In language learning, as with anything that takes time and dedication, it’s not hard to find yourself becalmed by circular excuses: “I’m demotivated because I can’t find any native speakers to practice with” yet “I was too scared to speak with them because I didn’t want them to think I’m an idiot”. Some language learners like Benny the Irish Polyglot like to push through the fear barrier and speak from Day 1. But for those who are learning at home and don’t have the time or money for that many Skype sessions, a productive and sustainable way to practice a foreign language is to become a good reader.
Using your textbook
First, don’t stress too much about the grammar explanations. They are often in English and can be quite confusing because of the way they are written. Focus on the examples to get a feel for the new concepts. In any case, the explanations and examples should be treated as a reference, just the ‘key’ that will help you read the ‘map’. Tip: You can use the answer key as another source of examples to absorb the language.
Second, text books usually have longer passages at the end of chapters that use the unit’s new material. Go through these thoroughly, writing new vocabulary in the margins until you understand their meaning. At this stage, though, don’t worry too much about memorising everything. The more relaxed you am, the more you end up reading, and you can rest assured that the most important things will come up again. As long as you’re attentive and looking out for them, they will eventually stick.
If I’m being honest, I haven’t tested out many textbooks. My advice is based mainly on my experiences using Intermediate Spanish: A Grammar and Workbook by Irene Wilkie & Carmen Arnaiz which I bought at Abbey’s. I really valued Wilkie & Arnaiz’s clearly laid out examples and stimulating short passages.
Find challenging, interesting content
Off the top of my head, I don’t know the Spanish words for “onion”, “wardrobe”, “belt”… Heck, I’ve lived in Germany three times and I haven’t memorised the word for “sink“! However, I wouldn’t be fazed by a discussion about American politics or European football in both languages. Push yourself to read above your level and seek out content that interests you. It will keep you motivated in those times when you can’t stop going back to your dictionary and grammar notes. Personally, I derive a great sense of accomplishment and a lot of enjoyment from slowly deciphering an article until I understand its meaning.
At first, reading can feel like a huge effort as you’re essentially trying to convince your brain that the foreign jumble of letters (or characters) actually have meaning. Even if you’re an avid Memriser, you will still encounter new words everywhere you turn. You can start building up your stamina by changing the language of your phone or Facebook account, or reading just the headlines of articles.
Identify new words, look them up, write them down, forget them, move on. The next time you might vaguely remember seeing them earlier, look them up again, forget them again, move on… Don’t worry. Keep reading more, enjoying it, picking up words here and there, it will all add up! I used to find it funny how Steve Kaufmann always harps on about this way of learning but the more I learn, the more I tend towards this type of approach. As I’ve been reading more intensely in my 90 Day challenge there have been countless times when I’ve recognised words I first encountered just the day before. This is what I mean by “things will eventually stick”.
What’s in my feed: Some Spanish-language resources
I don’t have time to visit several different websites to sift for stories that sound interesting. Instead, I flood my Facebook with Spanish-language media so articles come to me. Here are some of my most-used websites:
BBC Mundo, the BBC’s service that targets Latin American, is an interesting Spanish-language news website to follow because its so varied. For example, “Why is the United States’ consumption of heroine increasing?” and “Why has the civil war in Syria lasted so long?” alongside an article about the possible ill-effects of running shoes.
ABC.es, from Spain, is another useful site. Its stories range from the thoughtful to the trivial, that you might not think to search for otherwise. Recently, they posted a story about the importance of good nutrition for expecting mothers. There’s also a story about the doctor who saved his patient in a way inspired by Fox‘s hit TV show House.
I also follow a number of other media sources of various origins including: Revista National Geographic en Español, El Mundo (Spain), La Opinion (California), Cubadebate (Cuba), Global Voices en Español (International), La Diaria (Uruguay), and El País (Spain).
Look for things that interest you, whatever you read will be good exposure and full of new words. I’m a big sports fan and there are so many big Spanish-speaking football nations, so some of the first websites I discovered were Sport.es (Barcelona), Mundo Deportivo (Barcelona), Vamos Deportes (USA), and Sevilla FC (Spain).
Takeaway: Reading is so vital to learning a foreign language. It is a much more immersive and contextual way to learn vocabulary than other solo activities like flashcards. And it can be really enjoyable and rewarding. Finding material you find interesting and challenging is the key to staying motivated. Don’t be preoccupied by memorising new words or turning passive vocabulary into active vocabulary. As long as you’re engaged, you will eventually make the connections in your brain.
Thanks for reading, don’t be shy to comment, follow or share this post. Hasta la próxima!