For newcomers to Spanish, or those who don’t feel confident in their skills, reading can be feel like an insurmountable obstacle to becoming fluent in Spanish. Part of what can make it feel like such a burdensome task is the feelings of the reader themselves. It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t understand something, and it’s easy to become daunted by books you’re interested in that you feel are out of your league.
Here are seven simple tips to help you read más y mejor!
1. Find your comfort zone
Your comfort zone in reading largely depends on your skill level and what you feel comfortable doing or reading. A beginner’s comfort zone is different from someone whose level is more advanced. It also depends on how complicated the book or subject matter is, and your own energy levels. Some people can read one hundred pages in one sitting, some people struggle to get through a paragraph. There’s no shame in stopping and taking a break even if you don’t make it very far.
The most important thing is that you keep it fun and you start off doing something you think is feasible. The more you think of it as a chore or a duty, the less fun it is to you. The drive to succeed is largely dependent upon how much fun you’re having and if you think it’s worth it. So start where you feel comfortable and work up from that.
2. Find the right reading material
This goes partly with the first suggestion. The right reading material is essential. It’s so essential that people don’t often think of it. Too many times people are forced to take literature classes on masterworks in Spanish but don’t enjoy them for one reason or another. It’s important to note that not every work is a great opus. You can read whatever you want.
If you like comics, read some comic strips in Spanish. If you want to read the news, there are plenty of newspapers you can read from around the world in any language you desire. Read trashy romance novels. Read speculative fiction. Read a crime novel. Read fanfiction. Read poetry. Read what you enjoy reading. And try to find something that goes with your level. If that means reading Harry Potter in Spanish, then get reading. If you have to start at children’s books, there is no shame in that. Novels, short stories, news articles, poems, and a myriad of reading material is at your fingertips.
3. Take your time
The worst thing you could do is to rush through reading. This doesn’t mean don’t read fast if you’re a fast reader. This means if you’re starting to view the reading as a chore, it’s probably time to examine if you really want to be reading what you’re reading. It’s okay to stop halfway and find something else you like. It’s okay to not like things. As long as it’s not a class, you should feel free to decide that a book isn’t your cup of tea.
More on what to do when you’re actually reading, read at your own pace. It’s not a race. There’s no need to marathon a book if you’re not up to it. I suggest for beginners to read one paragraph at a time, maybe even a few sentences at a time if it’s a complicated story. For more intermediate readers, a page at a time or a couple of pages is fine. And for the more advanced readers, if you’re comfortable, read the entire chapter at a time. Don’t forget to take breaks and reflect on what you think you understood. Don’t be afraid to reread something. And don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t understand what this is saying.”
4. Make notes
This note piggybacks on #3, but the easiest way to get something out of reading is to take notes on it. You don’t have to write in the book itself, but when I was learning Spanish I found it very helpful to have a notebook or a pad of paper by my side so I could do notes. I would make notes on words or verbs I didn’t understand, and when I had reached a stopping point I would look up the things I didn’t know.
Unless you’re a beginner, I don’t advise looking things up as you read. Beginners don’t have very much in terms of a vocabulary base so it’s totally fine to look things up as much as you need. For more intermediate and advanced readers, stopping whatever you’re doing might mess up your flow and you may lose momentum. It’s easiest then to just wait until the end of the sentence, paragraph, page (etc.) and then look it up.
Take notes on vocabulary. Take notes on verb forms you don’t know or ones that you’re learning but don’t totally understand. Take some notes on idiomatic expressions, maybe make some guesses as to what’s going to happen or what you think someone is feeling. These are the same reader response types of questions that show up in textbooks and they’re there to help your comprehension. The more you start to think and take notes and then outline your feelings, the better you get at active reading.
5. Ask for help
There are things that you won’t know. There are things that I don’t know. There are things that confuse native speakers. Never be afraid to ask for help or search out the answer. Maybe it’s a word you don’t know and the dictionary is helpful, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s a long phrase you don’t know. Type it up, see if someone has an answer for you. If you know native speakers, ask them about it.
Ask your teachers or tutors what they think something means. It could be a regional word or expression, or it could be a grammatical point of interest that you don’t know yet. But the important thing is to identify what you don’t know so that you can learn it.
(Side Note: When asking help, always provide context. Because the context can definitely impact what something means.)
Since you’re basically making notes on your reading, you should try to remember them. If you’re reading something about farming and names of crops keep showing up, it helps to remember what something is so that when it’s said again you can remember it. Make flashcards or quizzes for yourself. For some things you can actually draw and that helps greatly for recognition as well. Knowing how to learn greatly helps the learning process.
There are times when you don’t understand exactly what’s going on but you can understand it through context. To me, that’s more important than knowing the actual words since it’s learning by context clues, and that helps your active learning. Learning intuitively is the goal. You don’t have to make a note for every single thing, but it’s important you keep it in mind and hopefully remember it later on.
7. Curb the ego
The hardest thing for anyone to do is to not be discouraged. There are times when you feel like your skills are insufficient or that you’re just not doing enough.
You can learn at your own pace. I say that because there are times when you feel like you’re not good enough or you’re not there yet. Your progress is not determined by how close you are to mastering something. Everyone goes through periods of learning things, and no one’s a master just starting out. You can do things at your own pace, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to magically become better than you are. Learning a language is hard enough without the idea that you’ve got to do something perfectly for it to count.
Just be yourself. You’ll be fine.
If you find yourself struggling with the Spanish language, grammar, vocabulary, or you want to learn to read in Spanish better you should really consider looking into finding a teacher or tutor. By working with another person you can easily set goals for yourself and someone who’s knowledgeable will definitely be able to help you if you feel stuck.
Give it a shot: you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!