How to Learn Languages by Reading Interlinear Books

Linas is a language learning enthusiast who founded InterlinearBooks.com. His project aims to make literature more accessible to language learners. He wrote this guest post to introduce the concept of learning with Interlinear books.

If you have been reading this blog, you probably already know Jennie has strongly supported listening and reading to learn languages, and she has even published her own bilingual book to learn French. I would like to present you a further method for learning languages by reading bilingual books – Interlinear book translations, or, as we call them, Interlinear books.

Example of the principle behind Interlinear translation

What are Interlinear books?

Interlinear books are bilingual books, where each word or expression in the original language is followed by an English translation below. Because Jennie has been teaching French, let’s look at what an Interlinear translation of the first sentence of Le comte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père, would look like:

Example of an Interlinear translation of the first sentence of Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

As you can see, each word is translated literally. Moreover, if the meaning is not clear by translating the word literally, an Interlinear text would add parentheses, which help understanding. Moreover, expressions are also joined together, so, for example, “c’est-à-dire” would be more likely to be joined and translated as “that is” and not as “it’s to say.”

What are Interlinear books good for?

Interlinear books make it possible for language learners to read and enjoy books in their original language without a dictionary.  Reading with Interlinear is fast because you don’t need to spend much time looking up the meaning of each word. Moreover, you also have the most appropriate meaning for each word selected by the translator, which means that you save time by not going over all the possible translations of a word and deciding which one fits best. You are enabled to understand nearly all of the story, which sustains your interest in reading. Finally, an Interlinear translation is, arguably, the closest to the original, thus reading one is good if you simply want to enjoy the language of the author to the fullest extent possible.

Can you have only books translated in Interlinear?

The project, Interlinear Books, has only been translating books so far. However, many things can be translated in the Interlinear format: short stories, plays, even poetry. Yes, poetry can be translated, although, admittedly, it would  not ordinarily make a very good tool for language learning. Here’s an Interlinear translation of a short poem (technically – an epigram) by Alexander Pushkin, the father of modern Russian literature, writing about a person he thoroughly disliked:

Interlinear Poem of Pushkin translated by InterlinearBooks.com

Where can I find Interlinear books?

At Interlinear Books, we have been working hard to make Interlinear translations. We have so far made four of them, enabling you to learn Lithuanian, practice Swedish, or improve your German or Russian with our books. In those languages, we have translated one book each. Those are books by classical authors, such as Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy or Selma Lagerlöf. All the translations are available for purchase as e-books on our website.

Here are a few examples of what our currently existing translations look like:

Example of Swedish Interlinear translation of "Skatten: Herr Arnes Penngar" by Selma Lagerlöf from InterlinearBooks.com

Example of Swedish Interlinear translation of “Skatten: Herr Arnes Penngar” by Selma Lagerlöf

Example of Russian Interlinear Translation of "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Leo Tolstoy by InterlinearBooks.com

Example of our Russian Interlinear Translation of “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy

What about Interlinear books in languages other than German, Lithuanian, Swedish and Russian ?

InterlinearBooks is currently working really hard on providing even more Interlinear books. Currently, we have not yet announced what languages we are going to be translating, but you can be among the first to learn that by signing up to our mailing list. You can also be a part of the process of choosing new translations – we always like to hear ideas!

So, what do you think about this? What new translations would you like to see? Please tell us in the comments.

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  • Margaret Nahmias

    This would be easier to read than side by side or books for learners with separate vocabulary lists. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be literal for me to enjoy it.

  • http://interlinearbooks.com/ Linas

    Good point – you could probably get a lot of benefit out of such Interlinear translations even if they weren’t literal. Still, the fact that they are literal does help with language learning, as opposed to just enjoying the book. We’d like to aim at both. :)

  • http://blog.fluenthistorian.com/ Natalie

    I love this idea so much! I’m a Russian speaker, so if you need any help translating more Russian works into English, just let me know :)

  • Steph

    Spanish!

  • http://interlinearbooks.com/ Linas

    Thanks so much, Natalie! :) Russian is not currently previewed in the very near future as we’re expanding into other languages, but we may get around to doing more Russian later on. There are definitely very many fascinating Russian stories still to be translated.

  • http://interlinearbooks.com/ Linas

    Spanish is definitely in the list of languages we’ll be doing next. Do subscribe to our mailing list on the website if you want to find out when we release new translations (including the Spanish one).

  • looking

    there’s gotta be more interlinear texts around (besides the bible) considering what an ancient translation form it was, no? i sure can’t find any though. Kafka’s great and all, but some choices would be nice.. I’d like to find any of the old Hamiltonian interlinears, but i can’t find any information about these. they might be useful to reprint – its actually quite shocking that their is such a dearth of interlinear books in print in the last 50 years – am I not looking in the right place?

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I haven’t been able to find any other books either. Unfortunately, it’s probably because of the backlash against using translation as a language teaching/learning technique.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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