Reading is an incredibly important part of your language learning endeavors, at least it should be. There’s no way you’re getting proficient or even remotely confident in Spanish if your entire program consists of watching Spanish TV and trying to talk in Spanish. Don’t get me wrong here; speaking and listening have their own place but they shouldn’t be your only activities if you’re any bit serious about nailing the language. Reading helps you assimilate bite-sized Spanish at a comfortable pace without causing you too much stress or frustration. That being said, you ought to know what to read, for reading Don Quixote when all you’re capable of is a hesitant hola and cómo estás, is a recipe for instant demotivation and failure. Imagine making a first-grader make sense of F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck.
What Are You, a 10-Year-Old?
That’s the thing about language learning. You could be an aging grandpa who knows it all but when you’re starting off with a new language, you’re just a first-grader all over again. That might sound disappointing to some but it shouldn’t. Just think of the possibilities. Being a kid once again and accepting the fact gracefully is the key to acquiring any new skill. Ego and learning aren’t the best of friends.
Now you could read anything that’s simple enough to understand, depending on your level of comprehension. It could be newspaper, magazine, textbooks – even Tweets (why not?)! All that matters is that you read and that it be in Spanish. Reading stuff written in Spanish is probably the single most affordable immersion technique you can get your hands on no matter what part of the world you live in. Of course, nothing trumps actually traveling to a Spanish-speaking country and soaking up some serious language first-hand, but not all of us are blessed with that kind of time and money. Besides, traveling to a Spanish-speaking country isn’t gonna work unless you have at least a reasonable grasp on the basics already, which is why reading is important. It’s inexpensive, easy, and practical.
Since you’re a kid, Spanish-wise, you ought to read stuff meant for kids if you want maximum juice for the squeeze. This includes comic books, fables, anecdotes, short stories, and novellas meant for children. Even better would be if you could get your hands on some of those textbooks and graded readers meant for elementary-school classrooms. Those are undoubtedly the most appropriate reading material for a Spanish noob because they’re crafted for that very job. You have stories, activities, exercises – the whole shebang to ensure the Spanish you learn drives home and sticks.
Although it should be obvious, the single biggest reason these things are so effective is that they are extremely lightweight and easygoing. You could easily run through a couple of paragraphs without even touching a dictionary which makes reading them less of an ordeal. The limited range of vocabulary ensures a more focused and bite-sized approach instead of overwhelming you with an awkwardly large number of alien words to process before turning each page. Long story short, graded readers and children’s storybooks are the fabulous zero-calorie meals of your Spanish-learning diet except that these are far from boring. Interesting, light, quick, and easy-to-absorb – what more could one ask for?
Look around, They Are Everywhere!
That’s no hyperbole, reading materials for kids are indeed everywhere. The fact that they’re easy to read also means that they are easy to produce. And what’s easy to produce often gets done a lot. That’s why most authors in this category happen to be super-prolific. I mean, how long could one possibly take to churn out a “Turtle and the Hare” anyway?
If you’re willing to cough up a pretty penny, the Internet is packed to the brim with books, both dead-tree and electronic, on the cheap. One name that comes to mind in this context is Amazon®, pretty much your default destination for any book shopping. Then there’s also Barnes & Noble NOOK Books® and a few others. You’re practically spoilt for choice. If brick-and-mortar is more like your thing, let’s hope you live in Europe or Americas because elsewhere, it might be a challenge to spot a Spanish language book at a bookstore, let alone Spanish books in a particular niche. But if you’re not fussy about that, Amazon can easily beat any local bookstore in terms of sheer range of options and often even pricing. Amazon becomes all the more convenient if you own a Kindle® reader. Now before this post starts sounding like a paid promotion for Amazon (which it absolutely isn’t), let’s move on.
If you live in India, by any chance, you have something local that could give even Amazon a run for its money: Flipkart®. They don’t have an ebook reader like Amazon does but they are in all likelihood your only hope to get hold of Spanish-language titles to read if you live in that part of the world. Again, just so we’re clear, I am no paid shill for Flipkart and this post is not an exercise in affiliation.
Another resource that deserves an honorable mention here is AbeBooks®. This site may or may not have something for your level of Spanish but the fact that they have Spanish translations for some of the best-selling English titles in their catalog makes them worth a browse. That is if you’re Spanish proficiency is up for the challenge, of course. They have a dedicated section for Spanish language literature called “Libros en Español” and if I’m not wrong they also have a buyback program in case you don’t like accumulating books you have finished reading.
The takeaway here is that no matter where you live, as long as you are willing to spend some dough, finding books to read is the least of your problems. It’s the 21st century, for crying out loud! The world has never been better connected and buying what you need has never been easier. Just befriend Google® and you’re good to go.
There’s Always a Free Lunch
That’s right, the Internet is nothing without the boatload of freebies one can find all over it. And I don’t know about you but I thoroughly dig all things free. The good news here is that when you’re just starting out with Spanish, all you need is fables and fairy tales to get you up to speed. And since most of such things have already been written decades ago, they’re all in public domain making it easy for anyone to freely distribute them and earn some philanthropy brownie points. It’s like how anyone can distribute or sell Aesop’s Fables without a bunch of copyright attorneys breathing down their neck.
