Lydia Davis on the power of rereading a sentence pt. 2 – Translation

Sometimes I read straight on without going back, but often, when I learn one word, it explains the meaning of other words that came just before it, so I look back, and, one by one, each newly acquired word gives me the clue to the next one. Knowing Tom had gotten onto his knees before climbing into bed gave me the answer to another word: rezar = pray. And another, later: arrodillarse had to mean “kneel.” Reading a sentence several times over is often enough to teach me most of the mysterious words.

Lydia Davis, Reading Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer, pg 93, Essays Two

The essay Reading Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer makes owning Essays Two entirely worth it. Lydia Davis’ passion for translation and foreign language led her to read a Spanish translation of Tom Sawyer by Sara Gomez. In the essay, Davis describes the little games she devised to bolster her understanding of Spanish. One game was, she decided to not look up any word in the dictionary while reading through the book. The idea being, to learn words from context only.

Lydia again reminds us of the power rereading a sentence. Here though, it’s to reveal the meaning of “mysterious” Spanish words. My guess is, not only did the rereading reveal the meaning, but it would likely have embedded the meaning into her memory.

Reps matter.

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