You open the book in front of you and read the first sentence:
En un lugar de la Mancha de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…
(Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember…)
You’ve just started reading “Don Quijote,” the most famous book in the history of Spanish literature.
This might seem unattainable right now.
But it’s not impossible. All it takes is time and practice.
When you learn how to improve your Spanish reading skills, you’ll discover whole new worlds hidden behind Spanish sentences.
Whether you’re just starting your adventure with Spanish reading or you need that last boost of motivation to reach reading fluency, this post is for you.
Once you finish reading it, you’ll know everything there is to know about reading in Spanish.
So get that coffee, tea or hot chocolate ready, and let’s get this reading party started.
Why Learn to Read in Spanish?
Many learners of Spanish focus on grammar and vocabulary and forget there are other skills that should also be practiced in order to reach fluency.
Reading is one of those skills, and the earlier in your journey you start learning it, the better.
Here you have some reasons why:
Learn about Spanish and Latin American culture
Reading in Spanish will open the door to the culture of the countries of the language you’re learning. When you learn a new language, you also need to know the culture of its people. Only then will you be able to really understand all the nuances and hidden meanings of the words you learn.
Besides, only by reading the best Spanish and Latin American authors in their native language can you fully grasp what was going on in their minds as they were writing.
Get inspired by the beauty of the language
Spanish is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Give yourself the pleasure of learning how to read in Spanish.
Improve your grammar and vocabulary
Reading will allow you to learn new words and grammar rules. The more you read, the more words and constructions your brain will register, allowing you to improve both grammar and vocab at the same time.
Improve the four major language skills
When you learn how to read in Spanish, you’re actually improving not only your reading skills but also your Spanish writing, speaking and listening comprehension. You can, for example, use what you read in your conversations or writing assignments, or practice your listening comprehension while reading with the help of audiobooks.
Practice for an exam
Improving your reading skills will definitely come in handy if you ever need to sit for a Spanish exam, because most official exams, like the AP Spanish literature and culture exam, include reading exercises.
Open the door to other Romance languages
Learning Spanish will open the door to other languages like Portuguese, Italian and even French. They all belong to the same family and have a lot of common traits. Even though these languages can sound very different, their written texts are sometimes mutually intelligible.
Understand the lyrics of your favorite songs
Reading doesn’t have to be limited to books. You can read comics, instructions and also lyrics! Practice by reading the lyrics of your favorite Spanish songs. Starting with music you like will motivate you to keep on reading.
Understand menus and street signs
When you travel to a Spanish-speaking country, you’ll probably need to decipher a menu or look around for street signs that’ll take you to the museum you’re looking for. If you learn how to read books in Spanish, things like menus or signs will never be a mystery for you.
Get access to more online resources and info
One of the things I love most about speaking different languages is that I can do Google searches in several languages. By learning how to read in Spanish you’ll allow yourself to have access to parts of the Internet that were previously hidden from you.
Reading in Spanish: Tips and Tricks for Rapid Improvement
We know why learning how to read in Spanish is useful. Let’s now have a look at how to start reading in Spanish.
There are tons of different ways in which you can learn and practice Spanish reading.
Add the following tips and tricks into your reading sessions and see your reading skills skyrocket in no time:
Choose material for your level and set realistic goals
If you’re a beginner, choose easier readings like children’s books or graded readers for beginners.
If you’re an intermediate Spanish reader or an advanced learner of Spanish, do the same depending on your level.
Don’t try to read books that are completely out of your linguistic reach or else you won’t really learn from them.
You should also set goals that are accomplishable.
You’ll get better results if you set small, attainable goals, like reading five pages every day or reading six days a week for 30 minutes.
Keep it varied
We all know boredom is every learners’ worst enemy.
Try to keep yourself motivated and eager to read by seeking out a variety of Spanish learning books and other types of resources.
There are so many options out there that you could even use a different one every day of the week: Spanish novels, poems, textbooks, comic books, short stories, blogs… the list goes on and on!
Introducing different types of resources will keep boredom and routine at bay and allow you to have fun while you learn how to read in Spanish.