Here, we’ll explore a few magic portals on the Internet that could satisfy all your Spanish-reading needs in a single browse. Why? Because without someone to help you, the Internet can be a confusing mess of options to choose from. You don’t want to spend the rest of your day deciding what site to start with, do you? Despite there being too many such sites to even start listing them all, there are certainly some that trump the rest in terms of both popularity and stability. They might not look pretty but they get the job done without any fuss which is all that should matter.
One caveat with free books, though, is that they are not going to be in print formats. That only sounds reasonable because printing costs money and money and free don’t get along too well. That’s why anything you find on these sites are gonna be almost always in some kind of digital format. More often than not, that would be PDF. In some rare cases, you might even come across a Kindle edition or an ePub but don’t count on it. Yet others may let you read the books right there in your browser without even downloading.
International Children’s Digital Library
This website is richer than it looks and although designed like something straight from the 90s, it boasts of quite an impressive collection and swift navigation. These two pros far outweigh any aesthetic shortcomings. As soon as you open the site, you’ll be greeted with a homepage littered with text in colorful boxes. Don’t let any of that distract you and head straight for the conspicuous button right in the middle of the screen that says “Read Books.” To make it easier to spot, the button in question has the clipart of a book in it with a circle running around it – pretty hard to miss if you ask me.
Once you click that button, you’ll be presented with a page unceremoniously titled “Simple Search.” Here you’ll find a dropdown menu flanked by the words “Show” and “books.” Use this menu to select “Spanish” (the site has books in languages ranging from Swahili to Persian and from Korean to Italian; told you it’s rich!). At the time of this writing, there are 159 Spanish-language titles on this site as it will tell you on the next screen. Although the count should improve in times to come, I am sure 159 is a good enough number to keep you engaged for a while. On this screen, you can just click on any title that fancies your interest and it will open up within the browser for you to read – no download required. Most books I reviewed are small, in the range of 10-50 pages, and have a very limited vocabulary. They should be absolutely perfect for you if you’re still a novice in the language.
This is yet another reminder of what websites looked like back in the day. GrimmStories.com is as bare-bones as it gets but don’t let its simplicity fool you. The site has titles in over a dozen languages and is your one-stop destination for all the fairy tales ever penned by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, famously known as the Brothers Grimm. Even if you never heard of them, you’ve certainly read at least one of their works even if you live under a rock. Think Cinderella, The Frog Prince, The Goose-Girl, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and many more – they all owe their fame to these prolific brothers.
The website in question is fairly easy and straightforward to navigate. Just click on the language of your choice, i.e. Spanish, and you’ll be taken to a page listing out all the titles in that language. All listed titles are simple translations of the original stories penned by the brothers. For example, Hansel and Gretel will appear as Hansel y Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood as Caperucita Roja, Sleeping Beauty as La Bella Durmiente, and so on. These are extremely easy and quick reads and involve no special downloads. Everything happens within the browser.
Another similar resource worth a mention here is Andersen Stories. Both sites must be run by the same folks because they look uncannily similar in design, layout, and features. The only way this site differs from Grimm Stories is in the content source. While Grimm Stories offers all stories authored by the Brothers Grimm, Andersen Stories pays a tribute to Hans Christian Andersen instead. Andersen was a celebrated Danish author, no less prolific than the Brothers Grimm, who gave us masterpieces like The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Nightingale, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, and many others.
No discussion of free reading resources is complete without a reference to the mother of all open-source collections, Project Gutenberg. The corpus boasts of thousands and thousands of titles, all classics in public domain, to keep you engaged for as long as you last. Titles are available in dozens of languages with close to 500 in Spanish alone (at the time of this writing)! And these are not mere short stories we’re talking about; these are proper novels and anthologies.
Titles on Project Gutenberg are primarily available in the standard PDF format, although other formats like ePub, Kindle, and even HTML are increasingly becoming commonplace. Oh, and there’s also some audio books in case you’re looking to challenge yourself a tad harder. Now since this site isn’t geared toward kids, you’ll have to do quite some browsing to get hold of something simple enough for your level of Spanish; but don’t let that disappoint you because it will be time well spent.
This funny-sounding thing is the name of a site I discovered hardly a week ago and it just seemed too awesome not to share. The site is essentially a service that connects publishers with readers. The reason I mention them here is because I stumbled upon one particular “publisher” called sbasica on there who has a plethora of Spanish-language textbooks on their account for anyone to read. You just have to follow them and start browsing their collection. These are actual textbooks I am talking about, textbooks that are taught in Mexican classrooms! Subjects range from science to math and language to history – you name it.
The best part about this site is that it’s free for those who just wish to read. Of course you cannot download anything but their on-site reader is pretty neat. What I love about textbooks is that they are graded in levels which help you assess your progress in clear terms.
So this concludes my long rant on how to get some quality free reads in Spanish to augment your learning. Hope it wasn’t too dead-beat and hope it enriched you in some way. If you’ve happened to stumble upon anything to add to this list, please do share it in the comments below. We are all perpetual learners and starving for information all the time!