I’ve got a secret for you intermediate Spanish learners.
When you’re intermediate, you ain’t that far from advancing to advanced.
It doesn’t matter how lofty your Spanish language goals may be.
All you need to advance is a wider breadth of knowledge.
Just reflect on what you know already: You’ve mastered the nuts and bolts of Spanish by this point.
Now, it’s time to step up your Spanish game and reach new heights.
Why Novels Are Critical for Intermediate Spanish Learners
It’s time to learn about culture
The Spanish speaking world is a huge, diverse place to explore. As a beginner, you were too focused on learning the difference between ser and estar. Now, you’ve totally got the comprehension skills to go beyond the basics. You can read challenging enough literature to get into interesting social and cultural topics. You can even appreciate the beauty and complexity of Spanish enough to see a new novel as an art form, rather than just another learning tool. Embrace that!
Lose yourself in the language
Whereas a beginner may need to carefully read a simple text line by line, an intermediate learner can loosen up enough to do some casual, relaxed reading. Don’t stress over all the little details and missed words as you go along. By virtue of seeing words and phrases cropping up repeatedly, your brain will put the pieces together and infer the meanings from context.
The key is simply having the right novel in your hands. If the difficulty level is too high, you’ll get frustrated. If the level’s too low, you may lose interest. Intermediate novels will allow you to relax, stay engaged and enjoy the act of reading for fun.
Ingrain previously learned language.
Even if the things you’ve learned are all a bit foggy in your mind, the right novels will help solidify them into real, usable knowledge. By seeing the grammar and vocabulary you’ve learned in action repeated over and over again in the printed pages of a book, your brain will be able to confirm the correct ways to use them—and reject the incorrect ways. Forming correct Spanish sentences will become second nature for your brain.
Reading helps every other language skill.
After you’ve spent enough time reading intermediate level Spanish novels (and beyond), it’ll be much easier for you to recall and use newly-acquired words, phrases and grammatical patterns in conversations and writing.
When you phrase something incorrectly, you’ll start to sense that something is wrong because you’re so subconsciously familiar with proper Spanish. That right there means your spoken Spanish and listening comprehension skills will grow. As for writing? You’ll be surprised how often you see literature-derived Spanish words flowing from your pen (or keyboard).
What Is an Intermediate Level Novel?
So, you may be wondering what exactly defines a novel as being intermediate. This is important for you to understand, so you can continue to choose the right novels for your language level.
- Written for young adults or adults: You’re no longer in children’s book territory! Novels that fall into intermediate range won’t contain loads of difficult language, but they’ll definitely be a step up from children’s books in terms of complexity. They’re written more to entertain and take the reader along for a narrated ride. You’ll find plenty of fun, popular modern literature that fits perfectly.
- Relatively modern language: The bulk of classic Spanish literature won’t be available to you in this range. You can still go ahead and venture on to more antiquated texts—you’re more than welcome. Just take a moment and think how challenging it was for you to read Mark Twain, Charles Dickens or Shakespeare for the first time in middle or high school.
- Degree of content complexity: Rather than reading about a superficial fictional romance, you may find yourself plunged into more complex social and cultural issues. The writing, overall, will touch on deeper ideas and emotions.
- Regional words and phrases: You’re no longer immune to slang. You’ll be breaking free from textbook Spanish and trying your hand at more obscure and region-specific language.
6 Intermediate Spanish Novels to Take Your Reading Skills to New Heights
Reading doesn’t gradually improve your Spanish.
It immediately improves your Spanish.
I double dog dare you to read two of the following novels this month. I want you to prove to yourself just how fun and helpful reading intermediate Spanish novels can be. The improvement in your overall Spanish level—not to mention, your brain’s ability to think in Spanish—will be significant and immediately noticeable.
Read in bed before sleeping every night, or kill a few spare moments with your chosen novels on the bus every time you commute. You’ll read faster, write faster, speak more easily and understand spoken Spanish better. All this is possible after reading just one novel.
How long it takes you to make that long-awaited transition to advanced Spanish is entirely up to you.
1. “El príncipe de la niebla” (“The Prince of Mist”) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This young adult novel centers around captivating mysteries and endearing new friendships. In 1943, Max’s family retreats to the countryside to escape their war-torn home city. He and his plucky little sister have to get used to life in a small village, but quickly find themselves dealing with far from usual circumstances. Plagued by recurring nightmares and a strange statue, the siblings start to realize that the village is hiding something. But what?
While written for a younger audience, and often aiming to demonstrate that children are indeed capable of discovering truths and getting the bottom of things, this novel has a downright magical ability to catch and hold anyone’s attention. Clearly, cleanly and entertainingly written, you’ll have no trouble quickly flipping through this page-turner.
2. “La sombra del viento” (“The Shadow of the Wind”) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Is it cheating to read two works by the same author? Then I don’t want to play fair. If you read both Zafón suggestions, then you’ll discover some unique positives and negatives. First, you’ll already have grown accustomed to the author’s language, tone and voice. That means you’ll have less of a learning curve to deal with when transitioning between novels.
For instance, you’ll be following another young Spanish boy, Daniel, who’s reeling from the consequences of war. The trauma of the Spanish Civil War colors every page of the text, though this time it’s in the recent past. Daniel discovers a book, “The Shadow of the Wind,” by a mysterious author whose books are being sought out and destroyed. Daniel reads the book and, with the aid of a friendly vagabond who was tortured during the war, he investigates the nonfiction elements of it. We end up falling into a story within a story within a story—it’s stories all the way down.
