In support of parallel texts

Plenty has been written about the benefits for motivated language learners of using parallel texts to help learn a language. (Do a quick google search and you’ll see.)

Much of what is written in support of parallel texts is along the following lines:

  • They allow users to access texts beyond their level.
    Readers can read an L2 text and have constant recourse to an L1 equivalent so that they can check that they are understanding what they are reading.
  • They allow users to directly compare the L1 and the L2, which helps promote ‘noticing’.
    The ability to compare the way vocab and structures are formed and combined in the L2 with reference to the L1 equivalent promotes this noticing of differences which may not happen if students only had access to the L2 text.

Parallel texts can indeed be a powerful tool, if used by motivated language learners who really are using the time with the texts to understand how the L2 works, forming hypotheses and checking and confirming that they understand correctly what is happening with the language.

I’ve come across stories written in 2 languages (one page per language) and they are really good if you are interested in seeing how different phrases etc. are expressed in each language (i.e. if you’re something of a language geek).

Unfortunately, however, the type of learner mentioned above is something of a rarity, especially in the typical languages classroom, with students who have varying levels of ability, motivation and enthusiasm.

Parallel texts in the languages classroom

Consider the following in response to the bullet points above:

  • Unless the student is the sort of motivated language learner mentioned above, what incentive is there for them to engage with the L2 text if they can get all the meaning they need from the L1 text? To what extent can they really be said to be accessing the L2 text?
  • Unless the student is the sort of motivated language learner mentioned above, how much noticing is going to happen? How can noticing happen without the need to engage with the L2 text?

Parallel texts aren’t enough by themselves in the typical languages classroom. Something else is needed. And that something else, in my opinion, is some form of activity that requires the student to engage with the L2 text.

Parallel texts + Language activities

I first wrote about parallel texts in 2014, within the context of textivate, when we added parallel text functionality to the site. Textivate is an online tool that generates interactive text reconstruction activities based on texts input by its users. The reason for adding parallel texts to textivate was:

  • To provide structure: students know in what order the L2 text has to appear.
  • To provide / reinforce meaning: students know what the L2 text means.
  • To promote noticing: the text reconstruction activities require the student to rebuild the L2 text (word by word, letter by letter, filling gaps, etc). This means they are constantly thinking about how the next bit of L2 text should look, with reference to the L1 text. This constant comparison is what helps to promote noticing.

As a result, textivate was transformed from a tool that was either about memorizing a text or rebuilding a text based on context clues, to one that allowed, in addition, for all sorts of scaffolded translation-like activities, as explained in this blog post from 2014.

Parallel texts: at the heart of TeachVid

Parallel texts are a fundamental part of the rationale behind TeachVid, which came about through a desire to take textivate’s parallel text functionality to a new level.

In TeachVid’s Learn Mode, students have access to bilingual subtitles and a full bilingual transcript, which shows the current video caption (or its L1 equivalent) as highlighted. So students can switch between the languages and make comparisons. They can turn on auto-pause so that the video pauses after each caption. They can click on specific ‘chunks’ in each caption to hear that chunk spoken via text-to-speech, and see chunk-specific translations and learning notes. This is all about promoting noticing.

Learn mode – chunk translations and info

In TeachVid’s Activity Mode, each video resource is broken down into caption-based mini-tasks, where the specific section of the video plays, the specific section of the L1 translation is highlighted to reinforce meaning and provide structure, and the student must complete the relevant mini-task using a combination of listening, the L1 translation of the specific caption, and the context clues within the L2 caption itself as it appears as part of the task. The juxtaposition of the highlighted section of the L1 parallel text and the L2 caption (via audio and the mini-task) constantly draws the students’ attention to similarities and differences in structure. This is 100% about promoting noticing.

Activity mode – Initials 100

So TeachVid combines textivate’s scaffolded translation-like activities with audiovisual input, working with texts that are broken down into caption-based mini-tasks, with the result that:

  • meaning is reinforced at the caption level
  • structure is provided for each caption
  • noticing is promoted constantly
  • vocabulary is practised and learnt in context
  • listening micro-skills are constantly worked (e.g. decoding / parsing)
  • multiple skills are combined
  • input and output happen at the same time

(N.B.: Although it is possible to create TeachVid resources without L1 translation, such resources are much more listening focused, requiring students to rebuild the L2 text by listening to the audio from the video and by using context clues within the text itself. Without the L1 translation, the noticing which is one of the primary benefits of using parallel texts cannot occur to anywhere near the same degree.)

TeachVid links

Have a play with the resource shown in the above images:

Have a read of TeachVid’s pedagogy page:

Other parallel text links

See this blog post from Gianfranco Conti’s ‘The Language Gym’ (blog) in support of parallel texts:

Want to read a literary classic in parallel? Check out

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