Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

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Khayyam
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Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Khayyam » Mon Mar 04, 2024 6:58 pm

My experience learning Persian by reading and listening to the BIble--especially those parts that are quite simple, and that feel gemuetlich* to me because I'm so familiar with them--makes me want to find just one novel, novella, scripture, short story, or poem (I think I've covered every possibility) to kick off the game every time I start to learn a new language. I'm not religious (not that it matters), but I'm certain I'll do well, in language-learning terms, to take a page from the book of the religious scholars who love one book above all, and who could never grow tired of surrendering heart and soul to it.

This work, whatever it is, should meet the following criteria:

1.It's world-renowned, and therefore virtually guaranteed to have been translated into any major language by the best of the best

2.It's been narrated in every major language by the best of the best, and there's a translation that exactly matches the narration (probably a given if #1 is met)

3. It's quite easy to read (and listen to)--a bookwormy native 13-year-old would likely have no trouble with it

4. It's fun and cozy and happy overall, not depressing

5. It may be written for a young audience, but it doesn't patronize (think Ursula Le Guin)

I believe that covers it.

If you were to choose one work like this for yourself, what would it be? Or it might be more productive to ask: what would your list of candidates be? Obscenely long lists, and candidates that don't quite fit, are welcome. I want to examine this from all angles. Also, I think that asking this question might be a fun way to get to know my fellow forum members better.

I'm currently leaning strongly toward Tolkien--either The Silmarillion or The Hobbit. The main advantage of the former is that it's written in a lofty, let-there-be-light, scriptural style (which I came to love by listening to the first chapter of Genesis in Persian a bazillion times), without the misery and horror of the Bible. The main advantage of the latter is that it's simpler and cozier and more likely to have been translated into any major language. Everybody knows The Hobbit; it's mostly just Tolkien devotees who know The Silmarillion. If I had to choose right now, I'd go for The Hobbit.

Now, to expand on why I think repeatedly going back to one beloved work in this way is a good idea:

If you're extremely familiar with a work--so much so that you often know exactly what phrase or idea is coming next, and can maybe even recite the words in unison with a narrator--that makes the work of reading-and-or-listening to it in a new language much easier. Suppose you're dealing with a language like Persian that throws one curveball at you after another in the form of idioms, or phrasing that's just plain bizarre by the standards you're used to. If you already know the story, you've already more than laid the groundwork for deciphering the mess (I say that lovingly) because as long as you understand what you just read, you likely already know what's coming next--it's just a question of how the translator expresses it in the target language.

I'll continue writing about this later--I have other things to do, but I want to get this out there.



*Sometimes in my private journals, I like to toss in German words when they seem to capture my meaning better than any English words I can think of. There are enough German-fluent people here that I think it shouldn't be totally annoying if I do this--but then, maybe it's totally annoying to see words from a different language unexpectedly popping up even if you know them. Well hey, at least Captain Podcast here is practicing the active side somehow (aside from frightening decent folk by reciting Hassrap songs on my night walks), is all I can say.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby emk » Mon Mar 04, 2024 7:10 pm

Here is a list of "most translated" books. The Bible is number 1, and (of course) Le Petit Prince is number 2 with over 500 languages. According to this site, it currently stands at 7,072 editions in 575 languages. It meets several of your other criteria, too, though it's actually a little on the difficult side—it's a book designed to be read to kids, which can be a lot harder than a book designed to be read by kids. (The difference is particularly stark in French. Many bedtime stories designed to be read to infants used the passe simple, but most books aimed at the youngest readers use the present tense. As a parent reading bedtime stories in my L2, I noticed these things!)

If you focus mostly on major languages, however, there are many other fine choices with over 100 languages on the "most translated" list.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby iguanamon » Mon Mar 04, 2024 8:05 pm

Khayyam wrote:My experience learning Persian by reading and listening to the BIble--especially those parts that are quite simple, and that feel gemuetlich* to me because I'm so familiar with them--makes me want to find just one novel, novella, scripture, short story, or poem (I think I've covered every possibility) to kick off the game every time I start to learn a new language. I'm not religious (not that it matters), but I'm certain I'll do well, in language-learning terms, to take a page from the book of the religious scholars who love one book above all, and who could never grow tired of surrendering heart and soul to it. ...

