Reading will help you learn to speak Spanish like a native speaker, no matter when in life you start your journey.
Most beginning Spanish learners fail to truly speak Spanish because they focus on the wrong thing. Textbook grammar rules will leave you confused and rote memorization is ineffective at best. But that doesn't have to be you. You can achieve native fluency through reading.
At Read to Speak Spanish, we take a different approach to language acquisition. We make original and compelling stories to help you achieve natural and, over time, native fluency.
Think about it. Our brains are hard-wired for storytelling. Engaging stories take our focus off the "how" we communicate and put it squarely on the "what" and "why". In other words, when we hear and read stories, our brains only care about the message of the text.
When you read (watched?) the Lord of the Rings, you didn't care that Frodo used the first person singular form in the present indicative. You cared about his perilous and heroic quest to destroy the ring.
When you read for fun in Spanish, your brain gets lots of opportunities to process the language. Since processing comprehensible language is the driving force behind acquisition, you want to have as many chances as possible to do just that. If you want to learn to speak Spanish, you need to get serious about reading Spanish. A lot of Spanish.
Most language classrooms focus heavily on verb conjugation and explicit grammar instruction. I used to be one of those grammar-centric college professors, but my students weren't getting the results I wanted. Deep down I knew something was wrong with the way I was teaching.
Today my classroom is different. I ditched the confusing grammar explanations and went back to basics. Now, I teach Spanish almost exclusively through storytelling because it just makes sense. After all, we are storytelling creatures. Learning to speak a new language through storytelling is perhaps the most natural way.
Since making the switch to stories as a vehicle for acquisition, I've seen more students succeed at leveling-up their Spanish. Each passing week my learners steadily improve on their way to native fluency.
Learning to speak Spanish doesn't happen overnight. There are no shortcuts. But I am convinced that reading for fun will unlock your language learning potential!
The main struggle for college Spanish students is mastering the grammar. Many college professors expect their students to know lots of grammar rules and be able to reproduce them on tests. Many students over the years have told me that their biggest struggle is with the grammar. My response often shocks them:
Studying grammar is not the natural way to learn a language, and it will not lead to any real fluency.
Think about it. When you were a toddler learning English (or whatever your native language happens to be), you didn't spend a single second learning the difference between a participle or an infinitive, or how to use double object pronouns while in the imperfect subjunctive mood. Instead, you focused all your attention on receiving and sending messages to those around you. After mentally processing for thousands of hours in your native language, your brain built a grammar around the messages you had received. Now, your brain automatically knows how to use words within the rules of your own internal grammar structure. You don't even have to think about it. You simply think about the message you want to express and the words just bubble up from your subconscious, like the carbonation bubbles in can of soda.
When you spend too much time studying grammar rules, you begin to consciously think about how to say things, instead of what to say. Indeed, studying grammar rules will only help you pass a grammar test. Admittedly, sometimes passing the test is all we need to do. But too much focus on how to say things will lead to a shallower fluency. If you really want to speak Spanish well, you need to learn grammar through vocabulary building.
The second big struggle for many Spanish learners is to actually learn enough vocabulary to do the tasks they need to accomplish. Your Spanish textbook will likely present vocabulary in long chapter lists. Sometimes they will break those down into categories, which is better than the whole list of words in one or two big columns. Unfortunately, these lists rarely give you enough (or any) context for the words. It becomes an exercise in rote memorization, one that most people are destined to fail. In addition, these vocabulary lists tend to be way too long. Many students give up out of frustration after just 10-15 words. I get it. It's overwhelming.
What's the solution to this problem? For most, the solution is to limit vocabulary to only the essential words. Once these words are mastered, you will be able to mentally process and understand the language at a high level. This high-frequency vocabulary will serve as a strong base for sentence decoding (and later sentence construction), and will allow you to pick up additional vocabulary along the way.
Learning a new language is a huge task. Before you begin, it is helpful to determine why you want to learn the language? Do you want to speak Spanish like a native speaker? Perhaps you want to have a conversation with a Spanish-speaking neighbor or coworker? Or maybe you just want to pass the test on Friday? Whatever the case, Sometimes we are called to learn something, and other times we just have to solve a difficult puzzle to get to the next level (a la Zelda).
1. If you want to learn enough to pass the test you've got coming up, the following study guide and examples will help you get the hang of it. Find the section your class is working on, and get to mentally processing the example sentences. I keep grammar explanations to a minimum here for a reason.
You can do this. Your best bet is to focus on the message and let the grammar take care of itself.
2. If your goal is to have a real life conversation with a Spanish-speaking coworker, you should aim to master the high-frequency vocabulary. Once you get the hang of some of the basic words, you'll be able to start reading and listening to more complex language. Perhaps the best place to get complex, compelling, and varied language is through reading fiction. If you read a level-appropriate text, you'll see a small amount (very small) of new vocabulary on nearly every page, read interesting dialogue that will more easily recall in conversations, show you a variety of sentence structures that your textbook may ignore entirely, etc. In addition, reading compelling fiction is the best way to get your brain to stop focusing on the grammatical form (how to say things), and keep you focused on the message (what is happening in the story).
Getting to the point where you are reading level-appropriate fiction independently typically takes my students somewhere between 1-6 weeks of study. Thus, this approach may not help you get an A on that mid-term tomorrow. It will, however, put you on a path toward lifelong fluency.
Reading as a means to acquisition really works, and it works really well.