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Teaching Old Norse in LARA

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Proceedings (peer-reviewed)
Author BédiBranislav, BernharðssonHaraldur, ChuaCathy, RaynerManny,
Project A Crowdsourcing Platform for Spoken CALL Content
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Proceedings (peer-reviewed)

Title of proceedings Proceedings of EuroCALL 2020
Place Copenhagen, Denmark


Over the last twenty years, the web has become ever more important as a way to deliver apps that help learners acquire language skills, with platforms like Duolingo now claiming hundreds of millions of users. The focus has been overwhelmingly on improving pronunciation and ability to communicate in widely spoken languages like English, Spanish and Mandarin, with content produced on a “one size fits all” model by a centralised organisation. Recently, however, there has been increasing interest in crowdsourcing platforms which support construction, by teachers, of a wide variety of niche language learning content, each of which may only appeal to a relatively small demographic. Here, we will describe how we used the open source Language and Reading Assistant platform (LARA; to build an initial resource designed to support students of Old Norse, an archaic language that was spoken in Scandinavia and its settlements between the 8th and 14th centuries. Old Norse is mainly of interest to students of Medieval Studies and Norse Mythology, who learn it in order to be able to read classical texts, with particular emphasis on the rich poetic tradition. Students are thus only concerned with developing passive reading and listening skills. The resource is an interactive online version of Völuspá, one of the best-known poems from the Poetic Edda. The LARA version is a marked-up text where verses and individual words are linked to translations and recorded audio; when playing the audio for a verse, lines are highlighted as they come up. Clicking on any word brings up a page showing a concordance of occurrences of the given word in the text, possibly together with grammar information and explanatory notes on the referents of proper names (gods, toponyms etc). The concordance is cross-linked with alphabetical and frequency-ordered vocabulary lists. The resource exists in two variants, with Modern Icelandic and English translations respectively. For English, verse translations were taken from the 1936 translation by Bellows. Word translations were added manually through the LARA interface by a teacher of Icelandic, in the case of English using Bellows as a rough guide. Audio was recorded by an online tool integrated into the LARA platform. The English version, intended for a wider audience and freely available at, will be evaluated in two different contexts. The more formal evaluation, designed to compare progress in reading with understanding, will be between two groups of adult learners studying for a BA in Icelandic as Second Language; in parallel with this, we will also carry out a study with an informal reading group on the popular Goodreads reviewing platform. Both experiments will take place during the spring of 2020, and the results will be presented during the conference in August.