Advice on how to read in the language you’re learning

Reading is a great way to improve your ability and knowledge when learning a new language. Whether this be news articles, poems or full-length novels, exposure to any written text in the language will allow you a great way to practice.

However, language learners often make mistakes when reading in other languages which lead them to not getting as much out of the process as they could. I’m here to give some advice on reading in a foreign language that you’re learning, having read quite a bit in Spanish over the years.

Spider-Man reading

Don’t try to understand every word

This may surprise some people, but this is vital to bear in mind when reading in another language. Especially when reading a novel, the language used is going to be very complex and there will be a multitude of words that you won’t have come across before. Many of these words may even be unfamiliar to native speakers!

Think about when you read English novels, for example. The language can be very poetic, and I know from experience that in every book I read there will be a few words that I have to Google (or look up in my dictionary, if I’m feeling old-school) so that I understand the meaning.

Because of this, to look up every single word would take an extremely long time and would be unnecessary as you will never use many of these words, especially not when speaking.

Instead, try to get a rough understanding of whatever you are reading. This can feel strange as you would never settle for this level of understanding when reading in English. But there’s a big difference – you’re much better at English! So you must approach the new language with the mindset of a learner, not an expert.

Books in library
Photo by Jaredd Craig on UnSplash

For each paragraph, use the words you know to try to make sense of the meaning of the text. If you can do this, well done! Carry on reading, and you don’t need to go searching through any dictionaries.

If you don’t understand what is going on, then start looking up some words. But again, don’t look up every word. Try to look up the fewest words possible that will give you this understanding. To decide which words are most important, I usually use this trick:

Verbs → Nouns → Adjectives

I would first look up the verbs that I don’t recognise, followed by the nouns, and then the adjectives if I still don’t understand. This is because adjectives usually aren’t key to understanding the gist of the text, so it isn’t necessary to look these up. Of course, as you become more advanced you can start to look up more words, especially adjectives, to improve the quality of your language.

The reason I’m giving this advice is that it can be very demotivating if you spend half an hour reading and 20 minutes of this time is spent looking up words. Everybody wants to read perfectly in the language they’re learning, flicking through a copy of ‘Don Quixote’ or ‘Les Misérables’ with ease. But this is the end goal and won’t happen overnight, similar to when you learned English, so you have to take it step by step.

Girl reading Dr Seuss
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Read something about a topic you’re interested in

This is another key thing to think about when choosing something to read. As in English, texts are much more engaging when you are reading about a topic that interests you. If you’re really into sports, you’re more likely to enjoy a BBC Sport article than somebody who hates sports, for example.

It can be tempting to read whatever article comes up for the language you’re learning. But it’s worth taking the time to find an article on a topic that excites you. The reason for this is that if you find it difficult to read, you’re more likely to persevere if you like the content than if it is something you are only reading to help with learning the language.

Man typing on laptop
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

In the past, it was acceptable to read whatever was there as we had much less access to content in general and especially in other languages. However, in today’s world, there is such an abundance of content and information out there! And if you can read this post you can access so much of this content as you have access to the most amazing resource in the world, the Internet!

A simple search for publications from countries where your language is spoken will mean you can read an endless number of articles in this language, and most of these publications will have free access. Some Spanish-language sites which are great are BBC Mundo (link), El País and El Mundo. They cover the full range of areas of interest, so there is sure to be something of interest to you.

Finding novels in your chosen language is slightly more difficult to do for free. Check at your local library to see if they have any foreign language novels available. Again though, read the blurb and make sure it is something that sounds interesting to you.

I’ve been speaking about reading in a foreign language, but all of this advice can equally apply to watching content. When I first began watching shows in Spanish, I remember spending almost an hour to watch 10 minutes of an episode, because I was looking up every word that I didn’t know and then also writing all of these words down in my vocab book! This (as I’ve now luckily worked out) is a crazy, unsustainable way to learn a language, so make sure you prioritise understanding and not linguistic perfection. Also, there are more and more foreign-language shows and films available on popular streaming services, so try to choose one that interests you (a very popular show for Spanish-language learners is ‘La Casa de Papel’, which I’m very excited to be starting soon).

Netflix and remote control
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

I hope this advice has been useful and that it helps you get more out of consuming content in foreign languages in terms of enjoyment and improvement of your abilities! As I said, any exposure to content in the language is great, but this advice should help to improve your experience.

3 Spanish online dictionaries to enhance your knowledge

There are a number of great tools out there to assist you with language learning. Here are the 3 main dictionaries I’ve used over the years to help with my Spanish, and why I think they can be useful for language learners at any stage.

