Reading a book in a language you don’t speak

For my sins, which evidently must be worse than I had realised, I need to master the contents of an entire book in German.  The book in question is Bianca-Jeanette Schröder’s Titel und Text, with the subtitle: Zur Entwicklung lateinischer Gedichtüberschriften. Mit Untersuchungen zu lateinischen Buchtiteln, Inhaltsverzeichnissen und anderen Gliederungsmitteln.  It was published by De Gruyter in 1999, and is available for purchase at an eye-watering 150 euros, around $220.  It contains around 360 pages, and 8 plates.

My German is very poor, just like everyone else’s.  What on earth does one do?

Here’s what I am doing.  If anyone else has suggestions, I am very willing to hear them.

Well, the first thing I did was borrow the dratted thing from the library.  What else could one do?  Nobody on earth could afford to buy a copy.

The next thing I did was to run it through my scanner, and OCR it in Finereader.  Being a modern type-face it OCR’s quite well.  This gives me each page in the Finereader editor.

I now intend to create notes on the text in a Word document.  This will form a permanent record of what I find in this book.

This morning I have taken the table of contents, and pasted it into the Word document.  I have then pasted it into Google Translate, and, line by line, converted that table of contents in Word into English.  This gives me some idea of the structure of the book, down to a few pages.

The book is actually in three parts, each with a conclusion.  It looks to me as if translating the conclusions to each part, again with the assistance of Google Translate, might be the next step.  They seem fairly short; a couple of pages.  I can do this.

So far I have translated the conclusion to part 1.  It’s actually interesting stuff; but not what I need to know about (on the whole).  So I can probably ignore part 1.

Just starting on part 2.

Oh yes, what does that subtitle mean?  Well, I come up with this:

On the development of Latin poetry headings. With studies on Latin book titles, tables of contents, and other types of divisions (Gliederungsmitteln).

Should be interesting.  I hope.

4 Responses to “Reading a book in a language you don’t speak”


  1. Tom

    Google also has a “Google translator toolkit” which gives you a parallel window, one with the original language, and another with the translation. You might find it useful.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thanks! I’ve experimented with it, but never found a way to make it useful. On the other hand, we are blessed to have Google translate at all. I still have an old “translator” program – SysTrans 3.0 – and there is no comparison.

  3. JB Piggin

    Why not ask her for the German text as a file and offer to share rights to the translation? http://www.bj-schroeder.de/

  4. Roger Pearse

    Interesting idea – thanks. I had not seen the website.

    For some reason she gave the copyright to De Gruyter. I notice more academics are retaining the copyright, and quite rightly too.



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