The ultimate guide to reading Spanish more effectively so you can make the most out of your next book

Is reading Spanish a challenge for you? 

Perhaps you think like how I used to think, back when I was learning English.

One day, as I was walking down the street, I thought: 

“It’s time for me to invest in a good book in English.

I know how to speak this language pretty well now, so why not read some good literature in this language?”. 

I went to a bookstore and bought the adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, in English. 

After getting home, opening the book, and reading a couple of pages, I put it away and went back to playing video games.

“I’ll keep reading tomorrow”, I said to myself. 

But, tomorrow never came, and I never finished the book. 

So, why did this happen? 

And, now that you have a decent level in this language, how can you avoid losing your motivation to read books in Spanish? 

How can you understand and make reading Spanish a more effective activity?

We’ll solve these questions in this article + I’ll walk you through 3 steps that will make your reading more enjoyable.

Why Is Reading Spanish So Difficult?

A skull over a book in a rustic environment

In his book, The Power Of Reading, Stephen Krashen says that when you’re learning a language:

“[Reading] provides the foundation so that higher levels of proficiency may be reached.

In fact, Krashen says that reading will bring powerful results to anyone who invests time in this activity:

“Reading comprehension will improve, and they will find difficult, academic-style texts easier to read…Their vocabulary will improve, their spelling and control of grammar will improve.”

But, if reading is so good, why did I fail to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

Is it because I’m too lazy to read?


My biggest mistake when I chose that book was that it was way more advanced for the level of English I had at that time. 

This book was full of: 

  • References to the American culture which I didn’t know.
  • Idioms.
  • Words that were supposed to represent sounds people make in English.
  • Vocabulary I hadn’t seen in my life.

To be honest, I got bored with this book because I didn’t understand what I was reading. 

So, if you think reading Spanish is difficult, the problem might be that the book you want to read is too above your level, right now. 

And, I know that some of you can argue: 

“I like challenges, I rather going after difficult books”

Just remember that language acquisition happens progressively.

Besides, you aren’t competing against anyone else, so just  pick books according to your current level.

In other words, a good selection is something that allows you to understand, at least, half of what you read without having to look up words in the dictionary.

You won’t make any progress if you read a book that you need to stop at every line to decipher what you just read.

Instead of that, you need to…

Enjoy What Your Time Reading Spanish

Happy boy holding a book

And basically, this means to pick a book you like, something that interests you. 

Stephen Krashen calls this Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), which is just reading for pleasure. 

So don’t go over a book just because you feel like you need a challenge as I did with Mark Twain’s book. 

Look for a topic you like or a story you like. 

Heck, you can even read a book in Spanish that you have read in English, and that’s gonna be way more powerful because you already know the context and what the story is all about.

And as you have fun, you may do different activities with the book you’re going through.

Read It On Paper

Even though it’s a little more expensive, reading Spanish in physical books can be a great activity. 

  • You’ll be able to focus more because there aren’t as many distractions as there are in digital books. 
  • It’s going to be healthier for your eyes as the light of screens isn’t there to make your eyes tired.
  • It’ll be more relaxing than having all the stress a phone might give you with all the notifications and apps floating around.

You could even have physical dictionaries, urban or idiom dictionaries right next to you, so you don’t need to turn to digital resources just to find out the meaning of a couple of expressions. 

Of course, I’m not saying that reading on your phone is bad, there’s actually a lot of advantages to… 

Reading Spanish On Your Electronic Devices

Most of the time, this is how I read books, and I love it.

Not just because books they’re cheaper, but because there are tons of digital tools to help you figure out what you don’t understand in the book.

With just a couple of tools, you’re good to go. 

For instance, the ones I always use when reading books are: 

  • Google translator
  • The RAE website to find out the meaning of the new words.
  • Google

With digital tools, things are as simple as typing a direct question in a google search. 

For example, let’s say that as you’re reading a book you stumble upon an idiom that you have no idea what it means. 

What I would do, would be to type in Spanish a question asking what it means, like this:

  • ¿Qué significa [The idiom] en español?
  • ¿Qué significa [The idiom] en español? 

It’s more likely that you’ll get the meaning of the idiom if you search in Spanish because native speakers tend to look for these expressions more than Spanish students. 

No matter what method you use to read, or what tools you choose to find out the meaning of words, reading is a powerful activity that will help you learn Spanish. 

Now, how much is reading going to help your Spanish?

Will Reading Spanish Help Me Become More Fluent In This Language?

Yes, and no. 

Yes because the more you read: 

  • The more you’ll be exposed to the correct use of grammar in Spanish.
  • It’ll help you develop a sense of what sounds right in the structure of sentences.
  • You’ll learn more vocabulary.