You won’t feel like you’re forced to do something. You’ll actually enjoy it by choosing what appeals to you!
Get an e-book reader
Not all of us like having to carry a real book everywhere we go.
The solution? Buy an e-book reader!
E-book readers like Kindle are a powerful tool to learn Spanish. In fact, if you’re on a budget you can even use a Kindle to learn Spanish for free.
If you’ve never tried to learn Spanish with a Kindle, you should definitely give it a try.
Read out loud
Reading out loud has a lot of benefits for the language learner.
For starters, it allows us to listen to ourselves speak Spanish. We’ll be practicing our listening skills while reading out loud, which will translate into improving our overall pronunciation with time.
Besides, reading out loud is the perfect speaking practice.
Most of us feel overwhelmed and frozen when having to speak a foreign language, so practicing this skill in the comfort of our own house will have a great positive effect on our confidence.
Additionally, when we read out loud, we’re more aware of the words we’re saying.
We’ll be learning more vocabulary and grammar by paying special attention to the expressions and constructions we find along the way, and everybody knows that improving our vocab and grammar skills means getting closer to fluency, so we’ll be killing a lot of birds with one stone.
Use audiobooks (and audiobooks + their e-books)
If you feel like listening to a native speaker pronounce everything you read, audiobooks are your best friend.
It’ll be like reading out loud or getting told a goodnight story before bed, with the advantage that you can be sure you’re listening to impeccable native Spanish.
So choose the variety of Spanish you want to learn, pick a nice book and start listening and reading like a pro.
Download some apps
There are hundreds of superb apps that will help you learn to read in Spanish while you have the time of your life.
Some apps have been specifically created to practice reading. These are an amazing option for readers of all levels who simply love reading and want to immerse themselves in a story and read for hours.
Other apps have been designed to teach you Spanish in a more general way, but they also include reading practice and a series of features that can help you improve this skill.
Finally, there are apps that include practically everything you need to practice all four major skills at the same time. One such app is FluentU.
FluentU Spanish has hundreds of videos that will help you improve and practice your reading skills like never before.
Each and every FluentU video includes a set of subtitles that have been intelligently created to help you understand what you read in the context of the video.
When there’s a word or an expression you don’t recognize, just hover your mouse over it and you’ll get a translation, definition, pronunciation guide and even links to other videos that contain the word.
Each video also comes equipped with a full transcript, so you can practice your reading skills and listen along at the same time.
If you want to practice your reading and much more in a fun and efficient way, give FluentU a free try and see if it’s for you. (Spoiler alert: It definitely is!)
Reread your way to fluency
Reading is fantastic for improving your Spanish, but rereading is even better.
As you get better at reading, try to revisit old, easier books.
This will show you how much progress you’ve made in your learning journey.
Every time I read a book, I like to write both the starting and finishing dates. This allows me to know how much time on average I spend reading different kinds of books.
Do this with your Spanish readings and go back to them from time to time to see how much more skilled you’ve become.
Practice and test yourself
Practicing your reading skills and putting yourself to the test are crucial if you want to get better at reading in Spanish.
Start by talking to friends about what you’re reading.
Even better, try to convince them to read the same book you’re reading and have some kind of Spanish mini reading club meeting every week.
Sum up your ideas, ask them questions, let them ask you questions about the book and then just chat about what you’ve all read. This kind of practice will boost your Spanish to the stratosphere!
Apart from this, take some reading tests from time to time and try to do some Spanish reading comprehension exercises at least once a week.
This will keep you accountable and focused on your learning, and it’ll give you immediate feedback on how you’re doing.
At the end of the day, the most important factor to bear in mind while learning how to read in Spanish is to be consistent.
Reading for five hours once a month isn’t going to do anything for you, your brain or your level of Spanish.
On the other hand, reading for 15 minutes every day will motivate you, fire up your neurons up and create a routine (the good kind) that’s not only easy to do but also pleasurable.
Where to Find Beginner Spanish Reading Materials
You know why and how to learn Spanish reading, but where can you find high-quality Spanish reading material that fits your profile?
The options for Spanish reading practice are numerous for sure.
