reading in English is a kind of study for me. I translate from Japanese to English, so my English must be as good as it can be. Arguably, a translator’s skills in the target language are more important than those in the source language. Words and phrases can be looked up. Good writing skills can’t.

Another reason I chose not to read only Japanese works is because I write novels and stories in English. Seeing how other writers express ideas and concepts, and structure stories in English, is an important part of the learning process. This learning process never ends. I gain something linguistically from every novel I read, be it pacing, turns of phrase, or the weaving of ideas.

So, I am reading in both languages this year. I soon hope to make it three or four languages though. I’m learning French and Chinese. I read a lot of French literature which has been translated into English, but I would love to read Camus and Sartre (to name a few authors) in the original. A whole new literary and linguistic world will open up!

I’m reading a Japanese book at the moment. It’s a collection of short stories by my favourite Japanese author Matsumoto Seicho. I don’t often read short stories (although I write them for learners of English), but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. I might even add some short story collections in English to my “to read” list.

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