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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!


Google books has a similar function using Google translated, which also allows the translation of entire sentences. Additionally a Spanish dictionary is included very nice for learning the exact definition in the target language.


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.


Without a bilingual dictionary installed yes, you will see the definition in the target language. In fact, sometimes I look up a word that is not in my Collins Spanish-English dictionary and when that happens I get the Spanish-Spanish dictionary and have to decipher the meaning based on the Spanish definition. More difficult, but definitely better than being totally clueless!


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.


I'm glad! I got the idea from someone else, possibly Samsta was the first to suggest ReadLang to me :)


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.


Don't forget to utilize the Language Discussion forums here on Duolingo. If you don't already see them, you can subscribe to them in the discussion forum. Instructions here: http://duolingo.wikia.com/wiki/Forum_Guide:Where_to_Discuss_What_on_Duolingo(Unofficial)#Language_Discussion_Forums



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.


When I read Vygotsky's Myshlenie i rech in Spanish, I started out with the English translation next to me and looking up words that I didn't know. But I found it difficult to process the information when I kept stopping like that, so I just kept on reading. I'd already read two different English translations so, as with you, I pretty much knew the material by heart, and that helped me learn a great deal from reading the Spanish translation. If I made it through an entire chapter and found there was something that I really couldn't figure out from the context by the end of the chapter, then I would look it up. This was much more effective for my learning the language than constantly referencing the English translation.


Hmmm just in case you like JAPANESE MANGA in SPANISH try http://es.mangahere.com/....


One of the other commenters mentioned that with reading books it's difficult because there's vocabulary not often used in speech (sighed, grimaced, etc.). The great thing with manga is that it's just the things that each character is saying, so might be an easier way of starting to read in Spanish.


Exactly!!! And the stories are really good too...


Power through section by section (or chapter by chapter), then go back and read each section a second time before looking up any words and moving on to the next section. You will find that you save time and learn more by reading each section twice, before looking up words. By having to look up fewer words and comprehending more of the language in context, you will also be able to use the language you learn more correctly in full sentences when speaking or writing.


Well I'm readinga book in Spanish now and I don't think reading something you already know will help you learn because as you read you're trying to translate everything top English in your mind. The book I'm reading had never been translated into English so it forces me to think in Spanish. And I also don't know every word but it is important that you understand the gist of what it days and geta feel of what's going on. Also write summaries of what you read, taking in information is easier than putting it out so this will also challenge your mind


This is kind of on a religious tone. So if you're not interested in the book I'm going to mention, you can disregard this whole post. But the Book of Mormon is and option I'm using. The language is very simple. There is a book on Amazon, Spanish Study Aid (Heiner), that is a good tool to use with it. As well other websites.

Again I'm interested in reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish. If you are not please just disregard this. Otherwise I think it's a great way to learn Spanish.


I have had some interesting experiences with dual language books. By far the best method for me are dual language books displaying matching passages on facing pages. One book I did by was a story of the Battle of Trafalgar by a fellow named Galvez. Unfortunately, my NOOK would only show each language as one continuous text. The other problem I had was a reference to "el Emperador de Trapisonda". I thought it would be easy to find a name like Trapisonda in the English version. It simply was not there so I had to go to to Google. It turns out that in the Author's time, in Spain, the Emperor of Trapisonda was an Eastern potentate known for back stabbing, cheating, double dealing and being argumentative and quarrelsome. The modern translator didn't think it worthwhile to find a literary workaround she just dropped the whole sentence or paragraph. So, I found that frustrating. I have also read some of the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I don't recommend his style of "Magical Realism" for beginners. I do like his books, but when a whole book is dedicated to allusion an illusion you are going to do a lot of head scratching because he is dedicated to the sound and pace of language as much as information content. My easiest progress so far has been the dual language "Cuentos de America Latina." It contains a dozen of so short stories based on Latin America folklore plucked from various locations in Central and South America. They have all been edited to a young adult version of Spanish. The Spanish versions of the stories are probably no longer five to seven pages. And you quickly get to a level of being able to sort out a conversation by guessing at context when you encounter something unfamiliar. Lastly you learn a little of local history and legend. So, to summarize, keep an eye pealed for simple dual language readers edited to give you the fastest progress. If you are like me and want something other than hamburger you will veer off into the hard stuff, but be warned the is not for the impatient.


this was very helpful. thanks.


