I love electronic resources for bible study, like Logos and Olive Tree. In fact, I have been using Logos since before it was Libronix for a few years, back when the program came with a ridiculous number of 3.5" disks to install all the resources. Long before smartphones were invented, I used Olive Tree on my Treo Handspring during seminary, joking that it was my 'poor man's laptop.' For detailed study utilizing a dizzying number of resources and lightning fast search abilities, electronic libraries have no equal. In this sense, today we are incredibly spoiled like no generation before us in the history of mankind.
But when it comes to learning languages more and more deeply by reading regularly and widely in them, nothing beats the printed page. In fact, for my daily language reading, I only make use of printed resources...for a number of reasons.
Printed resources force me to think and allow me to truly learn. When I'm reading through a text in Logos or Olive Tree and get stumped over a definition or how a word is parsed, it is incredibly convenient to click the word and have all the needed information instantly displayed. This ability is an amazing time saver in the short-term but a curse in the long-term. It short circuits my learning because I don't have to stop and wrestle with what the word is, what it means, or what is going on with its inflection. The next time I see it, I'll likely have to click on it again because I didn't really ever learn it. Stopping to wrestle with the word--taking the time to look it up in a lexicon or figure out what's going on with the morphology--invariably burns it into my brain. This is how learning takes place. To use another example, how often have you searched for something online, only to have to search for the same piece of information later because you never retained or truly learned it? It happens to me a lot. But things I have to spend time with, struggling at first to learn/understand them, are much more likely to stick in my brain and be ready to use next time without delay. For deep learning of languages, nothing beats the printed page.
Printed resources work better for my recall. My brain tends to store and recall information with some sort of strange spatial relationship built in. In school, I may not have remembered the fact I was searching for, but I'd remember that the information was on the left page about three-fourths of the way down the page. I still do that. When looking up a bible passage, for instance, if I've been regularly using the same bible, I'll remember not only the words I'm looking for but where they are on the page. Admittedly, it's a kind of goofy way to recall things, but it's also pretty common. That link is powerful but it's also entirely lost with electronic resources.
Printed resources are better for taking notes. I love Evernote. I've been using it for over a decade and have more than 20,000 notes in my account. I also love my Kindle and have regularly used one since the 2nd generation devices came out. But taking notes on a Kindle is an awful experience. Taking notes in Evernote, Logos, or Olive Tree is crippling because those notes are, of necessity, isolated from the book I am taking notes in. Even if my notes can be instantly viewed in a popup window, they are still hidden most of the time, and there's no way to see all the things I've written in their context at once. In a printed book, I can instantly see all my marginalia, notes between lines, highlights, symbols, arrows, underlines, etc. all at once. While it can make the page crowded and busy if you don't have decent handwriting, taking the time to write them well makes notes on a page incredibly useful.
Printed resources are forever. Thankfully, in the twenty years I've been using Logos and Olive Tree, I've never lost resources (because both companies are thankfully still going strong), there are no guarantees that I'll always have access to the resources in those libraries. No company is forever, and I accept that risk when I purchase new items for those libraries. Honestly, though, many of the things I've written electronically through the years are gone for good, having fallen victim to formats that are no longer used, media that are no longer readable (Iomega Zip disks, anyone?), or files that have simply become corrupted. Sure, things I'm writing today are much more likely to stand the test of time than twenty-five years ago, thanks to cloud backups, etc., I realize that my great grandchildren will probably not be working in my Logos or Olive Tree libraries. The same is not true of printed books. I still regularly use books that are a hundred years old. I can pass them along to my children and their children without worrying about account permissions, file formats, operating system incompatibilities, etc. To this day, hardly any media ages better and more reliably than paper.
As I said, I love my electronic libraries. I'm not giving them up anytime in the foreseeable future. But for reading and learning--especially in the languages--nothing holds a candle to paper. Just don't hold that candle too close!
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash