You have reached an intermediate level in your target language.
Now, imagine what it would be like if you could break away from course books meant for learners and instead read authentic materials that align with your interests.
If you did that, you could consume tons of material on topics you are passionate about!
Your motivation to learn your target language would remain alive, and you would make a lot of progress.
Language would become just a means to explore interesting content, and no longer an end goal in itself.
Yes, that would be like a dream!”, you might say. “But it is difficult to find materials suitable for my level among the products available on the market. For many languages, this is not possible”.
Turns out, that's no longer the case. Thanks to recent developments in technology, you can now create your own reading materials.
Hi! My name is Luca Toma and I am a Japanese language coach.
In this article, I will guide you through how to use some amazing online tools to create accessible language learning materials, even with texts that are intended for native speakers.
ImTranslator and its Amazing Feature - Inline Translation
We all know about Google Translate.
We also know that nowadays there are other tools that allow you to click on an unknown word in your target language and get a pop-up window with its translation.
This is a useful system when you can already understand more than 80% of what you read in your target language.
However, in case you are not yet well versed in the word order rules of that language, it’s not as useful when it comes to understanding the meaning of a whole sentence.
Luckily, this is also a solved problem.
Now, with Google Translate - as well as with many other extensions for the most used browsers out there - you can select and translate entire sentences in a pop-up window.
But there is another extension that allows you to do something amazing.
This extension, called ImTranslator, is a browser extension that allows you to select up to 5000 characters of text (or just single words) and have it translated in a pop-up window, just like in Google Translate.
But the novelty here is its Inline Translator feature.
This tool allows you to create an interlinear text (affiliate link) (i.e. your target language + your native language, or vice versa) for each sentence that makes up your text.
Isn't that amazing?
In just a few clicks, you'll find yourself with a bilingual text to read, savor, and analyze.
You can even choose to have the translation appear before or after each sentence of your target language text.
At this point, you may be wondering:
“Is it better to have the translation appear before the original text? Or is it better to have it appear after it?”
How to Decide Which Interlinear Format Is Right for You
For each sentence, Inline Translator allows you to choose whether you want the translation in your native language to appear before or after the text in your target language.
The choice depends on your level and your goals.
Let’s consider these two scenarios:
Your Level: Low intermediate
Your goal: You want to have access to interesting materials in your target language, even though you haven’t practiced reading much yet.
In this case, I highly recommend that you choose the translation of each sentence in your native language (or a language you know well) to be shown before your target language.
This allows your brain to know in advance the content of what you are about to read.
By doing so, reading becomes a sort of discovery or validation of how those concepts, ideas, and words are expressed in your target language.
Your level: Upper intermediate - Advanced
Your goal: You want to improve your existing reading skills by expanding your vocabulary and range of known structures.
In this case, I recommend that you choose the translation of each sentence to be shown after the sentence in the original language.
The translated text will then serve only as an aid or reference point in case you don't understand something.
This method can be applied to any text you find online.
You can read anything you want when you're on your PC.
However, I prefer to choose my reading materials in advance, turn them into interlinear texts, print them out, and make a booklet out of them.
Let's see how to do this step by step....
How to Create Your Own Interlinear Texts
Add the ImTranslator extension to your browser. You can find a list of compatible browsers here.
Once you have added the extension to your browser, go to Options > Inline Translator to customize it.
In the “language options” section, choose your native language (or a language you know well) from the menu that appears in the “select target language” field.
Then scroll down to the “appearance” section and check the following boxes:
Finally, if you prefer the translation of each sentence to be shown before the sentence in your target language, then don't forget to check the following box as well:
Choose a text in your target language.
To show you how this works, I'll select a paragraph from an article on a Spanish news website.
This one you see in the picture is the paragraph we'll be working on.
Select the text you want to apply the interlinear translation method to.
Right-click on the text and you should see the ImTranslator option in the drop-down menu.
From the various options available, choose “Inline Translator” and after a few seconds you'll get your interlinear text.
Apply the same process to all the paragraphs in the text and then print directly from your browser. I generally opt for PDF printing.
However, there is one drawback - images get in the way.
In the next section, we will address this problem.
How to Extract Plain Text from a Webpage
If the web page you want to turn into an interlinear text is full of images between paragraphs, then there is a way to extract the text without including those images.
You can do this by using one of the many services offered in several dedicated websites.
One of them is Textise.
According to their introduction page, this tool “allows you to remove everything from a web page except for its text. This means that images, forms, scripts, adverts, they all go, leaving plain text”.
All you have to do is copy the URL of the web site that contains the text in your target language, paste it into the space provided and click on “Textise”.
You will get a long text, consisting of many lists of words, but if you scroll down, you will find the part of the text that interests you.
