Spanish reading for the beginner?
August 15, 2012 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for beginning Spanish reading?

I'm in central America for a few months, and I've had enough Spanish lessons and general exposure that I can read the paper or popular magazines just checking a dictionary every other paragraph or so. Besides reading the periodicos, are there any decent books (maybe young adult novels) or websites in Spanish for a beginning reader? I'm especially interested in maybe something like reddit or metafilter in spanish, or maybe something like Harry potter in Spanish I can really dig into as summer reading material...
posted by empath to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Read Harry Potter in Spanish.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:36 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: But I've already read it in English :) I was hoping for something at about the same level, but local, so I can get language plus culture...
posted by empath at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to say iHola! or TV y Novellas. That's my idea of heaven.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2012

Best answer: Harry Potter was also the first novel I read in Spanish. On preview, I think something you read as a teenager translated into Spanish is a good first bet - you'll remember or be reminded of the story as you go along, and that will both help you out and get you learning new vocabulary. One direction to go would be to read something in the original Spanish that you've read in English. I can only think of Don Quixote right now, which is not a good choice because it was written in 1605 and the Spanish is correspondingly old (Probably better than reading original Chaucer for a native English speaker, but I'm not sure by how much.)

And I'd actually recommend making some time for 'summer reading' in your Spanish where you *don't* stop for a dictionary unless you absolutely have to - it can be a good exercise to see how much you can get without breaking the flow of your reading.
posted by heyforfour at 2:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Sorry, that's my timeline there - read HP as a teenager in English, picked it up 5 years later in Spanish. Something you read several years ago at any rate, and it sounds like a young adult level book would work for you.) I still occasionally read my old YA favorites in Spanish...
posted by heyforfour at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2012

Response by poster: How is Borges for a beginner? I've read most of his stories in English...
posted by empath at 2:55 PM on August 15, 2012

IDK what your internets connection is like for youtube or other video sites, and yes, I know you specifically asked for books, but I taught myself Catalan by watching Simpsons episodes (and Mad About You, lols) that were dubbed in Spanish and subbed in Catalan. It's not just vocab, it's pronunciation plus idioms, which is super handy.
posted by elizardbits at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2012

Best answer: When I was learning Spanish and living in Venezuela, I read a lot of "Mafalda", a cartoon strip from Argentina. You can find collections published in book form. The vocabulary is very River Plate-centric, but learning vocabulary from different regions is worthwhile I think. The author's name is Quino and he's done other stuff as well I think.

I know that's perhaps not as literary as you might be looking for, but it does fill out the vocabulary.
posted by ambrosia at 3:17 PM on August 15, 2012

I recommend Harry Potter also. The translations are relatively basic compared to native language literature and I think it helps to know more about the story at least in the beginning.

Borges may be a bit difficult. I've had native speakers tell me it's a pretty tough read in Spanish.

I also read 2001 and 1010 translations. They were pretty easy. I have PDF's of Harry Potter and the 2001 series if you want them. Me mail me if so.
posted by Che boludo! at 3:44 PM on August 15, 2012

It's hard to gauge your level without actually talking to you, so what I recommend may be a little on the high end, but I found Laura Esquivel's Como agua para chocolate fairly accessible when I was at the intermediate level. The story was easy enough to understand; the only stumbling block I regularly ran into was the obscure food vocabulary I didn't know, since so much of the story is built around recipes.

You might also consider going for more short stories than novels. There are some kickass Latin American short story writers and while the level of the language isn't guaranteed to be lower, by virtue of their being shorter they might be easier for you to tackle. Cortázar, Quiroga, Poniatowska, etc. I used to teach Isabel Allende's Dos palabras in my intermediate Spanish classes (it was, admittedly, one of the hardest things the students had to read... but you're motivated and most of them weren't.)

And if you've already read Borges in English, I don't think there'd be much harm in finding a collection of his cuentos and working with the ones you're already familiar with and then branching out from there. Knowing the overall plot structure would help you get past any vocabulary-based stumbling blocks, and maybe even make the vocab easier to acquire since you'd be approaching them with more context.

