Accessible Language Resources Online

About Sarah Blake LaRose

Sarah Blake LaRose is a freelance writer and a professor of Biblical Hebrew at Anderson University School of Theology in Anderson, Indiana. She is one of three blind academic scholars who received the Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind in 2016 in recognition of innovative work in the field of access to biblical language texts and tools for people who are blind.

In light of the difficulty of accessing hardcopy texts and biblical language software, one very workable solution for accessing language materials is to find them online. The links here are to pages and sites that have been reviewed for usability. Some are very challenging to use, but with great patience they can be accessed. It is important to remember that “accessible” does not mean the page has the most friendly or intuitive layout.

Greek

Greek Audio Resources

Read and listen to the Greek NT
This site is an ingenious tool that allows you to select a passage from the SBL, Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, or Byzantine text of the New Testament and read and hear it read aloud. Each text is read with a different pronunciation.

There is a comprehensive review of audio recordings of the Greek New Testament published at Let’s Read Greek. The page includes reviews of recordings that are available for free download as well as for purchase. New submissions are welcome.

Reading and Other Online Resources

GreekBible.com has a searchable online Greek Bible with parsing. The Greek is Unicode and the parsing is accessible to screen readers. Each word is clickable, and pressing enter causes a new window to pop up with parsing information for the highlighted word.

Vocabulary cards from Metzger’s Lexical Aids are fully accessible with screen readers–the Greek is Unicode and the site is navigable.

Koine Greek Reader (Rod Decker’s page) is a supplement to Rod Decker’s published reader. The page includes the contents listing of the book, which identifies the readings provided in the published text. The supplementary material on the web site is in a Unicode characters and is accessible to screen readers.

Hebrew

Audio Resources

The Hebrew Bible in audio format is available from the Academy of Ancient Languages. These are excellent recordings made by a native Hebrew speaker.

A professional recording of the Hebrew Bible on four CDs is available from Hebrew for Christians. This recording was originally made for the Central Library for the Blind in Israel. The pacing is very good and comfortable for a person learning to follow text.

For building reading speed and fluency, I highly recommend the audio text map. This site allows users to select a specific verse to read, and the verse will play in the browser upon selection. The audio quality is not professional; but the site is moderately accessible. It may be difficult for some people who use older screen readers to select the verse desired if there is more than one verse on the same line; but the text is presented in Unicode, and this is a major point in the site’s favor. I would like to see accessibility further extended by having the language set to Hebrew so that screen readers will recognize it. Many sites do not taken the time or effort to use Unicode, and those that do are not setting the language to Hebrew. Since a screen reader can produce synthetically spoken Hebrew, a site like this could offer great advantages to scholars with visual impairments. It would not only be possible to build reading fluency in braille or print but also to listen to the audio speaker, and then read again via screen reader audio and train oneself to understand the differences between human and synthetic speech.

Ted Blakley has an audio chart of the verb paradigms on his Hebrew 2 hub–go to the “auditory” link to access this resource. If you are using a screen reader, it is vital to understand how to use table navigation in order to use this site effectively. It is well laid out; however, it uses table form and the files are presented according to their placement in the paradigm charts. This is an excellent resource if you need a paradigm review in audio format. Please be aware that files on other parts of this web site are in PDF format. See above for instructions for PDF and Hebrew access.

Other Audio Resources

Miles van Pelt’s lectures on Basics of Biblical Hebrew (available for purchase only)

Technical Issues

Hebrew Cantillation Marks and Their Encoding is an article that discusses technical issues in the representation of Hebrew cantillation marks in Unicode vs. the Michigan Claremont transliteration system.</p>

Reading Online

Several options exist for reading the Hebrew Bible online. If you want to configure it to your liking, I recommend using the electronic text of the Leningrad codex. The site is reasonably usable with a screen reader. In order to select a passage, either enter it in the edit field (e.g. Gen 5:1-20) or select it by activating the links for book, chapter, starting and ending verse (e.g. Genesis link, chapter 5 link, 1 link, and 20 link). To configure your preferred display, change the selections in the combo boxes after selecting your passage so that Hebrew accents and vowels are shown or off, font size is configured to your preference, and documentary hypothesis is on or off. This is a very nice site if you want this much detail and especially if you need a larger font.

