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Friday, January 23, 2009

Language Lab

Language Lab

I thought I would pass along a couple of my techniques for learning Spanish, or any other language I am studying. I have said over and over that reading is an essential part of picking up new vocabulary. The more you read, the faster you will learn Spanish. I have always been a fairly heavy reader so this isn't a chore for me. The reading part isn't a chore but the foreign language part is a pain in the ass—although less and less every day. Even when my Spanish really sucked I read quite a bit. I can't believe that I was able to make it through some of those books. With every new book that I begin, I read faster and with much better comprehension. My vocabulary grows exponentially and I have the notebooks filled with words I have looked up to prove it.

A trick I use whenever I am reading a book I bought—as opposed to library books or one borrowed from friends—is that I always have a red pen handy to underline new words I come across. I don't stop to look up every unfamiliar word as I am reading unless it is absolutely essential to understanding the text. I will also immediately look up a word if it appears twice in a passage I am reading. After I have finished reading for that session I will go back and look up the underlined words and write down the meanings in a notebook. I will also write down other forms of the word, be they adjectives, verbs, nouns, or whatever the case may be. I also try to write down as many synonyms for the new word as I know or can find. I will sometimes write down the sentence containing the word as this helps me to get a grip on words that are more conceptual or more difficult to grasp. Something I don't do often enough is to go back and review a book by searching out the underlined words and read the context to see if the meaning has stuck with me or not.

If anyone has a better method please share it with me. Reading in Spanish has always been a great pleasure, but as I improve I read faster and with greater understanding. I like to read books by fairly contemporary Spanish authors as I feel this is the best way to learn how to speak the language spoken in Spain today. However, books that have been translated into Spanish are, generally speaking, easier to read than books written in Spanish. I suppose this is because a translation is going to be a lot less idiomatic. I usually read a translation and then follow that with a book originally written in Spanish.

I just finished El Padrino (The Godfather) and am following that with El Amante Albanés by the Spanish novelist, Susana Fortes. I have quite a stack of books I want to read so I try to keep to my reading goal of a minimum of 50 pages a day. Some days are easier than others. I picked up a copy of The Old Man and the Sea in Spanish which I will read next. That should be a snap to read. As I have said before, my ultimate goal is to red Don Quixote and I don't mean the young person's version I have on my shelf.