Reading Books in Swedish? – How to Begin Posted by Transparent Language on Apr 26, 2009 in Swedish Language
A while back somebody asked about which books would be a good choice for a first-time reader, in Swedish naturally.
I know that some people recommend the classics: Astrid Lindgren, or Selma Lagerlöf or more recent works by Henning Mankell or Liza Marklund or Stieg Larsson.
But I am going to be a little bit unorthodox here and suggest something different. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the writers listed above, their works are not for everybody. And especially not for those, who are just learning the language and reluctant to pick up a book in Swedish in the first place. This first book selection in a foreign language can be what makes or breaks you as a reader. It will either encourage you to read more and more, or will turn you off books for a long time.
Let’s face it, reading in a foreign language can be quite intimidating. Especially reading anything other than what’s in a foreign language textbook. It forces you to focus, it makes you think twice as hard as you would when reading in your native tongue, and it frequently bares all your linguistic inadequacies and shortcomings when it comes to vocabulary or foreign language comprehension.
Add to that the specific “flavor” of Swedish fiction and after the first try you may decide that reading in Swedish is not for you.
So, I am going to suggest something that will make all native-Swedish Swedish teachers cringe. Pick a book that you’ve read in your native language, one that you know and like. Find it in Swedish (chances are it has been translated) and give it a try along with the original language version. Make it a popular book without any highly specialized vocabulary. Though what’s “specialized” to one person, might be everyday to someone else, so use your own judgment.
I know a lady who’s a huge Harry Potter fan, and needless to say, for her first book in Swedish she chose a Swedish translation of one of her favorite boy wizard stories. My friend did the same with Alexander Smith McCall’s novels. Yes, I still have your copy of “Damernas detektivbyrå” – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, I’ll give it back, I promise!
Myself, I began with Swedish translations of the Discworld (Skivvärlden) series, which almost did me in. I kept comparing them to the original versions and was utterly disappointed. (Only much later did I learn that many Swedish fans felt the same way and preferred to read Terry Pratchett in English.)
Then I picked up one of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, looked up the English version at the local library and got busy. Muminböckerna proved exactly what I needed (which maybe is a good indication of my mental level, ha!).
My first Swedish-Swedish book was by Selma Lagerlöf. I’m not counting Tove Jansson, because she was technically Finnish. From there, I graduated to other types of Swedish literature.
Of course, using a book in your native tongue as a crutch may not appeal to everyone, but it is a convenient and almost pain-free way to ease yourself into reading in a foreign language.
So, what was your first book in Swedish? Or, if you haven’t started reading in Swedish yet, what would you like to begin with?
If enough of you agree, we can start a mini-book club on the blog!