Informal survey of book reading apps for language learning (Extensive Reading via Listening Reading)

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petermeisl
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Languages: English (N), German (intermed/adv), French (intermed), Italian (intermed)
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Informal survey of book reading apps for language learning (Extensive Reading via Listening Reading)

Postby petermeisl » Mon Oct 05, 2020 4:21 am

Over the past few years I have been searching for apps to help me re-read novels in languages that I am trying to improve. In my case it's been German, French, and Italian. I'm at varying levels of intermediate in these languages I found reading novels directly in the foreign language too hard and found traditional parallel texts too slow and awkward. I want to read the novel and not agonize over every word. Basically what I want to do is extensive reading, with more-or-less the Listening Reading (LR) technique (which has been discussed a lot on this forum).

I thought I'd share some of the results of my search for useful apps since I've spent quite a bit of time on this. These are the key features that I am looking for:
  • Longer texts & books
  • Parallel text (with professional translation on one side)
  • Audio book synchronized with markers in the text so you don't get lost
  • Embedded aids to understanding like optional in-line word/phrase translations to maintain your comprehension and to avoid stopping
Features to keep track of vocabulary knowledge (known and unknown words, etc.) aren't as important to me. I don't mind paying for books or subscriptions. Language learning is very time consuming and I don't mind paying for something that makes this more efficient.

I'll give my current conclusions first -- I haven't yet found an app that does everything I'm looking for. I feel that computer aided tools can do more to help with the reading/listening process and we're only partly there with existing tools. A lot of progress has been made with apps for beginning learners, while apps for intermediate learners have a ways to go. A few years ago, when I couldn't find something I liked, I started developing prototype software for my own use. After much iteration, I found my prototypes were starting to be quite useful to me. I'm now in the process of trying to polish up the software into something that can be released publicly. That's still likely a few months away. It ended up being a lot more work than I expected and I learned more about python and javascript than French and Italian! In the meantime, I'd appreciate any feedback from others on software resources to support this kind of reading. If and when my software is ready for others to use it, I'll let everyone here know.

I've listed some of the software and apps that I looked at below. Some things to keep in mind:
  • Some of these tools have many other features, I only considered the features that were directly related to my wishlist of features above. Pretty much all the apps have some way to look up words in a dictionary or translate individual words.
  • I only included apps that help you read texts of some length in order to learn.
  • These aren't proper reviews, these are just short summaries from my search for a tool to do something specific.
  • There are some great lists of language apps on the web but I couldn't find one that covered all the candidates for what I'm looking for (for example reddit and this site)
  • At first I tried to list the apps in order of applicability to my needs, but I largely failed, so the ordering of the list doesn't have much meaning.

Beelinguapp has a broad selection of shorter parallel texts. It has audio and very nice synchronization. Beelinguapp has Android and iOS apps and has free and paid (via subscription) versions.

LingQ Is a full learning system with many resources including full novels. It includes side-by-side translations as well as audio, but doesn't show synchronization. It has has vocabulary functions. LingQ runs in a browser or as iOS and Android apps and is paid via subscription.

Bilinguis has 5 full novels with parallel text and audio in various languages. It doesn't show audio synchronization and doesn't have vocabulary functions. Bilinguis runs in a browser and is free but with ads.

Dive into Espagnol is a web app with a variety of full novels with translations and audio. Translations are shown between lines and synchronization is shown line by line. There is one free book, otherwise it is pay by subscription. No dictionary or word aids. Spanish only.

Learning with Texts (LWT) is a software tool that lets you read arbitrary texts. You can add your own texts and audio (but it doesn't show audio synchronization). LWT has vocabulary functions (keeps tracks of words you know and don't know, let's you make flashcards, and has a SRS). It doesn't seem to have a parallel text view (both languages simultaneously). The software is open source and you need to install and run it yourself. It seems LWT has been removed from the above link very recently, but the software can still be found on mirror sites.

Foreign Language Text Reader (FLTR) has features similar to LWT (it uses some code from LWT). It is also an open source project. It runs as a local Java app. Last sentence for LWT above applies here as well.

Parallel Text Reader has a variety of full novels. It has audio only for a few books and plays for only one paragraph at a time. The translation is shown for a paragraph when selected. Parallel Text Reader is available as iOS and Android apps and is free (I think).

Lexo allows you to read shorter texts with audio (one sentence is shown at a time). It has vocabulary functions (flashcards, etc.) It runs in a browser (mobile friendly) and is free to use (via donation).

Libera allows reading with parallel text, and synchronized audio (incredibly it has word-by-word synchronization). It seems to only have a couple of books. Libera is an iOS app and is paid by buying individual books.

Language Tools has a collection of learning resources including a reading tool and a marketplace for teachers. It seems to be changing its name to OPLingo. The reading tool has vocabulary functions (highlighting, statistics). I didn't see any novel-length text. But you can add your own text and audio. It supports audio and video but doesn't show synchronization. Language Tools runs in a browser or as iOS and Android apps and has free and paid (via subscription) versions.

By the way, there is a comparison chart for LWT, LanguageTools, LinqQ, and Readlang in this post.