I’ve created a guide divided into three levels so you can choose the kind of material you really feel is appropriate for your level.
Let’s have a look at some different types of Spanish reading material, beginning with the best choices for Spanish beginners.
Reading from the very beginning may sound daunting, but the truth is the sooner you start practicing reading, the faster you’ll get better at Spanish.
You don’t need to start by reading long and complicated stories.
There are other options that will work much better for you if you’re just starting. Here are a few:
A superb way to start practicing Spanish reading is by using Spanish readers.
Graded readers have several advantages over other kinds of books, namely:
- You can choose the level of the book (and hence the amount of vocabulary it includes).
- You can read adapted, easier versions of Spanish books and read the real book once you have the appropriate level.
- Readers normally include a glossary and exercises for guided practice and extra enrichment.
- They’re specifically created for language learners to help them improve their language skills.
Spanish children’s stories
Books written for children are the perfect tool for beginners, no matter their age.
- The language used in these books makes them very approachable and easy to read and understand.
- Children’s books, especially Spanish picture books, include pictures and images which will help you reinforce and memorize concepts and words.
- They include basic grammar structures that tend to be repeated several times, making sure kids (and you) learn them.
- Many books for children can be listened to while being read, so you can practice two major skills at once.
- You can get to know Spanish fairy tales that maybe don’t exist in your native language, so you learn something about Spanish culture while you learn the language.
Spanish-English bilingual books
Bilingual books offer Spanish stories with English translations alongside the original text.
The interesting thing about Spanish-English bilingual books is that they allow the learner to read more difficult stories from the beginning. (There’s even a bilingual version of “Don Quijote” if you’re interested!)
Nowadays, you don’t even have to have a physical book. You can also find endless bilingual reading material online for free.
So what are the advantages of using bilingual resources for beginners?
Let’s have a look:
- You get an accurate translation of the original text, normally without having to turn the page. This allows you to understand new patterns, constructions and expressions right away, saving you a lot of time (you don’t have to use a dictionary).
- Having complete sentences translated helps you improve your translation skills. This is also an awesome way to boost your grammar and vocabulary without the need to do boring grammar drills.
- You won’t feel stressed while reading because you know that if you don’t understand something, you can just check the translation right away. Eliminating stress during your reading sessions will make them much more enjoyable and efficient.
- You’ll get easy access to native Spanish literature even if you don’t have the necessary Spanish level to read the original text.
Easy Spanish poems
Reading poetry can be challenging even for native speakers, but there are many examples of easy Spanish poems that have been written for children or in a very easy language, making them very approachable for the beginner learner of Spanish.
Reading poetry has several advantages you can exploit to improve your Spanish:
- Poems are normally short, which makes them perfect for short reading micro-sessions.
- Poetry for children includes a lot of repetition and easy word patterns that will help you get a nice grasp of how basic Spanish sentences are built.
- Poems can be helpful for practicing pronunciation. You can use poems to practice reading out loud, which can help improve accent and speaking, or try to find audio files of the poems read by a native speaker and practice your listening skills as well.
- Poetry includes imagery, metaphors, alliteration and many other stylistic devices. You’ll be learning much more than just words and patterns. Poems will make you think, and you’ll want to find the hidden meaning behind the words you’re reading. If you do this process in Spanish (within your capabilities), you’ll be getting some invaluable immersion practice.
- There’s not a lot of space to write in comic strips. This forces the creator to get to the point and use only important vocabulary and word patterns that are simple and easy to understand (at least literally).
- The language and expressions used in comic books and strips are very useful because they show how native speakers talk in real life.
- Comics are often a window into the culture of the country where they’re written.
- Comic strips include images, which are super helpful to understand words in their context.
- Comic books are normally short, which makes them perfect for short reading sessions.
Textbooks might sound boring compared to some of the other options on this list. But the reality is, they can be some of the best books for learning Spanish.
There are many different types of Spanish textbooks, including grammar books, vocabulary books, dictionaries, workbooks and more. It’s up to you to decide which is the best Spanish textbook for your learning needs.
It doesn’t matter if you’re learning Spanish by yourself, with a tutor or in a classroom, you’ll always be able to find a textbook that meets your specific needs.
