My Spanish from A0 Reading Experiment

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:


– 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.*

Neutral Factors:
– 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.


Thanks for the detailed review of the experiment, it is really interesting, I can imagine the experience. It seems this method would be fun if you can keep the motivation levels high. Not for everyone though, I guess. Congratulations on your progress, I am impressed, well done indeed!

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Interesting stuff. I’m currently doing pretty much the same as your method. Just reading and listening, no grammar. Spanish is a doddle compared to Mandarin (been studying it for like 4 years now). I’m surprised how quickly I have got onto interesting content. You’re story gives me hope! Keep going fella :slight_smile:


Just curious about the amount of hours you spend each day doing this. I see that you started listening to podcasts at 2500 words. Do you think you could have went completely through Assimil (to get to 2500 words) more quickly than the time it took you to learn 2500 words using the Reading Method? I mean doing, for example, three Assimil lessons each day.

Good questions — some of them are easier to answer than others, but I’ll try :slight_smile:

1.) Amount of time. I’d say I usually do @ 45 to 60 minutes on a given day which is what I consider a “ reading session.” So, at the start I’d probably do 1/3 of a lesson of text, then 1/2 then jump up to 1 lesson of text per day. So far I’ve done 62 lessons of text total, which currently adds up to 129,000 words read.

My estimate is that it took about 90 or so sessions to work through those 62 lessons. So, if done once a day, that’s about 3 months. (I’ve had gaps in my study schedule due to work and travel. So I don’t always get to do it every day.)

2.) Comparing to Assimil. A With Ease book has about 100 Chaptered Lessons with a total of 3000 unique words, with a total individual word count of about 16,000. (That would mean that the compete first book of Assimil would take up only about 7.3 full LingQ lessons.)

So let’s assume you do a power move and tackle 3 Assimil lessons a day, as you suggested, that would mean you’d get through the first book in 33 days. That’s 33 days to be exposed to 7.3 LingQ lessons worth of text, vs the Reading Method could expose you to up to 24 LingQ lessons in those first 33 days, give or take, depending on the individual. That’s 52,800 words read as opposed to 16,000.

So, to answer your question, I don’t think Assimil could beat the reading method in terms of the number or speed of acquired words, BUT that’s besides the point. Assimil is not intended to do that. It’s designed around repetition of text and a more deliberate approach. None of these comparisons I’m doing are meant to discredit Assimil, as I consider it to be a solid approach to language learning.


Wow, really cool experiment.

With unknown words, did you try to learn them as they came up (with flashcards or similar)? Or did you just rely on them showing up over and over again in the text to eventually learn them?


Cool experiment. I’m interested in trying it myself for Spanish. I always look forward to your informative posts :slight_smile:

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Thanks! And no, I don’t use flashcards. I find them to be not an effective use of time, regardless of what method you may be using. Especially in this case, because I think part of the point of this method is to learn from context and repeated exposure only, and to reduce any activities that may seem like “studying.” So, I do the later and just rely on words to show up repeatedly within the context, and get to know them naturally.


I think I must be the only one who thinks Assiml is hard. It seems like people think it’s a beginners course but tbh I couldn’t relate to it, too many of the lessons were just plain weird, with strange “humour” which didn’t have me even cracking a smile. They also throw in some really quite complex lessons with obscure vocabulary. It seemed like some of the lessons were written to demonstrate how ‘beautiful’ the language is, and quite frankly I found it challenging after randomly selecting lessons in the later half of the book.

I’m probably a B1 moving into B2 territory, I’d bought the book a while ago and hadn’t really used it, but I struggled quite badly with some of it. Also, I’m not sure the corresponding English text was written by a native English speaker, but rather, probably a French speaker who is “fluent” in English. It also had a number of misleading errors in it. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me lol.

Sorry, hellion, but I don’t think you’re using Assimil the way it was intended to be used. It’s meant to be worked through from the beginning to end, progressively, as the lessons build on each other. Randomly selecting lessons would be counter productive.

The audio component of it is a very important part as well, and you‘re meant to listen to the lessons repeatedly, with and without the written text.

The “humor” in the book was not meant to make you laugh, it’s meant to use dramatic irony to draw conclusions in your brain, and therefore triggering a more effective word recall process. This is actually one of the most elaborate and interesting parts of the program that often goes unmentioned.

Which book were you trying out, the first one, “With Ease” or the advanced, “Using” ?