I have used the Bible in some languages because I am very familiar with it. I prefer the Old Testament because it is more of a narrative. I have read it in Rashi script in Ladino. I've read it in Haitian Creole. I'd love to find it in St Lucia Kwéyòl. I know it exists but I just can't find a pdf of it no matter how much searching I do.

I've been able to leverage the Bible with the "Thru The Bible" Bible study, reviewing a chapter or two in a half-hour podcast. Sometimes there's a pdf transcrpit available depending on the language, which for Haitian Creole is like hitting the jackpot. In a country like Haiti, currently in a desperate situation- government in shambles; gangs controlling 80% of the capital; grinding poverty; etc, people aren't kicking back with an audio-book in their spare time. So, it is what I had. I could read the chapter; then do the podcast with transcript for training listening and consolidating language I'd learned.

The New Testament is more widespread and has more audio available, but I find it to be more complex in language than the Old Testament is.

One of my other "go to" books has been "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carrol. I've read it in translation in all my languages except the Creoles, where I don't believe there is a translation. I've also read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe in all of my languages except St Lucia Kwéyòl. According to emk's wikipedia link, it has been translated into 174 languages.
Khayyam wrote:...If you're extremely familiar with a work--so much so that you often know exactly what phrase or idea is coming next, and can maybe even recite the words in unison with a narrator--that makes the work of reading-and-or-listening to it in a new language much easier. Suppose you're dealing with a language like Persian that throws one curveball at you after another in the form of idioms, or phrasing that's just plain bizarre by the standards you're used to. If you already know the story, you've already more than laid the groundwork for deciphering the mess (I say that lovingly) because as long as you understand what you just read, you likely already know what's coming next--it's just a question of how the translator expresses it in the target language. ...

Yes! Familiarity is a huge, major assist that can jump start my learning and helps me to advance more quickly in a language... which is one of the reasons I've been following your log. The only issue with the Bible is the translation age and quality. Let's put it this way. I grew up with the King James Bible. I love the poetic beauty of the English it uses, however; I wouldn't recommend it to English learners. A more modern translation would be better.
Khayyam wrote:I'm currently leaning strongly toward Tolkien--either The Silmarillion or The Hobbit. The main advantage of the former is that it's written in a lofty, let-there-be-light, scriptural style (which I came to love by listening to the first chapter of Genesis in Persian a bazillion times), without the misery and horror of the Bible. ... If I had to choose right now, I'd go for The Hobbit....

I am probably one of the few people in the English-speaking world who has not read either "Harry Potter" nor "The Hobbit", neither have I seen the films. While the Hobbit intrigues me because there is a recent Yiddish translation available, I've yet to read it in English, or any other language. According to the JTA, it is the 61st translation of the book. You'll probably have much more difficulty finding any other Tolkien book as widely translated.

You are on to a winning recipe for language-learning in using familiar books translated into L2. It's been a part of my success in language-learning for all the reasons you've mentioned. Keep up the good work!

Edit: Thru the Bible Persian/Farsi has transcripts available for their Bible Study podcasts, it seems, I can't read Farsi, so I can't be sure if they're accurate.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Cainntear » Mon Mar 04, 2024 10:42 pm

emk wrote:It [The Little Prince] meets several of your other criteria, too, though it's actually a little on the difficult side—it's a book designed to be read to kids, which can be a lot harder than a book designed to be read by kids.

Is that a bad thing, though?
Books aimed to be read by kids have a fundamentally different goal from book meant to be read to them. Books for kids to read themselves are designed to teach reading, not teach language -- the reader (kid) already knows the language. The needs of the adult language learner (hell, even child language learners) are totally different: kids books use language patterns that are very rare in other settings, so they're arguably not even teaching "real" language. It's actually hard to use kid's books unless your entire programme is built around them, and that would be a bad thing -- as I said, it's not "real" language patterns.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Mar 05, 2024 1:54 am

Some possibilities:

- Sherlock Holmes stories

- Works by Jules Verne

- Works by Agatha Christie

They're all challenging enough to be worthwhile, but still not too difficult. And, they're all readily available in many, many languages.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Khayyam » Tue Mar 05, 2024 4:35 am

Wayfarer wrote:Some possibilities:

- Sherlock Holmes stories

- Works by Jules Verne

- Works by Agatha Christie

They're all challenging enough to be worthwhile, but still not too difficult. And, they're all readily available in many, many languages.


