Language Learning: Reading in Spanish

Dear Rebecca,

As I am thinking about learning another language (Italian this time), I am going back into our records to think about what I did at the beginning, when I was trying to learn Spanish. While there are many different ways to learn a language, I firmly believe that implementing as many different methods as possible, until you find the right one, is a better option than just trying one or two different things. While I truly believe that living abroad—whether long term or for a study abroad—is the best way to improve your language skills, there are other things you can do to get ahead.


We’ve already talked about a bunch of these and you can find them here:

Individual or group language exchanges (intercambios in Spanish)—these are great because you can usually do them at home or abroad

Language learning at a language school

Using Duolingo to learn a language (what I am currently doing for Italian)

Other social ways to learn languages—such as doing yoga in Spanish or joining a sports team


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone in Spanish

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone in Spanish

Today, however, I want to talk to you about using books as a way to learn languages. Both Dani and I have really enjoy this activity and have found that reading in Spanish has improved our vocabulary and grammar while allowing us insight into Spanish culture. Talking about how we chose the books we read, we discovered that there are several levels of reading in Spanish and I want to share them with you:

Reading something easy for you: When you first start learning a foreign language and decide you want to read in that language, it is better to pick a book that you can read than one that is so hard that you will never finish it. In fact, the first two books I read in Spanish were translations, one from English and another from Italian, and one of them was really weird. At the same time, my vocabulary greatly improved (there are specific words that I have learned from both of them that have stuck with me) and so did my confidence.

Pro-tip: Pick something that you know you can finish. For example, I have several of the Harry Potter books in Spanish. These are books that I have read multiple times in English so I am already so comfortable with them that it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand everything. In this case it is just important to start and get comfortable with the process.


Reading well-known authors: After being here for awhile, I started talking to my friends about books (I really like reading) and they recommended several well-known authors to me. So, I started reading what my friends were into and it not only made me more well-versed within the world of current Spanish literature, it also gave me insight into my friend’s lives. These books don’t necessarily have to be difficult, in fact, they are usually pretty easy to read—they are popular books.

What I did: There are quite a lot of Young Adult writers in Spain who are popular with people in their teens and twenties—think of His Dark Materials for Spaniards. Because they encompass a wide range of readers, they are not usually too complicated for a foreigner to read.


The dictionary is your friend! 

The dictionary is your friend! 

Reading classic texts in the original version: Most of the time, I like my books like I like my movies—in original version. I know it seems strange, but the way we express ourselves changes across languages because a lot of things we say don’t exist exactly the same in other languages. This means that even a really good translation isn’t going to give you the exact same message as the original version. However, this also means that some of the classics you want to read are in old Spanish and are going to be harder to read than more current books.

Try it: If you are really set on reading a classic, but you are not sure you can make it through the whole thing, consider buying a copy with the English and Spanish version together (like this one that is the classic Don Quixote). Or buy two different copies and read them side-by-side. I have done this several times with different books and am always surprised with how different they are at the end of the day.


Reading in a foreign language isn’t easy, no matter how good you are. As someone who has had a fair amount of experience (reading everything from academic articles to children’s stories), I can tell you that it will get easier. In the meantime, don’t get down on yourself and recognise that you are doing something that is hard. And, if you are not a big reader, make sure you take it slow, giving yourself time to rest when you need it! Remember that it is tiring to live in a foreign language.

Confession: When started reading in Spanish, and all through school, I would read everything twice—the first time highlighting the words I didn’t know, looking them up, and reading it again. It took me twice as long to read something, but I got a lot better (both at Spanish and reading) fast.


Next week we are going to share some of our top recommendations for you! Let us know if you like to read in foreign languages and if you have any books that you think we should read in Spanish!