John le Carré as a polyglot

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Doitsujin
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John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby Doitsujin » Mon Dec 14, 2020 11:44 am

Many of you have probably heard that John le Carré died on Sunday. When I heard excerpts from an interview that he gave in German, I was impressed by his command of the language. He definitely could have passed for a native German speaker. Since he taught both German and French at Eton, his French must have been very good, too.




He also wrote a Guardian article about the importance of learning German.
Last edited by Doitsujin on Mon Dec 14, 2020 6:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Mon Dec 14, 2020 6:05 pm

Hello. I, for one, did not hear of the death of John le Carré, but he has been in my mind quite recently. Just the other day I began watching the Amazon movie whose English title is The Legend. Almost immediately The Legend reminded me of the nuances of Le Carré's plots and characters. His books are a sharp introduction to "real life" where things and people just like in Le Carré's work are not always what they seem. Thanks for including the speech. May he rest in peace.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Mon Dec 14, 2020 6:20 pm

I didn't hear about his passing. So far I've only read the autobiography Duvornas tunnel / The Pigeon Tunnel. I will check out some of his other works in due time.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby Lemus » Tue Dec 15, 2020 1:18 am

I return to that piece on the German language regularly. It is such a wonderful source of inspiration, not just for German, but really any language.

The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking. And the decision to teach a foreign language is an act of commitment, generosity and mediation.

It’s a promise to educate – yes – and to equip. But also to awaken; to kindle a flame that you hope will never go out; to guide your pupils towards insights, ideas and revelations that they would never have arrived at without your dedication, patience and skill.


What a beautiful refutation to the idea that we can just get the gist of things from Google translate and that it can be enough.

As a side note, I am a big fan of his books but I have never tried to read one in a language other than English. I think it is because all of the jargon he uses it almost feels as though you are reading something in another language already. He seemed to have taken a great personal interest in his translations though, especially into German, so they are probably excellent.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby lavengro » Tue Dec 15, 2020 3:22 am

Lemus wrote:....
As a side note, I am a big fan of his books but I have never tried to read one in a language other than English. I think it is because all of the jargon he uses it almost feels as though you are reading something in another language already. He seemed to have taken a great personal interest in his translations though, especially into German, so they are probably excellent.

I also am a big fan of his books, so much so that every time I see your name beside a post, I automatically think, "Alec Leamus" from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - he was often just referred to as "Leamus." While I have not kept count, I am pretty sure I have read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at least eight times (luckily with my tragically poor memory, the ending is a surprise each reading).

Facility with foreign languages on the part of his characters is a prominent feature of many of his works.

For me, my interest is largely in his writing style, particularly his manner of representing dialogue. I think it would be difficult to capture that precisely in a translation, no matter how carefully done.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby Doitsujin » Tue Dec 15, 2020 5:14 am

Lemus wrote:He seemed to have taken a great personal interest in his translations though, especially into German, so they are probably excellent.
In the second Ullstein video that I've linked to, he actually mentioned that he often implemented some last minute-changes in the English editions because of the "pesky questions" of the German translator.
John le Carré wrote:Die Tinte auf dem deutschen Lizenzvertrag ist noch nicht ganz trocken, da hagelt es schon die ersten Lektoratsfragen – schrecklich lästige Fragen, weil sie einen so kalt erwischen.
Warum hat mein englischer Lektor da geschlafen? Und mein amerikanischer Lektor auch?
Und dann die Fragen der deutschen Übersetzerin, mindestens genauso lästig: „Könnte der Autor bitte erklären, wie folgender Satz gemeint ist?“
Natürlich kann ich! Aber ich muss nicht! Ich bin ein Genie. Und was ist sie? Eine Übersetzerin. Und wenn ich den Brief bis dahin nicht in tausend Stücke zerrissen habe und mich herablasse, einen widerwilligen Blick auf den angeprangerten Satz zu werfen, was sehe ich? Sie hat recht. Der Satz ist mitnichten das literarische Kleinod, für das ich ihn gehalten habe – er ist unbrauchbar. Er muss entweder umgeschrieben oder, besser noch, ersatzlos gestrichen werden.
Und so kommt es, dass in letzter Sekunde vor dem Drucken eine Lawine von Korrekturen beim englischen Verlag eingeht, die sämtlich an die Amerikaner, die Kanadier, die Australier weitergegeben werden müssen und natürlich auch an all die anderen ausländischen Verlage. Alle bekommen einen Nervenzusammenbruch – diese verfluchten Deutschen!
[...]
Kein Wunder also, dass mir die deutsche Ausgabe meines jüngsten Buchs, wenn sie schließlich bei mir in Cornwall eintrifft – makellos übersetzt, wunderschön gebunden, wunderbar anzufassen –, wie ein fast magisches Geschenk aus der Vergangenheit vorkommt.
BTW, the full German text of his speech is here:
Von Buddelschiffen, Londoner Nächten und strengen Übersetzerinnen. Eine Lobrede John le Carré
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby tungemål » Tue Dec 15, 2020 8:54 am

He seems to have had an amazing teacher. And the method of using grammophone recordings in the classroom of actors reciting poetry, was probably a very good idea. Similar to the "learn language from songs" - method.

When I had German in school in the 80s and 90s, I don't recall that we used recordings of real German. We mostly read the textbook and wrote essays. There was no focus on pronunciation.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby Lemus » Tue Dec 15, 2020 3:48 pm

lavengro wrote:I also am a big fan of his books, so much so that every time I see your name beside a post, I automatically think, "Alec Leamus" from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - he was often just referred to as "Leamus."


I do not remember where I came up with this username anymore (it was the one I used to use on HTLAL ages ago) but I think I might have been going for a spelling variation on Leamus. I created my initial HTLAL account roughly about the time I first read the Spy Who Came in from the Cold so it would make a lot of sense.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby IronMike » Sun Feb 21, 2021 7:57 am

I love this man's works. Every time I start one of his novels (esp. Smiley) I wonder, "Why don't I just read all his books straight through?" His stories are always tight, well thought-out plots with incredible characters. RIP, sir.
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Re: John le Carré as a polyglot

Postby Kogoro » Fri Feb 26, 2021 12:11 pm

Here’s a link to an article by John le Carré from the Guardian from 2017 about his love for the German language.

The article has this beautiful quote from le Carré on learning and teaching foreign languages:

“ The decision to learn a foreign language is to me an act of friendship. It is indeed a holding out of the hand. It’s not just a route to negotiation. It’s also to get to know you better, to draw closer to you and your culture, your social manners and your way of thinking. And the decision to teach a foreign language is an act of commitment, generosity and mediation.”

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2 ... are_btn_fb
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