Once you have your plain text ready, you can use the Inline Translator tool to create your interlinear text and then print it in PDF format directly from your browser.
In this case, it is best to select only the range of pages that pertain to the interlinear text you created, leaving out the rest.
You can do this by specifying a page range in the Pages > Customized field in the print options.
How to Create Interlinear Texts with Annotated Pronunciation for Chinese and Japanese
If you were to follow these steps, you would be faced with a text full of unfamiliar Chinese characters (hanzi or kanji) that you don't know how to read.
Well, I offer you a solution for this as well.
As you know, both for Chinese and Japanese there are online tools that allow you to obtain the pinyin annotation (for Chinese) and the furigana on top of kanji (for Japanese).
I've tried several of those tools, and out of the many around I've chosen two that work wonderfully combined with ImTranslator.
All you have to do is activate them after you have transformed your text into an interlinear text.
Getting Pinyin Annotation for Chinese
To get the pinyin transcription for Chinese, you can use the MandarinSpot's Chinese text Annotation Tool.
When you visit their web page, you will be presented with an empty field where you can enter Chinese text.
Choose “hanyu pinyin” as your preferred “phonetic system” and then “both” to get your original text along with the phonetic transcription on top of each character.
In case of unknown words, just hover your mouse over a word, and its meaning will appear in a pop-up window.
But we don't need this particular feature here.
What we do need is the “bookmark” feature that allows you to add annotations to any web page.
To use it, go to this page at MandarinSpot.com, and drag one of the links provided to your bookmark bar. You can also right-click and choose “Add to Favorites”.
Once you've added MandarinSpot to your bookmarks, simply click on it and you’ll get the pinyin transcription for any Chinese page you visit.
That's exactly what you’ll need to do after getting your interlinear text using ImTranslator.
Your Chinese text is now ready, complete with pronunciation and translation.
Getting Furigana on Top of Kanji for Japanese
To get the furigana on top of kanji in a Japanese text, add an extension called Furigana Extension to your Google Chrome browser.
Use the Inline Translator tool to get your interlinear text with English (or your native language) translation for each sentence of the Japanese text.
Then, click on the Furigana Extension icon among your extensions to get the furigana on top of each kanji. (Typically, extension icons can be found next to the address bar in your browser.)
Note that you will probably be asked to click on the extension once to give it permission to access the web page you are visiting.
Once it is given the proper permissions, the extension can do its job.
Click on it again and wait until you see the furigana appear on top of kanji in your text.
Now, your Japanese interlinear text with furigana is ready.
The Focus is on Comprehension, Not Translation Quality
The method I have presented here allows you to access any material in your target language and make it understandable using machine translation tools.
Although Google Translate and other similar tools now do a great job even with very complex languages (like Japanese), it may happen that the translation of some words or phrases does not sound 100% natural in some cases.
This should not be a problem.
The purpose of this method is not to achieve a perfect translation, but to use the translated text as an aid to understanding the text in your target language.
So what should you do (on the rare occasion) when you come across a sentence whose translation is hard to understand?
My advice is to copy and paste that sentence into an automatic translator.
In addition to the renowned Google Translate which offers a huge combination of languages, I highly recommend using DeepL, which is also excellent for certain languages.
DeepL is a free neural machine translation service launched in 2017 that has received positive reviews since then, as it is much more accurate and nuanced than Google Translate.
Currently, DeepL offers translations between the following 11 languages and 110 language pairs: Chinese (Simplified), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
You can use them as an alternative to DeepL, and compare the results to see which you like best.
In this post, I've walked you through a method that allows you to access any type of reading material in your target language using the interlinear format.
This method has several benefits including:
Extensive reading allows you to immerse yourself in the language and consume large amounts of text, thus acclimating your brain to reading in your target language.
Using this method, language becomes a means to explore content on topics that interest you, and no longer an end or goal to be achieved.
Now, there are several ways to read a text:
In extensive reading , the focus is on quantity (massive exposure). In intensive reading, the focus is on quality and detail (new vocabulary and grammatical structures, etc.).
To learn how to use the interlinear texts (affiliate) you’re going to create, I encourage you to read more of Luca's posts on how to expand your vocabulary through reading and what techniques to use to remember new vocabulary.
As for me, all that's left is to say goodbye in the hope that this post has been useful to you.
If you feel like trying this method, let me know how it went in a comment below.
Also, don't hesitate to leave a comment if you have any doubts or questions.
Written by Luca Toma - Read by Luca Lampariello
Luca Toma Japanese Language Coach
Luca lived in Japan for about 10 years. For a few years, he worked as a Japanese language instructor at various universities in Europe, until he decided to become a certified language coach and teach online. He now helps motivated Japanese learners overcome stumbling blocks and make progress in the language.