I found these graded readers very helpful. You can find them from Blaine Ray website or TPRS publishing. They have a few more I haven't ordered.

pobre ana

amigos detectives

el viaje de su vida pobre ana bailó tango

casi se muere

patricia va a california

mi propio auto .

donde está eduardo

el viaje perdido .

viva el toro

los ojos de carmen

vida o muerte en el cusco

en busca del monstruo

I also recommend: stories from latin america (side by side bilingual books)

stories from puerto rico (side by side bilingual books)

stories from spain (side by side bilingual books)

stories from mexico (side by side bilingual books)

Any of the Barco de Vapor Series


A little of both. It will be slow when you don't know the vocabulary. Some words that you don't know, you'll figure out in context after you see them a lot. If you don't, then look them up. I am also going to read HP in Spanish after I get through the major verb tenses. My daughter who is learning Portuguese says the real value for her in reading a book is learning new vocabulary. Your language lessons teach you basic grammar/sentence formation, but you don't get an extensive vocabulary until you read (just as when you are a child learning your native language). You can keep a notebook as you look up words, but I think it is better to keep the English version handy and just enjoy reading as much as you can understand.


You have to use spanich in your daily life so you can evolve such level


Thanks for your help everyone!! I love this DL community, everyone is so helpful!


I've been trying one of the Percy Jackson books in Spanish on my Kindle. I highlight words that are unfamiliar, even if they seem obvious from the context. Once I've looked them up, I double check that I understand the sentence and remove the highlight. It is slow going, but it helps me build my vocabulary. The level of difficulty so far is about right.


I wouldn't recommend looking up words as you go along, as it will just end up frustrating you and making you lose track of the story. What I suggest to my students is to read for a while, marking unfamiliar words if they want. Then they can go back and look up words and reread the section if necessary. You'll find you can get more words than you think from context, and reading longer sections of a text (even if it's just looking up words after a few paragraphs or a page or two instead of as you go along) helps to develop this skill.


I've been reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. It's a little hard for me to understand (it would be harder if I hadn't read them in English first), but the gist is often enough for me to figure out a word from context.

Good luck!


I begin with translations of books I know really well (I read aloud a lot to my kids, so there's a bunch of simple books I know REALLY well). C.S. Lewis's Narnia books were a good start. I usually make flashcards of the first five words I don't know, in any one reading session, and then just plow on without looking anything else up.


I learned languages by immersion and reading. I recommend writing the unfamiliar words as you read and noting the page number, and when you are done reading look up the words and reread the page.


I thought about this too! I want to take out some books in Spanish from my library, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to get through them at all.


My plan has been to start with books graded a1 which is the first level of the European testing framework cefr you can find books graded using this system


I've recently discovered roald dahl books in Spanish! I did try harry potter but I struggled a bit as there were many many new words in their! Since then I've read 3 Roald dahl books That I obtained from amazon. The reading got easier with each book! looking forward to going back to harry potter when I feel a little more comfortable though!


If it's a paper copy, I suggest powering on as long as you're getting the gist of things. If you have a Kindle, you can add a Spanish dictionary and touch the word you don't know. There are a good number of electronic books available, both classic and contemporary. Have fun :)


I would not suggest to pause for every unknown word, try to power through as much as possible.

I am also about to finish my first spanish book, Arturo Perez-Reverte , "La tabla de Flandes". 71% done, I know because I am reading eBook on Kindle. If only I had Kindle when I was learning English, now the process is so much more efficient. I downloaded Merriam- Webster Spanish-English dictionary and made it default dictionary for the book. All I need to do is to highlight the word to translate. I also keep notes in Kindle which I use like flash cards. From time to time I review all notes for the book.


One more good thing about using Kindle books - you can read same book on all devices that have Kindle app. Book and notes will be synchronized, so I often find myself reviewing notes on the phone when I have free moment.


I also use kindle. All the Kindle e-readers allow installation of a coordinated default dictionary -- place the cursor on an unfamiliar word and the definition is displayed. Slows progress little. Allows the reader to maintain the thread of the narrative. I also listen to the same book from Audible.com. using my audio player -- many device are supported. Not all Kindle books are available on Audible, but many are. This allows me to listen to the book I'm reading at bedtime, on daily walks, or even in my car. Use bluetooth , earphone plug or, in an older vehicle, devices are available to transmit audio player signal to vehicle radio. I enjoy American classics which have been translated into Spanish and certain popular or classic Spanish Authors. Isabel Allende comes to mind. I usually also pickup a used or paperback English version which I can refer to if needed. I sometimes read history books which are available on Kindle and Audible, and in both languages. My last read/listen was Los Miserables which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would like to find a relatively current Mexican novelist who uses simple direct phrasing and structure, with a strong narrative and interesting plot.


yo leer revistas en español.


There are a number of face-to-face books with English on one page and the Spanish on the facing page. That gives you quick access to the words and phrases you are not familiar with. Occasionally you will think your Spanish comprehension has really improved only to realize you are on the wrong page.


thats a good point even though im taking spanish class and doing this i would be lost on words i dont know


yo tengo que empezar a leer harry potter en español, pero termino cuando hay palabras que yo no se, yo tendría que terminarlo en español y enviarlo, tengo que saber 60% de el, pero yo puedo entender que esta pasando, ( seria de mi ayudado demasiado rápido sabiendo la version en ingles apagado de corazón. Me preguntaba, ¿quien tiene que empezar un libro en un lenguaje diferente, que seria el mejor camino a seguir sobre el? el poder de ir leyendo es saldar palabras que no se, o hacer una pausa cada vez que no se palabras que veo, yo tengo que hacer esto, pero hacerlo yendo al libro muy muy lento.


can i have it please


While looking up some language sites i found this article http://www.linguatrek.com/blog/2010/12/harry-potter-the-book-that-taught-me-polish. it's a more involved way of learning the language,


I've been getting bilingual books from the library or Amazon. They have the language I'm learning (Spanish) on one side and the English on the other. It makes it easy to check any words or phrases that I'm unfamiliar with. I don't have to keep running to the dictionary or the web.


I bought one of the bilingual books and also William T. Tardy's 'Easy Spanish Reader.' I liked this one a lot; I am a little over half way through my tree and found the first of the three sections of this book easy enough to read with few pauses to check vocabulary. (New words are translated in the margin, much easier than the bilingual books) It was very encouraging to be able to read at a pace while being able to understand very nearly everything without need to translate. Shame about the subject matter of the first section; it's about a couple of kids learning Spanish, but the slightly more difficult second section; a brief history of Mexico, was more interesting, and I'm looking forward to the final section; an adaptation of Lazarillo de Tormes, though I'm already well into the bilingual book of short stories. There are questions at the end of every one to two page chapter, and a summary after every three or four chapters. I'd recommend this as a great place to begin, even for anyone at the very start of their tree.


Thanks for the good advice.


You're awesome. I didn't even know they had bilingual books! Thank you for opening up the world to me :) Any specific recommendations?


I started with children's books. Easier words, easier to understand. These were all available at my local library:

¿Eres tú mi mama?

The Ruiz Street kids

Grandpa Lolo's Navajo Saddle Blanket (one of my favorites)

The Emerald Lizard: Fifteen Latin American Tales to Tell in English and Spanish (very good)

Anything bilingual by Joe Hayes.



Thanks for the recommendations! I just ordered Grandpa Lolo's Navajo Saddle Blanket, The Emerald Lizard, and various books by Joe Hayes. The illustrations in Joe Hayes' books look super fun :D


You're welcome! Enjoy!


I recommend "Spanish Stories / Cuentos Espanoles - A dual language book" by Angel Flores. I've tried a couple of dual language books but the stories in this one particularly stuck out to me. These stories are fun and interesting enough to help you to persevere through the language barrier.

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