Reading in Spanish: 15 Tips for Beginners Who Love to Read
When it comes to advancing your fluency, reading in Spanish is like entering a whole new relationship to the language.
Like contemporary psycholinguist Frank Smith says, “one language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.”
It’s time for you to open every door!
Reading in Spanish Opens Your World
In any language, reading is the path to developing your range of vocabulary. Reading in Spanish is the most powerful way to expand your exposure to new words that you may not have thought to study.
Through reading, you get to experience the “first taste” of Latin authors and poets, without the once-removed interpretation of translation.
While you read in Spanish, you encounter popular expressions you didn’t know before and benefit from repeated exposure to common phrases and sentence structures you may not have noticed or absorbed from explicit lessons.
Especially if you are a visual learner, seeing the words you already know and sentence structures you’ve studied will help you to internalize them and see them in action.
Two Questions To Consider
When you begin reading in Spanish, two questions come to mind:
- What do I want to read?
- How do I approach reading?
To assist you in answering these questions, I’ve rounded up 15 tips to support you as you explore reading in Spanish!
Reading in Spanish: What Do I Want To Read?
1. Read What You Love to Read
“Life is too short to read a bad book.” – James Joyce
As for your topics of interest, approach reading in Spanish as you would approach reading in your native language—choose reading material that you would enjoy!
If you have zero interest in Cosmopolitan magazine, you probably don’t want to pick it up in Spanish either. However, if entertainment is your thing, by all means, flip through the pages of People en Español!
Naturally, reading in Spanish is going to be more work than normal reading.
So when it comes to subject matter, make sure there’s a sweet reward for all the effort!
Begin by answering this question: What subject matter naturally magnetizes you, interests you, or excites you?
As a starter, consider these 20 Fascinating Spanish Books for Adult Beginners. Does anything on this list jump out as right for you?
2. Check out the News in Spanish
Let’s rephrase that. Check out the news that you would love to read, in Spanish—whether it’s sports, current events, entertainment, movie reviews, or business.
News sources tend to have straightforward language that we use in everyday life as opposed to literary or flowery language. This is especially useful for becoming more conversationally fluent.
News articles in Spanish are also compact, so you won’t bite off more than you can chew in one go!
One trick is to read a news story that you are already familiar with, so you have some insight on the main points of the coverage and you’re not bogged down by the big picture elements.
As you explore the news by reading in Spanish, you also expand the breadth of stories you are exposed to, which in turn makes you more globally minded.
Some great news sources for reading in Spanish include:
- El Pais – get up to speed on international politics
- BBC Mundo – access all-around global news coverage
- Marca – discover Spain’s go-to sports resource
- El Economista – get down to business
- El Mundo – dig deep into global issues
3. Rediscover Your Inner Child
Reading in Spanish is a great excuse to go back to some of the favorites of your childhood! After all, you get to be a beginner again.
The language of children’s stories is simpler and more approachable, not to mention that you will likely be familiar with the stories, which helps!
My personal favorite is Grimm’s Caperucita Roja (Little Red Riding Hood). Books with pictures also create visual associations with words to help them stick!
If you’re inspired to share the reading in Spanish learning experience with the children in your life, here are some sources to help you choose the right book for the right age—from toddler to adult:
If children’s stories are not quite your thing, then how about exploring short stories to practice reading in Spanish?
The beauty of a short story is that you go on a journey in far fewer pages, and often with plays and twists on traditional plot approaches.
5. Turn on Spanish Subtitles
Do you love an occasional binge on Netflix?
You can passively study Spanish at the same time! All you need to do when watching any movie or series is flip on the Spanish subtitles.
Subtitle translations often try to convey what is being expressed instead of directly translating the words and phrases the actors use. This gives you a fascinating glimpse into common Spanish expressions that are not direct translations from English, but say the same thing.
The best part of all is that you can slowly pick up common Spanish phrases while enjoying your entertainment fix.
Even if you pick up three new words from a film, that is progress!
6. Look Up the Lyrics
Quizas nobody loves their music more than native Spanish speakers.
Music and songs transport you into Latin culture and perception—with no shortage of love songs, especially.
Dive into some Spanish pop classics (like Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida”) and then practice reading in Spanish by looking up las letras (the lyrics).
That way not only do you listen to what you are reading, but also (if you’re like me) you discover a newfound appreciation for Latin music!
7. Get Poetic
The Spanish language seems inherently inclined towards poetry. What a sensory pleasure to read Spanish poems in their native tongue!
Any Chilean will testify that Pablo Neruda just isn’t the same in English. When it comes to poetic writing, something is always lost in translation.
For brief reading material in Spanish, poems are both minimal and profound, easy to find the translations for online, and full of atmosphere and beautiful expression.
So when reading in Spanish, why not go on the culture adventure of searching out the greats and savoring their work, piece by piece?
8. Choose Side-By-Side Translation Books
Half the battle is over if you don’t have to guess what you are reading.
Many books (and e-books) offer side-by-side translations so that you can read in Spanish on one page and English translation on the opposite page.
You will not have to put as much attention into understanding what is happening, but instead can attune more to the comparative translation.
If reading a Spanish book on your e-reader, you can also download a Spanish-English dictionary and make that your default dictionary.