Beginner learners of Spanish can take advantage of textbooks in order to practice their reading. Here’s how:
- Textbooks normally include not only grammar and vocabulary but also lots of examples of the language being used in context.
- Many textbooks also include readings that teach learners about culture in Spanish-speaking countries.
- There are textbooks and workbooks for every level of fluency, from beginner to proficient.
- Many Spanish learning books have fully digital versions. If you have an e-book reader, you can download a Spanish e-book and take your reading practice with you wherever you go.
Where to Find Intermediate Spanish Reading Materials
If you’ve already reached the intermediate level, easy Spanish reading resources for beginners aren’t going to help you much.
You need resources adapted to your level. Amazing resources like the following ones:
Simple Spanish short stories
If you feel like you’re ready to graduate from Spanish children’s books and graded readers, a great next step is to tackle easy Spanish short stories.
Reading Spanish short stories is the perfect strategy for intermediate learners to improve their Spanish.
Here are some reasons why:
- Short stories are… well, short! They’re still easier than whole novels, so they’re accessible for learners of your level.
- The vocabulary, grammar and word patterns included in these stories are obviously more challenging than those included in beginners’ resources. While you read, you’ll keep improving your overall Spanish level.
- Short stories include a variety of Spanish tenses, unlike resources for beginners, which tend to overuse the present simple tense.
- Short stories don’t include pages of boring descriptions that get you nowhere. The pace is rather fast, sentences include plenty of meaningful words, there are only a few characters and the plot is normally easy to understand.
- Many short stories found in Spanish e-books online also exist in an audiobook version. Read and listen to the story at the same time to give your pronunciation skills the boost they need.
- Many Spanish literature classics have an abridged version, which can function almost like a short story. Use these to get first contact with authors you’ll only be able to fully read and enjoy once you’re fluent in the language.
Basic Spanish novels
Some Spanish books are easy enough for you to read already.
If you feel like you’ve moved beyond short stories, but still aren’t ready to tackle “Don Quijote” (I don’t blame you!), check out some Spanish novels for beginners.
Granted, easy Spanish books might seem like only a snack in comparison with the real deal, but they’re whole books, so be proud of yourself!
Easy and intermediate Spanish novels are super useful for taking your Spanish to the next level. Here’s why:
- They’ll allow you to expand your vocabulary and grammar skills while you read stories you like.
- The number of available options gets higher as your level goes up, so you’ll be able to choose reading material that you’re interested in rather than having to read stuff you don’t enjoy at all.
- The language used in novels, especially in easier novels, tends to be quite contemporary, so you know you’ll learn words you can use in real conversations.
- Reading even easy Spanish novels will allow you to deepen your grammar and vocabulary.
Familiar reading materials in translation
Reading Spanish translations of books you’ve already read in English is also a great reading exercise for intermediate learners.
Are you a fan of the “Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter” series? If so, you’ll be happy to know that these and several other popular books for teens have Spanish translations that you can read and enjoy.
You can even learn Spanish with the Bible if you want to use familiar reading materials!
Use these translations while you’re an intermediate learner of Spanish, because:
- If you’ve read the English version before, it’ll be much easier to understand the Spanish book, even if it’s a difficult read.
- You can always check the English version when in doubt and see how different words and expressions are translated into Spanish.
- Since you don’t have to worry about missing important details, you can focus on the big picture and you’ll enjoy your reading sessions much more.
- Reading stories you already know in English (for example, Spanish Christmas stories or Halloween stories) will help you improve your vocabulary on specific topics faster.
Spanish magazines, newspapers and blogs
Being an intermediate Spanish reader means you can have access to types of resources that were still unreachable for you when you started your language learning journey.
Learning Spanish with magazines, blogs and newspapers is a great idea for intermediate learners because:
- Each article, piece of news or blog entry can be read in minutes. You don’t have to commit to a whole 300-page book if you don’t feel like it.
- Magazines and blogs are created for casual reading. The vocabulary in them is rather easy to understand for an intermediate learner.
- Newspapers allow you to have a deep look into current events in a specific country.
