Tips for Learning Spanish - Reading
by Brad Blanchard
Students sometimes complain about the speed of their progress in reading Spanish. I'm going to describe one of the possible causes here and recommend a systematic approach in terms of learning Spanish, but it will work with any language.
The main impediment that students seem to have in improving their reading skills when learning Spanish is the following: they insist on knowing every single word before they try to understand a sentence. These same students - if they've had any experience in real life conversation - have come to understand that it is impossible to understand every word that is said to them, and they have come to rely on grasping the key elements (known as 'key words' below) in a sentence.
For example, if you are standing next to your car which you haven't washed for several months and it happens to be covered in mud and dirt with small plants beginning to sprout, and a kindly-looking gentleman appears and says:
"Oiga, no sé si lo sabe usted pero a la vuelta de la esquina muy cerca hay un sitio donde lavan los coches gratis", (Excuse me, I don't know if you know it but around the corner very close there is a place where they wash cars for free) and you only pick out:
"oiga esquina cerca lavan coches gratis " (excuse me corner close they wash cars free), you can probably imagine what the gentleman is trying to say to you. You need to use the same approach when reading Spanish, no matter what your level in Spanish may be: grasp the key words and guess the rest of the meaning.
The following are the steps that I recommend to my students, and they seem to work for almost everybody:
- Read the entire story/chapter/paragraph all the way through without using a dictionary, even if you have the sensation that you don't understand anything. If you have been assigned twenty pages, then do this one page or one paragraph at a time.
Read it again, this time using the dictionary to look up the key words and only the key words. By 'key words' I mean the word or words which will help you get the general meaning of the sentence even if you don't understand every word in it (just like we did above with the gentleman and the carwash). The verbs are most commonly the key words in a sentence. However, if you understand the verb and are still missing the meaning, some other word will be the keyword, or one of them.
No one can tell you exactly how to identify the key words - it's something you'll have to learn on your own with practice and this particular language learning skill does get better as you go along.
Try reading the text again without the dictionary.
- Then, if and only if you have the time to do so, go back and look up all the words you don't know. Write them down on a to-learn list.
Computer programs to learn Spanish: www.braser.com