Alternate Path to Learning a Foreign Language

I had a crazy idea for learning a new foreign language.

Why not use a comic strip? I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who learned English by reading comic books, so why can’t I learn, say, French by reading familiar American comic strips in French?

The daily comic strips are all online in America in English. Surely, there is another country that also puts up the color strips translated into their language. And they’ll be showing the same strip on the same day, too, right?

So you could read the English comic strip in one browser window and then the French comic strip in another, side by side. The language used in comic strips is very conversational, usually. So that would help you to learn some basic vocab easily, I would have to think. At the very least, it would help re-enforce lessons learned in a more structured language course. Or it could just be good practice and exercise.

I think I will work on this for a future Pipeline column, but maybe there’s an obvious answer. Maybe one of the main comic strip websites in America has a direct link to a French translation or Spanish translation on their own website. I don’t know, I haven’t researched it yet

But, please, if there’s an easy and obvious solution to this issue, let me know. Leave me a comment or send me a tweet or something. Thanks.

In a perfect world, this could be automated with a third party website that would grab the strips off both pages and show them together on one page for you, perhaps with a Google Translate plug-in in the middle. Even better, imagine if the strips could be OCRed and auto-translated for you.

  • Problem #1: OCRing all-caps lettering made to look like it was done by hand might not work.
  • Problem #2: The syndicates likely would not let you grab their comic strips to add to a third party page. If they did, it would come with a reprint fee that would make it impractical in volume.

Done as a standalone tool for personal benefit with proper screen-scraping, though, it might go unnoticed. Just don’t open-source your scripts and let them get popular.

I will let you know what I find in a future addition of Pipeline at CBR.

Addendum 1: As it turns out, offers a Spanish translation of their strips each day. I just tested it with Garfield. If only they offered a French translation, too… That’s what I really want to learn.

Addendum 2: This blog post started out dictated into my iPhone in the Drafts app, which I highly recommend. The voice-to-text translator, though, does not like “comic strip” very much, translating it differently each time. My favorite was “coming train.” As the old saying goes, “The light at the end of the tunnel is often the lights of the on-comic strip.”