The most translated works of literature

literary translation

Many literary works – novels, poetry, folk and children’s tales and other types of texts – have crossed borders thanks to translation. Professional translators from all over the world help people overcome language barriers and learn about other cultures, histories and ways of life.

The impact of some of these works has led to a huge demand for translations into as many languages as possible. It is difficult to obtain definitive statistics on which works are the most translated, but we can get an idea from the information available on the websites of the language learning software companies Babbel and Preply. Preply in particular has created a list of translated works from every continent which can be viewed in the form of a map.

We have used this information to create for you a “top 5” list of the world’s most translated literary works – leaving out technical or religious texts. Unsurprisingly, the list is headed by children’s literature, the gateway for learning to read!

1. Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (France)
Originally written in French, about 380 translations
Almost everyone knows the story of the aeroplane pilot who lands in the desert and meets the little prince who travels between the planets… Antoine de Saint-Exupéry also created the illustrations that accompany The Little Prince, one of the world’s most popular children’s books. This magical work has fascinated several generations, so it’s no wonder that it has already been translated into more than three hundred different languages!

2. Le Avventure di Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi (Italy)
Originally written in Italian, about 300 translations
For almost a century and a half, Collodi’s story about the wooden doll who wants to become a human being has delighted us and made people think. The classic Disney film did much to further disseminate this children’s tale. Pinocchio is now part of world literature and a universal classic.

3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (United Kingdom)
Originally written in English, around 175 translations
More than just a children’s text, the adventures of a young girl in a magical parallel world can be read on several levels, including its wordplay, unexpected metaphors and surreal characters. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a work for all ages and that explains its success.

4. Fairy Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark)
Originally written in Danish, around 160 translations
Who doesn’t know “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Little Mermaid”, or “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? Andersen’s fairy tales have had an enormous influence and, in addition to the 160 translations of his collections of fairy tales, the film, television and theatre adaptations that have taken Andersen’s characters all over the world are not to be overlooked.

5. El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, by Miguel Cervantes (Spain)
Originally written in Spanish, around 145 translations
Don Quixote is the oldest work on this list (Cervantes published the first part in 1605) and the first translation was in 1612 (into English). It is possibly the first novel of the modern era. The story of the mad knight who battles windmills needs no introduction and is essential for anyone who enjoys reading!

Finally, and because comics are also literature, an honourable mention for:

6. Astérix le Gaulois, by René Goscinny, Albert Uderzo and others (France)
Originally written in French, about 116 translations
For more than sixty years, Asterix the Gaul and his friends have been resisting the ancient Roman Empire and travelling the world. As well as entertaining readers of all ages, this French-Belgian comic strip also helps the younger generations to learn a bit of Ancient History!

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