- Since there are so many magazines, newspapers and blogs published in Spanish, you can easily find reading material for the specific Spanish variety you’re interested in.
- There are a ton of Spanish magazines and popular newspapers that can be found online for free.
Where to Find Advanced Spanish Reading Materials
You’re officially an advanced learner of Spanish.
Now you can enjoy reading all the stuff we native speakers read!
At this point, there are four main places where you can find reading material for your level:
Challenging Spanish short stories
If you like reading Spanish in its real native form but don’t have time to commit to a whole book, you should try reading literary short stories in Spanish (the challenging ones, of course!).
They’re perfect for advanced learners not only because they can be read quickly, but also because:
- They allow you to explore many different styles, topics and time periods easily. It’ll only take you a couple of hours to read a short story with your level of Spanish. Then you can move onto the next one.
- They’re packed with cultural references and historical information you can finally understand. If you’re learning a specific Spanish variety or you’re interested in one specific country, you can focus on it by choosing the appropriate authors.
- Reading short stories can be used as an inspiration to improve other skills such as writing. Create different endings, continue the story or use it as a template to start one from scratch.
- Now that you have access to so many options, it’s much easier to find reading material on topics that really pique your interest. Are you a fan of horror? Then read scary stories in Spanish. Do you prefer reading the classics of literature but you have no time? Read famous Spanish short stories and get a taste of what a classic looks like.
Challenging Spanish poems
You’re now also ready to fall in love with Spanish poetry.
This is why advanced Spanish learners should use challenging poetry as a resource:
- Spanish poems will allow you to learn new sentence patterns, since poets play with words and sentences in order to find rhymes and give rhythm to their poems.
- Challenging poems include many words that you normally don’t hear in everyday conversations. Thanks to poetry, you’ll still manage to be surprised and learn new vocabulary.
- You can use poetry to improve all major language skills. Talk in Spanish about the poems you read, think in Spanish and imagine stories related to the poems you’ve read, read the poems out loud and hone your pronunciation skills, etc.
Advanced Spanish textbooks
Language learners dream of being completely fluent and be mistaken for native speakers.
Now you’re closer to this than ever before.
You can use advanced Spanish textbooks as a final step before really becoming fluent in Spanish, because:
- They’ll teach you those super-advanced topics you won’t find anywhere else.
- Textbooks for advanced students are normally written in Spanish or include enough examples to allow the learner to see the context of what they’re learning, so you’ll be reading a lot of advanced, technical Spanish.
- You can become an expert on any specific Spanish topic that interests you. It doesn’t matter if you want to learn more verbs, idioms, slang, advanced tenses or synonyms, there’s an advanced Spanish book for that out there.
Advanced Spanish novels
This is the real deal.
For many learners of Spanish, this is the ultimate goal.
Reading full novels in Spanish is one of the most challenging things a learner can do during their language journey.
You’ve made it. You’re ready. Congratulate yourself.
Reading novels is like putting the cherry on top of the cake, and your Spanish will keep on evolving, because:
- You’ll now be able to fully appreciate all the depth and beauty of the Spanish language.
- You’ll also find new words to add to your word bank. Remember: you never stop learning a foreign language.
- You can now read Spanish classics in their unabridged versions and compare them to the shorter versions you read in the past.
- Now that you can read practically everything, you can choose among thousands of stories to gorge on.
Phew! That was quite a read, wasn’t it?
Now you have all the information you need to read in Spanish, no matter your level, preferences or amount of time you have.
Reading in a foreign language can be daunting at the beginning, but with time and practice, you’ll get used to it and even begin to enjoy it.
There are dozens of types of resources you can use to improve your reading skills.
By practicing Spanish reading often, you’ll be boosting other language areas such as grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, writing and speaking.
It’ll probably take you some time to go from reading a children’s book to enjoying Cervantes in Spanish, but the road from one to the other will be full of amazing reading stops you shouldn’t miss.
What are you waiting for?
English professor and freelance translator, Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He is a proud language nerd, and you will normally find him learning a new language, teaching students or just reading in a foreign language. He has been writing for FluentU for many years and has recently become one of their Staff Writers.
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