Reading Spanish

Reading Spanish is easier than reading English!

But, readers of English develop reading habits that need to be corrected to streamline their progress in mastering Spanish reading tasks.

Reading strategies that are effective for English readers prove detrimental and ineffective for beginning Spanish readers.

The strategies for reading Spanish are similar, but different enough from the strategies for reading English that some English readers (often very skilled readers) experience difficulty in reading Spanish.

The differences are subtle, not like the difference between reading Chinese and reading English…more like the difference between riding a traditional “coaster bike” and a ten-speed bicycle with hand brakes.

The skills used to ride both types of bicycle are similar, however basic operations such as going faster, riding up a hill and stopping are accomplished differently.

Reading in English and reading in Spanish are accomplished differently, also. But, the differences are less apparent than the differences between the structure of two bicycles.

Beginning readers of Spanish can “crash” in a similar way as a bicycle rider accustomed to a coaster bicycle. When riding a ten-speed bicycle the first time, the coaster bike expert panics when he or she tries to stop because “the brakes don’t work!”) Of course, the brakes work, but braking is accomplished by the squeezing of levers on the handlebars instead of locking the pedals in a backward direction.

The challenge that proficient readers of English face when reading Spanish is that they tend to skim over the tops of the words as they read. Proficient readers scan along and use minimal letter clues to gather meaning from the text.

For example: Read the following two lines…

Top of a sentence

sentence-bottom

Note:

  • Top Line: “English uses lots of weird spellings.”
  • Bottom Line: “Spanish spelling makes reading easy.”

You can see that reading the top of an English sentence is easier than reading the bottom half. So, the challenge that readers (especially fast and fluid readers) of English face is to stop reading by skimming over the tops of sentences.

This strategy is efficient when the reader knows the vocabulary (as in English), but fails when the vocabulary words are unfamiliar…such as when learning new Spanish words.

Beginning to read Spanish requires that readers learn to look at each word, and each syllable in that word.

So, the first rule is to look at every letter of each Spanish word, even though the “H” is silent.

Avoid the tendency of readers of English to group a series of vowels into a single sound. Spanish vowels all have sounds of their own, and Spanish does not have a bunch of silent letter patterns like English.

Spanish letter combinations of vowels…

  • “ae” “ae,” “ai,” “ao” and “au”
  • “ea,” “ee,” “ei,” “eo” and “eu”
  • “ia,” “ie,” “ii,” “io” and “iu”
  • “oa,” “oe,” “oi,” “oo” and “ou”
  • “ua,” “ue,” “ui,” “uo” and “uu”

are pronounced with each vowel sound, but slurred together.

These are pronounced like the vowels in the English words…

  • “bruin, Druid, ruin

Not like English words words with a silent “U” such as…

  • “build,” “guild,” “quilt,” “quiz,” “quip” or “equipment”

Once you have examined all the letters of a Spanish word, you need to break that word into syllables.

Focus on reading the syllables of Spanish words, syllable by syllable. Pay attention to each syllable, in order.

If you experience difficulty halting your habit of word skimming and don’t slow down; you can use a 3″ x 5″ index card with a small rectangle cut into the card.

Use this card to cover the entire word, then reveal parts of the word, one syllable at a time.

Here is what a card like this looks like…

This strategy prevents you from looking at the entire word and guessing.

The series of steps that you will use to read a Spanish word would look like this…

Bien

ven

i

dos

Bien / ven/ i /dos (Pronounces as…bee-en-ben-ee-dohs)

Finally, the entire word…

Bienvenidos

Next, learn to place the stresses on the vowels of the Spanish words, correctly.

Spanish words are stressed differently than English words, and Spanish does not use the Unstressed Schwa sound that is used so frequently in English.

Examples of the Schwa sound include:

  • a
  • the
  • ability
  • against
  • around
  • about
  • reason
  • raison
  • reasonable
  • equipment

The symbol for the Schwa sound is an “Upside down and backward “E.”

Make basic letter-pronunciation substitutions. Replace:

  • The letter “J” with an “H” sound
  • The letters “LL” with a “Y” sound
  • The sound of an “E” with the sound of a Long “A”
  • The sound of “I” with the sound of a Long “E”
  • Sometimes the letter “R” will be pronounces with the sound of “D” as in “dull”
  • The letter “D” inside words with the sound of a “TH” as in Father or Mother

Next, learn when to pronounce the “B” and the “V” sounds. The sounds of these two letters are used interchangeably, but there are rules for when to use each.

Fortunately, if you get the rules wrong, listeners will still understand what you are saying. So, just keep reading, and you will get this right after some practice.

Resist the tendency to pronounce Spanish consonants as English words. Remember that Spanish vowels are short (or slurred together) so even the pronunciation of cognates differ than the English pronunciation.

Break the habit of reading Spanish words as English words. Spanish does use Long Vowels, Silent E and strange letter combinations that require odd sounds.

Set aside your tendency to read Spanish as if it were English, and practice.

Read aloud. Read to your classmates. Read slowly and pay attention as you read. Record yourself and follow along as you play the passages that you recorded.

With practice, you will develop a Spanish “Sight Word” reading vocabulary. With this, skill, you will…

  • Recognize common, high-frequency words without sounding the words out of breaking the words into syllables
  • Recognize ending patterns of basic verb conjugations, and endings for words such as gerunds (…ando or …endo) and the ending of adverbs (…mente)

Follow these strategies, and you will be able to read Spanish rapidly and accurately after a little practice.