The Quijote I would not recommend unless you got a critical edition aimed at English-native learners of Spanish (Tom Lathrop's was what I used in school), and that's probably hard to come by in Central America.
posted by Kosh at 3:46 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, so in Spanish, Magical Realism can be kind of tough. I tried reading Isabelle Allende's "La Casa de los Espiritus." I kept re-reading passages thinking "I couldn't possibly be understanding this" and then slowly realizing that, actually, I had read it properly... but it just took twice as long to really grok.

On the other hand, Harry Potter (no less magical, mind you!) was a breeze in both Spanish and French. Knowing the story is so helpful when you're learning a language and building vocabulary because you already know what the story means to be telling you.

I've also found that old Agatha Christie novels are a ton of fun for me to breeze through. Miss Marple and I go way back, so I'm also familiar with these stories (though I've never read them in English, only seen them on PBS). But crime novels are also good because they're predictable in their own little way. Is there a detective? Does he sit in his office smoking a pipe? Does a sad and mysterious woman enter his office and ask for help? 99% of the time, the answer is yes.

I also found "Malinche" by Laura Esquivel pretty easy to read. It is also short. So if reading in Spanish is still a bit of a workout for you, the length is helpful for not overwhelming you. I know when I first read a novel in French I felt like I was reading it for months (I was.) and it sometimes felt like I was never making progress.
posted by jph at 4:50 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah pick up a cheap Kindle and their Spanish to English dictionary.
posted by Che boludo! at 4:52 PM on August 15, 2012

The first book I read (as in cover to cover) in Spanish was "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." It was basically perfect. When you set out to read a whole book, you can't be stopping three times per page to look at a dictionary. The basic plot of the LW&W was something I knew well enough to sort of glide over the tricky parts, but not something I knew so well as to make a re-read boring or predictable. (I had probably read the book in English in 3rd or 4th grade, and in Spanish in 11th -- to give you an idea of the temporal separation.)

I would avoid native Spanish literature for a first endeavor. There will be a richness of vocabulary in those works that will be very difficult to cope with. Especially avoid the Quijote -- I read half of it after living 6+ months in a Spanish-speaking place, and I still needed a critical edition with footnotes. It is basically Spanish Shakespeare (in prose, but with all the archaic vocabulary).

Short stories are a good way to get comfortable with native Spanish literature -- there will be shades of meaning to dig into that are absent in a translation (maybe even more so than in a native novel -- after all, poetry is both harder and more concise than prose), but it is not enough volume of text as to be overwhelming. However, there's definitely a sense of accomplishment to be gained from putting down a book and saying "I can't believe I read the whole thing," and in that regard I think your first instinct is absolutely correct. Pick an originally-English YA-type novel that you haven't read in a while, find a translation, and read it cover to cover. Don't check the dictionary (very often) whilst you do. In the mean time, also try to read short stories, opinion pieces in the newspaper (more nuanced than straight news articles), and maybe a poem or two. Discuss these with anyone who will listen -- bonus points for a native speaker (obviously). Once you are comfortable with long texts and richly detailed texts (separately), pick up a novel by Borges, Allende, or Cervantes and see what you make of it.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 9:46 PM on August 15, 2012

Penguin make dual language books, try this or this.
posted by devnull at 3:36 AM on August 16, 2012

I also just recalled that we read "Lazarillo de Tormes" for high school Spanish. It is a novella and more like a collection of parables, but pretty decent for beginning narrative.
posted by jph at 6:59 AM on August 16, 2012

Another Spanish class recommendation - I read Aura in two classes, and it was pretty hard going (eerie, mysterious, hazily understood surroundings make for mysterious and hazily understood second-language second time through, I discovered that I had been entirely incorrect about what happened for the last third or so of the book.) But the vocabulary and length weren't insurmountable barriers, and there might be (Spanish language) reading aids online since it appears to be a common choice.
posted by heyforfour at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2012

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