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6 Spots to Pick Up Texts in the Bilingual Parallel Universe

Some texts lead parallel lives.

It’s almost like they have a doppelgänger in a parallel universe somewhere.

In one universe, they’re written in English. Or French. Or German. Or Spanish… or in any of a dozen other languages.

Then, in a parallel universe, they’re the same book or story that they’ve always been—only they speak another language, which allows them to converse with a whole other group of people.

If you wanted to learn one of those languages from a parallel universe, how could you make the various versions intersect?

There’s a wonderful tool already available for this purpose: Bilingual parallel texts.

But where can you find bilingual parallel texts? How can you use them in your language learning quest?

Here, right before your very eyes, is a guide to a half-dozen dynamic sources of bilingual learning.

Learn a foreign language with videos

The Why and How of Bilingual Parallel Texts

Put text in its place: Learn in context

Unlike most vocabulary lists, bilingual parallel texts transport you to a world of non-literal, literary and descriptive language.

Rather than just learning new words in isolation, you can understand how words fit together in different usages.

Don’t get up! Save time

With bilingual parallel texts, there’s no need to reach for the dictionary. All words and phrases are glossed right within the text—so you don’t have to stop reading to translate a tricky term.

Now in stereo! Listen along

Kick your learning up a notch by listening to the text in the target language. As you read along, you can use the translation for reference.

Audio versions of many public domain texts are available for free on the web. You can look for your favorites in many languages using one of the following search engines:

  • LibriVox (searchable by author, title, genre or language; sortable alphabetically or by release date)
  • Loyal Books (arranged by language; viewable by title or author; sortable alphabetically or by popularity)

In many cases, the corresponding e-books are available on the same site (although not as bilingual texts—we’ll get to these later on).

Strike out on a parallel language adventure: Learn with videos on FluentU

Okay, so parallel texts are a great resource, but parallel learning isn’t just limited to the books and online texts in this post—with FluentU, it can be a whole lifestyle.

If you want to get all the benefits of audio and bilingual text in one place, with visual elements to boot, FluentU’s ever-growing multimedia collection includes the on-screen version of not just some shorter literary gems such as poems, but different story formats—from kids’ cartoons to short films—as well as movie trailers and music videos… all with bilingual subtitles plus personalized learning aids, fun quizzes and interactive features to bring language to life.

Authentic content with parallel text is where it’s at. So let’s get this party started!

The Literary Learner’s Guide to Bilingual Parallel Texts

We’ve got a half-dozen of the hottest sources for bilingual parallel texts right here.

We’ll tell you what kind of texts each publisher has to offer, their available formats and languages, where to find them… and what special features make each of them shine.

My Grandma’s Tales

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You won’t need to go over the river and through the woods to discover an impressive array of bilingual parallel texts with My Grandma’s Tales; just browse for them online.

These richly-illustrated volumes will remind you of your childhood—and may even recall memories of your own grandmother. (Is that the smell of cookies baking?)

Types of texts available:

Fairy tales and folk tales, including well-known works by Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.

Languages used with English for parallel texts:

  • Armenian
  • Bulgarian
  • Chinese
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Hungarian
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Ukrainian
  • Vietnamese

If you want a reading experience that leaves English out of the picture entirely, try one of these other bilingual text combinations.

Format: Paperback.

Cost: Around $10 or less per book.

Special features:

  • Stacked with learning. Generally, the text on each page is divided horizontally, with one language in each half. Spotting the corresponding translation is quick and easy!
  • Childhood classics. Most readers will recognize these familiar fairy tales. Since you’re likely to know the plot and characters already, understanding in the target language can come more rapidly.
  • Colorful clues. Vibrantly colored, richly textured illustrations draw the eye and convey meaning while whisking you away to an enchanted world of language learning.

Kentauron​

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Symbolized by the half-human, half-horse creature displayed in the company logo, Kentauron brings you stellar texts that marry two separate languages. Bridging the gap between well-loved fairy tales and well-known literature, the Kentauron series also includes works of nonfiction.

Types of texts available: A mixture of fairy tales, fables, literature and nonfiction.

Languages used with English for parallel texts:

  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Spanish
  • Russian

Other bilingual combinations:

  • French-Italian
  • French-Spanish
  • French-Russian
  • Italian-Spanish
  • Italian-Russian
  • Latin-French
  • Latin-Italian
  • Spanish-Russian

Formats: Kindle, paperback or both.

Cost: Between $1 and $10 generally, depending on format.

Special features:

  • Alternating or side-by-side. This publisher uses both a side-by-side translation and an alternating paragraph translation, depending on the book.
  • Literary legends. The Kentauron bilingual parallel text repository is comprised of celebrated works such as “A Christmas Carol,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Little Prince” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
  • Authentic artwork. Several books in the series feature restored illustrations from the original editions. Enjoy visual adornments of the same vintage as the texts.

Farkas Translations​

Translator Andras Farkas’s site houses an ever-expanding library of bilingual books.

Types of texts available: Public domain classics.

