By Michael D. C. Drout, Bruce D. Gilchrist, Rachel Kapelle
Witan Publishing, 2012
Reviewed by Danièle Cybulskie – It may seem a little incredible that anyone would need a textbook to learn an older version of his or her mother tongue, but learning Old English (Anglo-Saxon) takes some time and effort – and a good textbook.
Enter Drout’s Quick and Easy Old English, a downloadable Kindle textbook written by Michael D.C. Drout, Bruce D. Gilchrist, and Rachel Kapelle for Witan Publishing. Drout’s is a short and friendly introduction to learning Old English for translation, and covers everything from grammar to basic vocabulary. Using excerpts from real Anglo-Saxon sources to help familiarize readers with the language, Drout’s has straightforward explanations of even the stickiest points of Old English, like agreement between parts of speech. The authors’ tone is friendly and brisk, peppered with the enthusiasm and old jokes (“Old English: there’s no future in it”) that all the best teachers employ to keep their students motivated.
Because it is a Kindle textbook (it does not exist in print in order to keep the price low), its charts and text are printable and it is infinitely portable and accessible, especially to those who are learning in an online environment, or studying via smartphone. It is also necessarily plain in its construction, which means it is best suited to those types of learners who can absorb information without extra visual cues, such as colour and graphics.
While the authors acknowledge that anything that purports to be “quick and easy” should be supplemented eventually in order to get the complete picture, this is a great introductory textbook with a number of key strengths, such as a chapter (19) on “Translation Tricks” for handy reference, a chapter (20) with recommended reading for translators of all abilities, and an in-depth appendix with information about “Sound Changes”, such as The Great Vowel Shift. Drout’s will be at its most effective as part of a classroom-taught (or blended) course, but it is also well-suited for learners in online courses, or independent readers. Given that it costs less than $4.00, it is a great textbook to get cash-strapped students on board with learning Old English, and also an affordable means for independent scholars to get started translating.
If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at Old English, or if you’re creating or improving an introductory course for your students, it is well worth it to check out Drout’s Quick and Easy Old English. For a handy supplement, or just to hear Old English spoken, you can also head to Michael D.C. Drout’s webpage Anglo Saxon Aloud.
You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist