The Science Behind Learning Languages by Reading Parallel Texts

September 8, 2021
By Sarah Angela Almaden
The Science Behind Learning Languages by Reading Parallel Texts

Learning a new language is hard. You have to master the characters, learn a lot of grammar rules, and memorize a ton of vocabulary words. You might sit in a classroom, at your laptop, or stare at your phone for hours trying to drill sentences into your head. But what if there were an easier way?

Ever heard of this method of language learning called *drum roll* “Parallel texts?” Parallel texts is a form of reading where two texts are placed side by side. When used for language learning, two languages are placed side by side with your target language next to your native language. If you are in for a bigger challenge, you can use another language you are familiar with instead of using your native language. As you read along, you can glance over to the other side to help you. If you are unsure about the meaning of a word or a sentence, you can use the other text to reinforce your understanding.

When using this method, you don’t have to read both texts at the same time. Your native language is there as a backup to guide you throughout your reading and help you understand when you have questions.

Learning a new language requires time and dedication. Unfortunately, language acquisition does not happen after one night of reading. You may learn some words or lots of words, but you need more time and exposure to fully learn the language and gain fluency.

Doesn’t it feel cool when you start to notice some variation in sentences when reading in a different language? That awareness is part of the Noticing Hypothesis (Schmidt, 1990, 2001). Parallel texts promote the concept of the Noticing Hypothesis and it is the idea that “nothing is learned unless it has been noticed.” Noticing is an important part of language acquisition because it shows that there is an awareness happening with language learning.

When reading a text in a different language, you sometimes feel disappointed because you don't know what it means or you get lost in translation. And hey, that’s okay! Part of language learning is figuring out the correct translation of a sentence. When using parallel texts, you have the translation in your native language on the side to fall back on.

Words are powerful, so powerful that they can make or break an idea. It can even influence feelings based upon its context. And when reading a story using the parallel texts method, you are introduced to new words and their meanings right away.

Here’s one reader’s story of when learning the other meaning of baguettes through parallel texts:

“I was reading a short story in French-English about sushi on Beelinguapp and I came across the word baguettes. I knew that a baguette is a type of French bread and baguettes is its plural form. So I was a bit confused. But as I looked at the English translation of the story, the word baguettes in this context meant chopsticks.

Good thing Beelinguapp has this neat vocabulary feature that tells you the translation of the word, or else I would have been very distracted as to why bread was used to pick up sushi. Or maybe you could use bread to pick up sushi, but that sounds tricky…”

Context is critical when it comes to learning a new language. Translation is key, and with parallel texts you have access to the direct translation immediately without having to use Google or other platforms.

It is important to be consciously aware of your learning level throughout your language journey as this keeps you grounded moving forward towards fluency. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to learning a new language as long as you stay curious and motivated. If you are in for a treat, start using parallel texts when learning a new language with Beelinguapp!

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