All great ideas. I especially love the idea of a Poirot mystery.

Oh wait wait wait! P.G. WODEHOUSE! If there was a Persian edition of Code of the Woosters...
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Khayyam » Tue Mar 05, 2024 5:25 am

iguanamon wrote:
Khayyam wrote:My experience learning Persian by reading and listening to the BIble--especially those parts that are quite simple, and that feel gemuetlich* to me because I'm so familiar with them--makes me want to find just one novel, novella, scripture, short story, or poem (I think I've covered every possibility) to kick off the game every time I start to learn a new language. I'm not religious (not that it matters), but I'm certain I'll do well, in language-learning terms, to take a page from the book of the religious scholars who love one book above all, and who could never grow tired of surrendering heart and soul to it. ...

I have used the Bible in some languages because I am very familiar with it. I prefer the Old Testament because it is more of a narrative. I have read it in Rashi script in Ladino. I've read it in Haitian Creole. I'd love to find it in St Lucia Kwéyòl. I know it exists but I just can't find a pdf of it no matter how much searching I do.

I've been able to leverage the Bible with the "Thru The Bible" Bible study, reviewing a chapter or two in a half-hour podcast. Sometimes there's a pdf transcrpit available depending on the language, which for Haitian Creole is like hitting the jackpot. In a country like Haiti, currently in a desperate situation- government in shambles; gangs controlling 80% of the capital; grinding poverty; etc, people aren't kicking back with an audio-book in their spare time. So, it is what I had. I could read the chapter; then do the podcast with transcript for training listening and consolidating language I'd learned.

The New Testament is more widespread and has more audio available, but I find it to be more complex in language than the Old Testament is.

One of my other "go to" books has been "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carrol. I've read it in translation in all my languages except the Creoles, where I don't believe there is a translation. I've also read Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe in all of my languages except St Lucia Kwéyòl. According to emk's wikipedia link, it has been translated into 174 languages.
Khayyam wrote:...If you're extremely familiar with a work--so much so that you often know exactly what phrase or idea is coming next, and can maybe even recite the words in unison with a narrator--that makes the work of reading-and-or-listening to it in a new language much easier. Suppose you're dealing with a language like Persian that throws one curveball at you after another in the form of idioms, or phrasing that's just plain bizarre by the standards you're used to. If you already know the story, you've already more than laid the groundwork for deciphering the mess (I say that lovingly) because as long as you understand what you just read, you likely already know what's coming next--it's just a question of how the translator expresses it in the target language. ...

Yes! Familiarity is a huge, major assist that can jump start my learning and helps me to advance more quickly in a language... which is one of the reasons I've been following your log. The only issue with the Bible is the translation age and quality. Let's put it this way. I grew up with the King James Bible. I love the poetic beauty of the English it uses, however; I wouldn't recommend it to English learners. A more modern translation would be better.
Khayyam wrote:I'm currently leaning strongly toward Tolkien--either The Silmarillion or The Hobbit. The main advantage of the former is that it's written in a lofty, let-there-be-light, scriptural style (which I came to love by listening to the first chapter of Genesis in Persian a bazillion times), without the misery and horror of the Bible. ... If I had to choose right now, I'd go for The Hobbit....

I am probably one of the few people in the English-speaking world who has not read either "Harry Potter" nor "The Hobbit", neither have I seen the films. While the Hobbit intrigues me because there is a recent Yiddish translation available, I've yet to read it in English, or any other language. According to the JTA, it is the 61st translation of the book. You'll probably have much more difficulty finding any other Tolkien book as widely translated.

You are on to a winning recipe for language-learning in using familiar books translated into L2. It's been a part of my success in language-learning for all the reasons you've mentioned. Keep up the good work!

Edit: Thru the Bible Persian/Farsi has transcripts available for their Bible Study podcasts, it seems, I can't read Farsi, so I can't be sure if they're accurate.


