Read more, learn more
At some point in your language learning journey, you are bound to hear that – reading more will help develop your language skills.
However, opening a book, newspaper or website in your language of study (L2) for the first time can be a daunting experience.
Or, on the other hand, you may already be reading long texts in a second language, but want to know how to increase your reading speed.
If you find yourself in either of these scenarios, my suggestion is to try reading parallel texts. (In this post, I will use the word text throughout, but this is a shorthand to refer to any format of parallel text: books, magazines, articles from the internet, etc.)
What are parallel texts?
A parallel text is a text that has its translation placed next to, or below it. One text is in the language you are learning (L2), and the second text is in your native language (L1), or a language that you are already proficient in.
Why are parallel texts useful?
They are useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, using parallel texts gives support to readers who when reading may know each, or most of the words, in the text, but cannot grasp the whole meaning of the sentence or paragraph.
As the L1 translation is next to the L2 text, you can quickly and easily understand the meaning of the whole text and individual words. Therefore you will save time checking dictionaries and trying to understand the meaning of the sentence. Instead, you can look at the L1 text and instantly understand what the text is about.
Secondly, using parallel texts can help you see the vocabulary you are learning in many different contexts.
Your reading speed will be faster than if you were reading a text with no translation. You will be able to see vocabulary in many different, but natural contexts, rapidly.
The increased quantity in your reading will help you gain a deeper and richer understanding of words and how they can be used. Nuances and rarely used meanings of a word can be identified and learnt.
Parallel texts with audio
If we use parallel texts with audio recordings of the text read by natives, at native speed, we can boost our language ability even further.
We can increase our knowledge of how words are pronounced by natives, support our reading comprehension by giving us audio input that we understand (because we have the translation), and test our listening comprehension.
Sometimes you may know the meaning of a word but not the correct pronunciation. Listening to a reading of the text allows us to learn this.
Or the opposite may be true, you can pronounce the word, but you do not know the meaning. Reading a parallel text can help you understand the meaning of words through the context of the sentence.
All these language inputs will challenge your brain significantly. After all, you will be putting together the grammar, pronunciation rules, individual vocabulary meanings and the meaning of the text at the same time.
However, having the translation available to us is a massive aid and the next best thing to having a real translator by our side helping us to understand the text.
If I use parallel texts will I rely on translation too much?
There is the view that having a translated L1 text makes it too tempting just to read the translated text and neglect the L2 text. Here are three tips that can be used to stop this from happening.
By doing this, you will gain an understanding of what happens before reading the text in the language of study. This means when you are reading the text in the language of study you will not be trying to work out what is happening in the story. You will already know what happens.
If this sounds too time-consuming, first read a chapter, or a few pages, in your L1 home language, then read the text in your L2 language of study.
Each time you read the text, you will pick up words or grammar structures that you didn’t notice before. As you will know the story well by then, you will find it easier to read just the L2 text.
The more memorable a book is, the better. It means the plot will stand out and you will be more likely to recognise what is happening even if you do not understand individual words or sentences.
In some language pairs, there may not be many parallel texts available. If this is the case, you could instead buy the real paper books in your L1 and L2 language. Trying to read two books simultaneously is possible, but not as practical as using a properly formatted parallel text that has text side by side.
Nevertheless, it remains an option.
What happens if there are whole paragraphs in the L2 (language of study) text that I don’t understand?
Don’t worry; this will happen. Whether it is a problem is a question of degree.
If I find I don’t understand the majority of pages, then I would think that the text might be too difficult for my current level and try to find something easier.
However, if it happens only occasionally, then the text is probably just the right level for you as you will be consolidating already learnt language patterns and vocabulary but also learning new vocabulary, phrases, idioms and so on.
Parallel text exercises
Parallel texts with audio readings can be a great source of written and speaking exercises as well. A dictation exercise can go as follow. Listen to a sentence or paragraph reading of a parallel text, and then, without looking at the text, write down what you have heard.
This exercise is great for noticing how grammar goes together and how sentences are written. You can then check your writing against the text to see how accurate you are.
Shadow along with the reading of the text. You can practice speaking out loud on your own by shadowing the reader as they read the text. You can easily repeat certain parts of the text or say out loud any parts of the text you find interesting as the reader reads.
Parallel texts are useful for language learners. Having a translation means readers can gain full comprehension of the text even when unsure of the meaning of individual words, phrases or sentences.
Having the translation at close hand means it is quick and easy for readers to check meanings. Language learners will be able to read faster and increase the amount of reading they do.
This, in turn, will mean that learners will spend more time developing and deepening their knowledge of the language they are learning.
I hope this article has been useful. If you have anything you want to ask me about parallel texts or know where to find good parallel texts, please leave a comment in the comments section below.
Thank you for reading.
Parallel Text Resources
Spanish – English parallel short stories:
Parallel text short story books in 7 different languages and English. Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish:
Parallel texts classic novels in Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. Any combination of the above possible!
List of Japanese – English parallel texts (some with audio)
Japanese – English parallel text news articles website from NHK (the national broadcasting company of Japan):
Japanese – English (and some French) parallel text news articles with Furigana.
Chinese – English, read Chinese from the University of Maryland, USA
Chinese – English, mini-novels website. Not line by line parallel texts but texts with translations further down the page.
Chinese – English, Taipei Times (newspaper) bilingual pages.
Wikipedia has an interesting page on parallel texts see the link below.
An article by Gianfranco Conti was useful for researching this article. His article is linked below.