A Dose of Dijana: Changing the World by Reading in Several Languages

Being able to read in several languages is both a blessing and a curse – though I like to see the good sides only and ignore the horrible translations going around.

Anyway… I’ll hush my inner translator and move on with the blog post.

Like everything else in my life, it’s pretty weird how I started reading in several languages. Not that it’s that big of a deal – millions around the globe do it! As it happens to be the case with plenty of folks around here, English wasn’t the first foreign language I read a book in.

Now, you probably think I’m either bipolar or bilingual but none is actually true.

See, while growing up, I used to stare at the old library at my grandparent’s house. It’s still there – it’s massive, dark, and crammed with books. To chubby little me, the library was completely enchanting and mystical – almost a world of its own.

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It was filled with hardcover copies of some of the best novels of all times – think Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, War and Peace… you know, books totally appropriate for a seven-year-old.

In all fairness, I was fascinated with the covers and the elegance of the design – yes, I’ve been that shallow since an early age.

Bought during Yugoslavia time, most of them were in Serbo-Croatian – which again, chubby little me found… amusing. It was like my language, but not quite. It sounded similar but… funnier? Written with the Roman Alphabet, they were different to the Cyrillic alphabet that my school teacher was showing me how to read.

And since I’ve always had a knack for challenges in life… well, let’s just say that it wasn’t long before I was practicing my reading skills in Serbo-Croatian. With novels that deal with famine, poverty, and war, and weighed almost a pound each.

What can I say, I’m a weird creature.

I still read the occasional book either in Serbian or in Croatian – they have great translations I thoroughly enjoy. Though, just for reference, I can talk zero Serbian and zero Croatian nowadays – trying to talk sounds hilarious even to myself!

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On top of that, trips to the local library were a must – books in Macedonian enabled me to develop a strong grasp of my native language and learn a few grammatical rules by heart.

Last but certainly not least, books in English that well… introduced me to a whole new world and opened up a lot of opportunities for me later on.

While I’m not technically bilingual, I like to think I can find my way pretty well among English words. One of the rare things giving away my non-nativeness (see what I did there?) is my pronunciation of the – mine sounds like da, but we can all pretend that’s somewhat cute.

Now comes the so what? part of the blog.

Well, reading in several languages matters! Encourage your kids to do so, encourage your friends and family to do so and encourage yourself to do it as well!

Because while reading in several languages, you learn a few things they don’t teach you in school.

You learn that humor works differently in different languages – each one funny in its own way.

You learn more about different cultures and traditions – and you learn how to respect and accept each one.

You learn how to talk to a person who is different to you – and you learn how to listen.

Honestly, you can even learn when it’s the time to shut up – a skill of immense value in any language, culture, and country around the globe!

See how many times I’ve used the word different? It’s because books in different languages teach you how to accept different!

You become like a sponge, soaking up the good things from every culture and leaving out the bad – you become some sort of a citizen of the world, which isn’t that bad.

I’m not saying I’m so deep you can see Adele rolling – I’m as shallow as any other random person you come across, and I do enjoy my Instagram feed. But… I’ve learned a few things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to know if I didn’t read in several languages.

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Now I feel like I’ve won some sort of a beauty pageant – I wish there’s world peace!

But no, really – reading books in several languages helps you be aware of several cultures. You pick up a few core values along the way.

And that makes you kinder.

More tolerant.

More open-minded.

And I believe that the world needs a few more people like that.


Next time, I’ll be talking about fiction and non-fiction books. Is there anything YOU would like me to talk about? Share with us in the comments and I’ll make sure to include it in some of my next posts!

4 comments

  1. We definitely need more people like that. It also allows kids/readers to live the life of someone outside of their usual perspective. It’s also harder than it sounds, reading in several languages. Perhaps one day my own pseudo-multi-lingual -skills will be good enough to pass on.

    Great post!

  2. Well Dijana, growing in the same place like you, but a little bit earlier than you, I cannot count the serbo-croatian language as foreign, so I can say I read in several languages including just english as a foreign one 🙂 . Since I grew up in ex-Yugoslavia, I’ve learned serbo-croatian language in school so I can read, write and speak it fluently. I can read & write english fluently too and, as I used to think, speak it as well. Well, I recently found out I cannot speak english as well as I thought I could. It’s because of the lack of everyday communication in the given language. I read books in english, serbian, croatian but mostly in my native language, macedonian and I can say it does make a big difference reading the book in the language it was originally written in. Every translation loses a bit of the soul the writer puts in it. And, in some translations, it alters the reading experience in a very bad way. What bothers me the most? Well, one of the first things I’ve learned from my english teacher in elementary school was that the names shouldn’t be translated. I bet a lot of translators didn’t learn that in school so the macedonian translation of some books is pretty funny (to be polite). Maybe it is because of the fact that cyrilic alphabet doesn’t contain some of the latin letters (q, w, x, y to be precise) other languages use and therefore the names cannot be just copied. I guess there are many other traps the translators come across while translating a book. Like using slang, or finding that hidden message writer wove within his words.
    Anyway, some of the translations are pretty good and some aren’t. You can’t tell for sure until you check with the original. So, I must encourage everyone who doesn’t like the style of writing of some book to first check with the original and then judge the writer. Maybe it is the translator, maybe it is a printing error or maybe you just can’t bare with the book. Move on. There are plenty of books to be read. Just read in any language you can, because reading is your ticket to other worlds, real or imaginary, with no limits or boundaries.

    Good as always, Dijana. 🙂

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