Parallel text style learning, like Assimil courses, can be a great way to improve your fluency.

DIY Assimil : Parallel Text Learning with ChatGPT

Assimil language learning books are hugely popular in our polyglot community. And for good reason – many of us learn really effectively with its parallel text method.

They’re especially userful when the base language is another of our stronger languages, adding an element of triangulation. I learned a heap of Greek vocabulary from the French edition Le Grec sans Peine, at the same time as strengthening my (ever slightly wobbly) French.

Now, Assimil is already available in a great range of language pairs. But it’s not always a perfect fit. For example, some editions are more up-to-date than others. More off-the-beaten-track languages still aren’t available. And at times, you can’t find the right base language – no use learning Breton through French, if you don’t have any French.

Enter ChatGPT (or your alternative LLM of choiceBing also does a great job of these!).

DIY Assimil Prompting

Copy and paste this into your AI chat, changing the language (top), translation language (middle) and topic (bottom) to suit.

You are an expert creator of language learning resources. I want to create some text-based learning units for beginner Malay learners (level A0/A1 on the CEFR scale). The units follow the parallel text approach of the well-known Assimil language learning books.

Each unit has a text in the target language (about 250 words) on a specific vocabulary topic. It should be narrative, talking about how the topic relates to an everyday person. It should be divided into logical paragraphs. After each paragraph, there is an English translation of that paragraph in italics.

The text should be written in very clear, simple language. The language must read like a native speaker wrote it, and be error-free and natural-sounding. Source the info for the text from target language resources online, making it as up-to-date and authentic as possible. It should be completely original and not copied or lifted from any other source directly.

After the text, there is a glossary list of the key topic words from the text, sorted alphabetically and grouped by parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc.).

Are you ready to create some content? The first topic is: Mobile Technology

This prompt creates a prose-based parallel text unit. However, if you prefer dialogue-style texts, simply change the second paragraph of the prompt:

Each unit has a humorous dialogue in the target language (about 20 lines) on a specific vocabulary topic. The dialogue should relate the topic to everyday speakers through colloquial, idiomatic language.

The prompt works a treat in both ChatGPT Plus (paid) and Microsoft Bing (free). I also got very useable results in the free version of ChatGPT and Claude 2. It works so well as the focus is purely on what LLMs do best: spooling off creative text.

How Do I Use Them?

So, with your shiny, new Assimil-style units spooled off, what do you do with them?

Personally, I like to copy and paste the output into the notes app on my phone. That way, they make nice potted units to browse through when I have some spare moments on the bus or train. They’re equally handy copy-pasted into PDF documents that you can annotate on your phone or tablet.

Parallel text for Malay language learning created by AI

Parallel text in Malay and English created by AI

In terms of real-world use, the self-contained, chatty texts typically created make perfect material for the islands approach to improving spoken fluency. Create some units in topics that are likely to come up in conversation. Then, spend some time memorising the phrases by heart. You’ll be able to draw on them whenever you need in real-life conversation.

Enjoy prompts like these? Check out my book AI for Language Learners, which lists even more fun ways to get results without paying hefty course book price tags!

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