The first book I read in Spanish was Che Guevara’s diary “Diarios de motocicleta: notas de viaje por América Latina” (The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey).
I chose it because I thought it would be a fun read, a great introduction to Latin American history and culture—and more relaxed because diary language tends to be more natural than other writing.
I had this beautiful little illusion that I’d translate as I went, pick up the vocab and be kind of fluent by the time I’d finished. But it turned out that I had to translate most of the words, and the book’s margins weren’t big enough for all of my annotations. Turns out, the language is quite complex and poetic.
Luckily, that was ages ago.
For people learning Spanish today, a Kindle can really help with this sort of thing. A built-in dictionary makes looking up words as you read so much easier, and there are even ways to build up your vocabulary lists and to create flashcards without ever leaving the book.
Few people realize how excellent of a tool the Kindle can be for language learning. Beyond immersion, you can of course also load language learning books and exercises on it, then take it with you on your travels, to your classes or on public transport.
Who wouldn’t like to squeeze in some Spanish practice on their way to work or other destinations?
The Kindle Method of Learning Spanish in 4 Steps
1. Get yourself a Kindle
You’ll need a Kindle Paperwhite (second generation or newer), an e-book in Spanish and an e-book dictionary.
The second generation Kindle Paperwhite has been on sale since September 2013 in the US, so it’s one of the more standard models and easy to get, if you don’t have one already.
The reason why you need this model is that it has a touch screen, so you can easily tap on words you aren’t familiar with, and it also has a built-in vocabulary list builder.
2. Set up a dictionary
If you haven’t already, you’ll now need to download a Spanish dictionary to your Kindle. The main thing here is to ensure that you get a dictionary that has been programmed to be recognized by Kindle, so that it works with your books as you tap on unknown words.
Once you find a recognized Spanish dictionary that’s compatible with your Kindle model, download it and select it as your Kindle’s Spanish-language dictionary. To do this, go through this series of pages on your Kindle: Options → Settings → Device Options → Language and Dictionaries → Dictionaries. You can choose one dictionary per language to be the default there.
In terms of choosing a dictionary, you have the option of either a Spanish-English or a Spanish-Spanish dictionary (with definitions in Spanish). The latter is great for advanced learners—a word holistically defined in its own language is always better understood than a word that’s translated—but the former is a safe bet for those who are starting out.
3. Start reading and tap away!
This bit is pretty straightforward. Choose your Spanish-language book and start reading. When you come across a word that you don’t recognize, and that you can’t work out from its context, just tap and hold to get a definition.
4. Practice with Vocabulary Builder
And this is where the magic comes in. This feature takes all the words you’ve tapped on and lays them out for you to revisit and practice until you know them.
The flashcards show you the words in the sentences you originally tapped on. Once you’ve reviewed the word enough that you know it, you can mark it as “mastered” and the Kindle will take it out of your practicing pile and move it into a mastered pile.
Vocabulary Builder is an app that should already be installed on your Kindle, but if it doesn’t pop up on your home screen after you’ve looked up a few words, you can find it by tapping on Options.
An alternative option is to access your saved words on your computer. They should all be saved in a file called My-Clippings.txt, which you can download onto your computer when you connect your Kindle to it via USB. Once you open My-Clippings.txt, you can use your vocabulary list in Evernote or online self-made quizzes—or you can be more old-school and print it out on actual paper.
Bonus: Take your learning with you, beyond the Kindle
If you like having your learning convenient and portable, want to continue practicing vocabulary in a fun way and seeing the definitions of words on demand right when you need them, then there’s a non-Kindle program 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—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.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
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.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
9 Digital Spanish Learning Resources to Put on Your Kindle
One more obvious way to use your Kindle is by loading it with textbooks and practicing the exercises when you can.
Aimed at beginner to intermediate Spanish learners who’d like a comprehensive approach to Spanish, this digital textbook is designed to help you teach yourself over 2,000 words, as well as to speak, read and understand Spanish. It’s meant to be paired with its audio CDs, but there’s a lot you can learn without them.
A free e-book available on Amazon, this textbook is also aimed more at beginners, and it includes all the basic vocabulary you need to start speaking Spanish quickly, along with hundreds of sample sentences for that vocabulary. You can also download the supplementary MP3 files for listening practice and pronunciation help with the vocabulary.
This textbook series starts with the most common Spanish words and builds up from there. The idea is that, by the end of this first book, you will have mastered 50% of the Spanish words you’ll need to know. The course comes with mnemonics, visual tools and grammar lessons.
VitalSource is a great online resource to consider for more e-textbook shopping. You can rent or buy books to access on the Bookshelf app, which works with your Kindle and lets you keep all your learning material in one place.
Stories and Novels
Try to find novels, stories or non-fiction books that you’d just love to read, so that you’re motivated to get through them and improve your vocabulary at the same time—if it’s something you’re truly dying to read, then you’ll want to understand everything.
I strongly recommend books that were originally written in Spanish, as they aren’t quite the same when translated from another language to Spanish—and that’s a reason why many of us want to learn Spanish in the first place.
These stories come with their own vocabulary lists, multiple choice exercises and summaries.
I know I just advised that you read books that were originally written in Spanish, but at the beginning it’s valuable to choose books you’ve already read before in English. This will help you better understand what you’re reading.
Highly recommended is Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” in Spanish. If you read it as a child—or as an adult!—and remember the story line, that could help as you read it now in Spanish. A fun story, this would be ideal for both beginner and intermediate Spanish learners who want to start expanding their vocabulary beyond the basics.
One of my favorites, “El libro de los abrazos” by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is perfect for Spanish learning because the stories, usually based on fact, tend to be no more than a page long.
Galeano brings Latin American history and culture to life with vignettes about moments that he witnessed or was told about—all written in very accessible Spanish.
Flashcards are great vocabulary-building tools just because of their simplicity, the way they make us focus on a single word (without extra fluff in the background), the instant feedback on if you know the word or not and, of course, the repetition.
You may have know all of that, but I’m betting you didn’t know that you can have flashcards on your Kindle.
One flashcard takes up a whole Kindle page, and you can tap the Kindle to flick through them. You can create your own flashcard sets and load them on your Kindle, or you can download ones that have been made by others.
At a very affordable $1, these flashcards are grouped into different categories and are aimed at getting beginners up and running with core vocabulary.
Can you name 50 different animals in Spanish? These 50 flashcards are beautifully illustrated and include the phonetic pronunciation for each word, as well as the English translation. And this is just one idea for beginners to get started—there are many more themed flashcard decks out there for you to work with.
This book includes over a thousand flashcards, each word with their meaning and real-life pronunciation.
By the way, I did finish Che’s diary—though it took me months longer than I expected.
Reading is a wonderfully absorbing way to learn a language.
Which book will you read?
Tamara Pearson is a journalist, teacher, and language lover who has lived in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and now Mexico. She is also the author of The Butterfly Prison.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.