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Starting Books in Spanish

I've recently started reading Harry Potter in Spanish, but I'm finding that there are a lot of words I don't know. I haven't finished the Spanish tree yet (I've done about 60% of it), but I can still understand what is happening (though that may be helped by the fact that I pretty much know the English versions off by heart!). My question was, to those who have also attempted to start a book in a different language, what would be the best way to go about it? Should I power on reading through it and just skip words I don't know, or should I pause at every word I don't know to look it up (I have been doing this, but it makes getting through the book very very slow!).

Thanks in advance! :)

February 22, 2014



I really like mmseiple's suggestion to mark unfamiliar words on the first pass, then look up all the words at once, then re-read. I would probably do a chapter at a time this way.

I HIGHLY recommend investing in a Kindle Touch for reading foreign language books. The Kindle Touch will allow you to purchase a Spanish-English dictionary and when you come across a book you don't know, you simply touch it and the English definition is displayed on screen for you. It makes it super easy to look up words quickly and you don't lose the flow of your reading too much.

Note that the Kindle Fire and the Kindle reading applications (for PC, mobile phones, etc.) don't support this. It has to be a dedicated reading device like the Kindle Touch. I think another Duolingo person said that the Kindle Paperwhite can also do this but check it out yourself to be sure.

I LOVE reading books in Spanish on my Kindle Touch! It is a great way to build vocabulary and a "feel" for the language. There are a lot of free books available, too, mostly classics.


I believe that if you already have an Android device, the Mantano Reader app allows lookups in several alternative languages, including Spanish-English. I've not tried that yet (it's on my to-do list), but I do use the app for normal ebook reading and it's a marvellous app.

And even the paid versions are much cheaper than a Kindle!


Agreed, simply the best way to go. I was reading "the taming of the shrew" in French on my kindle and every time I got stuck on a word I used the built in dictionary (then had to try and decipher the definition, as it too was in French) sometimes I would write down the words and it was all a very fun experience.


I've read a few Harry Potter books in Spanish (I lived in South America once, so I have more Spanish background than just Duolingo). Here are my general observations on the experience:

Although the sentence structure is simple enough, the books are full of words that most Spanish learners won't have encountered before, because there's just no reason for them to come up in everyday conversation. Surprisingly, the biggest hurdle is not the vocabulary of magic (spells, cauldrons, wands, dungeons, centaurs, obscure herbs...), but basic descriptive words that are common in novels but not in everyday conversation: shriek, grimace, dodge, trip, whine, shudder, grumble, whisper, high-pitched, scrawny, clumsy, dimpled... I have a spreadsheet with hundreds of new-to-me words and idioms in it just from Harry Potter.

So the number of unfamiliar words you'll have to look up in the dictionary makes progress go very slowly, which might be discouraging for some people. And it's Spain Spanish, which is slightly different from Duolingo's Latin American Spanish (you'll encounter the vosotros forms a lot). If you're ok with all that, it's a fun challenge.

One solution is to read Spanish Harry Potter alongside an English edition instead of using a dictionary, and just look at the original sentence whenever you need help. It'll make the process a lot faster. You'll also notice places where the translator made errors or got lazy, which is interesting in itself.


I would practice reading in Immersion if they have a category you enjoy. If you don't feel comfortable translating yet, you don't have to in order to use it as a reader. (One step at a time.) Immersion is great because you can pick one category and stick to it. I'm not a big sports fan, but, for whatever reason I kept translating sports articles. This was before I got to the Sports skill on my tree. By the time I got there, I breezed through it because of Immersion.

Additionally, I love ReadLang (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/readlang-web-reader/odpdkefpnfejbfnmdilmfhephfffmfoh?hl=en-GB). I click on anywhere from 1 to 8 words and it translates them. Then, it automatically makes a flashcard for what I missed. I can import articles etc from the web to my ReadLang library, and it will tell me the difficulty rating.

I tried reading books when I had first taken a Spanish class several years ago (7?). But, I'm a very fast reader. Stopping to look up words so often was very discouraging. Eventually, I gave up and just focused on getting through Uni. With Immersion and Readlang soooo much frustration has been alleviated!!


THANK YOU for this information about Readlang. I think you just changed my life.


Brilliant!! Thanks a lot! I'll give that a go too


Thanks undertoad, she has some really good advice; making untidy vocab lists and learning words linked in pairs. I enjoy cryptic crosswords as she does, but I'm not sure I have the determination or persistence to tackle challenging texts without reference to a grammar or dictionary; it could be too much of a puzzle for me. I'll give it a go, though.


Yeah, I started reading El Indio which is a famous mexican novel and inicially had to look up many words per page. The vocabulary of the book which was written in 1937 is very difficult. Even my girlfriend whose first language is spanish has never heard of some the words. Despite this things did pick up and i have only a few chapters left and I am understanding more and more as I go on. My advice:

  1. look up a lot of words and really make an effort to remember them and the context they're used in.
  2. Read aloud to yourself. (I find it is helpful to understanding the story as well as pronunciation for speaking)
  3. Try not to translate your way through the book. Read it, understand it and think about it in spanish.



Oh I hadn't even thought of reading aloud, great idea, thanks! :)


Harry Potter had too many -- waaaaay too many --- new words for me, words I rarely, if ever, use in normal conversation. Quidditch? Patronus? I first did a "GooseBumps" children's book, buying a copy in English and a copy in Spanish and plowing through. Not having to deal with as much weird vocabulary allowed me to concentrate on verbs tenses.

There are also some good "Side-by-Side" (Google them) books that tell stories in Spanish and English.

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