Sony Readers

This semester we lent Sony Readers to a senior seminar in German to see if students would find them useful.  It was a small class of only 7 students.  In addition to the size, we chose them because the professor had mentioned to me that they seemed to be having trouble understanding the readings despite the fact that they were in the senior seminar and had all studied abroad.  It sounded like a good use of the e-readers and the built-in dictionaries.

Last week, I went to talk to the students and hand out very brief surveys.  The responses varied, but were generally apathetic.  Note taking was more difficult, so most preferred the physical texts.  I asked about the dictionaries, and while all said they saw and knew how to use them, they didn’t see any need.  Having been abroad so long, they explained, they gathered the meaning of the word from context.  This of course belies what their professor had told me about their reading, but I would have been skeptical regardless.  I’m pretty sure my reading level in German is well above the average student in the undergraduate course, and I appreciate having the dictionary immensely.  Even when the context allows me to either recall or understand an unfamiliar word, checking the official definition helps me refresh and hopefully cement the word in my consciousness.

Otherwise, the only other point on which they were in general agreement was cost.  If the savings that came from downloading books for free from the public domain outweighed the cost of an eReader, they would consider purchasing it on their own.

I plan on trying again in the fall, probably with a lower lever class.  An introductory literature course may be better since students face a rather large jump in reading from the last language course.  Hopefully their need for additional vocabulary will be a nice fit with the dictionaries, and I’ll have to consider suggesting strategies for note taking as well.

eReaders in Foreign Languages

I’ve been keeping an eye on eReaders for quite some time.  It would seem to me that the digital format has enormous potential to make reading much easier and enjoyable for students of a foreign language.  Glosses have been around for a decade on html texts that show definitions of words from a foreign language dictionary.  It seems logical that an eReader would come with a built in dictionary, and if the eReader or book was from Germany, that the dictionary would be built-in.

I was so confident of this assumption, that I bought an eReader years ago for just such a purpose.  It’s still sitting on my desk, the eBookMan EBM 900.  It wasn’t a successful experiment.

eReaders have gone main stream now, though, and they’re backed by huge international corporations such as Apple, Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble.  Unfortunately after some testing, I still haven’t been able to find one that has my very basic foreign language dictionary.

I started with Amazon. The Kindle has a built in English dictionary.  Unfortunately, that’s not the language I need.  It also isn’t possible to buy ebooks from European Amazon sites, so it was a quick dead end.

The Nook also has a built in English dictionary, and I was able to find famous older texts on their site, but I couldn’t find any of the top German best sellers.  It looks like the books they have are just famous works from the public domain that they’ve formatted especially for the Nook.

The Sony Reader can be set up for a specific locale.  By choosing Germany, the device automatically connected to a German bookstore site when I wanted to add books.  Finally I could at least access current novel in German, but I still couldn’t find a dictionary in German that integrate with the text.

The iPad could conceivably work, but I gave up after a day.  I had found the Ultralingua site which advertises dictionary for Windows, Mac, and other Apple devices.  It worked fine on Windows, so I thought I’d give it a try on the department iPad.  First problem was there’s no free trial for the iPad, so I have to buy it sight unseen.  I was mildly annoyed.  I then tried to add it to iPad via iTunes, but since another person in my department had used it first on her computer I was stuck again.  Once she returned, we tried from her office.  Unfortunately, she had apparently done it from her laptop at home.  I was beyond annoyed at this point, and clearly this was going to be a much bigger pain if I had planned on giving them to students as loaners for all or portions of a semester.  Besides, who wants to read an entire novel from a computer screen?  Granted, it’s easier to hold, but this isn’t a big step from just reading from a laptop.

Update: After Tweeting about this problem, I received a reply from Sony Electronics that the Sony Reader dictionary supports German, French and Spanish.  Fingers crossed.

Update #2: It works very well with German at least. It let me choose the dictionary when I first started. I chose a German to English dictionary. If you tap a word twice, it looks it up. Works with ePub and txt format, though not with pdfs. The note functions also work better than I though. Perfectly fine for underlining, though it’s hard for me at least to write legibly.