Read between the lines: Interlinear Books Review

Reading has always been one of my favourite activities when learning a language. Crawling up in bed with a book in my target language makes the bookworm and the introvert in me feel all warm inside. What really breaks the magic of this moment is having to look up words in the dictionary. How can one be absorbed by the atmosphere of a tale if they have to stop at every sentence, search for vocabulary and try to guess which of the different meanings they found is the right one?
The thought of reading a real book in Swedish was still daunting so I stuck to children comics. Sure, Bamse’s adventures are great, but not too much of an exciting read…
Therefore I was delighted to have a chance to try Interlinear Books and to challenge myself to a real Swedish book!

interlinear books review

What are Interlinear Books?

“Subtitled books” describes well what Interlinear Books are: novels that include the original text and a (almost) word by word English translation below, in a smaller font. I say “almost” because what they translate is the minimum possible unit which makes sense when translated. If you have an idiom, for example, or an expression doesn’t make sense if translated word by word, they translate it as one unit.
You can find two examples underlined in the image below.

interlinear books review
By the way, this is also how the Interlinear Books look like on your smartphone. It was great to have it with me all the time and read it on the go. Even in such a small format I found it easy to keep my eyes on the main text without slipping to the English translation.

The biggest advantage I experienced using this tool and the reason why I loved it is that it made me feel a lot more confident.
Knowing that I had the meaning under my eyes actually helped me look less at the translation and try to grasp the sense of a sentence without external help. When I read a novel in my target language I tend to look up every single word I don’t understand, making the whole reading much less enjoyable. Interlinear Books, though, made me into a less anxious reader. I took my time to appreciate the prose style, the use of words and to try and figure out more by myself, without jumping at the translation the whole time.
Halfway through I realised that, despite being still a beginner, I was actually reading a real Swedish novel!

About the book

Herr Arnes Penningar is a 1904 novel by Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf. The author was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her best known work is The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, one of the most famous Swedish children books, translated in over 30 languages. It’s the tale of a boy shrunk to the size of a thumb and travelling the country on top of a goose, with insights on history and geography of Swedish provinces.
Herr Arnes Penningar takes us to 16th century Sweden, depicting the harsh winter, the lives of people as well as subtlety describing the landscapes of the region. It’s a captivating novel somehow close to Edgar Allan Poe’s atmospheres, but I don’t want to spoil anything: it’s an absorbing read that deserves to be discovered page by page.

Who is it for?

Interlinear Books can be very beneficial for any learner who already has a grasp of grammar in their target language. The translation will help if you’re struggling with vocabulary, but you need to be familiar with the sentence structure.
I would recommend it if your level is from upper beginner/intermediate onwards.

What’s not great?

You might have guessed I’m a big fan of Interlinear Books by now, but perfection is not of this world.
This rose has its thorn as well, and it would be the price. It ranges from 12.99$ to 29.99$, which someone might find quite costly for an e-book.
For me it’s clear that behind these books is a lot of work, love and passion, and the price is commensurate to the quality of the product you get.
If you would like a taste of it but you’re not quite ready to buy they also have some interlinear short stories on their blog.

Bonus tips: how to make the best of it

Grab an audio book

Listening to the text while reading it will help you retain more vocabulary and get you familiar with pronunciation of new words.

Read out loud

Practising your speaking skills doesn’t necessarily mean having a conversation partner! You can exercise by yourself by reading out loud a text: another method to make new vocabulary and grammar structures stick easier in your brain.

Resist the temptation to check the translation

It might be tempting to look at the English translation every time you’re not sure about a word, but resist! If you get to the end of the sentence of paragraph you’ll often be able to guess the meaning of it.

Summarise it

This is a great way to make the vocabulary you learned move from passive to active knowledge. After you finish reading a chapter try to summarise it using the words from the original text. It works both as writing and speaking exercise.

On the Interlinear Books blog you’ll find more tips on how to use them for language learning.

To sum up

Pros:
  • Offers excellent pieces of literature by renowned authors.
  • High quality translation.
  • Many versions available for different devices.
  • The text is clear, easy to read without slipping to the translation below.
  • Lets you enjoy reading in your target language without worrying about vocabulary you don’t know.
  • Useful to increase vocabulary and grammar knowledge: it’s an enhanced reading tool.
Cons:
  • The price could seem high.
  • Not for complete beginners.
  • Still not many books in catalogue.

On the Interlinear Books website you can find more info about this great tool for language learners and have a look at their catalogue. At the moment they have books in Swedish, French, Spanish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Greek, Portuguese, but I hear there are more languages to be added soon so keep an eye on them!

Do you like reading as a language learning activity? Do you usually look up every word you don’t understand or do you prefer to grasp the general meaning, even if you’re missing some vocabulary along the way?

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3 Comments

  1. 24th August 2017 / 6:17 am

    Ma questa cosa è meravigliosa!!!
    Io in genere riesco abbastanza a intuire il significato di una parola dal contesto, ma dipende anche dal mio livello linguistico, ovviamente!

    • Elena
      24th August 2017 / 9:17 am

      Sì, l’idea dei libri sottotitolati è fantastica e mi ha aiutata a credere di più nelle mie abilità di lettura e fare meno affidamento sul dizionario!

  2. 2nd September 2017 / 1:45 am

    Thank you for this complete review! I might as well give it a try now that you wrote about it. I’m a fan of the concept. Such a good idea to design the book like that.