My name’s Brizz and I’m addicted to reading. Whew, I said it…feels so good to get that off my chest. Over the past ~2.5 years of learning Spanish (from nearly 0) I’ve read more than 2 million words in my target language (yes, I tracked every book I read up until a few months ago). So this is my story…the story of how I went from 0 reading comprehension — to reading full-size fantasy books in Spanish (yes, I’m a nerd…don’t @ me).
Fine print: This isn’t advice. This is just the journey I took to get where I am — and I still have a LONG way to go. However, I hope this blog may serve as inspiration to help you on your way to proficiency in your target language. Ok, enough with the boring stuff. Let’s get started!
Step 0: Nothingness
I want to set the stage for you. When I say I had close to 0 knowledge in my target language… I meant it. As much as it pains me to admit, my only REAL experience with Spanish before Refold was the class I cheated to pass over 20 years ago in High School (sorry Señora Smith 😅). From that class, I remembered how to conjugate regular verbs in the present tense and the words for Saturday and Sunday. I also remembered the VERY basic pronunciation rules of the Spanish alphabet. That’s it. I wasn’t a good student. But, I think we all know, that the way languages are taught in schools is not ideal (but that’s a topic for another blog entirely).
Step 1: Lots of Netflix
Reading without pictures is hard…basically impossible for a beginner. Well, at least impossible for ME when I was a beginner. So I started reading by watching Netflix and reading along with the subs. I’d watch a scene, pause, and then reread the transcript with Language Learning with Netflix.
Hot Tip: Depending on your taste and target language — it can be tricky finding shows with matching subs and dubs. I didn’t let that stop me or dictate what I’d watch. Instead, I’d alternate between reading and listing while immersing like this:
* Watch a scene
* Look at the transcript
* Look up everything I don’t know to figure out what’s going on in the plot
* Resume the episode
* Rinse and repeat
All the while, I was adding simple sentences from my immersion to my Anki deck and reviewing those cards as I progressed through the series. This isn’t popular advice, but because I was starting from almost scratch. I’d take a screenshot of what was going on in the scene and put it on the FRONT of my card for additional context.
Listen, I know this isn’t viewed as ideal, but it’s how I gave myself enough context to understand what was going on. Once I was comfortable enough with the basics of the language, I stopped that right away (so put your pitchforks down please).
Step 2: Try Reading and Immediately Nope Out
After a few months of reviewing Anki and watching Netflix, I was starting to feel pretty cocky. So I tried reading a book. A real book. You know, with chapters and hundreds of pages? After struggling through the first chapter, I realized just how miserable that was. So I shut the book and shelved it (metaphorically… because it was an e-book).
Step 3: Naver WEBTOONs to the Rescue
After the trauma of my failure trying to read a real book, I turned to my first love — comics. Comics are a great way to dip your toes into reading. There are pictures, context queues, speech bubbles, and expressions.
I started by reading manga in Spanish of series I was already familiar with. While fun, I found it a bit tedious to navigate. The word density is pretty intense, and there’s a LOT going on to keep track of in a manga panel. This wasn’t a problem for series I had already seen, but I found branching out into new content a bit tough.
Enter WEBTOONs (aka manhwa). WEBTOONs are much simpler in their presentation because they’re designed to be read while scrolling on your phone. Generally, there’s less text, so each panel can provide more context to what’s going on.
I 100% credit WEBTOONs as the seed of my reading addiction. And no, this article isn’t sponsored by WEBTOONs (but if you’re reading this, I am definitely open to that discussion ).
Looking things up in comics isn’t as simple as looking things up with Language Reactor, Ling, or your favorite e-reader. However, since WEBTOONs aren’t as language dense it’s easier to stop and look things up. I used my iPad and had my dictionary queued up to slide out whenever I needed it (which was a LOT).
Then, for sentence mining, I’d screenshot what I wanted to save and then manually add those sentences to Anki later while reviewing those photos. Easy.
Step 4: Kid’s Books & LingQ
After reading quite a few WEBTOONs series to completion, I was ready to chase my white whale…books. Armed with my growing collection of Anki cards and stubbornness, I decided to read “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (translated into Spanish…obviously) as my first book. Why? I had already read it years ago, but I wasn’t as familiar with it as I was with Harry Potter. I also changed things up for this attempted reading. I decided to read it with LingQ. LingQ removed a lot of the pain I had felt trying to read as a beginner on my Kindle. Lookups are instantaneous, and there are tons of options to choose from. Using Lingq changed the difficulty from “OMG THIS IS EXCRUCIATINGLY HARD” to “oh wow, this is hard… but tolerable.” 💡 Hot tip: It’s easy to export your LingQ lookups to Anki. To make this even easier, I’d save entire sentences as LingQs and filter by sentences before exporting. Then I’d mark those sentences as known, so they were removed from LingQ (without changing the individual word’s status marked as known).
Step 5: Read More Books from the Same Series
One of the hardest parts about reading books is world-building. The descriptive language the author uses to set the scene is something you just don’t encounter in TV and comics — because the visuals do the explaining.
The advantage of reading a series is that you’re already familiar with the world. You already know the general scenery, the mood, and how the characters are. Authors also tend to have their specific styles. So you’ll already be familiar with the author’s favorite metaphors, descriptive words, and language.
💡 Hot Tip:
While it might be tempting to read a series you’re VERY familiar with, try reading something that you might not remember or haven’t completed all the way through. When I read the Percy Jackson book, I had only previously read the first 2 books in the series.
I found I wanted to be SURE I was comprehending what I was reading. If you’re reading something new and understanding enough to enjoy it — that’s evidence of progress!
Step 6: Drop Books That Don’t Spark Joy And Don’t Be Scared to Juggle
When reading in my native language, I have a few rules:
- Always finish what I start
- Don’t juggle more than one book
DO NOT DO THIS IN YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE! Whew, sorry for the caps, but the most important thing about reading is that it needs to spark joy. If you dread reading, you’ll never do it. So what’s the point of keeping those rules if they keep you from LEARNING!? That’s right…there is no point.
So my new strategy is that I never force myself to read a book. Instead, I’ll pick up something else. Once I get bored with that, I’ll switch back to what I was reading before or read something new. Now you might think, this is a good way to never finish anything, but I’ve read about 20 books doing this.
On average, I am usually reading 3 books at the same time — bouncing between them in the same way someone would flip through TV channels looking for something to watch.
💡 Hot Tip:
Try juggling an audiobook, an e-book, and a physical book! That way you always have something to read no matter what you’re doing or where you are.
Step 7: Keep Going
This isn’t really a step — but more so encouragement. Learning a language is tough, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. If you find yourself dreading something, try stepping back or trying something new. Don’t force yourself to read when you’re not ready, but don’t fear it either. If I can go from literally failing Spanish in High school to reading books with minimal lookups, you can too.
Trust me. I’m not one of those people who are “gifted” at learning languages. However, I AM an avid reader, so I used that to my advantage.
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