Maura, ¿de verdad tengo que leer para mejorar mi español? Yo no soy de leer. ¡Me aburro!(Maura, do I really have to read to improve my Spanish? I’m not one to read. I get bored!)
Primero, yo creo que sí. Deberías leer en español para mejorar tu español. Segundo, “yo no soy de leer” no significa nada. ¡Estás leyendo todo el tiempo! Casi todo lo que ves en el teléfono, la computadora, en la calle, lo estás leyendo.
(First, I think yes. You should read in Spanish to improve your Spanish. Second, “I’m not one to read” doesn’t mean anything. You are reading all the time! Almost everything you see on the phone, the computer, on the street, you are reading.)
So, if like Alex, you think you’re not a reading person or you don’t know how to use Spanish reading to improve your knowledge, this lesson is for you. I’ll prove to you that reading can be easy and crazy effective. Let’s go through four big tips, filled with tons of micro tips to learn Spanish while reading.
1. Spanish reading at your own level: from beginner to intermediate
Esto no es lo que deberías estar intentado leer. Al menos no por ahora.
(This is not what you should be trying to read. At least not for now.)
¿Entonces qué leo?
(Then what do I read?)
Prueba con libros infantiles o con artículos simples de revistas.
(Try children’s books or simple magazine articles.)
¿Sirve un post de instagram?
(Does an instagram post work?)
What do you think? Is a social media post good reading practice?
For these purposes, definitely yes! If you’re a social media type of person, please go for it. TikTok seems to have subtitles, or text all over every single video.
If you start following Spanish speaking content, you’ll do a bunch of reading without realizing. And if using TikTok sounds like you’ll just be watching teenagers dance, I promise it’s not once you train your algorithm.
Do know what else you could read? Our free essential Spanish Chunking kit, which you can access through that link in the description. You’ll get your reading done for the day, plus the most basic, necessary chunks covered.
✔️ Cheat Sheet with 54 essential Spanish Chunks you’ll hear and use yourself in ANY Spanish conversation (and example sentences). Taken from our YouTube Teacher’s most popular videos!
✔️ 2 Bonus Cheat Sheets with Travel Chunks and Dating/Relationship Chunks
✔️ A Spanish Chunking Tutorial showing you the 1 technique that’ll help you make 100% of the Spanish from our videos roll off the tongue in just 5 minutes a day (you’re probably only using 50% of our lessons’ potential right now…)
The idea here is that you find stuff to read that match your level. Be as creative as you want.
Options for all levels:
- Libros infantiles (Children’s books): Like I said before, this is a great option. Especially if you are into reading books. Or, if you have a favorite book from your childhood that you know well, find it in Spanish. I did this with El Principito (The Little Prince) and read it in French.
- Recetas (Recipes): if you’re into cooking, find the recipes in Spanish. El vocabulario es repetitivo y conciso. (The vocabulary is repetitive and concise.) So, though it might be confusing at first, it’s an easy way to learn new vocabulary, what it means in the practice plus how to use the imperative mood in Spanish. Since this is the mood recipes use the most.
- Noticias (News): the news tend to use clear, more precise vocabulary than a García Marquez novel would, for example. Though it might require certain skills, the structures are more direct and organized.
If you know a lot and want to challenge yourself:
- Poesía (Poetry): depending on the author this can get complex even for natives. But if you’re a poetry kind of person in your native language, this could be a good option for you. It’ll open up entire new worlds of complexity and possibilities within your Spanish. When I managed to read Shakespeare in English I knew I was reaching new levels.
- Novelas (Novels): if you do enjoy reading fiction, learning Spanish is a door to heaven. Spanish being this big, we have such a rich and wild literary universe. So, if you can handle it, try some García Marquez, some Julio Cortazar, or some Isabel Allende. They’ll be challenging but they’ll blow your mind.
2. Don’t look up every word in the dictionary
I’ll share my easiest, simplest, oldest tip when it comes to reading at the end of the lesson. Make sure to stick around for it.
Pero qué flojera buscar en el diccionario todo lo que no entiendo.
(But what a laziness to look up in the dictionary everything I don’t understand.)
Yo creo que no deberías hacer eso.
(I don’t think you should do that.)
¿Y qué hago cuando no conozco una palabra entonces?
(And what do I do when I don’t know a word then?)
La resuelves por el contexto.
(You solve it by context.)
I’m sure you’ve heard that before. This advice was even given to me when I was learning how to read. The important thing is that you make reading a pleasurable experience. Not an exhausting hunt for definitions. Here’s why reading at your level is key. If you don’t understand any word, clearly you’ll have no context to help you out.
