One of my favorite ways to learn Spanish is to sit down and relax with a great Spanish novel or magazine.
The Spanish language has some incredible and enjoyable texts for learners to sink their teeth into.
Plus, reading comprehension is a great way to improve your vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and cultural understanding—all at the same time!
Reading comprehension is one of the four essential components of language acquisition, along with writing, speaking and listening.
Self-guided Spanish learners—like those learning by immersion or through an online program—should absolutely take time to read in Spanish as part of their language practice.
In this article, we’ll showcase some great sources for free online Spanish texts, as well as a variety of strategies to help independent learners get the most out of their self-designed reading comprehension sessions.
The Benefits of Self-learning Spanish Through Reading
For some of us, learning a language at our own pace—without the structure of a class schedule or weekly homework—just works better!
Self-learning is especially great for those who have busy or constantly changing schedules. Maybe you work unpredictable hours, travel a lot or have other commitments that might pop up during class time. If you have constantly put off learning (or improving) your Spanish because you can’t commit to a weekly class, you might want to consider self-learning as an option.
Self-learning also gives you the freedom to use whatever tools you want to improve your reading—even unconventional tools like the ones we mention in this video on FluentU’s YouTube channel.
Using the unconventional tools mentioned in the video will allow you to see authentic Spanish and English side-by-side. By doing so, you get direct English translations of all the Spanish words you encounter, and you can watch your Spanish vocabulary and grammar competence soar. Best of all, you can learn wherever and whenever is most convenient for you.
Whether you tour a Spanish art gallery, navigate with Google Maps in Spanish or read dual-language Spanish literature, these unconventional translation tools will make your translation exercises fun.
Learning Spanish at your own pace also allows for more individualized training, letting you target the skills and topics that are most interesting or important to you. For example, if you feel confident in your speaking and listening ability but less confident about your Spanish literacy, you can focus all of your energies on improving your reading comprehension! This may be especially true for heritage speakers, or for anyone who has primarily learned Spanish through oral training.
However, there are tons of other reasons why independent learners might choose to place special emphasis on reading comprehension. Maybe you’re learning Spanish specifically for business or research, which would require an advanced reading level. Maybe you’re specifically interested in building an understanding of Spanish-language literature and poetry. Or maybe you’re just an avid reader!
Whatever the reason, self-guided learning means you can spend all the time you want or need on reading comprehension. Even if you’re taking individual or group language classes, reading is one of the easiest skills to work on by yourself, so setting aside time for reading in Spanish on your own can be highly beneficial regardless of what other resources you’re using.
Luckily, resources for reading comprehension are highly accessible to self-learners outside of a traditional classroom setting. There are many Spanish-language texts and comprehension exercises available for free online, which you can access from the comfort of your own home. Read on to learn more about them!
Adding Structure to Your Reading Practice
So as we’ve established, self-learning is great, but one of the most difficult aspects of it is maintaining a structure and tracking your progress.
In classes, you have the built-in structure of a weekly meeting, not to mention constant progress checks like quizzes, exams and homework. When learning on your own, it’s up to you to introduce this sort of structure in a way that works for your learning style.
Here are some examples of ways to make sure you’re making the best of your Spanish reading time.
Set daily or weekly goals—and stick to them!
Anyone who has successfully learned a language will tell you that frequent practice is the only way to make progress.
When self-learning a language, you’ll have to work extra hard to maintain a constant structure so that you keep progressing and don’t get off track. One great way to do this is by setting goals—and then following through on them.
This might mean setting goals before you sit down to practice each day, committing yourself to working without distractions for one hour or working until you read a certain number of pages, for example.
You might also set longer-term goals on a weekly, monthly or semester basis. This can help your self-guided learning approximate the structure of a regular language class.
Some of the Spanish reading comprehension resources listed below are specifically designed to offer this kind of structure, since they’re organized into units, themes or weeks. This makes it very easy to create a sort of self-directed syllabus, which can help independent learners who find themselves getting distracted or forgetting to practice.
Maintain a practice calendar.
“Did I do my Spanish practice this week?”
“Wait—have I read this already?”
If you find yourself having thoughts like these, it may be time to set up a reading practice calendar. Feel free to use the calendar on your phone or computer—or, my personal preference, buy a month-by-month paper calendar. Whether you go digital or analog, you can use the calendar in two ways:
- Setting goals and reminders: At the beginning of each week or month, write down your Spanish practice plans as though you were creating your own syllabus. This can be as simple as just marking which days you plan to practice, or it can be more detailed, such as writing down which specific text or skill you plan to work on each day. Then, hold yourself accountable by adding a check mark after you complete each practice session.
- Tracking progress: You can still use a calendar even if you don’t want to pre-plan a week or month of sessions. After you do some Spanish practice, simply record on your Spanish calendar what you read, how it felt and what you learned. This way, you can look back on your calendar to reflect on what you’ve read and what you need to work on in the future. This is also a great way to ensure you’re practicing Spanish frequently and not skipping too many days in a row.
