learn-spanish-bible

How to Learn Spanish with the Bible: Study Techniques, Translations to Choose and More

On the first day…

You said: “I’ll get to my Spanish studies tomorrow.”

Oh the second day…

You said: “Yeah, tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow.”

It’s time to begin your own little Spanish fluency creation story. If you’re interested in reading la palabra de Dios (the word of God), you can combine theological studies and language studies with the Bible in Spanish.

While Spanish-speaking countries are home to a variety of religious practices, Christianity was and is a key player. Mexico’s population is about 95 percent Christian, for example, while Spain’s Christians account for about 79 percent of the population.

More to the point, Christianity is culturally ubiquitous for Spanish speakers, which is observable in the language through common expressions like Vaya con Dios (Go with God) as well as in traditions such as Las Posadas (“the inns,” a commemoration of Mary and Joseph’s Christmas pilgrimage).

The study of religion is a great access point for any culture you care to learn about, and reading the Bible in Spanish is no exception. It’s an enriching and direct method of discovering how millions of Spanish speakers worship while improving your language skills by reading a book you may already know.

We’ll give you everything you need to start learning Spanish with the Bible and get you on the path to fluency.

Just don’t expect it to only take seven days.
 


 

Palabra de Dios: How the Bible Can Help You Learn Spanish

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Best Spanish Study Methods Using the Bible

You can certainly pick up a Spanish copy of the Bible and read it from end to end, but there are easier ways to do it without burning yourself out, especially if your goal is language learning. Here are a few language study techniques you can try with your Spanish Bible:

  • Do you have a favorite verse or prayer you can say from memory? Have you ever wondered how it might sound in Spanish? Memorizing verses you already know lets you pick your material, and can be more interesting than memorizing yet another vocabulary list.
  • If you want to try something a little longer, look up a familiar passage—maybe a story from Sunday School or a reading that holds some personal significance for you. Picking a story you know well will come in handy as you encounter unfamiliar words, since you’ll have some familiarity and context.
  • If reading the Bible in English is already part of your routine, you can add a little Spanish to that by reading the same passage once in English and again in Spanish, or vice versa. Or, you can start in one language and finish in the other.
  • Want to take it a step further? Try comparing English and Spanish translations. Consider how different or similar the translations are and ask yourself why a passage might’ve been translated differently.

Reading Suggestions to Get You Started

Whether you’re planning to read whole chapters and books in Spanish or just look up a couple of verses, choosing the right book of the Bible is an important part of the process. Some that are helpful for language learners include:

  • Genesis: Yes, we established reading the Bible from start-to-finish isn’t the best idea, but sometimes the beginning really can be a very good place to start. The Book of Genesis is essentially a short story collection that changes its cast as it moves through the generations from Adam to Israel, and it has some pretty memorable offerings (and not just the offering of Isaac as a human sacrifice).

These kinds of short stories make for great reading practice—they’re a manageable challenge that’ll hold your attention.

  • Proverbs: With a poetic style and insightful verses made for memorizing, the Book of Proverbs is a great way to pick up some wisdom with your Spanish practice.

And if you need additional wisdom, of course, there’s always the Book of Wisdom.

  • The Gospel According to Mark: It’s no exaggeration to say that the saga of Jesus’ ministry on Earth is the best-known tale in the Bible. It was such a good story, in fact, that they told it four times.

If you’re stuck deciding which Gospel you want to try reading in Spanish, the Gospel of Mark—the shortest of the four—is a safe place to start.

Spanish Bible Translations to Choose From

As surely as English speakers have the “King James Version,” the “New Revised Standard Version” and the “New American Bible,” the Bible has been translated into Spanish many times with different intentions and results.

Which translation you choose is largely a matter of taste, but as a language learner, you’ll also have to take into account whether the language is too simple or too complex for your skill level. You may want to try out a few different versions so you can get a feel for them and determine which one is best for you. As always, the best Bible is the one you actually read.

Below, we’ll cover three principle Spanish translations you might use for your studies. To give you a sense of their distinct tones and styles, we’ll also provide each version’s translation of the following passage:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

“La Biblia Reina-Valera” (“The Reina-Valera Bible”)

With popularity and a pedigree that’s comparable to the “King James Version” in English, “La Biblia Reina-Valera” takes its name from the theologian who translated it in 1569 and the guy who revised it in 1602.

The text has been re-edited throughout the years for language updates and the like, but it remains a trusted and authoritative version.

“Jehova es mi pastor; nada me faltará. En lugares de delicados pastos me hará yacer: Junto á aguas de reposo me pastoreará.”

“La Biblia de las Américas” (“The Bible of the Americas”)

As with any couple-thousand-year-old religious text and its accompanying few-hundred-year-old translation into a given language, one has to ask whether it might be possible to come up with a translation that feels more modern while maintaining as much or more faithfulness to the original texts.

Thus we have “La Biblia de las Americas,” which was completed in 1986 and is also widely recognized.

El Señor es mi pastor; nada me faltará. En lugares de verdes pastos me hace descansar; junto a aguas de reposo me conduce.

“Dios Habla Hoy” (“God Speaks Today”)

Similar to the “Good News Translation” and “The Living Bible” in English, “Dios Habla Hoy” is considered a paraphrased rather than literal translation of the Bible.

While derived from the same ancient texts as the literal versions, “Dios Habla Hoy” focuses not on precise meanings but on clarity of message for its readers.

El Señor es mi pastor; nada me falta. En verdes praderas me hace descansar, a las aguas tranquilas me conduce.

What Makes a Useful Edition?

In addition to the variety of translations you have to choose from, there are various editions of the same texts out there with little differences that can make a big impact for language learners.

  • Many good editions of the Bible have extensive footnotes that clarify the meanings of passages and can be helpful for serious study. This kind of clarity is doubly important when reading in your second language.
  • Because some of the study methods discussed here involve an English translation, you may want to invest in a parallel text edition of the Bible—that is, one with English and Spanish translations printed side-by-side. That way, you can have the English text available for easy reference without having to flip between two books or searching through your dictionary.

If you like that style of learning, give FluentU a try in between Bible reading sessions. FluentU offers real-world Spanish videos—like movie trailers, news clips, inspiring talks and more—that come with interactive captions you can click for an instant translation and definition. It’s a great way to absorb authentic Spanish while actively boosting your vocabulary (and, again, without having to consult a dictionary every few words). There are even videos covering Christian topics, such as Spanish-language clips of Pope Francis and a holy mass in Barcelona, Spain.

 

The Bible can be a daunting study tool in any language, not just because of its length but also because of its complexity—the kind of complexity that’s been causing controversy for millennia.

As with studying the good book in your native language, using the Bible to learn Spanish requires a bit of strategy and some real dedication, but if you keep at it, you’ll find that the palabra de Dios is more accessible than you might’ve guessed.
 


 

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