So, when finding unknown words, here’s my advice:
- Don’t look for definitions, translate the word to your language. I am 100% against the idea that you should learn any language separated from other languages you speak. Do you know why learning new languages gets easier the more languages you speak? Among other things, because there are more codes to associate the new code with. There’s more to compare to, more to mirror what you’re learning. So, translate the word and all the baggage that comes with that word in your known languages, will stick to the new word in Spanish.
- Only translate those words which appear very frequently. Or words that are so central to the information you cannot do without.
- Write down the word and check later. If you can continue reading without that word, keep going. Only once you’re done reading, engage in the translating or definition looking. That way you still protect the experience of reading from being constantly interrupted.
Don’t overuse this one, but do use “¡qué flojera!” (Lit: what a laziness!) for things you find annoying and/or boring. Some Spanish speakers, people from Spain, for example, would use the synonym “¡qué pereza!”. “Flojera” (laziness) comes from “flojo” which means “lazy”. So you can also say that someone who feels “flojera” (laziness) all the time is “flojo” o “floja”(lazy).
Know that this is a complain, so be mindful of how you use it and how frequently.
3. Vocabulary and comprehension at the same time: listen and read
Ven, vamos a poner una peli en español con subtítulos en español.
(Come, let’s “put” a movie in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.)
Me voy a perder la mitad.
(I’m going to miss half of it.)
Que no, ponemos algo que ya hayas visto.
(No, we’ll put something you’ve already seen.)
Vale, pero entonces mejor una serie.
(Okay, but then better a series.)
I’m sure I’ve talked about this in another lesson. But this is so real, no wonder it comes so often. A big part of why I could also write in English even if I never practiced that, was because I watched everything in English with English subtitles. Also because I’m a pretty good writer in Spanish, if I could say so myself. I did this even if I didn’t need them.
Alex’s idea of watching a re-run of a known TV show is great. Here are a few more ideas:
- You don’t have to watch the whole thing. Whether you use a movie or a series that you already know or not, keep in mind that you don’t have to watch the whole thing like this. Especially if you’re doing it as a learning technique. Find 15 minutes of anything and watch that in Spanish while following along with the subtitles. That’s it. Simple enough, right?
- Put Spanish subtitles on English audio Or audio in languages you fully speak. It’s always better to listen to Spanish, of course. But this is a nice adaptation to try. You’ll still be reading in Spanish if you do it consciously. And, because you understand the audio, that’ll help fill in the gaps while still creating associations between words, sentence structure and grammar.
- Read out loud. This could work as another variation. Instead of listening to an audio, listen to yourself. In other words, read out loud like you did when you were learning to read your native language. This is such good practice, it’ll even improve your pronunciation.
4. Find a native Spanish speaking buddy to exercise
When all else fails or if you have the privilege of having native Spanish speakers around, use them!
Buy them a beer or a cup of coffee, take them to the park.
And ask for 15 or 20 minutes of their time. You can read out loud to them and have them make your life so much easier by using all the tips we’ve discussed. So, you could:
- Ask them about words you don’t understand. So much nicer and complete than looking it up yourself.
- Ask them to correct you while you read out loud: kind of like when you read out loud in school or to your tutors.
- Ask them for help with more complex grammatical structures: not to explain the grammar to you, just to help you with what it means. Again, this will be an entirely different experience than researching it yourself.
- Ask them to read out loud themselves while you follow along with them by reading.
5. Change the language of your devices
And here it is, as simple as it sounds, my oldest reading tip.
The easiest way to start would be with your phone. You know your phone and what you do with it. So, go to “settings” or “configuración” and change the language to Spanish right now. The initial confusion will last very little if this is a phone you know by now. And the rewards can’t compare.
You can, of course, try it with any other devices you really have a handle on, like:
- Una tele (A TV)
- Una computadora o tablet (A computer or tablet)
- Un kindle (A kindle)
- Una cámara (A camera)
Any device you already know you can navigate in your native language but that you read of off all the time.
And don’t forget that you could ask Chat GPT -or any of its alternatives- to help with almost all of this. Like a AI buddy that won’t be able to correct your pronunciation but that can supply texts to read at the level you indicate. It can also give you the translation or definition for that text and even provide more ideas to practice reading in Spanish.
For more tips on how to use Chat GPT click here.
For the beginning of the year I made a video that compiled all my best tips for learning Spanish.