My interest in foreign language books began when my parents took me, as a young boy, to visit Europe not long after World War II. Witnessing the devastation that still existed in Hamburg, Germany frightened me. Being unable to understand people’s speech or read road signs was equally frightening and isolating. The bombed out buildings and the inability to communicate made me acutely aware that my own culture differed radically from what I was experiencing.
I promised myself to learn German or some other foreign language.
Latin was forced upon me in high school and that did not satisfy my desire to communicate with another culture. I later dabbled in French and Spanish, but ultimately I made the decision to learn German.
As a mature adult, I enrolled in the German Literature and Language program at a university, determined to complete the program. I was not only older than my co-students, but I was senior to the professors as well.
After graduation, I was modestly fluent in German, but needed to work at maintaining my new skill. Periodically reading German language novels seemed to be the ideal way to practice my abilities.
A roaring fire in the hearth, cup of coffee in hand, and a captivating story are the ingredients for a relaxing weekend in which to unwind. Not so fast, buster!
Searching abroad for a book
How does one find foreign language books? Even if that were easy, would I know if a particular book might be of interest to me?
Check out local book stores and, if they do have a foreign language selection, it will be severely limited. You are not going to find a Foreign Best Seller list in the New York Times and your neighborhood book club is definitely not going to be discussing anything other than English publications at its next meeting.
It was very difficult finding foreign language books outside of a university library. Even the university collections are mostly limited to academic articles.
With the advent of Amazon, finding a suitable German novel became much easier. I only had to search through the offerings of Amazon.de (German version), read its reviews, and click on what promised to be an interesting read.
This was not cost efficient. While I expect to pay $10 to $25 for a book, the cost could be tripled or quadrupled when you added shipping costs from Europe. Then you might wait a month until the book arrived.
Digital dictionary companion
Once the foreign publication arrived, the pleasure began, but it was not without some effort. Since my German vocabulary is modest in comparison to my command English, I often had to refer to a German-English dictionary to discover the meaning of yet unfamiliar words.
That meant I had two books in tow just to read one! And referring to a dictionary takes time and interferes with the flow of reading. It was a necessary evil though.
Technology has solved both of these inconveniences. The electronic reader came to the rescue.
If a foreign book is offered in Kindle or iPad format, I always choose that delivery method. Receipt is immediate and there are no expensive shipping costs. Download a dictionary to your electronic reader and searching for word definitions is only a finger tap away. Simply touch the word on either your Kindle or iPad and, VOILA!, up pops a definition.
While there are many reasons for mastering another language and broadening one’s cultural awareness, there is nothing better than reading an excellent book published in its original language. If you have command of another language, read a book published in that language. Sure you might find an English edition, but lots of nuances, parlance and humor are lost in translation. Thanks to technology, foreign literature is now affordable and accessible.