Really? You find the Old Testament more linguistically complex than the New? I haven't read close to all of either, but I have the opposite feelings based on what I've read. I consistently find it easier to make the jump from audio-with-text to audio-only with the NT. How hard it is to make that jump is how I very roughly measure that complexity.

I would be so frustrated if I were trying to learn a language like your Haitian Creole. I'm a mass-input guy, and a scarcity of materials is a deal-breaker. Do you find that the lack of materials slows your progress at all, or is it pretty much the same as long as you can scrounge up something to work on?

Alice in Wonderland is a good suggestion. I've read that in English and German, and it would meet all my requirements. I should have thought before I gave my German copy away (don't have an English copy).

I'm glad you like my "tread the same ground over and over" approach. You've clearly accomplished a great deal in this realm, so I'll take that as a good sign.

Re: the King James Bible not being suitable for English learners: absolutely agree. As a native English speaker, I find the NIV, etc. extremely prosaic and bland, and I only (grudgingly) refer to them when it's flat impossible to decipher a KJV passage on my own. A part of me even kinda wishes some of the newer translations didn't exist at all because they're such unpoetic hack jobs. But yes, plain, everyday language is generally best for learners.

That made me think: Hemingway would probably make for great English-learning material. Unquestioned artistic merit and bare-bones simplicity. Now, who's the Hemingway of Iran?
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby DaveAgain » Tue Mar 05, 2024 8:19 am

I like your Hobbit candidate.

Treasure Island and Heidi are books I've used.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Cavesa » Tue Mar 05, 2024 9:31 am

A few or my popular choices, which offer contemporary language, and have tons of translations.
All of them fulfill your condtions 1,3,4,5. I don't know enough about audiobooks, I rarely listen to them, so I cannot give an opinion on 2.

1.Harry Potter
Yeah, I know, everyone knows. But it is still a very good option. And it is one with sort of guaranteed good quality translations, because back then, the publishers knew that either they make the wait worth it, or we were all just gonna speed up our English studies, read the originals, and make their investment not return. I was by far not the only one, it was really a wave of motivation, something I haven't seen since. And it worked, all the translations I've read so far were good.

2.Charlaine Harris: The southern vampires mysteries (True Blood)
An excellent easy choice, around B1.Accessible, amusing, and tons and tons of everyday language. I hope all the translations are good though. (a note: a 13 year old native would surely not struggle at all with the language, but I still wouldn't recommend this for that age :-D )

3.Terry Pratchett: The Discworld novels
A bit of the opposite to the previous one, this is an excellent choice for someone at least at C1 (or solid B2 with good knowledge of the books). Tons of translations and usually really good. Not due to the same market pressure as HP, but I think the translators were motivated to not mess up the master pieces, and to play with the language as creatively as the authors, if possible. Yeah, perhaps not gateway in the sense in the thread title, but it worked for me as a sort of a gateway from rather easy books to more complex ones (in Spanish back then).

4.Asterix
A BD can be the ideal gateway to reading in a new language! And Asterix is one of the few, that got tons and tons of translations, and also has so many books, that it really matters, it really gives you a lot of material. 89 languages. Of course, some have only one or two books, but most have many or even all of them.
Last edited by Cavesa on Tue Mar 05, 2024 9:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Trying to decide which literary work I should make my standard "language gateway"

Postby Iversen » Tue Mar 05, 2024 9:43 am

I have also got a few Asterixes in funny languages - like Low German and Latin and Dutch. But they cost a fortune each, and therefore I never carried through my planned acquisition of one translation per country Asterix and Obelix and Idefix visited - i.e. places like Egypt, Greece, Scandinavia, Switzerland, England, Spain and the regions of France (presumably there also is an edition in Occitan - and of course there has to be one into Breton!). I do have Potter 1-7 in English and translations in 5 of them into target languages (including no. 1 into Ancient Greek which isn't a target language yet so I also bought the Irish version). And finally I have bought the Hobbito and the Mastro de la Ringoj in Esperanto and read them, but mostly I use non fiction fra the internet.

PS: more about Asterix & co. in my log.
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