In Glasgow one of the recent best selling books over the last few years was William Laughton Lorimer’s ‘The New Testament in Scots’. Here is his description of John the Baptist from Mark’s Gospel:-
- “John wis cleadit in a raploch coat o caumel’s hair an hed a lethern girth about his weyst, an locusts an foggie-bees’ hinnie wis aa his fairin.”
Somewhere on my shelves I’ve got an Old Testament paraphrase by a lady from the Black Country i.e. the heavily industrialized area in the Midlands, near Birmingham. It begins of course with the first chapter of Genesis. I can’t find my version just now, but this is how I remember it:-
- “Ter start evrythin off God med the world. Mind yo he couldn’t see nowt cus it was dark. So he sed ‘Leh’s ‘ave sum light.’”
Rather different from the more traditional versions, but the writer, a local midwife, used the language she heard around her every day. After all, if Jesus had come from Wednesbury in Staffordshire he would have spoken like that. Purists would disapprove, and I dread to think what Thomas More would have made of the whole thing (Is that the sound of spinning I hear?). My only problem with such efforts is that the spell checker hates them. No they don’t include every word, but they tell the story in words their readers can understand and relate to. If such books make even one person consider what is really important in their lives, then they are worth writing.
A more modern version still is ‘Word on the Street’ by American Rob Lacey. The back cover says ‘This is not the Bible, but it just might get you reaching for one.’
Here is Lacey’s rendition of that same section of Genesis 1:-
- “First off, nothing – but God. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off God says the word and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!”
You may or not be particularly interested in religion, but reading a Bible in the language you are trying to learn can be a real help, especially if you are already familiar with it. Otherwise get a Bible in your own language and, because they are marked off in chapters and verses it is easy to compare words from one Bible in the other. You will learn words you wouldn’t come across in your newspaper or the bus stop perhaps. Read the psalms perhaps or one of the gospels.
If you don’t want to read the Bible, try some other book that is available in both languages. You won’t have the verse numbers, but at least there are chapters. In English you could try perhaps Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ Perhaps there is a novel in your language that has been translated into English. Comparing both copies can teach you how conversational English really works.
Perhaps you prefer to listen rather than read. If so, try audio books. You can even listen while you are driving or walking the dog! This will also help your pronunciation and assist you in learning the rhythms of the language. English and Spanish for instance have very different rhythms. German and French speakers pronounce certain letters rather differently than English speakers. We all hit plateaus when learning a new language – the time when however hard we try nothing seems to be going in. Listening to audio books can really get you moving forward with your language learning. Have a dictionary handy too, then when you hear a word you don’t know you can just press pause and look it up. And it is much more interesting to read or hear a good book than try and read a grammar book.