Who is the author? Why are his books being burned? Why do Daniel’s parents allow him to run around with a vagabond that probably has PTSD? This and many more fascinating questions will be answered to your satisfaction if you choose to read this novel.
A good mystery story with twists, turns and a satisfying conclusion—all things that our generation of disappointed LOST viewers can wholly appreciate.
3. “El chamán de la tribu” (“The Shaman of the Tribe”) by Ricardo Alcantara
This Argentinian novel is a personal favorite, a recommendation which I strongly endorse for all intermediate learners. The language employed by this outstanding narrative is all related to nature. The story itself is driven by natural phenomena as related to a native Amazonian tribe, living deep within the heart of the rainforest.
At times, it will leave you wondering which nature-oriented statements are simply straightforward descriptions of jungle happenings, and which are metaphorical portrayals of human events and emotions. Unless you decide to pick up another language, this novel is as close as you’ll ever get to hearing a story told in a native Amazonian language, like Ecuadorian Kichwa.
In many parts of the Spanish speaking world, Spanish is infused with elements of native tongues, such as various Kichwa dialects. If you’re traveling in an area where a person’s first language is typically an indigenous one, knowing how that first language works can be key to understanding what someone really means.
While I was living in the Ecuadorian Amazon, people often told stories ending with, “la boa se lo comió” (the boa ate him). I was wondering how many freaking boas were out there eating people, and how likely one was to get me too, until I was finally taught that this is simply a Kichwa expression used in general to connote death. Phew!
This is a nice example of the kind of symbolic imagery you can expect to encounter in this novel. Overall, the author keeps the story upbeat, engaging and clearly written, with young adult readers in mind.
4. “La casa de los espíritus” (“The House of the Spirits”) by Isabel Allende
Carry a candelabra through cloistered, haunted hacienda hallways and experience all the delicious drama the del Valle family has to offer. This novel packs a linguistic punch, filled with colorful, dramatic and descriptive writing. This language is certainly befitting the intense family drama that it weaves, rife with foreign counts, soldiers, foul play, prophecies, seances, love triangles and love children. You’re sure to pick up some interesting vocabulary.
While reading, keep track of all the characters with their names, histories, connections and unique traits—write the gory details down in a notebook or in the margins, if need be. This is the most challenging novel on the list, so you should pat yourself on the back once you make it through.
If you like this, try “El amor en los tiempos del cólera” (“Love in the Time of Cholera”) by Gabriel García Márquez. This is definitely a step up in terms of reading difficulty level, but after reading Allende’s classic you’ll have practiced more than enough to tackle it. It’s another literary favorite, so it’ll add to your cultural knowledge while you follow a hopeless romantic through his lifelong journey of love and loss.
5. “Como agua para chocolate” (“Like Water for Chocolate”) by Laura Esquivel
I loved this novel from the moment I glanced at the table of contents. Each chapter is titled for a month of the year and then kicks off with a new Mexican recipe. This should be a delightful feature for those of you learning Spanish through culinary immersion! I then became completely smitten with the idea of cooking becoming infused with a cook’s raw human emotion.
The story itself follows a young Mexican woman, Tita, through her coming of age and her constant struggle to earn her independence from her traditional family. Just like “The House of the Spirits,” you’ll find yourself once again dealing with haciendas, family drama and lingering ghosts. The most beautiful element of the tale is perhaps the way that Tita’s emotions imprint themselves on her food like a unique seasoning and, in turn, affect the people who consume them.
Read this novel if you’re looking for a story of love and self-discovery.
6. “El entenado” (“The Witness”) by Juan José Saer
Everyone loves a “New World” adventure story, right? “El entanado” is an Argentine novel which is extremely relevant to Spanish language learners who dream of traveling abroad or better understanding the concepts of foreignness, exoticism and the “us versus them” mentality.
Now, who’s the witness and what are they witnessing, exactly? A teenage cabin boy traveling with a Spanish exploration party is our man, and we follow him through his intense experiences crossing the ocean, journeying through a new continent and encountering the natives who occupy it. Well, encountering may be putting things lightly—his entire party is killed and he is abducted by the natives, with whom he then lives while witnessing their “savage” behaviors. Admittedly, they’re a pretty raucous band of natives whose pastimes include murdering, cannibalizing and holding wild orgies.
This novel does away with many formal storytelling elements, as well as any preconceived notions of good and bad, right and wrong. If you think you’d like a harrowing adventure story with a unique perspective, give this one a try.
And now, dear Spanish learners, it’s time to take on my reading challenge.
Start by getting your hands on one of these six books today, and see just how high you’ll soar!
Oh, One More Thing…
If you like learning Spanish like a boss, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks and turns them into Spanish learning experiences. Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos, covering topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly.
Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
As you can see, FluentU isn’t just for watching videos. It’s a unique language learning program designed to get you to total Spanish mastery, complete with active learning tools like vocabulary lists, multimedia flashcards and more.
Even the flashcards have something special to offer learners—they integrate video clips, imagery and audio to create rich, memorable learning experiences and help you retain Spanish vocabulary better than ever.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned.
Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
So, whenever you’re ready to press “fast forward” on your Spanish progress, click on over. Use the FluentU website on your computer or tablet, or, better yet, download the FluentU App for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.