Why Read Spanish?

When you read for fun in Spanish you get lots of exposure to the language, which is the driving force behind acquisition. If you want to learn to speak Spanish, you need to get serious about reading.

Reading Spanish with the intent to understand what the text says mimics the natural way we learned our first language. To see the greatest improvement, start reading and listening to as much of the language as you can. If you want to get better even faster, read texts that are your level or that focus on the high frequency vocabulary — the language you will repeated over and over again in everyday use.

The beauty of reading for fun in Spanish (or in any language) is that it takes the focus off of grammar rules. It turns out we don't need explicit grammar instruction to learn a language. (although this is how most language courses and software are designed). In fact, most of the current second language acquisition research suggests learning and practicing rules is an unnatural and inefficient way to learn to speak a new language! 

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Read to Speak Spanish is written for true beginners in the language and those who want a refresher course on some of the basics. If you already have a solid foundation, you should keep reading at your level (where you understand ~90-95% of what you read without stopping to look up words) to increase your fluency.

Targeted Vocabulary:
hay—there is, there are
ser — to be
estar — to be
tener — to have
querer — to want
ir — to go
decir — to say
hacer—to do, to make
dar — to give
poner — to put
pensar — to think
poder — to be able (can)
saber — to know

How we learned our first language

We all acquired our first language by hearing (and later reading) and decoding messages in the language. Since we were babies, our parents, grandparents, guardians or friends all communicated things to us using acoustic sounds (words). Over time, our brains attached meaning to those sounds and stored them in our unconscious mind. Now, when you want to communicate something, you just say it. You don’t need to think about grammar rules at all in order to speak.

After thousands and thousands of hours of hearing (and later reading) your first language, your brain has magnificently organized the information the sounds contain. When you want to communicate something using, you just focus on your message and your language just bubbles naturally. You don’t think too much about whether you are using a noun or a verb or a conjunction. It would be very unnatural to speak your first language while constantly thinking about verb conjugation or tense.  

It turns out that we memorized the sounds, words, word order, accent, and a million other things when we were small children. Notice how we didn’t sit down with verb conjugation tables and conjugate our way to fluency (I don’t have anything against verb tables. I rather like them, even if they’re essentially useless for language acquisition). No, our memorization process was quite different from a formal classroom setting that focuses on grammar. It was subconscious acquisition.

This site is designed to focus on unconscious acquisition. It mimics the natural communication process and the comprehensible examples will allow you to progress at a brisk pace. But as the learner you have some responsibilities. First, get your conscious mind out of the information processing business as soon as possible. Read with the intent to comprehend the message of the text, but don’t try to intellectualize the meaning. Instead, let your unconscious mind decipher what the text says. When you do that, your brain can't help but acquire language. It is designed that way.

How do I pull that off?” you might ask. The answer to that question is simple: don't focus on grammar; focus on the message.

As I mentioned earlier, the way you get better at a foreign language is by understanding messages over and over (just like you did when you learned your first language). Fortunately, adult learners have an advantage over children: most adults can read. This is especially important when we consider that written and spoken messages carry the same benefit in terms of language acquisition.

You've probably heard that people who read a lot are better writers than people who don't. It’s true. Voracious readers naturally have better grammar, clearer syntax (word order), and a bigger vocabulary. The same is true in a foreign language. The more hours you spend deciphering messages in the language the more you brain will build a grammar around the language. It's the same natural process you experienced when you learned your first language!

Let me give you a word of caution before you get started. When you are working on the building blocks (the comprehensible examples), read with the intent to comprehend the message in Spanish. If you understand what the text is saying fairly easily, you are doing everything necessary to acquire the language. If you get stuck you can find an English translation, but don't use that method as a crutch. You already speak English well, and focusing too much on the English will make you better at English. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not the purpose of this site. Translating is an okay strategy for speaking a new language at first, but it quickly becomes cumbersome. In fact, the research shows that constantly translating into your native language will slow you down in the long run.

I believe that everybody (young or old) has the ability to acquire a new language. If you learned your first language, you can learn another. I also believe that doing lots of comprehensible reading is the key that will unlock your hidden language potential. If you do substantial reading at an appropriate level (where you understand approximately 90% of what you read), I guarantee your fluency will increase dramatically over time. I can speak with authority on this matter because it's how I really learned Spanish. I went from being a monolingual high school student to being very fluent in Spanish in relatively short period of time. During that time I made the biggest gains by listening to, reading, and retelling stories in Spanish. If you can recall and retell a story with accuracy you can communicate just about anything in the language.

My Spanish improved so much from reading and listening that now I teach Spanish for a living. Since I know the power of reading comprehensible texts is for acquiring Spanish, I make my students read all the time. I can honestly say that the results are astounding. They are learning Spanish through reading and listening to texts they can understand at a high level, and are making tremendous strides in just a few short weeks.

Reading really works as a means of acquisition, and it works really well.