Teach Yourself to Read
Chaucer's Middle English

(To go directly to Index of Lessons click here).




The best way to learn to read Chaucer's Middle English is to enroll in a course with a good and enthusiastic teacher (as most teachers of Chaucer are). Though students enrolled in Chaucer courses may find some parts of this page useful, it is intended primarily for those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot take such a course but nevertheless want to increase their enjoyment of Chaucer's works.

The aim of this page is to provide the user with the means to learn to pronounce Chaucer's English and to acquire an elementary knowledge of Chaucer's grammar and vocabulary. It does not offer much on matters of style and versification and has almost nothing on the literary qualities of Chaucer's work. The users who work conscientiously through these materials should be ready to study such matters on their own (beginning with the materials on the Geoffrey Chaucer Website, and exploring other sources both on and off the Web).

It is assumed that the user of the page has a printed text of The Canterbury Tales. There are texts on line, but none with the quality one finds in print (a printed edition, with a good glossary and notes, remains the most effective form of hypertext). The exercises on this page assume that the user has a copy of either the Riverside Chaucer or The Canterbury Tales Complete, based on the Riverside. Other well glossed editions may be used, though problems will arise in the self-tests provided, since they are co-ordinated with the glosses and Explanatory Notes in the recommended texts.

The lessons begin with Chaucer's pronunciation, often illustrated with sound (therefore you must have a computer with sound capabilities in order to get the full benefit of this page). Most of the sound clips are small and should offer no problems in loading; a couple of them are relatively long and will load slowly on a telephone modem. These are labelled with warnings and alternate sound clips are suggested. (Note too that on some browsers a new window will be opened for each sound clip; take care to close the window after you are finished with the sound clip, to prevent opening too many windows.)

In the early sections on Chaucer's language links are frequently provided to more detailed discussions of particular matters; it is not necessary to follow up every link. The user should be guided by his or her own interests.

Beginning with The Shipman's Tale, the texts used are interlinear translations, provided with quizzes -- self-tests for the users to check on their progress in learning Chaucer's language. The assumption is that the quizzes will encourage very close attention to the language; the goal is not to encourage the users to translate literally but rather to enable them to make Chaucer's language part of their own. For example, the word "hende," used so frequently in The Miller's Tale, has a great variety of meanings -- clever, tricky, courteous, handy -- all of which are implied in any single usage, lending these usages a richness in reference that is lost in any translation. The reader who has carefully considered the word in its various contexts can enjoy some of that richness.

The lessons take up the tales in this order: The Shipman's Tale, The General Prologue, The Knight's Tale, The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale, and The Cook's Tale. This is the recommended order, but users are of course free to study the tales in whatever order they wish. Other tales are provided with interlinear translations and quizzes on their vocabularies, and users may, if they wish, construct their own course of instruction -- though they are strongly urged to follow the course as it is set out on these pages.

This page will frequently make use of the other materials on the Geoffrey Chaucer Website. If you have not already done so, take time to browse through that Website and get an idea of what sorts of materials it contains.

Links for navigation within these lessons are provided at the end of each page; to move from any one of the pages back to the Home page of the Geoffrey Chaucer Website, click on the large illuminated C at the top of the page, or the small one at the bottom of the page.

To begin, go to the Index and select Lesson 1 (on lines 1-18 of the General Prologue).

The Middle English texts of Chaucer on this page are from Larry D. Benson, gen.ed. The Riverside Chaucer, 3ed, displayed with special permission of the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Last modified: Oct 2, 2001
The modern translations of these texts are copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (



Index of Lessons


Lesson 1, The General Prologue, 1-18

Lesson 2, Pronouncing Chaucer's Middle English

Lesson 3, Chaucer's Final -e

Lesson 4, Chaucer's Vocabulary

Lesson 5, Chaucer's Grammar

Lesson 6, The Shipman's Tale

Lesson 7, The General Prologue

Lesson 8, The Knight's Tale

Lesson 9, The Miller's, Reeve's, and Cook's Tales

Lesson 10, Reading More Tales


Return to the Geoffrey Chaucer Website Home Page.