When you neglect reading novels in your native language


As a non-native English speaker, preferring reading novels in English Language is like holding a double-edged sword. People praise me for my knowledge about the foreign language. They wonder how I can speak so fluently. A lot of friends often ask for advice related to English Language. They want me to share some tips to be good at grammars. They wish they were able to speak in English smoothly.

A close friend of mine recently wants to meet me because she wants me to help her writing in English Language. Every time people ask for suggestions how to master English Language skills, my answer is very simple: practice, practice and practice. I tell them that I have learned the language since I was a small kid, probably 10 years old. What they regard as amazing thing is an ordinary one for me because I have grown up learning the language. It is the skill that I have developed entirely out of curiosity.

For a kid growing up in a remote area, very far away from Indonesia’s capital, what I have experienced with English Language is weird. It was love at the first sight. The first time I knew the word ‘the’ my eyes sparkled. I and the language have entwined an intimate relationship since then.

My love for the foreign language has grown deeper when I was accepted as a university student majoring English Literature in 2002. Studying for almost five years in a culture city namely Yogyakarta, I found ‘my tribe’. I have made good friends with classmates, lecturers, seniors, juniors and fellows from other majors who encouraged me loving culture, language and social sciences in general. Spending years in academic environment that puts more focus on math and physics from elementary until middle levels, what I obtained during the college years is enlightening.

If you think my connection with English Language always brings nice stories, let me tell you that is not always the case.

After years reading novels in English Language, especially books from Victorian Era, I now forget how to enjoy reading books in my own language. As strange as it may sound but I can’t ‘read’ books in Bahasa Indonesia or Indonesian Language. Each time I try reading books in Bahasa Indonesia, I can’t put my soul into it. I find a lot of words or expressions that are strange or illogical because my mind has been too westernized.

I limit myself to read short stories in Bahasa Indonesia. I can no longer enjoy digest thick novels. I have spent years reading books by John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy but not those by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s most leading novelist. Not only this makes my understanding about local literature is very narrow, I, too, find it difficult every time I attempt to write my own novels in Bahasa Indonesia. How would I write books in Bahasa Indonesia if I knew I wouldn’t enjoy doing it?

The picture is taken from this.

14 thoughts on “When you neglect reading novels in your native language

  1. Honestly wish I knew another language – it’s very much a failing of Britain in that languages are not taught from an early age because hey, English is so widespread around the world anyway.

    It’s a bummer when you can’t enjoy books the same but keep it up! You may find a particular novel that really sparks your interest again.

    • Hello there! first of all thanks for commenting here. Do you mean other languages are not taught in Britain? Oh, you should witness how people in Indonesia love speaking in English that it becomes a huge trend here. We have a lot of international school where English is spoken every day. Yes.. I do hope one day I can find a novel in my native tongue that can break it all…

      • Hi! Well in Britain, French, German and Spanish may be taught at high school and possibly some primary schools. I did a little French at primary school (only because we had a Belgian teacher) and continued at high school but I don’t think it can be learnt properly when the lesson is only done for 1 hour a week. And if you don’t use it, you lose it. ^^

        Indonesia. Now that would be a different place to visit!

      • Oh, I see.. Yes, if we don’t practice them regularly we’ll lose what we have had in the first place. Yes, come to my country, hehe.. I hope I have enough money to visit Britain one day, LOL!

  2. You know I am also from Indonesia and I fell in love with this beautiful language since I was at junior high. It was a pleasure for me to speak this well known language and I still find a way to speak it like a native.

  3. I have made that same experience as you had after I had moved to Ireland and learnt English by reading hundreds of books (a side effect being that I often did remember the words I had read but did not know how to pronounce them properly). With time I preferred reading in English and found books in my native language somehow… wooden, unimaginative. After 15 years in Ireland, I moved back to Germany and started reading books in German again, simply because they were there and, well, now I read and write in both languages and enjoy both the same. So, I think, it must be a matter of getting used. If you make a point of reading more in Indonesian, starting with a really long, really interesting novel, you may find that reading gets much better after you are about half through. 🙂

    • Hello there! First of all, thank you for stopping by at my blog then dropping some insightful comments. Wow, 15 years. Such a very long time and I think you were doing a great job of reading books in German language because of the 15 years experiences reading books mostly in English language. Yes, I think I should start reading a very good novel in my native language and let’s see how it goes.. Thanks yaaa.

  4. Wow mbak Eny, I never thought that someone actually wouldn’t enjoy reading a book written in their mother’s tongue language. Yes, you have very good grammar. And I really enjoy reading your post, made me find a new perspective about reading.

  5. Hi Eny, nice to know you! I think I can understand how you feel. As a trilingual, I often find some expressions that can’t be translated to the other language frustrating. I even have the tendency to mix those three languages, as I can’t find the equivalent from one to another. It’s such a bliss when I meet a friend who speaks the same language as me, as I can express what’s on my mind without any problems, lol.

    • Hello Ano, great to know you, too. Wow! I think problems are bigger when you are a persno who can speak three languages. It’s like your mind is divided into three categories and every time information enter your head, it works heading to three directions.. *just kidding* But all in all, I think becoming a person who can speak language/languages other than their native language can bring us dilemma. The sooner we realize this, the faster we can come up with solutions. Keep posting, Ano!

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