Mar 292014
Level 1 Spanish Readers

Level 1 Spanish Readers

As part of my Spanish 2.0 learning program, I am immersing myself in Spanish, yet at a comprehensible level. To do this I have found these ‘graded’ readers that limit the Spanish vocabulary to fewer than 400 high-frequency words plus some cognates that are easy to guess since they are so similar to English.

I read through all 4 books and then read them again, picking up more the second time. I am trying to follow the Extensive Reading model, not attempting to understand every single word but getting a feel for the story and the language by immersing oneself.

What do you do when you encounter an unfamiliar word? I am following Stephen Krashen’s Word Attack Strategies as summarized on the bookmarks provided by Bryce Hedstrom:

  1. Skip it. Just keep on reading if the word does not seem too important to understand what is going on in the story. Stopping just breaks the flow of the story.
  2. Guess. Check to see if your guess fits with the meaning of the sentence and the paragraph and keep on reading.
  3. Guess again. Take another guess if your first one doesn’t seem quite right and keep on reading.
  4. Look it up. If the word keeps on appearing in the story, or if it seems like an important one to understand, go ahead and look it up or ask somebody what it means. But don’t get in the habit of doing this too often because it will slow you down and break your concentration

It is difficult to just ignore a word that is not understood but usually the story still makes sense and if it does keep popping up, rule 4 allows you to look it up. This is also why graded readers, designed for second-language learners are important. Books designed for kids, who already know the spoken language are not ideal for this method. Kids are expected to know a the definition of a word once they decode it.

I have now started on the four Level 2 books in this series and once I have gone through those twice I will probably return to these to see how much my Spanish has improved.

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Feb 142014

The victorious circle of the good reader In my past attempts at learning Spanish I have tried ‘reading’ Spanish but without success. I would get Level 1 Spanish readers from my local library but would struggle though them because the vocabulary was too advanced. It was not until I ran across the idea of “Extensive Reading” to learn a foreign language that I realized the problem.

The “Easy Readers” written for kids in their native language are designed for kids who are learning to read, not for kids who are learning the vocabulary of the language. By the time children are learning to read they already have a large vocabulary. They just don’t know how to decode the letters into the words they already know. It is more like a spy learning to use a magic decoder ring.

A language learner usually already has a good idea of how to decode the target language (unless they are learning Japanese or Russian) but the words they read have no meaning to them. If someone read the book aloud to them it would do them about as much good as reading it themselves, just the opposite as it would for kids in their native language.

The key is to use your ability to read to immerse yourself into a language. Just like in your native language, and as shown in the graphic above, reading leads to understanding which leads to enjoyment and on to more reading. Not a vicious circle but a victorious circle.

If you cannot live in the culture of the language you are trying to learn then you must immerse yourself in the culture’s language through reading and listening. It seems that the key to finding appropriate material. My current criteria is that for a book to be at my current reading level, then there should be no more than 1 unknown word per paragraph. If there are too many unknown words then you will be struggling with the reading rather than enjoying it. You want to be comfortable and enjoy the reading, not feeling like it is work.

I have started looking for Spanish reading materials that are appropriate for a beginning language learner. I will write a follow-up post with my findings.

Below are some links I have found regarding Extensive Reading. I plan to start a page just with Extensive Reading reference material for future reference.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Using Graded Readers
– by Rob Waring
Great summary of Extensive Reading. Here are some quotes from the material:

Teaching does not cause learning. Teachers can only create the environment to develop independent learners.

What is the ideal difficulty level for Extensive Reading?
Since the aim is to build automatic recognition of words, and to get the learner to the reading-with-ideas level, she needs to be reading at or below her current reading ability. Learners can only build automatic recognition of words if the text is easy for them.

Here are some good ‘rules of thumb’ for students to find their reading level:

  • There should be no more than 2 or 3 unknown words per page [1 for childrens books]
  • The learner is reading 8-10 lines or more per minute (80-100 words per minute or better)
  • The learner understands almost all of what she is reading with few pauses

Some learners want to read more difficult texts than their current ability level in the belief that they will learn more if they meet more new language. This is true, but it is unlikely these learners will easily develop into fluent readers. It is important to stress to these learners that they need fluency practice, too.

Extensive Reading: Why? and How?
– by Timothy Bell on The Internet TESL Journal

4. It can increase knowledge of vocabulary Nagy & Herman (1987) claimed that children between grades three and twelve (US grade levels) learn up to 3000 words a year. It is thought that only a small percentage of such learning is due to direct vocabulary instruction, the remainder being due to acquisition of words from reading. This suggests that traditional approaches to the teaching of vocabulary, in which the number of new words taught in each class was carefully controlled (words often being presented in related sets), is much less effective in promoting vocabulary growth than simply getting students to spend time on silent reading of interesting books.

Rob Waring’s Extensive Reading Pages
Even more links!

Can learners use ‘authentic’ books?
– Rob Waring on Graded Readers

’Authentic’ reading materials (for native speakers of English) are usually NOT the best books to teach foreign language learners to read. These are usually written for English-speaking children who already know thousands of words and most of the grammar of English before they start to read. English language learners don’t have this knowledge and usually find authentic books very difficult. Certainly until quite advanced English language learners should use Graded readers.

Feb 122014

Immerse Yourself Lately have had some conversations which left me wondering why I had dropped my attempt to learn Spanish. Well, maybe not “why”, it was because of time constraints and priorities. But I did wonder if I made the right decision.

Plugging new information into my old brain and keeping it there is a challenge. It was while reading up on Anki, the automated flashcard program I use, that I ran across an article at AllJapaneseAllTheTime that led me to another article then to another and ended up getting me excited about learning Spanish again.

To summarize the ideas that I pulled together was to attempt to do an “Immersion Program” right here at home. The AllJapaneseAllTheTime site has quite a bit about immersing yourself in your target language. The key is to live in the target language. Hard to do when you are surrounded by English all day but what are you doing with the time that is yours to control?

Here is the three pronged approach I plan to follow. The summary will give you an idea and I will be writing more on each of these three areas as I flesh them out and come across material I will be using.

  • Extensive Reading
    Read and then read more. But the key is to read at or below your current vocabulary level. You want your reading material to flow through your mind just like it was in your native language, not having to translate words or thoughts but just ‘knowing’ what it means as your read it.
    You might think this means reading ‘kids’ books. It does not. Kids are learning to read a language they know. When learning Spanish, you can already ‘read’ it. It is the understanding that you must work on.
  • Extensive Listening
    Here too it is best to listen to material is on a level that you can understand and follow along. Finding this material is difficult. Sure you can find Spanish vocabulary and Spanish lessons but those are not very interesting after a bit. I have found a few books that come with CDs but that gets spendy.
    Here, I will fall back to how kids learn. They are surrounded by language they don’t understand but they slowly start picking up words as they listen to the world around them. Turn your world into Spanish. Listen to Spanish Radio on the radio or the internet. Just immerse yourself in it and see how many words your can start picking up.
    Also, don’t forget about your TV stations (Telemundo & Univision) and YouTube.
  • Spaced Repetition Flash Cards
    When you read you will come across vocabulary and grammar that you need to learn. The most efficient way to learn is using a spaced repetition system (SRS). Anki is my SRS software of choice for learning new material. It works on Windows, Mac, Web, Android, and iPhone, syncing your material across the various devices so you can create ‘cards’ on your computer and review them on your phone.

¡Buena Suerte!