That will allow you to instantly look up Spanish words when you get stuck, rather than flipping between materials.
At the most basic level, you can practice reading in Spanish with dual-language restaurant menus or public signs, wherever available!
9. Read Spanish When You’re Not Even Reading
If you change the language preference settings on your phone, computer, and internet browser to Spanish, then your daily practical interactions with technology will be happening as you learn!
You’re already familiar with the many instructions on these devices and use them habitually every day, so it can be a fun experiment to change these to Spanish and pick up some practical terms.
To make internet browsing a game of reading in Spanish, check out Google’s “Mind the Word” Chrome extension, which will translate random words into Spanish as you browse—and you can pick how much you want to be translated.
Reading in Spanish: How Do I Approach Reading?
10. Read (and Listen) Aloud
Practice reading aloud in Spanish, whether to yourself or children or a partner or a pet.
Ultimately, you want to become more comfortable speaking in Spanish and practicing reading aloud can help to iron out stumbles in pronunciation.
On the same note, if you listen to an audiobook—even if also following along with the transcript—then you can get a feel for how things are pronounced differently to how you might say them.
This way, you can break any bad habits early on!
Check out these resources for audio books in Spanish:
11. Develop the Habit of Reading in Spanish
Like any new practice, you will get more out of reading in Spanish if you make it a regular habit than if you do it sporadically.
So, treat reading in Spanish like any habit you want to stick to by making it manageable and appealing:
- Commit to try it for a specific time period (for example, 30 days)
- Commit to 10 minutes per day (commit small; go longer if you want)
- Put it on your to-do list (so you can tick it off!)
- Find a designated location (make it a sweet ritual)
Because reading in Spanish is going to stretch you more than leisure reading, you might not want to make it your bedtime wind-down. You might try a morning or lunchtime routine of reading in Spanish.
Or find a time that feels rewarding, like coffee and Spanish!
Consider when you slide into social media scrolling on a daily basis—what if you swap out 10 minutes of that time for reading in Spanish, instead?
12. Adjust your Expectations of “Reading”
Normally, reading is often a passive and leisurely experience.
You run your eyes over the words, your mind picks up the meaning, connects sentences to create comprehension, sweeps you up in the story, and often plays a movie of mental pictures in your mind.
Reading in Spanish will feel different. And that’s exactly how it should feel, because you are actively learning and improving your grasp on Spanish.
Expect to not understand every single word—you don’t have to right now! You are learning, poco a poco. Slow and steady truly wins this race.
Resist the urge to look up every single word in English. Instead allow the context to inform what the word might mean at first. This will allow you to stay inside the reading and the story.
To begin with, reading in Spanish is like learning to see with blurry vision, yet still taking steps forward.
13. Be An Active Student of Words
While reading in Spanish, underline words or phrases that you don’t understand, so you can take pauses to come back to them.
After a page or a paragraph, go back and look up where you got stuck. This way you’re not interrupting yourself at every sentence.
Ideally, you can make notes in the actual book or a side notebook. Then you can reread the page or paragraph once you know what the word actually means.
To further absorb new words, use it in several sentences.
Let’s say you read the sentence:
Mi hijo es perezoso. (My son is lazy).
Then, write into your notebook a list of variations on that sentence, such as:
El gato es perezoso.
The cat is lazy.
Mi hermana es perezosa.
My sister is lazy.
En los domingos me encanta estar perezoso.
I love being lazy on Sundays.
Creating your own sentences with new vocabulary will help to remember the words!
Pro Tip: if you look up a word and find you never even use the English translation of the word, don’t bother to learn it!
Focus your time and attention on the words and phrases that are commonly used and make you go “aha, so that’s how you say that!”
Later on down the road, you can collect those rarer gems like a true linguaphile.
14. Check For Comprehension
You might be tempted to just get through reading, but if you are not taking anything from what you are reading, then it’s kind of like running in water—you might be going through the motionsl, but are you really getting anywhere?
Instead, pause as you read a few passages to ask yourself the following questions:
- “Do I understand what I have read?”
- “What themes can I draw out?”
- “What has happened so far?”
Check out these two blog posts about reading comprehension and practice, for beginner levels A2 and A2:
15. Be a Grammar Geek
Beyond discovering new vocabulary words and deducing the meaning of what you are reading in Spanish, you will also begin to deepen your understanding of sentence structure.
Stop and pause with sentences to identify various elements like the subject, the verb, the tense, the adjectives, the direct and indirect objects, and conjunctions.
Soon you will see that you don’t order una más hamburguesa (incorrect) but una hamburguesa más.
Be over-the-top curious about sentences. Release your inner grammar geek when reading in Spanish.
Or perhaps your inner mechanic. Take sentences apart so you can put together a more thorough understanding of the language.
What Is Even Better Than Reading?
With these 15 tips, you are set up to enjoy reading in Spanish!
If you can develop the habit of reading in Spanish, then you will both deepen and broaden your knowledge of the language.
Of course, reading is not the only way to fluency, nor can it stand alone.
Learning Spanish with a native speaker will help you to weave this new knowledge into your active speech.
It’s one thing to know a rich bank of words. It’s quite another to be able to naturally use them in conversation. Want both? Sign up for a free class and converse with one of our friendly, experienced, and native-speaking teachers!
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