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Reading in Spanish – Leyendo en español

¡Hola! If you want to learn Spanish you’ve got to read, and read a lot. Reading lots will give you a huge amount of exposure to the language, and with that comes more vocabulary, more comprehension, more enjoyment, more confidence and, consequently, better Spanish.

But what if you pick up a book and the vocabulary in it seems overwhelming…?

Remember not to worry about trying to understand all of the details and the grammar rules that appear. Just try and get the gist or general idea of the text. As your Spanish improves, return to each passage and you will be surprised by just how much more you have learned.

Follow these 3 simple rules in order to improve your Spanish reading skills:

  1. Pick a book based on your interests.
  2. Choose a book that is not too long.
  3. Do not overestimate or underestimate your level.

Selecting books adequate for your language level is crucial. Choose books difficult enough to challenge you and easy enough to understand most of what’s being said. You can test that by having a look at a random page. Can you understand the gist of it without using a dictionary? Are there still words that you don’t know? If you answered yes to both questions, you are on the right track.

Probably the biggest mistake you can make is to try to look up the meaning of every single new word in a dictionary. This may prove so frustrating that it might discourage you from further reading. Finding the balance between learning new vocabulary and enjoying the story is key.

Reading is a vital aspect of language learning in every language. It is often the first step, along with writing, that you learn as a beginner. Confidence in reading will have a positive effect on your listening and speaking skills, so it’s a great option for learners who aren’t comfortable with speaking and listening just yet. Spanish is a particularly good language for reading, as the material available is so diverse.

Being able to read in Spanish widens your knowledge of current issues and cultural knowledge. Finally, reading is easily accessible through books, the internet and various news platforms, magazines and newspapers and lots more. No matter what your level of Spanish, there will be some reading material ideally suited to you.

In addition, keep in mind that reading in Spanish has a range of benefits such as:

  • Vocabulary building: Spanish books are brimming with words that you do not know yet, through no fault of your language learning efforts. You just have not yet been exposed to every word in the language. Reading can help to bridge that gap.
  • Self-paced learning: There is no rush when it comes to reading. You can take it at your own pace and proficiency level.
  • Grammar knowledge: The grammatical structure of Spanish sentences is difficult to master when you are starting out, especially when you just listen to the language.

Reading a novel by a Spanish writer is just one hack that can help you to improve your language skills and accelerate your Spanish learning. There are lots of other easy ways you can incorporate Spanish into your everyday life. For example, using Social Media. Follow your favorite Spanish speaking celebrities and Spanish news platforms and magazines on Twitter and Facebook.

Be patient with yourself and go have fun leyendo en español…

Castilian or Spanish?

Sometimes you’ll run into people who refer to what we call Spanish as castellano (Castilian) instead of español (Spanish).

To understand the term Castilian (castellano) we need to understand that Spanish is primarily derived from Latin, which arrived on the Iberian Peninsula (the peninsula that includes Spain and Portugal) around 2,000 years ago. On the peninsula, Latin incorporated some of the vocabulary from other regional languages and then became known as Vulgar Latin.

For reasons more political than linguistic, this dialect (Vulgar Latin) was used commonly in what is now the north-central portion of Spain, which includes Castile. Later it spread throughout the region.

In the 13th century, King Alfonso pushed for historic documents to be translated into the regional dialect, known as Castilian (castellano), which helped Castilian evolve to become the standard language. He later made this dialect the official language for government administration.

Another factor that helped spread Castilian (castellano) as an official language was the expulsion of the Moors. Castilian became the official tongue of Spain. Later efforts to educate people on the use of Castilian by Arte de la lengua castellana by Antonio de Nebrija, generated the first Spanish-language textbook and one of the first books to systematically define the grammar of this European language.

Even with the growing popularity of this language, this didn’t eliminate other Peninsular languages such as Galician, Euskara (or Basque) and Catalan. Even today all of these languages coexist in Spain.

The term Spanish (español) encompasses  the entirety of the Spanish language including not only Spain but Latin America, The Caribbean and Equatorial Guinea in Africa (where believe it or not Spanish is the official language!)

So basically, the main difference between the two terms is that Castilian (castellano) is the original dialect that generated what would later become, and what we know today as, Spanish (español).

Nowadays, the term Castilian is used in other ways too. Sometimes it is used to describe the language that is spoken in the North-Central region of Spain. In the Northwest region, for example, Galician is the language.  In the Northeast region, Catalan is the language. Basically, the term Castilian is now used to specify the language spoken in a specific region.