However, Dr. Stephen Krashen makes a good clarification on this matter in the book that I mentioned previously, he says that:

Reading in Spanish “provides the foundation so that higher levels of proficiency may be reached. When [Reading] is missing, these advanced levels are extremely difficult to attain”. 

It will help you, but it’s not all you need. 

More than anything, you need to listen to lots of Spanish

Yes, reading will help you a lot, but listening will make you become a fluent Spanish speaker.

Just make sure that you engage in both activities: 

Listen and read a lot. 

These days we have an advantage with audiobooks, so we can do both activities at the same time. 

Apps like kindle and audible can become very handy if you want to listen and read your favorite books in Spanish.

Now, sometimes, you’ll just want to sit down and read, and that’s fine.

Reading in a foreign language can be a fun and rewarding activity, so from now on we’ll focus on how to do it more effectively.

First of all, let’s start with one of the most frequent challenges we face when reading Spanish:

How To Understand New Words While Reading A Book

Peaces of scrabble mixed

One of the first things you need to understand to become a better reader in a foreign language is that, instead of stopping every time you see an unknown word to look up its meaning in the dictionary, you should aim to go from the beginning to the end of a page or a chapter.

Now, it’s inevitable to stumble upon words that you don’t know, and when you do, try to look at the context in which you’re seeing this new word. 

Sometimes, the general idea of what’s happening can be enough to figure out the meaning of the new word.

If you still don’t see any possible meaning, read again the sentence that contains the new word you’re struggling with.

Perhaps you need to go through it two or three times. 

You might also want to check if the word you’re seeing is just another version of a word you already know. 

To do that, you could check the root of the word, and see if this sounds familiar to you, for example: 

Saber = To know

Sabiondo = Mr. know it all

Sabio = Wise

Sabiduría = Wisdom

See that these words are similar in their roots?

Obviously, that’s not gonna happen with all words, and that’s why sometimes you should just acknowledge that you don’t know the words. 

As the last resource, turn to the dictionary to look up the meaning of a new word.

But, if you understand everything that’s happening in the chapter you read, without knowing the meaning of that new thing you stumbled upon, then skip it, it doesn’t really matter. 

How To Read In Spanish More Effectively 

Aside from finding the meaning of individual words in Spanish, you need to know how to go through a complete book in a more effective way. 

The truth is that reading Spanish might feel like a struggle sometimes.

My suggestion is that you follow the next steps, so you can make it to the end of your next book effectively: 

Step 1: Don’t stop until you finish a certain number of pages

As you begin a new chapter of a book, you have to set yourself a goal to read through the whole chapter. 

No stopping for looking up words or to answer a phone call. 

Focus and go until the end of the chapter.

If it’s too long, then you may divide each chapter into several pages. 

That means that reading 3 – 5 pages without stopping will be enough.

Step 2: Read several times

Go back to the beginning of the chapter and read again. 

I’m sure that if you’re a passionate reader, you’ll start to notice small details you didn’t see the first time you read.

Here’s where you can start marking down words and phrases you don’t know, and look up the meaning of them by applying the instructions I gave you previously.

If the book has some comprehension tools, then use them in this step. 

Some books and magazines have.

  • Images or illustrations in the book so you can create a mental link between the text and the images.
  • Comprehension questions so you can know if you understood what you just read.
  • Vocabulary lists or glossaries so you don’t need to turn to dictionaries.
  • Plot summaries that explain in simple words what happens in each chapter. This way you could test yourself to see if you got everything correctly.

Something else you can do before going to step #3 is a mental summary of what you just read. 

If you can explain what you read, that means that it’s time to…

Step 3: Keep going

Don’t spend too much time trying to understand everything perfectly. 

You might even just look for the meaning of the words that repeat the most during the chapter.

If you got the idea, and you already know what is happening in the story, then move on to the next chapter or the next peace of pages.

The Pleasure Of Reading

Of course, some people might find the suggestions of this article useful while others might have other ways to go through books in Spanish. 

The bottom line is that no matter how you do it, reading might be one of the most rewarding and entertaining activities to do in life.

Especially, if you read for pleasure and intending to improve your Spanish, you’ll make progress in this new language super fast.

Just like one of my favorite students from Italy, Roberto. 

He’s a passionate reader, always on the hunt for new books, devouring book after book in Spanish. He’s always emailing me, asking for more book recommendations in Spanish. 

He even gives me suggestions for my future books to read.

After reading several books, he’s emails include exciting words like: 

  • “Entendí todo”
  • “Excelente libro”
  • “¿Conoces más libros en español?”

Make sure that a passion like that will eventually pay off to increase your skills in Spanish.

Now, what about you?

Do you like to read in Spanish?

Are there any other suggestions to read more effectively in Spanish? 

Share them in the comments below.

Diego Cuadros is a blogger and a Spanish online teacher. He uses stories to help Spanish lovers understand fast-speaking native speakers, so they don't freeze and panic in conversations.

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