WordReference

This is always my first port of call whenever I need to look up what a word means or find out how to say something in Spanish. It has improved greatly over tim and now includes a great range of uses for each word.

One great feature is that it tells you which Spanish-speaking countries words are used in. This can be great if you want to learn the vocabulary of a particular country, or to know what to use at school (it’s usually best to stick to the words used in Spain for anything to do with school, as this is what is taught).

WordReference Logo

Another great aspect is the WordReference Forum. For any word you search for, there will also be a list of forum entries where people have asked about the usage of certain words or phrases. Some words have very specific meanings in certain circumstances, so this can be a great place to look.

A final feature that people may find useful, especially at an early stage of learning, is that WordReference can give you the full conjugations of verbs in all tenses and moods.

Linguee

On Linguee, type in a word you want to know the translation of, and it scours the Web for sites that have this word in both English and Spanish translations of their page, giving the full sentences the word is used in for both languages. In this way, you can see the different ways a word can be translated in different contexts.

Linguee Logo

Diccionario de la lengua española, RAE

This is a lesser-used site, but one that can be extremely useful in finding out the various meanings of Spanish words. Unlike the previous two sites, this dictionary by the Real Academia Española is only for the Spanish language, and all of the definitions are given in Spanish too – there are no English translations, which can make this difficult to use if you don’t have a good grasp of Spanish. However, if you do this can be a fantastic tool, and one which I find particularly useful when doing translation work.

Real Academia Española Logo

Beyond this, simple searches on Google can often bring up forums that have the information you need. Just always be careful to look at a few to find consistent answers, as some people might say things which are inaccurate or use words only used in certain countries, meaning you may not be understood.

Babbel: leading the way in language-learning for beginners

When you are about to learn a new language it is very difficult to know where to start. At school we go through topics and grammar one by one, and we’re provided with a lot of resources. But when you’re starting off alone, it’s impossible to know what to tackle first, what order to do things in and how much time to spend on anything. Today I’m going to speak about Babbel, the company solving all these problems for you.

This is a language learning company providing courses in 13 languages, covering all the main European languages and some more niche ones too such as Bahasa Indonesia and Danish. The focus of their courses is to make sure that from the start you learn words and phrases that can be used in everyday conversation instead of just learning all the vocabulary that relates to a particular topic at the same time, which I think is vital to promote in language learning across the board.

You are able to choose the lessons which most interest you and aren’t forced to complete a particular sequence. This means that if you want to you can complete every lesson from the initial beginner’s course until the end, or you can pick those you think will contain the phrases you need to know, especially useful if you are pressed for time before travelling to a country where your chosen language is spoken.

They also put a huge focus on making sure that the lessons don’t demand too much on your time. Each lesson is crafted to be 15 minutes on average, meaning you can slip a lesson into those small gaps of time you have throughout the day and come out of it that bit wiser.

I really like how in each lesson there is a mixture of learning new words, explanations of grammar points, practising this grammar, listening exercises and also speaking practice, meaning the lessons are kept exciting and fresh. The speaking practice, where you’re made to repeat words after hearing a native speaker say them, is fantastic for helping with pronunciation, because if you don’t say it correctly you have to continue trying, and this is something which most other services are unable to offer.

On top of the desktop version of the platform there is also an app. This allows you to learn from wherever you are, and you can even download lessons on this app, so if you’re on the tube and without Internet you’re still able to study!

Babbel is a subscription service language learning platform where you pay a certain amount a month and get unlimited access to the lessons for the language you’ve signed up for (NB. if you want to learn more than one language at a time, you will have to pay more, but I think learning one language at a time alone is more than enough). And what’s great is you can also buy 3 month, 6 month or year long subscriptions which end up saving you a lot of money. Even better, Babbel often have deals on their subscriptions, such as when I recently got 12 months for the price of 6 for the Portuguese course I started.

All in all, this is a fantastic service and one that I would recommend to anybody starting to learn a language. Check Babbel out here!

3 apps I’ve used to improve my Spanish

Nowadays there are more and more ways to learn and practice whatever skill you want to online, and this is no different in terms of learning languages. Outside of language learning apps such as Babbel (one of my favourite apps – see our next post about this), here are 3 apps you can use to improve your Spanish in your free time.