However, the absolute authority for Spanish – in terms of language – is The Royal Spanish Academy.  Nowadays, the Real Academia considers Spanish as a universal language. Thanks to Wikipedia we can see the top 3 most spoken languages  in the world below:

Language Native name Native speakers (millions)  % of world population Mainly spoken in Notes
Mandarin 官話/官话 955* 14.4% China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia Part of Chinese language family
Spanish Español 405* 6.15% Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Western Sahara. See List of countries where Spanish is an official language Partially mutually intelligible with Portuguese[2][3][4] and Italian[5]
English English 360* 5.43% United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. See List of countries where English is an official language

As you see, Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world. In general, the terms  castellano or español can sometimes have political implications. In fact, in some parts of Latin America, the Spanish language is known routinely as castellano rather than español.




False cognates

Cognates are words in two languages that have a common etymology and look similar or identical. Cognates often have a similar meaning, but in some cases the meaning has changed over the centuries in one language or another.

The term “cognate” is used to refer to words in two languages that are similar but have no common origin, such as the Spanish sopa (meaning “soup”) and the English “soap.” Another example, the word “rope” looks similar to the Spanish word “ropa”; however both are different. The word “ropa” means clothes and has nothing to do with the rope you use when you need to tie something.

A common mistake we all learners make when learning to speak Spanish/English is to use  words that look or sound similar to our native language but on the road we discover that these words have a totally different meaning. This process commonly results in confusion and embarrassment!. We get frustrated because right when we thought we were masters on speaking in a foreign language the Falsos amigos ruin our expectations. A Spanish word that is similar to an English word, but has a different meaning, is known as a false cognate.

So don’t be disappointed if you make mistakes while learning Spanish. Remember that through these mistakes you will get better and your Spanish skills will improve eventually. Keep in mind that the more you understand about the use of the Falsos amigos the better your communication will be.

Below you can see popular Falsos amigos or false cognates. These words tend to confuse us:

Actually en realidad actualmente currently
Assist ayudar asistir to attend
Attend asistir atender to attend to
Bizarre extraño bizarro gallant
Carpet alfombra carpeta folder
Choke estrangular chocar to collide, to crash
Deception engaño decepción disappointment
Embarrassed avergonzado embarazada pregnant
Exit salida éxito success
Idiom modismo idioma language

How to practice Spanish (Advanced)

¡Felicidades! Estamos orgullosos de ti, de tus capacidades y del esfuerzo que has puesto para llegar a este nivel. Hablas muy bien español pero para mantener el nivel que has alcanzado sabes que necesitas continuar practicandolo. En tu nivel sabes bien que la práctica hace la perfección.

Aquí te dejamos algunos consejos que pueden ayudarte a mantener ese nivel. Toma nota.

  1. Los verbos y sus formas verbales tienen que ser tus mejores amigos para toda la vida. ¿Qué haces con tus mejores amigos? ¿Los visitas? ¿Les hablas? ¿Sales con ellos? En general pasas tiempo con ellos. Lo mismo debes hacer con los verbos. Para poder practicar con ellos debes de enfocarte en elegir una forma verbal específica (presente, pasado, futuro, condicional, etc.) y hacer una revisión constante. Esta famosa revisión puede consistir en algo tan simple como escribir oraciones o hacer preguntas. En pocas palabras, necesitas usar los verbos no memorizarlos. La memoria es frágil. No hay nada más fuerte que la costumbre. Si conviertes en hábito el practicar, la fluidez vendrá de la mano.
  2. Entiende las frases idiomáticas por su uso, no intentes traducirlas literalmente. No te rompas la cabeza tratando de traducir alguna frase de forma literal. Te vas a frustar. Es importante que recuerdes que no todo podrá ser traducido de forma literal. Todo dependerá del contexto donde se encuentre. Amigo (a) recuerda que a mal tiempo buena cara y a buen entendedor, pocas palabras.
  3. Mira teleseries en español. Como toda lengua viva, el español evoluciona. Van a haber palabras que en un país se usan más que en otro, etc. Una buena técnica para mantenerte al día con las palabras es que veas teleseries en español. Muchas teleseries estadounidenses pueden ser vistas en español a través del Internet. ¡Bendito Internet! Para buscarlas simplemente usa Youtube, en el buscador (search) escribe el nombre de la teleserie y luego escribe la frase “en español”. Por ejemplo, Friends en español, otro ejemplo puede ser con la teleserie Big Bang Theory en español, y así continuamente. ¡Verás qué divertido que puede ser! De igual forma si te interesa historias más intensas, La Reina del Sur, El Señor de los Cielos, o algo más ligero como Una familia con suerte. Recuerda que también puedes encontrar series completas y gratis en Youtube, por ejemplo Betty La fea (versión original hecha en Colombia).
  4. Viaja. Si, mi amigo (a), viajar ahora no sólo es por diversión sino también para reforzar todo lo que has aprendido. Viaja a Latinoamerica, a España o al Caribe. Viaja a áreas donde sabes que la población hispana es grande y donde encontrarás una comunidad hispanohablante con personas deseosas de compartir no sólo su lengua sino también su rica y variada cultura. Un viaje al exterior puede ser tan interesante como un viaje al interior de los Estadods Unidos. En tus viajes estarás inmerso en la lengua. Desde que abras tus ojos hasta que los cierres respirarás el idioma, internalizarás la cultura. Podrás practicar lo aprendido y aprenderás sobre la marcha nuevas formas de hablar, de ver la vida, etc.
  5. Multiplica las oportunidades de tu día a día para que puedas practicar el idioma. Cuando tu viaje haya terminado y tengas ganas de seguir practicando, trata de participar en caridades y/o asociaciones donde tengas que continuar hablando en español. Mantén conexión por internet con amistades a través de las redes sociales como Twitter y Facebook. Fuérzate a escribirles en español a esos amigos que están lejos. Comparte con ellos. Usa lo que aprendes. Recuerda que si no lo practicas lo puedes perder. Si usas el ordenador constatemente cámbiale el idioma, ve todo en español, haz lo mismo con tu teléfono, cámbiale el idioma. Recuerda que hay una infinidad de aplicaciones que puedes usar. Lo importante aquí es multiplicar esas oportunidades. ¡El límite es el cielo!

