Friday, 15 June 2012

The Method I Use

I'd like to make an outline of how I go about reading a novel in Norwegian along with an accompanying translation in English.

For some languages you can buy bilingual books. Unfortunately they are not particularly numerous, often consist of a number of short stories, and are usually based on older rather than contemporary works. For other languages there seems to be little if any bilingual content. Thankfully you don't need to be at the mercy of what little bilingual content is out there and can make it for yourself.

You can find some parallel texts online which are usually in pdf or word document file types but finding these can be tricky and so far I haven't found any for Norwegian aside from one short story.

It is possible to take text files of a book and its translation and make your own parallel text as described in the following links, but I can show you a pretty simple method of reading using two paper books. Making Parallel Texts Pt. 1   Making Parallel Texts Pt. 2

Thankfully, it is entirely possible to comfortably read a paper book with its translation and not have to perform a juggling act.

First lay out your book and its translation on a table. Then, choose another two medium sized, preferably hardback books, and place them horizontally across the open books you want to read; spines facing upward. Your "covering books" can now act as a means of both holding each book open and act as place markers. As you read, the spine of your covering books can underline the particular line you are reading, and all you need do is slowly move the covering books downwards as you look between your book and the translation.

At first, I'd read a sentence in English then jump over to the same sentence in Norwegian and try to make sense of it, see if I can identify the meanings of certain words but without too much analysis. I'd then move to the next sentence in English and then look at the Norwegian and keep moving on, not worrying much about the literal meanings of some sentences but thinking more of their essential translation. Once I'd covered a page, I'd read the whole page in Norwegian and see how much I'd understand and then move to the next page and break it down on a sentence by sentence basis again until I'd covered that page and would re-read that whole page again without consulting the English. I would do this process until I had finished the chapter and would then read the whole chapter and see how much I could understand while listening to the audiobook in Norwegian.

It's after at this point I would get out my dictionary and note down only some interesting words and phrases with their translations in a notebook to look over later. Common words would come up again and again so it's not really necessary to note these. They will get absorbed anyway. After a few chapters I'd begin to notice certain words and phrases cropping up again and again and their meanings would start to be reinforced.

The usefulness in this method lies in allowing you to read at length without tiring yourself too much. I found doing this for a couple of hours or more at a time quite easy and enjoyed the process of noticing my understanding steadily increase. I found that if I didn't stress over the details and spent more time covering as much material as possible I got more benefit than looking up every word. Some words I wouldn't quite get but the more I read, the more words and phrases I'd pick up and the easier the process would become.

I started off with the novel "Naiv.Super." by Erlend Loe which is written in a rather simple and endearing style but now I am a couple of chapters into the third Harry Potter book which has been wonderfully translated by Torstein Bugge Høverstad. He has also translated the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman, and look forward to reading his translations of that too. I should note that I don't have the first two Harry Potter books in Norwegian but have them all from the third book onwards.

Using this method with a series of books by one writer seems like it could be very effective as each author writes in their own style and will use certain vocabulary and turns of phrase pretty often across their books. This consistency across new material means it will be easier to absorb the language.

I hope this post will prove useful to anyone wanting a way of getting into making sense of native materials. If you are doing active study through a class or textbook, then this should help reinforce what you are learning and be an enjoyable means of spending time with the language.

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