Learning Spanish by reading is an amazing way to study the language and absorb Spanish culture, but getting started is pretty hard.
In this post, I’ll show you some unconventional ways to practice your Spanish reading (which will, in turn, boost many other language skills).
No matter what language level you are at, these resources will keep you engaged and hungry for more Spanish text.
- Why You Should Learn to Read Spanish
- How to Get the Most out of Your Spanish Reading Practice
- 6 Nontraditional Reading Resources to Learn Spanish
Why You Should Learn to Read Spanish
You Can Relax While Reading
One of the best things about learning Spanish by reading is that you can do it at your own pace and in your own time.
There is nothing worse than feeling under pressure to finish a grammar quiz in a class that is about to end. Or working on an online test and feeling that panic set in as the clock counts down in front of your eyes.
But when you are reading—no matter what type of reading material you use—you can sit back, relax and absorb the words in front of you, translate them, say them out loud and take notes. You might not even feel like you are studying!
You Will Pick Up Tons of New Spanish Vocabulary
One thing I was particularly surprised by when reading Spanish as an intermediate learner was how much new vocabulary I was learning. The thing with reading as opposed to speaking Spanish or listening to Spanish is that you cannot escape new words.
You might be asking, “what does she mean, ‘cannot escape new words’?”
Well, think about speaking Spanish with a native or watching a movie in Spanish. If there is a word or phrase you do not understand, what do you do? If you are like most Spanish learners, you will try to use context clues to understand it, and if you cannot, you let it fly by so you can understand the rest of what is being said.
But when you encounter an unfamiliar word while reading, whether it is in a Spanish novel, in a textbook or on a flashcard, you can take the time to stop everything and look it up. If you are like me, your natural curiosity will not let you do otherwise!
You Will Remember New Words
Reading Spanish has another great benefit in that it helps reinforce memory. Seeing new words visually, especially when reading in slow-mo, helps cement them in your brain. That is one of the reasons flashcards can be so effective.
Even setting aside 10 or 15 minutes for Spanish reading every day can do wonders for your retention of new words and phrases.
Reading Can Solidify Your Pronunciation Skills
As I am sure you have heard many times before, Spanish is a highly phonetic language. Unlike, say, French or English, most words sounds how they are spelled.
This is where reading and speaking intertwine.
Reading helps you become familiar with how words look and once you have mastered the pronunciation of each letter and letter grouping, you can speak pretty much any Spanish word you read—even those you have never seen or heard before.
Reading Can Improve Your Grammar
Reading in Spanish is also a great way to get familiar with how sentences are structured. You have the opportunity to read at your own pace and thoroughly examine how clauses are linked and where certain nouns, verbs and adjectives go.
Sheer exposure to the language in this way will do wonders for your own writing and speaking.
How to Get the Most out of Your Spanish Reading Practice
Before we dive into the specific resources, there are some key factors to consider for any Spanish reading material.
- Choose something on par with your current level of Spanish. If you are a beginner, do not jump straight into the deep end with a long, complicated novel. You want something that will meet your specific language goals without overwhelming you or boring you.
That is partly why nontraditional reading resources are so useful. Unlike traditional books, these resources can be often be filtered for content that matches your needs and interests, and as they are often online, you can quickly scan and search for what you want to use. I will recommend the best nontraditional reading materials for each level later in this post, so hang in there!
- Stay focused on learning actively while reading. When you are engrossed in a story and soaking up all that new vocabulary and grammar, it can be easy to forget to take notes. This is especially true if you are using unconventional materials like the ones below, because you will often be reading off your computer or phone screen and not necessarily near a notebook.
One solution is to create a free account on Evernote, an online program that can be synced to your phone or computer. It allows you to save notes, set reminders and even save web articles. This is the most efficient way of keeping everything you have learned in one place.
- Use flashcards. Think flashcards are boring? Think again. They can actually be a really fun way to improve your language skills. In the digital age, there are tons of cool flashcard apps available at the touch of a button.
But how do flashcards work? Well, it’s all due to that memory-boosting repetition. Whatever resource you use, be sure to put new vocabulary words in flashcards and review them frequently. In the next section, I will recommend one of the best flashcard apps out there so you can see for yourself.
6 Nontraditional Reading Resources to Learn Spanish
Here are some of the best unconventional reading resources to get you way beyond a Spanish level you thought possible.
Spanish Is Your Amigo
When you think of learning Spanish by reading, you might not think of YouTube—but this YouTube channel is an excellent resource for both beginner and intermediate learners.