How to practice Spanish (Intermediate)

By now you know basic Spanish structures and you have gained confidence in what you know. You have a created a routine that helps you practice outside your regular hours of Spanish class. Maybe you already have Hispanic friends so you can practice with them… Now the challenge is to improve.

  1. Don’t assume that Spanish words that look like English words have the same meaning. Instead associate the words you have learned with other Spanish words and you will see how often you do not use the dictionary. You will rely more on your knowledge and intuition.
  2. Learn how to use prepositions properly, prepositions can be challenging, mostly because we are still thinking in English and we try to use them literally. It’s better to think about the purpose of the prepositions as you learn them, rather than their translations. This will help you avoid mistakes in the long term.
  3. Listen to music. At this level you are ready to listen and understand the lyrics of any song. The more you listen to music, the better you can learn new words and reinforce your knowledge. You can have a song on repeat. You can download the lyrics and practice your pronunciation. For example, if you are looking for Hispanic music lyrics you can click here, for music videos click here.
  4. Watch movies with Spanish subtitles. It’s important that you see the dialogue of a movie so you won’t only hear it but will see the actual words. It’s also important that you block any extra sound or distraction around you. Using a headset on your laptop or your electronic device will help you block any sound and concentrate more on the movie, the story, the characters, etc. For Spanish movies you can rent them on Netflix or buy them at Amazon.
  5. Read Spanish magazines. It is important to vary your sources to practice Spanish. In any bookstore or even online you can find Spanish magazines or articles that cover your topics of interest. If you like to know about pop stars, if you want to know about traditions or cooking, if you are into cars or travel there are plenty of magazines that you can pick so you can practice your Spanish and learn new words.

How to practice Spanish? (Beginners)

We know that balancing life and work is tricky. Learning a new language and adapting it into your routine can also be a tricky task. Here are some tips for you to practice Spanish that will make you feel more comfortable:

  1. Practice. The time you invest after a regular session is up to you. Make the commitment to practice consistently. This will involve review what you do in class. Memorize new vocabulary. Write sentences or ask questions with what you have learned.
  2. Don’t expect to be perfect! Learning something new will always involve a big chance of failure. It’s through the mistake process that we learn everything in life. When you are learning a language, common mistakes will happen. Get over the idea that it will be perfect. You’ll see that perfection doesn’t exist. Even native Spanish speakers will make mistakes. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be patient!
  3. Use flashcards. In this learning process you will need fast resources that can help you retrain your brain. Flashcards are cheap and an easy way to learn new vocabulary or to review some grammar structures. You don’t need big and heavy textbooks or electronic devices, power cords or external batteries. You just need a set of 10 to 20 flashcards to practice select words and structures every day.
  4. Use labels. Labels are also a cheap and great way for you to constantly see the words you are trying to learn.  Pick a room in your home and label it. Keep it that way for a couple of days until you feel comfortable with the words and can remember the names without looking at the labels. Later, you can label another room and so on. The more words you see, the more words you remember.
  5. Think simple! When you are learning a new language it’s very easy to feel frustrated because you wish you could talk as fast as the native speakers. Keep in mind no one was born speaking eloquently. We all have a starting point. A good way to avoid the pressure you put on yourself is by thinking simple. Short simple sentences that really express what you feel or what you want are the best way to start gaining confidence again. The more complex forms will come eventually. Start with simple statements. Organize your ideas and express simple thoughts.