Reading list

7 fiction books to help you learn a language

Learning a new language can be really tricky, but combining it with a cracking read can make the challenge a lot more fun. Here are 7 familiar favourites you can re-read in translation to boost your skills

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For the little linguist (or absolute beginner)...
 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle

From the moment the caterpillar hatches, he’s seriously hungry. So begins his journey, munching through all sorts of snacks and treats, growing and growing until…well, we wouldn’t want to ruin the ending. This one will teach all sorts of food vocabulary using simple constructions and elementary grammar, and you can even find it in dual language editions such as this Gujarati and English version. As one of the most gorgeously illustrated children’s books ever made, we're pretty sure adults will want to give it a go too.

 

For the improver, of any age…
 

His Dark Materials 1: The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman

The timeless epic tale of Lyra and Will is about to get its long-awaited sequel in The Book of Dust - so what better time to catch up? Epic isn’t usually the sort of word a new language-learner looks for but, in truth, the three volumes of this series are broken into manageable chunks and are easily approachable for older children. Set across parallel worlds, this is definitely a work of fantasy, so expect some wacky vocabulary. Otherwise, prepare yourself for adventure, romance, heartbreak and an absolutely unforgettable ending.

 

For a window onto another culture…
 

Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi

This multi-award-winning, totally inspiring graphic novel tells the story of the author’s childhood in Iran. She grows up in a loving home, but under an oppressive regime in which her family is known to the authorities. Her trials and tribulations range from everyday teenage drama to very real threats of violence. This autobiography  is a great way into graphic novels, and was originally written in French. With fewer words than a traditional novel and striking illustrations to help with comprehension, it should be on every language-learner’s list.

 

For those who never grew up...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl

For a touch of nostalgia, Roald Dahl’s masterpiece is second-to-none. Charlie implausibly wins a golden ticket to tour Willa Wonka’s chocolate factory and the wonders within. Again, it’s a classic and it’s also been made into a much-loved film, so you probably have a vague idea as to just what happens when Augustus Gloop ventures too close to the chocolate river… If nothing else, it’s worth a try just to see how those clever translators made sense of whangdoodles, hornswogglers, snozzwangers and vermicious knids.

 


For the adventurous learner...
 

The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown

If you’re learning a new language, you probably have a sense of adventure. So why not join Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu as they investigate a murder in the Louvre and accidentally uncover a centuries-old mystery that challenges the Church itself? The Da Vinci Code has been translated into nearly fifty languages, so whichever you’re learning, you can probably find this book. Having sold over 80 million copies, it’s a story many of us are familiar with, making it easy to dig out your English copy for cross-referencing if you do get stuck. 

 


For the star student...
 

Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell

You don’t have to be fantastically fluent to read Orwell in translation thanks to his famously straightforward, precise prose. Nevertheless, it might take a slightly more accomplished linguist to fully appreciate this dark and dystopian look at a totalitarian superstate in which individualism is persecuted and surveillance is inescapable. Suffice to say, it’s another plot we’re already a little too familiar with. Orwell wrote about the importance of clear and accurate language many times over the course of his life, so his are the perfect novels to read when you’re ready to take things up a gear.

 

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