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How a French Developer Began to Read in a Foreign Language

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Axel de Velp studied film, worked in the publishing industry with a focus on film, and is currently a developer for Bookwitty. A voracious reader, Axel is French, but has been reading in a foreign language—English—for twenty years now.  Although he would have loved to read The Raven translated by Charles Baudelaire, he feels as long as he’s able to read a work in its original language, then why not?  Of the 25 books or so he reads a year, about half of them are in English, with a decided bent for science fiction and history.

The benefits of learning other languages are evident, but reading in a foreign language further helps consolidate the language you might be studying, whether for pleasure or for your work. As this article on Brainscape says: "Like reading in one’s native language, reading in a foreign language helps us become more comfortable with the words and grammatical rules that enable us to express our own thoughts. Seeing the text of new words and concepts visually helps to reinforce our memory of them, while having the ability to stop, think, or look up words in a dictionary allows for more individualized pace of mental absorption."

It was actually movies that got Axel reading in English. As a teenager he lived in Africa and watched VHS videos in their original version (for the most part in English) without the possibility of subtitles. He asked his sister who was living in France to send him published versions of film scripts in English, the first being Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. He would read the scripts having already seen the films. Another galvanizing reason for reading in English was that he was involved in role-playing games and reached a point playing Deadlands where the next book hadn’t yet been translated into French.

“So I bought some Deadlands books in English to enrich the universe and the roles. It was a good entry point. There was a lot of description. There were some technical terms but that was ok since I was used to that. There was a lot of slang though.”

Axel got around the slang not by using a dictionary, but by trying to grasp the context: “I became more confident in my ability to understand it because of the context. That was really the beginning…”

He moved on to reading books that he had already read in French translation, such as favorites by H.P. Lovecraft including the story "The Call of Cthulhu".

“Then I began to read shorter works of non-fiction by people like Paul Krugman. There was one book that represented the moment when I decided that if a book were written in English, I would only read it in English. My father gave me a book about archeological studies about the bible written by Israeli historians. I assumed it had been written in Hebrew. After I read two or three chapters of it I liked it so much I wanted to buy another copy for my father. I saw that the book had actually been translated from English. So I told my father the copy he gave me was his to keep, and I bought myself the original English version.”

Since then, Axel has never looked back. The number of English-language novels and history books he has under his belt are impressive. Here are some of his favorite books in English, an eclectic mix of fiction preceding non-fiction. 

Image courtesy Flashrevista/ Creatures Of Hp Lovecraft Wallpaper

The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft

The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft collects the author's novel, four novellas, and fifty-three short stories. Written between the years 1917 and 1935, this collection features Lovecraft's trademark fantastical creatures and supernatural thrills, as well as many horrific and cautionary science-fiction themes, that have influenced some of today's writers and filmmakers, including Stephen King, Alan Moore, F. Paul Wilson, Guillermo del Toro, and Neil Gaiman. Included in this volume are "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," "At the Mountains of Madness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Color Out of Space," "The Dunwich Horror," and many more hair-raising tales.


It is the 29th century and the universe of the Human Hegemony is under threat. Invasion by the warlike Ousters looms, and the mysterious schemes of the secessionist AI TechnoCore bring chaos ever closer. On the eve of disaster, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set fourth on a final voyage to the legendary Time Tombs on Hyperion, home to the Shrike, a lethal creature, part god and part killing machine, whose powers transcend the limits of time and space. The pilgrims have resolved to die before discovering anything less than the secrets of the universe itself.

The Fall Of Hyperion

Simmons returns with a far future resplendent with drama and invention. On the world of Hyperion, the mysterious Time Tombs are opening. And the secrets they contain mean that nothing--nothing anywhere in the universe--will ever be the same.

The Lord of the Rings

Continuing the story of The Hobbit, this three-volume boxed set of Tolkien's epic masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, features striking black covers based on Tolkien's own design, the definitive text, and three maps including a detailed map of Middle-earth. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power - the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring - the ring that rules them all - which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose. 

The Catcher in the Rye

A classic, but unbeatable: The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children's voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden's voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

The Black Dahlia

Axel is slowly making his way through Ellroy's entire body of work. He began with The Black Dahlia: The murder of a beautiful young woman in 1947 Los Angeles sparks a great investigation in which Bucky Bleichert, Lee Blanchard, L.A.P.D. Warrants Squad cops, ex-boxers, friends, and adversaries become obsessed by the case.

On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac is the exhilarating novel that defined the Beat Generation. Sal Paradise, young and innocent, joins the slightly crazed Dean Moriarty on a breathless, exuberant ride back and forth across the United States. Their hedonistic search for release or fulfilment through drink, sex, drugs and jazz becomes an exploration of personal freedom, a test of the limits of the American Dream.

Vichy France

Robert O. Paxton's classic study of the aftermath of France's sudden collapse under Nazi invasion uses captured German archives and other contemporary materials to construct a strong and disturbing account of the Vichy period in France. With a new introduction and updated bibliography, Vichy France demonstrates that the collaborationist government of Marshal Petain did far more than merely react to German pressures. The Vichy leaders actively pursued their own double agenda-internally, the authoritarian and racist "national revolution," and, externally, an attempt to persuade Hitler to accept this new France as a partner in his new Europe.

This Present Darkness

Nigeria and Nigerians have acquired a notorious reputation for involvement in drug-trafficking, fraud, cyber-crime and other types of serious crime. Successful Nigerian criminal networks have a global reach, interacting with their Italian, Latin American and Russian counterparts. Yet in 1944, a British colonial official wrote that 'the number of persistent and professional criminals is not great' in Nigeria and that 'crime as a career has so far made little appeal to the young Nigerian'. This book traces the origins of Nigerian organised crime to the last years of colonial rule, when nationalist politicians acquired power at a regional level. In need of funds for campaigning, they offered government contracts to foreign businesses in return for kickbacks, in a pattern that recurs to this day. Political corruption encouraged a wider disrespect for the law that spread throughout Nigerian society. When the country's oil boom came to an end in the early 1980s, young Nigerian college graduates headed abroad, eager to make money by any means. Nigerian crime went global at the very moment new criminal markets were emerging all over the world.


Journalist, globe trotter and food lover