Language-learning strategy: Read extensively

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In this blog we will address a variety of topics, including:

  • Vocabulary and expressions related to the culture and history of Spain and the Hispanic world;
  • Interesting facts about Spanish and Spanish speakers;
  • Common words that have many meanings and uses;
  • Easily-confused words and expressions, such as words that look or sound alike, and “false friends”;
  • Tricky points of grammar;
  • Hints on how to improve your own learning.

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Help yourself learn Spanish by using effective learning strategies

You know that to learn a language well you need to be immersed in it, surrounded by native speakers and using the language as much as possible in your daily activities: shopping, exercising, socializing, cultural activities and more. That’s not so hard if you are in Spanish speaking environment, but you have to work harder if you are not. In the coming weeks and months we’ll recommend some language-learning strategies that can really help, whether you are in a Spanish-speaking environment or not.

Language-learning strategy # 1: Read extensively

According to applied linguists such as Stephen Krashen, the best way to improve your vocabulary is to read a lot, just slightly above your present level. According to Paul Nation, a leading expert on vocabulary development in a second or foreign language, to be able to get meaning from what you read, and to be able to figure out the meaning of most of the words you don’t know, you should already know at least 95% of the words in a text.

Leer ampliamente

To check the readability of a text, read a page without looking anything up but underlining or highlighting each new word. Count the number of words in several lines. Average out the number of words per line then multiply it by the number of lines on the page. Then count each underlined or highlighted word once, no matter how many times it appears on the page and whether it appears in only one form or several (e.g., mentira, mentir, mentiroso/a).

Then calculate the percentage by dividing the number of known words by the total number of words. If this comes to more than 5%, this material will be hard going. Struggling with text is not motivating, so save it for later and look for something more accessible for now.

You can read whatever interests you: novels, biographies, magazines, press articles, children’s books, graphic novels, practical or informational books or articles on cooking or gardening or the climate crisis… But read a lot!

The first time you meet a new word, decide if it is essential to your general understanding of what you are reading. If not, skip it! It will surely come up again, and each time it does you will get a clearer idea of its meaning. Alternatively, if you don’t like ambiguity, use a reading app that has a built-in bilingual dictionary. Click on the word, and it will pop up with a translation. Sometimes you will encounter a known word that the writer is using in a more figurative or idiomatic sense. For example, if you know the word leche but you don’t understand how the writer is using it, click on the word and you’ll get not only a definition but also various expressions such as tener mala leche (to be bad-tempered) or estar de mala leche (to be in a bad mood). (Coming soon: a post on the many ways of using leche in Spanish.)


If you can find audiobooks, so much the better… you will improve your listening comprehension too! You can also look for a good text-to-speech app if you are reading electronically. Once you know the text well you can read parts of aloud it aloud along with the audio; this will help your pronunciation. You might feel embarrassed to do this in a bus or in a café, but do it at home!

More strategies coming soon!

11 de February de 2021

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