Parallel Books has full classic novels with side-by-side translation. No audio or vocabulary features. It is an iOS app and it seems to be free.

Paralleltext.io has full books with side-by-side translations. It has audio but is not free-running (you need to click each sentence). The audio seems computer generated and the quality is variable.

Paralelus has full novels in several languages. Only one language is displayed at a time and you swipe to switch languages. There is no audio. Paralelus is an Android app and is free (but has ads).

Doppeltext has full novels with translations available if you tap on a sentence. It doesn't have a full parallel text view or audio. Books can be purchased and read in a browser or downloaded in various formats and read in iBooks or Kindle.

Uncharted has full novels with word definitions but no full text translation or simultaneous display. There is no audio. Unchart has iOS and Android apps and has free and paid (via subscription) versions.

ReadLang is an aid for learning languages while reading text in a browser. It has a clean non-intrusive interface to show translations on-demand. It has vocabulary functions (definitions, stats, flashcards). ReadLang has a Chrome extension. It has free and paid (via subscription) versions.

Lingro is somewhat like ReadLang. It is also an aid for reading on the web (translations, word functions, flashcards, etc.) It seems a bit dated.

There are many more apps and sites that let you read books with translations for words or sentences that you see when you click/tap. If you search in the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store you'll find a bunch of them easily. One example is Mytoori (was called Duolir at some point).

There are a number of sites that host or sell e-books with embedded translations that can be read in standard e-reader software or devices. Some examples are:
  • Inter Linear Books
  • Easy Readers
  • Languages on the Web
  • Farkas Translations
  • Il Nattatore sells audio books in Italian. What makes them interesting is that they offer some books in EPUB 3 format which supports both text and audio with audio synchronization. EPUB 3 with text & synchronized audio is supported by a number of apps now. The first one that I came across a number of years ago is Menestrello. I haven't seen EPUB3 books that support a parallel text view as well as synchronized audio.
Of course there are lots of apps that use short texts or dialogues, usually with audio, to teach languages starting at the beginner level (like Assimil, Duolingo, Fluent Forever, FluentU, Living language, Michel Thomas, Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, etc, etc.)

At one point or another, I came across these apps that seem to have died in the meantime: Lingualy, Bliu Bliu, and DbookApp.

Let me know if I've missed any good tools!

Peter
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tangleweeds
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Re: Informal survey of book reading apps for language learning (Extensive Reading via Listening Reading)

Postby tangleweeds » Mon Oct 05, 2020 10:56 am

Thanks for the great descriptions and comparisons! I'm saving this post for future reference.

petermeisl wrote:I'm now in the process of trying to polish up the software into something that can be released publicly. That's still likely a few months away.
I'm looking forward to checking it out once you're done!

petermeisl wrote:It ended up being a lot more work than I expected and I learned more about python and javascript than French and Italian!
And that's the story of software development, ain't it?
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Progressing from apps back back to books! (neurological injury healing!!!)
Concentrating on Irish (family heritage) & Japanese (my brother lives there)
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mcthulhu
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Re: Informal survey of book reading apps for language learning (Extensive Reading via Listening Reading)

Postby mcthulhu » Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:45 pm

https://github.com/mcthulhu/jorkens isn't on your list. We have an overlapping but not identical feature wish list, I think; but bear in mind that Jorkens is evolving fairly quickly as I add features. It's intended mainly as a cross between an epub reader and a language database; but I recently added (fairly) transparent format conversion to epub, and an audio player for local audio book files, to supplement the TTS features provided. One of my next steps should be incorporating Hazm to support Persian, since there's no TreeTagger lemmatizer for that one. I'll get to parallel texts soon, I hope - I have a lot of epubs in multiple languages.

I definitely want to be able to open and read epubs immediately, with no manual preprocessing required.
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petermeisl
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Re: Informal survey of book reading apps for language learning (Extensive Reading via Listening Reading)

Postby petermeisl » Mon Oct 05, 2020 11:44 pm

Thanks for the pointer to Jorkens. I hadn't seen this before and I will check it out. This project has an impressive scope! Our goals overlap somewhat and you're taking quite a different (and more general) approach. Being able to take an e-book and use it directly surrounded by aids like lemmas, translations, audio, etc. is an ambitious goal. The approach I've been using when adding a new book requires quite a lot of preprocessing unfortunately (aligning, synchronizing, translating phrases, etc.) I've tried to automate these things but I find that there is an annoying amount of manual checking and tweaking required for each book. I don't even want to think about how much time I've spent messing around with different types of punctuation marks!

TTS is rapidly improving. Amazon Polly is impressive. Until recently TTS just wasn't quite there yet for listening to something long like a novel (too many mispronunciations and too boring sounding). In order to drag me through a foreign novel, it needs to be somewhat entertaining. It's been a while and I need to go back and play with TTS again.
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mcthulhu
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Re: Informal survey of book reading apps for language learning (Extensive Reading via Listening Reading)

Postby mcthulhu » Tue Oct 06, 2020 12:45 am

By the way, since you know JavaScript and Python -- Jorkens is an Electron/Node.js project, and has an option to run Python scripts against the contents of the current book or chapter, for users who want to extend it with their own functionality.
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