BBC Mundo

This app gives you all the news you would normal consume from around the world, but in Spanish! They have long, detailed articles related to all topics you might be interested in, so you can find out what’s going on in the world while improving your Spanish at the same time! If you’re only interested in certain topics, the app also neatly divides articles under different tabs such as ‘Tecnología’, ‘Deportes’ and ‘América Latina’, so you can easily read up on your interests. The app also includes lots of videos to give a more visual aspect.

BBC Mundo logo

Netflix

This is one you will all be familiar with. There is ever more Spanish language content on Netflix, giving you a wide selection of films and shows to choose from. If you are not quite yet fully confident, use subtitles to help you follow what is going on: I recommend Spanish subtitles over English to help you get used to understanding the Spanish for what it is, instead of trying to always translate it in your head which can make learning as you get more advanced more difficult. But if you need to, and this is hampering your enjoyment, of course use English subtitles. Then, to test yourself try to watch small sections without the subtitles to see how much you can understand.

What can also be really fun is watching a series you’ve already watched in English but with Spanish audio instead! It’s very easy to change this setting on Netflix, can mean you already know what is going on in the episode, and can provide a good laugh hearing your favourite characters speaking in very different accents. I’ve watched ‘Friends’ with Spanish audio before, and it was very entertaining.

Netflix on TV

Quizlet

Here we have a fantastic app for practising your vocabulary. You are able to make up your own sets and vocabulary lists and then learn the words in a variety of different ways. There is a flashcard mode, a mode that gives you short tests on the words and others where you have to match words with their translations in a game which is like Pairs. If you use Quizlet on desktop they also have a great game called Gravity. Meteors with words on them are approaching your planet, and you must type their translations out before they crash into the planet and as you go through the levels you have to do it faster and faster (I’ve played it and, trust me, it’s very fun).

Not only can you make your own sets, but you can also access sets other people have made on the site which could save a lot of time. For example, if you want to find lists of word for certain GCSE topics, just type into the search ‘GCSE Spanish’ followed by the topic and lots of results will come up!

N.B. I recommend keeping your sets to 25 words or less, as beyond this they can become too difficult to remember

Quizlet logo

Looking for more recommendations of ways to further your Spanish? Drop us an email and we’ll see if we can help

4 great benefits of learning a language

There are roughly 4,500 languages in the world that have more than 1,000 speakers. Yet many people go their whole lives only knowing one of these: the one they’re brought up with. How can somebody benefit from learning a new language? Here are four benefits that we think will inspire you to take up some language practice

Allow yourself to fully experience the world & other cultures

Without being able to speak the language of a country, you can often feel like a passenger and complete outsider, experiencing things on the surface but never fully getting involved in what is going on. Even when the people there can speak English, meaning often doesn’t fully or accurately come across and you lose out.

Being able to speak the local language gets rid of all of these barriers and means you can fully integrate into the culture and achieve a whole new level of experience. From experience I can say that on my Year Abroad, living in Spanish-speaking countries and knowing how to speak Spanish allowed me to take part in activities and go to places that I would not have at all been able to had I not studied Spanish for years prior.

This is the main motivation for most people to learn a language, and the one that leads to the best experiences.

Child wearing indigenous clothing

Open up a whole new world of entertainment

There are already a ridiculously large number of books, TV shows and films out there which you can spend your time consuming. And in our current age, with the likes of Kindle and Netflix around, it’s never been easier to access all of these. However, by speaking another language this pool of great content and entertainment can grow to be even bigger.

Some of the greatest works come from other languages, and although most of them have now been translated into English you’ll never get the true feel of a text through a translation, or of a film through a dubbed version. Although this can be difficult at the early stages of learning a language, I will never stop encouraging people to try to fully immerse themselves in entertainment in their chosen language.

And I’ve said all of this without even mentioning music, the way so many people are easily able to access a new language! With the help of Spotify you can easily listen to music from around the world, and participate in waves of music such as that of reggaetón at the moment!

Pile of books

Future job opportunities

In a world that is ever more globalised, there is an increasing demand for workers highly skilled in foreign languages to be able to maintain relationships with other countries and to carry out business overseas. Learning a language doesn’t close any doors on what you will be able to do in the future, but it will certainly open up lots of opportunity, with companies looking at you to be the Spanish guy or girl in the office or even potentially to live abroad in countries where your chosen language is spoken.

Aeroplane with pink sky in the background

Give your brain a real workout

Regardless of all of the above, one of the best reasons to learn a language is the stimulation that your brain receives from it. Having to switch between two languages and think in another language pushes your brain to a new level, one that will assist you in any other learning you have to do.