Use comprehension checks to make sure your reading sessions are targeted.
Do you ever find yourself reading a Spanish text, only to get to the end and think, “Wait—what did I just read?”
This can be one of the most difficult parts of self-guided language learning. When you’re reading for a class, you can check your comprehension by asking a teacher, talking to classmates or completing a homework assignment or exam. But when learning on your own, you may find your mind wandering. Or, you might just be unsure if you’ve gotten the true meaning of a text.
To combat this, make sure your sessions are focused and targeted, with specific aims and goals. Whenever possible, seek out or create comprehension checks to ensure that you’re actually understanding, rather than just reading.
How do you accomplish this? Read on for a comprehensive list of Spanish reading comprehension resources and strategies that will help ensure your language practice is efficient and effective.
Literary Learning: 12 Top Tools for Spanish Reading Practice
Reading Comprehension Resources Online
The internet has a variety of great free resources for self-guided reading practice. These six websites offer Spanish language texts with various reading comprehension activities attached. They’re great for maintaining structure in your self-guided practice sessions and making sure you’re truly understanding what you’re reading!
Sponsored by Dartmouth College, this website is meant to accompany a first-year Spanish course, but works just as well for self-guided learners.
Each of the five Modulos Culturales units includes a biography (with comprehension questions), two pre-reading activities, a text (with more comprehension questions) and a writing and reflection exercise. This means that Modulos Culturales is a great choice for those who have trouble maintaining structure in their Spanish learning! Commit to completing one unit a week to the best of your ability, and just like that you have a fully-formed five-week Spanish course to complete from the comfort of your living room.
Although this website is specifically geared towards classroom teachers, it works just as well when you’re your own teacher! The “Reading Comprehension” section of the website provides tons of links to printable reading comprehension PDFs. Each PDF is tagged with its level and target audience, so you can pick the worksheets that will be most helpful and interesting for you.
The worksheets include a short passage with various reading comprehension questions and activities. Plus, since the activities are designed for teachers, many of them also come with answer keys. Try to complete the worksheets without using the answer key—and then check at the end to see how you did. This is a great way to track your progress and make sure you’re truly absorbing the readings.
This website is hosted by the University of Victoria, and it’s meant to accompany the university’s first-semester introduction to Spanish course. From the homepage, click on “Reading Exercises” to access nine reading comprehension units, organized from easiest to hardest.
The units include a written text and a series of multiple choice questions. The built-in tests are great because they ensure that you’re really understanding what you’re reading! When you finish with the nine reading comprehension units, you can also check out the website’s grammar practice, gap-fill exercises and practice exams.
National Spanish Exam
Whether or not you’re actually studying for the National Spanish Exam, this website—hosted by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese—is a great resource. It offers vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension and listening comprehension practice tests.
The reading comprehension resources consist of six exams, ordered by level of difficulty. Unlike some of the other websites listed here, which offer long-form texts, this website’s reading comprehension exams include several short passages, each with a few questions attached. Although the texts are in Spanish, the questions are in English.
Are you the kind of person who’s always up on current events, or who’s constantly scrolling through the news during your free time?
If so, you should definitely incorporate Practica Español into your Spanish learning. The website offers newspaper articles for Spanish learners, and it’s updated quite frequently, so there’s always something new to read. If you’re the type of person who already knows a lot about the news, Practica Español is great, because you’ll be able to read about familiar topics in your target language.
What sets Practica Español apart from other Spanish-language news sites is that each article includes a comprehension exercise, consisting of approximately five questions about the text (in Spanish). At the bottom of each article, you’ll also find links to grammar explanations relevant to the text.
This well-designed and fun website features intermediate- to advanced-level articles, with an emphasis on culture and travel. Interested in learning about the relationship between Cuban revolutionaries and facial hair? Or about indigenous Bolivian mountain climbers? Veinte Mundos is your source. While reading about these interesting and unique topics, you’ll also have a chance to practice your Spanish.
The texts feature advanced vocabulary, but the harder words include scroll-over English translations for intermediate learners. Plus, each article comes with a comprehension check, related multimedia and external links.
General Reading Comprehension Strategies
There are tons of great Spanish-language texts available for free online. You may already know that you can easily find Spanish-language news sources, blogs and short stories, all of which are available online!
However, these resources (which are written by and for native speakers) generally don’t come with comprehension activities attached. What’s an independent learner to do?
To make sure you’re understanding and absorbing your reading material, make use of the following general reading comprehension strategies. They’ll help you ensure that you’re truly digging into each text, rather than just reading superficially.
I’m sure every single one of us filled out a plot chart in an elementary school language arts class at some point. These charts are ubiquitous because they’re a fantastic way to understand the progression of a story. Although plot charts vary in their level of complexity, almost all are organized around five basic sections:
- Rising action
- Falling action
When using fiction texts for your reading comprehension exercises, plot charts are a great way to organize what you’ve read. They ensure that you’re truly following the story, rather than just passively reading.