Languages used with English for parallel texts:

  • Catalan
  • Dutch
  • Esperanto
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Hungarian
  • Italian
  • Norwegian
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish

For many works, parallel texts for several other languages are included alongside the English translation.

Formats: Online (viewable in browser); do-it-yourself e-books.

The texts are also downloadable as offline HTML files. (The offline HTML mirrors the online version in appearance but lacks the filtering functionality you find online.)

The site offers a custom, downloadable program called Ebookmaker (will download automatically), through which you can transform downloaded texts into e-books.

Cost: Free.

Special features:

  • Table of Babel. Presented in a table format, translations in different languages are aligned side by side in columns. The literary work itself is broken into rows by sentences, some of which are quite long and complex. If you look in the Sources section, you can sometimes find links to the audiobooks for particular languages.
  • Filter for a custom brew. You have the option to see only the languages you want, provided you view the texts online in your browser. Simply select the “Hide” button (under the language name at the top of each column) to conceal any languages you don’t wish to read. If you change your mind, just click “Show All” underneath the title information at the head of the page.
  • Multiple parallels. Depending on which texts you try, you can find a fairly wide selection of parallel translations. Some works are available in nine different languages!

Doppeltext​

Double down for some serious language learning with literary style when you try Doppeltext.

Types of texts available: Well-known works from the public domain.

Languages used with English for parallel texts: 

  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Spanish

Formats: Purchased books can be read online (in browser), on Kindle and on other devices.

Cost: Usually under $15; the price depends on the length of the work.

Free samples are available online, if you’d like to try before you buy.

Special features:

  • Pop-up books. Remember pop-up video? If so, you might feel a twinge of nostalgia when you read bilingual parallel texts on Doppeltext. Doppeltext’s translations are not side by side or stacked top to bottom. You’ll only see the parallel text when you choose to do so. Each time you click on a phrase, the English translation appears in a bubble of contrasting color above the text in the original language.
  • Take small bites. Most translated fragments are about 120 characters long—shorter than the original tweet length of 140 characters. They’re short, sweet and easy to digest.
  • Choose your own adventure. Since you can turn translations on or off with a simple click, leading a parallel life with the text or staying fully immersed in the target language is always your choice. Doppeltext is formatted like a real book, with snazzy details like indented paragraphs and drop caps at the beginning of chapters.

But for all of the traditional look, you have the advantage of electronic adaptability: With a choice of seven different text sizes, you can easily adjust the text to your preference. Use the collapsed menu in the corner of the screen (symbolized by three stacked, horizontal bars) to quickly jump from one chapter to another.

Parapara Books​

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Parapara’s name is a nod to their side-by-side translation format. And their books are on your side when you want to bolster your language learning through literary landmarks.

Types of texts available: Noteworthy works from the public domain.

Languages used with English for parallel texts: 

  • French
  • German

Format: Paperback.

Cost: Usually under $15.

Special features:

  • Magically mirroring pages. Facing pages mirror each other, with the French or German on one side and the English on the other. Glance from side to side to take advantage of the translation—or face away from it for full immersion into the target language text.
  • Well-known works. Seminal compositions such as Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Voltaire’s “Candide,” Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” comprise the small but growing Parapara collection.

Parapara also plans to add modern authors, especially from non-Western parts of the world.

Penguin Parallel Texts​

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Dress up your bilingual bookshelf with publications from Penguin Parallel Texts.

You don’t need to wear a tux to read these… Penguin takes care of the literary formalities for you, with features such as scholarly notes and an in-depth introduction to each volume.

Types of texts available: The works of contemporary authors from the mid-to-late 20th century.

Languages used with English for parallel texts: 

  • Chinese
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Russian
  • Spanish

Formats: Paperback and e-book (Kindle, Nook, iOS, Android, etc.).

Cost: Most are under $15; prices vary, depending on format and vendor.

Special features:

  • On the other hand, the translation. The parallel texts are presented page by page, side by side, as you hold the paperback version of the book open. This makes it easy to compare passages or check translations for unfamiliar words and phrases.
  • Explanations afoot. Footnotes in each story provide more in-depth references and explanations of the language. Enhance your reading experience with this bonus information.
  • Keeping it brief. These short story anthologies from Penguin are perfect for readers who don’t have time to devote to a whole novel… or those who want more variety in one volume.

Brief, brilliant contributions from celebrated authors form a kaleidoscope of thought and imagination, spanning the latter half of the last century.

 

So… are you ready to lead a double life? To travel space and time and experience parallel universes of language through the inter-dimensional doorway of bilingual texts?

You don’t need a ride on a spaceship or sophisticated scientific equipment.

Getting there is easy—with these six sensational sources for bilingual parallel texts, all you need is curiosity and a sense of adventure… and, perhaps, your reading glasses.

And One More Thing…

If you love the idea of learning languages with bilingual texts, you may love learning with FluentU even more.

With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos, including movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:

FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.

Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover over or tap on the subtitles to instantly view definitions.

You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “quiz mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.

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