Remember the recent podcast about reading in other languages? We talked a lot about how difficult it can be to find original literature in your target language that is actually comprehensible too.
In today's post, I've asked Fluent contributor Victoria to take a look at an intriguing offer...Interlinear books - they're like original subtitled literature. Say what! Victoria is both Norwegian and book-obsessed - no better candidate to review the books we examined in this post.
Read on to find out if the promise of Interlinear books delivers:
When I was asked to review Interlinear Books, a language learning literature tool, I was intrigued - I'm always looking for new reading experiences, and this certainly was unlike anything I have read before!
Short version of verdict: Interlinear Books are a great supporting language learning tool for intermediate learners to infuse some foreign language literature into their lives.
This review is based on no previous knowledge about Interlinear products, and all comments are based on my first-hand experience of trialing the Swedish Interlinear book.
What are Interlinear Books?
Interlinear are bilingual books that include the original and an English translation below. The English is in a smaller font, so that it doesn’t distract too much from the original language. Each word or phrase is translated below the original one, and the books are classic literature from the language it is teaching. In Interlinear Books’ own words: it’s like subtitles for books.
Does it work?
Initially I was intrigued by the idea of learning language by reading quality literature – as a literature graduate and a book lover at large there could hardly be anything more fitting! I chose the Swedish title, Skatten: Herr Arnes Penningar (The Treasure: Sir Arne’s Money) and dived into it.
As a native Norwegian speaker, I was already fairly acquainted with Swedish as a language and feel that I was already somewhere between advanced and fluent level. However, I find that reading books in the language you are learning is always useful to broaden vocabulary, regardless of your fluency level. I wanted to feel more confident reading Swedish and thought this would be the perfect tool to do so with some guidance.
The story is not the most compelling and the language is fairly poetic for a novel, which I thought was a slightly strange choice. However, Interlinear does ensure that this poetic language carries through into the English translation, which I appreciated.
Not Your Usual Translation
Since each word is translated in the word order of the original text, I found that the English text could sometimes be strange to read. As a consequence of the word-for-word translation, the English sentence structure is sometimes quite unusual. However, this appears to be an effect of Interlinear’s aim to make you read sentences, rather than single words; the intention is for you to be able to grasp the meaning of the sentence without looking up every single word, just the ones you don’t already know. The text is translated and proofread by humans, which sets it apart from other translation language learning services.
Personally, I found the layout of the pages slightly hard to follow; the translation may be in a smaller font, but it is nonetheless very existent on the page and can be distracting at times. The result of the text appearing twice on one page is often that there is very little white space. You do get used to this as you read, however it may throw you off slightly at first.
I did, however, very much enjoy reading the text, and found that my reading skills improved throughout reading the text, as well as adding new words to my vocabulary. I also enjoyed the fact that Interlinear Books allow you to explore the literature of the country whose language you are learning and consequently get an insight into the cultural specifics.
Intermediate Learner? Look to Explore Interlinear
Interlinear really works best if you're an intermediate learner, as the concept of understanding the meaning of a sentence from understanding a few key words is unlikely to be effective at a beginner level. For this same reason I would also suggest that the Interlinear Books are a great tool for bridging the gap between beginner and intermediate; it allows you to put your language skills to the test with the translation to fall back on when necessary.
The key question you're all probably wondering about right now – can the Interlinear Books support your language learning experience? The answer is: absolutely.
So Should You Give Interlinear Books a Go?
If you're an intermediate learner, the short answer is: yes – but be aware that it cannot replace more conventional language courses or classes. It works best as a learning supplement.
The whole concept of Interlinear Books is to provide a tool that helps support your language learning, and the books should therefore not be the sole language learning you implement in your everyday life. Instead, you should use the books to replace some of your other English-language reading – read a chapter during lunch or during your commute, for example. The books are relatively short, so they are likely to feel easier to get through than a massive brick.
Interlinear Books currently have 10 books on offer, in 10 different languages. They're also continuously developing new books and languages, and you can sign up for their newsletter to be the first to hear about any new titles they produce.
So, if you're looking to take that next step into reading books in the language you are reading, Interlinear Books is a brilliant place to start.