For a short or simple story, you can use a fairly basic plot chart—you can even draw one by yourself! Crafting Connections has a great blog post describing how to draw your own simple plot chart.
A longer or more complex story might require a corresponding plot chart. Here’s a great downloadable one from Mr. Degrandis’ Virtual Classroom. This plot chart breaks the rising and falling action into different subsections, and it also asks for information about the characters, setting, theme, moral and genre.
Here’s another potential grade-school throwback to incorporate into Spanish comprehension sessions. Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then charts are like a fill-in-the-blank organizer to describe the structure of fiction texts. They’re similar to plot charts, but instead of focusing on events, they also push you to understand the actions and motives of the characters in the story.
This organizer asks you for five pieces of information:
- Somebody: The main character or characters
- Wanted: The main motivation of the character(s) at the beginning of the text
- But: The problem or problems that make it difficult for the main characters to accomplish their goal
- So: How the main characters react to the problem
- Then: The outcome of their actions
Here’s a great example from Teachers Pay Teachers that’s available as a free PDF download—but of course, it’s also easy enough to make a chart on your own, or simply write a paragraph that covers these five points. Not only does this method help you ensure that you’re understanding the plot and characters in a text—it also is a great way to summarize what you’ve read. Beyond practicing your Spanish writing, you’ll also have a ton of summaries to look back on to remind you of what you’ve read.
The Five W’s
Who, what, when, where, why?
These five questions form the basic foundation for good journalistic writing. So, when reading a Spanish newspaper article, these questions also form a great basis for a simple comprehension check.
This exercise is simple enough: after reading a newspaper article, sit down and answer the Five W Questions.
- What is the main topic or event discussed in the news article?
- Who are the important actors?
- When did the event take place?
- Where did it take place?
- And why did it happen, or why is it important that people know about it?
When answering the questions, it’s important to take into account your skill level. Absolute beginners might answer in English and only include a word or two for each answer, just to ensure that they’re following what’s going on in the Spanish-language text. More advanced readers should try to give more detailed responses, in full sentences and in Spanish.
Identifying Text Structures
Teachers and writers say that all nonfiction texts have one of five structures:
Any nonfiction text that you encounter—whether it’s a newspaper article, an advertisement, a diary, an encyclopedia entry or so on—fits one of these structures. According to teacher-blogger The Classroom Key, identifying text structures can help students better understand texts and anticipate what’s coming next.
When reading nonfiction texts in Spanish, take a few minutes to identify which type of text you are reading. For extra comprehension practice, I highly recommend using this great English-Spanish resource from the Hood River County school district. On page 4, you’ll find a list of the different text structures. Below each one, you’ll find a Spanish-language list of questions and keywords useful in identifying text structure. After reading a text, I recommend identifying its structure, answering the questions provided (in Spanish, if you can), and circling the relevant keywords every time they show up in the text. (The English version of this chart is on page 3 of the booklet, for reference.)
More visual learners might benefit from this worksheet from Kagan Online, which shows each text structure with an accompanying graphic organizer. After reading the text and identifying its structure, draw and fill out the corresponding graphic organizer.
Main Idea Maps
Sometimes, visual organizers can be highly useful tools for reading comprehension. The main idea map is a simple, but effective, way to ensure that you’ve understood a nonfiction text. Although main idea maps vary in terms of structure and form, they all ask for the same basic information: the main idea of a text, and various supporting details that inform that main idea.
Page 6 of this booklet from Achieve the Core provides a very simple main idea map good for short texts or beginning learners, since it just asks for one main idea and four basic details. For something a little more complex, check out this Main Idea Graphic Organizer from Intervention Central, which asks for six main ideas with three supporting details each.
This exercise is specifically intended for persuasive writing. That includes op-ed articles, certain blogs, speeches or any text that’s trying to convince you of something.
A great comprehension check for persuasive texts is making a list of points and counterpoints. This exercise requires three steps:
- First, identify and explain the main argument of the text. Important: Make sure that you’re actually identifying an argument or opinion, rather than just a topic. Try to phrase the main argument in your own words, rather than just copying what the author has said, to ensure you comprehend it.
- Second, identify three main points that the author makes to support their argument. Think of three as a minimum—you’re free to list as many points as you can find in the article. It’s also a good idea to make a note of where in the article the author makes each point, by listing a line or paragraph number.
- Finally, examine each point and try to write out a corresponding counterpoint. In other words, if you were debating about this topic with the author, how might you respond to each of their points? What evidence, arguments or personal opinions might you offer to try to prove them wrong?
Not only is this a great exercise for practicing your Spanish writing and checking your reading comprehension—it’s also just a great skill to have for other areas of life!
With these reading strategies, you can approach any Spanish text as a reading comprehension exercise.
Instead of just reading passively, you’ll find yourself truly digging into each text, understanding its subtleties and analyzing its meaning.
With all these resources and strategies put together, you’ll be on your way to full Spanish literacy in no time!
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