Fri 18 January 2019

Experiencing languages with citybooks

Anis send citybooks a delighted and delightful message about his experiences with the project. His enthousiasm was contagious therefore we asked him to write a blog to be able to share his experiences, and so he did ...

Anis Hamadeh




Anis Hamadeh, born in 1966, is a writer, musician, graphic artist and M.A. in Islamic Studies and Linguistics. He lives in Mainz/Germany.

One of the real treasures the modern age has to offer is the unbelievable amount of public audios, videos, texts and pictures. A paradise for learners, players and fans! In my case it is about languages and chess. I am a cyber hunter, a discoverer. And the search for interesting material is part of the fun.

During my wanderings through the lush hunting grounds of the Internet I recently stumbled upon the project by house deBuren in Brussels. Writers visit one of now 27 participating cities for two weeks, and we can travel with them to Antwerp, Bucharest, Münster, Grahamstown, Jakarta, Skopje, Tblisi, Yerevan and other places. How? Well, they leave a 30-minute piece of literature with audio in their respective language, and citybooks translates it, including studio recordings. So you get Dutch, French and English as well as the original language and the one of the visited city, in case it is yet another language. Accompanying photo collections bring you in the mood. What more can you possibly ask for?

Once I had realized the scope and the literary and technical quality of the project it became clear to me that I had never seen anything like this. So let's go! I chose the piece about Venice by Cees Nooteboom and listened to his voice. Then I combined the English, Dutch, French and Italian written versions in four parallel columns in different colors on 25 pages.


The next step was to divide the text into the smallest possible units and to highlight one word or phrase in each unit. This was a natural development and an ideal preparation of this multi-lingual gift. Learning always is an active process.

It was almost a culture shock: Nooteboom so close, Venice so vivid, and then all the languages and voices. I listened to the mp3s. Of course, once you understand the text it becomes much easier to follow the same content in another language. Even if you don't attempt to learn Italian or Dutch, it is a very rewarding experience to look into a sample like this, presented on the silver tray of beautiful literature. To be at home in the outland for a moment, to feel the rhythms, cities colored with words and thoughts, real people, authentic context, background articles ...

There are more than 120 original texts at citybooks. You will find a lot of German and Portuguese, some rarer languages like Indonesian, Polish, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic (3 times), Spanish (1 time) and more. What a nice way to bring the world together! What a mind-boggling project!


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