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Reading to improve my Spanish.

Reading in Spanish is a mighty tool when it comes to learning the language. We will discuss why it is so and how we can use it to our advantage. Likewise, we will present the pros and cons that come with this practice, so you can decide for yourself how to employ it to your benefit.

Leer en español para mejorar la adquisición del lenguaje

Why is reading in Spanish important for learning the language?

Reading is a significant part of this process as it greatly facilitates language acquisition mechanisms. Language acquisition relies on exposure to the language in a context of comprehensible input. This means that for us to learn a language, in this case, Spanish, our brains need to be exposed to a flow of information that is as understandable as possible, creating connections that gradually enable us to comprehend more and progress in practice.

When we read, we continuously send information (input) to our brains. If this information is comprehensible enough, the practice of reading becomes a powerful tool to enhance language acquisition.

How to read in Spanish to enhance language acquisition.

To maximise the benefits of reading in Spanish, it's essential to consider a series of guidelines that we will explain below:

1.- Read in Spanish: This first guideline may seem obvious, but it's crucial to understand its focus. Reading in Spanish means having a text in Spanish and reading it using the same mechanism as if it were our mother tongue. In other words, read word by word, moving on to the next one without the need to translate simultaneously into our native language. For example: "Todas las mañanas me levanto a las 7:30 y, después, me ducho."

Reading in Spanish is NOT about seeing the word in Spanish and trying to translate it simultaneously into our language. For example: "Todas|all las|the mañanas|mornings me levanto|I get up," etc. There are many reasons why we shouldn't do that. The main one is that if I translate simultaneously, word by word, I'm only training my brain to translate simultaneously from Spanish to English. If you're clear that your goal is that, fantastic, continue with this practice. However, if your goal is to communicate efficiently in Spanish, both in written and verbal interactions, in real-time, avoid simultaneous translation as much as possible and focus on perfecting your understanding of Spanish in blocks of information.

2.- Repetition. As you can imagine, comprehending blocks of information in Spanish with just one read-through can be quite challenging. Therefore, in most cases, especially during the initial stages of practice, it will be necessary to reread paragraphs or even certain lines multiple times to get an idea of what the text is conveying.

As I mentioned in a previous post, "How to listen to Spanish to improve my comprehension - May 2023," repetition is key to helping our brain identify, process, and ultimately understand the information we are reading. Similarly, it has a positive effect on assimilating words with high frequency of occurrence (prepositions, personal pronouns, demonstrative adjectives, etc.), assisting language acquisition mechanisms so that we can comprehend more efficiently.

Repetir la lectura en español para mejorar

3.- Interest in the reading topic. Just like with our native language, reading about a topic that interests us will be more engaging and lead to better comprehension compared to a subject that doesn't captivate us or seems complex to understand. It's also highly likely that, with a familiar topic, we'll come across words similar to English. Here are some examples of three diverse topics and their similarities with English:

  • Football: gol, defensa, córner, falta, competición, semifinal, final, penaltis, etc.

  • Astronomy: planeta, galaxia, Venus, gravitación, universo, satélite, espacio, etc.

  • Art: galería, exhibición, pintar, Barroco, abstracto, fresco, foto, artista, estilo, etc.

4.- Adapted texts and images. Particularly during the early stages of learning, it's essential to choose texts that are tailored to our level. If these adapted texts include images, even better. Once again, you can see how these factors are closely related to the principles of language acquisition: continuous exposure to comprehensible inputs.

Here, a controversy arises, which sometimes goes beyond the language itself and is related to the learner's personality. If the texts are adapted and accessible, they are often specifically created for children. On the other hand, finding adapted texts for adults can sometimes be challenging. It requires a collaborative effort between the teacher and the student to find texts that generate the necessary interest for regular and productive practice. Below are some examples of readings that may be of great interest:

Advantages of reading in Spanish to enhance language acquisition.

These are the three advantages that make this process a useful mechanism as part of the language acquisition process.

Firstly, when presented in the form of text, this visual information is easier to handle than when it appears in the form of conversation, verbal commentary, or simply audio. Practicing with a text that remains unchanged, that is constant, and that I can review is simpler than attending to the same information when it is presented in the form of sound.

Leer en español - información visual

Secondly, the text does not have the modifications of accent or intonation typical of verbal language. This phenomenon greatly facilitates its comprehension since there are far fewer interferences. Likewise, the extra difficulties presented by the multiple accents with which Spanish is spoken are reduced.

Finally, reading does not require immediate interaction in response to a question or comment in the context of a conversation. This way, the tension that arises in a communicative situation disappears, creating a more relaxed and easily reproducible practice. Practicing at the speed that suits you best at any given moment is an unquestionable advantage.

Disadvantages of reading in Spanish to enhance language acquisition.

On the contrary, focusing our Spanish practice solely on reading presents the following disadvantages, which we discuss below.

Firstly, it is worth noting that reading comprehension in Spanish does not equate to auditory comprehension at the same level. The mechanisms involved in reading (visual information) compared to listening (auditory + visual information) are very different. Therefore, focusing solely on reading, no matter how high our level may be, will not directly relate to understanding the same information in the form of verbal language.

Leer en español Vs Escuchar en español

Despite being a fantastic practice, reading in Spanish is not enough to speak in Spanish. It is necessary to complement it with exposure through listening and gradually with basic verbal interaction. Although reading can help in acquiring some words, complementing it with the other two forms is necessary if one wants to reach a certain level of oral proficiency.

Playing tennis, badminton, or ping pong is not the same. They have in common that they are racket sports, with a net dividing the playing field, and can be played individually or in pairs. However, being an expert tennis player does not guarantee any success in the other sports, and vice versa.

Finally, relying excessively on reading as the only practice to improve Spanish can lead to frustration in the student, as they assume that their overall comprehension level is equivalent to their reading level. There is nothing wrong with having a good level of reading comprehension; on the contrary, it is a valuable skill to have. However, we must avoid the mistake of assuming that, per se, it will lead to the same communicative effectiveness in oral communication contexts.

From here, we encourage all students to use these strategies to enhance their reading comprehension in Spanish. Furthermore, we urge you to consider complementing this practice with active listening and engaging in conversation to make steady progress towards your goal of communicating efficiently in Spanish.

I hope that this blog post helps you avoid some practices that I myself did in the past and that slowed down, if not hindered, my language learning progress. I share my experience and hope it is useful to you, as a good Spanish saying goes: "To err is human; to persevere in error is beastly."


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