Software for ‘reading’ foreign language texts (1)

So, particularly if you’ve come from a Greek/Latin/Classics background, most of what one is taught is how to do a lot of intensive reading. Intensive reading involves talking relatively small segments of texts and analysing, grammatically, each word and segment, mentally parsing and tagging things, and then understanding how the clause and sentence and paragraph fits together.

There’s a place for that. But it’s generally not the best way to move towards a more fluent reading approach. On the other hand, the grammar-translation approach almost never employs something at the other end of the spectrum, extensive reading ( There’s lots of good material and research arguing for the efficacy of extensive reading.

One of the barriers for reading particularly classical languages is that there is simply not enough and not appropriate enough texts for reading. There aren’t really graded readers, Lingua Latina being a sole exception. There certainly aren’t extensive series of readers pitched at stable levels designed to move readers slowly and surely to greater proficiency and expand their vocabulary. And, a great gap is that there isn’t any YA literature. YA literature, I would say, is actually amazingly important; it’s language is just a step below ‘adult’ literature, but it’s interesting (usually) and engaging and adults can read it with genuine enjoyment while at a slightly lower language level.

Anyway, to read extensively in a way that works requires a fairly high level of comprehension. One needs to be recognising upwards of 90% of what’s going on in order to figure out the other 10% from context. Maybe more, maybe less. Certainly there’s a point at which there are two many unknowns and the reader gets lost.

So what if there are no texts suitable for your reading level? This is where I think some reading tools will help a great deal. Basically, we want to remove the barriers that slow reading down to the point of frustration. The main difficulty to be overcome is vocabulary – how do we raise our vocabulary to a level where more and more is comprehensible? What if we accelerated and integrated the ability to look up words, and if we made readily available on the same reading ‘page’ the meanings of every word we’ve ever encountered? That is the premise of the reading software I’ll be looking at in the next two posts. By recording and tagging *every single word*, you can see at a glance what you know, what you have previously encountered, and what you’ve never encountered.

If someone is mainly working with texts that have already been tagged to death, i.e. biblical texts, classical texts in the Perseus collection, then maybe something like this isn’t so necessary, but once you’re outside those corpora, essentially one is tagging one’s own texts. This is a digital way to do it across texts, instead of covering a sheet of paper in notes (I’m sure plenty of us have done that), or some ad hoc software solutions.


In my next post I’ll talk through Learning with Texts and Foreign Language Text Reader

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