A while ago I’ve decided to start a new challenge and learn Spanish from A0 by jumping straight into native level content and doing comparative reading of books with audio accompaniment as my primary method. That meant no entry level lessons, no grammar books, no explanations. Now, having reached the point of no return of 5000 known words and over a 120,000 words read, I think I’m safe to say this is a totally valid and fun method to a tackle a new language with – especially for those who have the experience of learning a couple of languages prior to this.
First off, I’d have to admit that Spanish is among the easier languages to do this with. It’s a Category 1 language for English speakers, so its structure is a lot easier to feel out than Russian or Korean would be. Second, I was heavily aided both by my knowledge of French, and the residual Spanish tidbits that everyone in the US is exposed to.
I started with comparative reading, getting both the Spanish and English versions of the novel The English Spy, by Daniel Silva, along with the Spanish audio, and comparing the text sentence by sentence as I read along. This comparative element was essential at the beginning, but due to the above mentioned factors, I was able to ditch the English version halfway through this first book, and rely solely on the word for word translation interface here on LingQ. (If I wasn’t using LingQ, I probably would’ve kept up the comparative part a lot longer, so the method itself is not reliant on the site, LingQ is just an interface that allows you to speed things up.)
Initially, it took me about 2 or 3 reading sessions to get through one lesson, which is about 2200 words of text here on the site, but after a month or so, the I was able to settle into 1 lesson / day routine.
At about 2,500 known words I also started listening to Spanish podcasts, starting with Gabfest en Espanol, which talks of current events in the US, and thanks to the familiarity of the content, I was able understand a surprising amount of it – at least enough to make me wanna keep listening. I do feel that starting listening to this type of material early, even at a low comprehension rate, is hugely useful in jumpstarting your listening skills and building up vocabulary at the same time.
In my previous languages, I started my studies with Assimil, which I still consider to be one of the best methods for beginners, so as I was tackling the Reading Method, I keep comparing the two experiences with each other. Both of them having pros and cons of course, and here is my rundown of the two:
THE READING METHOD:
– A lot faster and richer word acquisition and faster way to comprehension of native speech.
– Avoidance of the obligatory “Hello, how are you? What’s for dinner?” type entry level lessons, which, albeit useful, get tiresome to do after a couple of languages.
– Exposure to more a more “life-like,” native level language usage from the beginning.
– More entertaining to read a novel as opposed to a language book.
– Faster way to overall fluency – but with caveats* (see below)
– Steeper challenge and steeper learning grade at the beginning. No easy ramp up like in Assimil.
– Better suited for experienced language learners.
– Not designed to get you speaking early.*
– No grammar explanations – more puzzle solving involved. For some people this may be a drawback, but I consider this to be among the fun aspects of this method.
– Passive, input based learning, better suited for those who are in it for the long run.
– Easier ramp up from every aspect of the language; vocab, grammar, comprehension etc.
– Structured progression designed based on linguistic principles.
– Interwoven grammatical explanations.
– Interwoven cultural introduction to the target country
– Better suited for beginners of language learning in general.
– Encourages speaking earlier*
(as compared to the Reading Method only)
– Less words learned per time spent. (An Assimil “With Ease” book contains a total of about 3000 unique words including proper nouns and a “Using” book adds about another 4000 for a total of 7000 unique words – and of course you’re not gonna lean all of them on the fist pass)
– Slower way to comprehension of native content
– Overall slower way to fluency*
- A note on Speaking: Assimil and similar courses are designed at their early stages to help you get by in certain everyday situations such as greetings, restaurants, and tourism related situations. This is great if you’re a beginner! And certainly something you’d want if you’re about to visit a country. The reading method does not offer this fast start into speaking, and more than likely, it will take you longer to actually start speaking if you start with this sort of passive method. HOWEVER, in the long run, I think the Reading Method will pay off with more advanced speaking skills for the same amount of time spent, because when you do start speaking down the line, it will be with a lot more advanced vocab, and a more advanced listening comprehension to maintain conversations and react to a native speakers questions, comments etc.
So, for any beginner who’s feeling adventurous, or anyone who’s mastered a foreign language or two, the Reading Method is is definitely a fun way to dive head first into a new language challenge.