Each lesson lasts about three to five minutes and most focus on specific topics within Spanish grammar and vocabulary. The host does a great job of reading a given paragraph first, which you also follow on screen, then breaking it down step by step.
She gives the English translation but also explains why sentences in Spanish are structured in a certain way.
The channel has recently started posting again after a hiatus, and this time the lessons are much longer, more involved and livestreamed. So you can see topics explained in detail and watch as the host answers common questions and helps the watchers understand the concept better.
This has moved the channel away from reading a bit but is also extremely helpful since you might have similar questions as you learn!
Her lessons are fun and upbeat and she will hold your attention enough to want to watch at least a few more.
FluentU is a language learning program that uses authentic Spanish videos like movie clips and music videos to teach the language. You may not associate videos with reading, but the program has several features that budding Spanish readers will find useful.
Each video has interactive subtitles in Spanish and English that can be set up however you like: You can turn on both so you can see the definition as you watch, or turn off the English translation and focus solely on reading in Spanish. Especially for those just starting out, reading subtitled videos can give you a visual context to understand new words and phrases while you read.
As you read along with the video, you can tap on any word to find an in-context definition, an audio pronunciation, an image and further examples. FluentU also provides transcripts with audio pronunciations for all videos as well as vocab quizzes following them.
You can reinforce the new vocabulary you come across by saving words to flashcard decks, then using personalized quizzes to review them. These exercises are designed to help you practice several language skills in addition to reading, such as listening comprehension and pronunciation.
International Children’s Digital Library
Want a library of Spanish books that you can instantly filter by length and difficulty level? Oh, and you want it to be absolutely free? Well, we have got what you’re looking for.
There are more than 150 books in Spanish available online and for free in this digital library.
With the quick click of your mouse, you can choose between short, medium and long stories and also age ranges starting from three to six up to 10 to 13, depending on your level and ability. You can also filter by genre and even specifically choose award-winning books.
Remember, just because a book is written for children does not mean it has no value to adult language learners! Children’s books are often the best reading resource for Spanish students because the plots are relatively straightforward and the vocabulary is more basic than you might find in adult novels.
It is a fantastic way to get your feet wet reading Spanish literature.
La Voz Bilingual Newspaper
La Voz (The Voice) is a bilingual Spanish and English online newspaper covering tons of subjects. The publication is based in California, serving the Spanish-speaking communities of the North San Francisco Bay, although many of the articles are general and will appeal to most readers.
Because this is a bilingual newspaper, it offers a unique opportunity to language learners that most traditional Spanish media outlets do not. English and Spanish versions of articles are published side-by-side, so you have immediate access to precise, in-context translations if you are struggling with the Spanish version.
But try not to rely too much on the English version! You might even print out an issue and read it with the English side folded or covered up until you really need it.
When my daughter was just two years old, she probably knew only 10 to 20 Spanish words, but she could sing entire songs in Spanish.
Think about it. You hear a song you love on the radio that you have not heard for years and years, yet I bet you can still sing along to all the words, right?
This works primarily because of repetition. When you like a song you listen to it over and over again, and eventually you are singing the lyrics without even trying. It is hard to forget a song once you have memorized it.
Qlipo is a useful resource for learning Spanish through listening to music. It features catchy and popular Spanish songs with videos and also Spanish and English lyrics side-by-side.
You might particularly appreciate the user-friendliness of this website. It has an easy tool to go navigate the song and lyrics if you didn’t catch something or want to review a certain phrase.
The songs are fun and current, although some fast ones, like Shakira’s “Nunca me acuerdo de olvidarte” (“I Can Never Remember to Forget You”) might be a little harder to follow.
TV Shows and Movies with Subtitles
You might think watching a movie or TV show with Spanish subtitles is cheating, but come on! This is meant to be a fun guide to Spanish reading and besides, what do you do with subtitles? You read them.
I watched the whole series of “The Sopranos” with Spanish subtitles, which allowed me to pick up a ton of new vocabulary—including plenty you do not get from a textbook; there were a lot of sientate (sit down) and cállate (shut up) commands in there, among many other unprintable words.
So give it a try! Or, if you are advanced, watch a movie in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. If you miss some of the words from the dialogue, you can always read them from the screen!
So there you have it! Learning Spanish by reading doesn’t have to be tedious or overwhelming. Try any of these unconventional reading resources and start learning today!