If you want to simply find a book and chapter and read longer passages without worrying about configuration, then the Unicode Tanakh might be a better option. It is based on the Leningrad codex and also generates transliteration. For screen reader users, the transliteration "appears" separately rather than interrupting the Hebrew. This is different from the appearance for sighted users. I make note here because for people who are using braille displays it is a strong point in the site's favor. Interlinear texts are wonderful for sighted users, but they are not good resources for readers who are blind because the texts do not line up correctly.

Mechon Mamre has versions of the Hebrew Bible with vowels, with cantillation marks, without vowels, in Aramaic, etc, as well as the Mishneh, etc, available for viewing or for download as zip files. Very nicely done and accessible to screen readers.

Navigating the Bible is designed with Jewish readers in mind and uses transliteration. I include it here because at some point it is important to expose oneself to reading Hebrew that is transliterated. In fact, journals sometimes require use of transliteration in article submissions. For a person who does not have a functioning Hebrew screen reader, working with transliterated Hebrew may provide a viable solution for basic mastery of Hebrew vocabulary and concepts. Much will need to be relearned at a later time if the person wishes to have a proper understanding of spelling, morphology, etc. and gains access to appropriate resources..

A History of the Hebrew Language is a completely accessible ebook, available online in hypertext format as well as in PDF for downloading and printing.

Electronic Dictionaries. This is part 1 of a four-part series examining the usefulness of electronic dictionaries. The series is, by its nature, skewed to an examination of the manner in which sighted people use these tools and does not examine the potential use or accessibility of these tools for scholars who are blind. It does, however, demonstrate the breadth of resources available. The potential benefits to scholars who are blind if such resources were accessible is tremendous.

Two Letter Lookup allows you to type in the first two consonants of a word in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, etc. Possible matches appear in a frame on the page. The site is friendly for people using screen readers and is an excellent resources considering its limitations.

Other Resources

Theological German, French, Spanish, Etc.

Andy Rowell provides a number of links to audio resources for learning theological German on his web site. His most highly recommended resource is Rosetta Stone software, which uses audio and pictures to reinforce learning. Rosetta Stone is not accessible with screen readers. I wholeheartedly support the living language model for those with sight who can benefit from use of pictures. However, it does not allow for an inclusive learning environment.

Until an appropriate model is developed to be effective with language learners who are blind and who are learning outside an immersion environment, the best resources that I can recommend are Pimsleur and other audio resources designed for conversational study on the go. I must emphasize that these programs do not teach academic comprehension skills. Supplement your learning heavily. Seek out podcasts, digitized cassette courses in the target language, etc. For some cautions about the limitations of programs like Pimsleur, read "How to Learn Theological German."

For a bit of online practice, visit the theological French blog. It is not updated terribly frequently but is very usable and helpful. Similarly, there is also a theological German blog which includes passages for practice in some of the postings. A note to screen reader users: These two blogs do not use language tagging in the HTML markup. For best results, turn off your braille translator.

Some texts in RTF format are available from the European Evangelistic Society. There are PDF files as well.

It is possible to look up words in German dictionaries online with success. It requires some patience and perseverence if you are using a screen reader. At Beolingus
you can not only look up the meaning of a word but also hear the word spoken and see the verb conjugated. Search results are presented in a table. There are no headings at the tops of the columns to point the way to what you are seeing. One column shows the display of the English result, one column for the audio pronunciation of the English, one column to a verb paradigm (for verb results), one column for the German result, one for audio pronunciation of the German, etc. This site can be very useful. It can also be very overwhelming. The page can also be configured so that you can search for German/Spanish or German/Portugese vocabulary.

For something a bit easier, you can also use Collins Dictionary online. Not only is if accessible, but it also includes results for several languages. It is like putting several dictionaries right on your computer.

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