NOTE: This article contains affiliate links
Has this happened to you?
You read a post online about the benefits of reading in a foreign language, and decide that you’d like to give it a try.
You sit down with your chosen text, and turn to page one.
You read a few words...and then stop. Suddenly, there’s a word you don’t understand.
Determined to proceed, you grab a dictionary, or pull up the translation app on your phone.
You translate the misunderstood word, and move on.
But, a sentence or two later, it happens again. Another unknown word!
So you turn back to the dictionary. It takes you a minute, but you find the definition you seek.
You return to your book...and it happens again!
You want to be thorough and understand as much as you can, but every time you switch from your text to a dictionary, you lose a minute or two of precious learning time.
It doesn’t sound like much at first, but over the course of thirty minutes or an hour, that lost time can really add up!
I like to read literature in my target languages, so this is a problem I’ve encountered often. So often, in fact, that one day, I decided to come up with my own solution, which I call Interlinear.
If you want to quickly improve your ability to read complex foreign language texts, like those by Dostoyevsky in Russian, Goethe in German, or Balzac in French, then I’m convinced that Interlinear can help you do that—and make it fun, too!
Let me explain how:
What are Interlinear Texts?
Interlinear texts are on-page translations that work a bit like film subtitles, but for books; they have the full original text in the target language, and a translation (usually in English) directly below each word or expression.
Here’s what it would look like for a German text:
Looking at the image above, you can see how the German words and English translations are displayed together.
Seeing this, you may wonder to yourself “Is it useful to translate texts like this? The English words are all in the wrong order!”
Though it may seem confusing at first, this is done on purpose, for several reasons:
- 1To maintain the one-to-one correspondence between target language words and their native-language (or English) translations, so that finding the meaning of a word is as easy as possible.
- 2To make sure that learners use native-language translations only as a complement to the original text, rather than a replacement for it. This is because, in most cases, if the translated version reads like grammatical language, users will tend to ignore the target language, and just read the translation.
- 3To help learners get used to the syntax of the target language, and see how the order of elements like grammatical subjects, verbs, and objects differ between native and target languages.
Of course, if you have previous language learning experience, you may know that sometimes individual words don’t have meaning, and instead gain meaning from the phrase in which they appear.
Take, for example, the Spanish phrase “lo tengo por dificultoso.”
Translated word-for-word, it doesn’t make much sense.
These phrases are called idiomatic expressions, and I’ve built Interlinear to handle these, as well.
When Interlinear encounters a common idiomatic expression, it does not translate the expression word-for-word. Instead, it gives you the meaning of the expression underneath the relevant words, like so:
In this way, Interlinear’s translation tools will help you understand even the most difficult-to-translate phrases and sentences in whichever text you are reading.
Why Use Interlinear Texts?
As I mentioned in my introduction, the main goal of Interlinear is to help you maintain your reading flow.
It may not be terribly inconvenient to put down the book you’re reading and pick up a dictionary to look up a word, but the more you do that, the less time you’ll have to actually focus on getting through the text.
There are other options, as well.
Kindle, for example, allows you to bring up dictionary definitions by tapping a word on your screen. Google Translate’s mobile app will allow you to point your camera at any text and get an instant translation. There are even hard-copy bilingual books that will give you a target language text on one page, and the translation on the opposite page.
These alternatives are fine, but none help you keep on reading quite like Interlinear does. Instead, every single one of them requires you to break your focus on reading in order to look at another page, or screen.
With Interlinear, if you ever want to know what a word means, all you need to do is look just below the word. The translation will be right there, waiting for you. You won’t have to waste any time searching for the correct definition, or the correct context for that translation, either.
Interlinear does all that work for you. All you need to do is keep reading.
How to Use Interlinear Texts
One of the best parts of using Interlinear is how easy it is to pick up and use. You don’t need to learn how to navigate any complicated apps, or unusual software.
In fact, if you know how to read a PDF file on your computer, e-reader, or favorite mobile device, you already have all the knowledge you need to get started.
And even if reading PDFs on a screen isn’t your thing, you can just print them out instead!
Once you’ve got the text either on your screen or in your hand, all you need to do is read, in much the same way you are reading this article right now. The only difference between an interlinear text and a normal text is the alternating languages on each line.
For most learners, I strongly recommend that you try to read as much of the target language text as possible, without looking at the translations between lines. This is why the target language lines in Interlinear are always in a larger font than the translated lines are.
For beginners, this will be the most challenging. You will probably have to alternate between both lines frequently until you understand everything.
For intermediate and advanced learners, you will have to alternate less and less, until you (hopefully) reach the point where you don’t need to look at the translations anymore.
And that’s the second goal of Interlinear: to help you become less dependent on translations are you gain more reading experience. The translations always be there for you as a safety net, of course, but if you get lots of practice reading with interlinear texts, you eventually won’t need them.
Start Reading an Interlinear Text Today!
After all this talk about the benefits of interlinear texts, you may be wondering:
- 1Is Interlinear available in my target language?
- 2If so, how can I get started?
Let me explain:
Currently, Interlinear features twelve books in nine different languages, and we’re adding more all the time.
The languages currently offered include French, German, Greek, Spanish, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Swedish.
To get started with an interlinear text, simply head to our website at InterlinearBooks.com
There, you can learn more about Interlinear, as well as any of our currently available works of literature, all fully translated into our special interlinear format.
Written by Linas Vaštakas, in collaboration with Kevin Morehouse
This is a guest post from Linas Vaštakas. Linas is a language learning enthusiast who speaks over 10 languages at varying degrees of proficiency. His current goal is to make world literature more accessible to language learners through his bilingual reading resources at Interlinear Books. In this article, Linas shares how you can use Interlinear Books to read literature in your target language.
I would love to get an “interlinear book” in Italian. I think it would greatly help me as I learn the language. I am hoping an Italian “interlinear book” is on the short list of language books that you are developing.
Brilliant! I would also love to buy any of the German books. I am so glad that someone is developing this! Thank you