Understanding Spanish through

Basic Spanish stories

I can’t understand everything I read or hear, but I can understand quite a bit, and I can get the gist of most texts I encounter. And eavesdropping on Latinos in my community? Never been easier.

After chipping away for months, I finally feel like I’ve started to make some real progress in this journey, and I think I’ll reach my goal of conversational fluency by November.

So what did I do to get from novice to intermediate? I studied, using the materials below.

Beginning Spanish Resources

1. Pimsleur Spanish (Latin) – I gave my full review on Pimsleur in this post. I devoured all three levels of this program, and it was really good at getting me up to a basic level. Bonus: I’ve been told my accent is solid, and I’m sure it’s due to Pimsleur.

2. Easy Spanish Reader: A Three-part Text for Beginning Students – Easy Spanish Reader is fantastic. It’s broken down into three parts. The first part is about two high school students, and discusses their lives, their families, and their school experiences. The second is a history of Mexico, from thousands of years ago until today. The third is a retelling of Lazarillo de Tormes, an old Spanish story. The topics are diverse, so you get a wide variety of vocabulary. The grammatical constructions start out simple and get progressively more difficult. And many words are defined in the sidebar and glossed in the back.

3. Mi Vida Loca – A few years ago, the BBC created a Spanish language course in the form of a telenovela. I really got into it and enjoyed the story. Since I live in the Western Hemisphere, I’m focusing on Latin Spanish, so I was a little concerned that I might get confused using this course, which teaches the Spanish spoken in Spain. But it really wasn’t that big a problem. Yeah, I learned a couple phrases that are uniquely Spain-ish, like piso instead of apartamento (for apartment), or ¡vale! (okay!) which Latinos don’t often use. But at the beginners’ level, most of the Spanish you learn in either hemisphere is so basic that it’s used by everyone.

4. Destinos – Like Mi Vida Loca, this is a telenovela created to teach Spanish to beginners. It’s very well put together, and I definitely learned some things from it. Unfortunately, it went very slow and I lost interest about halfway through the videos. Nevertheless, it’s free and I recommend giving it a try.

5. People en Español – I’ve never read a lot of People magazine in English, but the Spanish version has been a staple of my studying. The writing is simple enough that I was able to get the gist of the articles from the get-go, and the topics–celebrities and entertainment–kept my interest better than straight news stories.

6. iTalki – This is a language-exchange website with both free and paid services. You can meet language learners all over the world and practice speaking with them. I did a full review of my experiences on iTalki here.

Using the Resources Wisely

My various study recommendations are scattered throughout my site, but here are a couple tips to help you use these materials effectively:

  • Make studying a regular habit – If you can’t study every day, try to study at least four times a week. At the very least, try to expose yourself to the language for thirty minutes a day.
  • Keep a language journal – I’ve written about this before, but a language journal helps you keep track of all you’ve learned.
  • Use flash cards – They’re a little passé, but even the legendary polyglot Mezzofanti used flashcards. I love using flashcards, especially with language courses. If you use flashcards right, it’s like injecting steroids into your language learning. I wrote about my favorite flashcard trick on my Facebook page.

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