Notes from reading my first Spanish book

It was “just” Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, but still a big personal milestone.


My last visit to a bookstore was in June in Bratislava before taking a bus to Schwechat airport. It was more to drink coffee and take a video call from there than to look at the books. Had I known how much I’ll miss a bookstore or a library in a few months, I would have soaked in more of the atmosphere.

When the brain-numbing heat went away in September, I started to have a deficit of culture and art. I observe it’s my autumn pattern — I’m ready to absorb more beauty and learnings. I start longing for the things that a Spanish pueblo cannot offer.

Plotting how, why and when to go to a bookstore became my priority. My needs were in the peak of the Maslow’s pyramid — the self-actualisation. 

Grabbing a book on a whim can bring a great new discovery, but also disappointment. And because I’m a beginner in Spanish, I could admire the book covers but wouldn’t understand most of what’s inside. This time, I needed a plan for what I wanted to leave the store with.

It had to be something I would enjoy reading. It had to have simple language and I should know it well in Slovak or English. Harry Potter came to mind. 

In the children section, for now

On a beautiful sunny day three weeks ago we went to Librería Publics bookshop in Dénia. I went straight to the children section at the back of the store. I found what I needed and then walked between the shelves full of many other interesting books. 

I imagined how I’ll be able to read them when I get better in Spanish. I wasn’t impatient nor frustrated that I can’t read them now. I was just looking forward to when I can. Rushing things would be contra-productive. Step by step I will get to more difficult literature.

5 things that helped me read a Spanish book

Here are the things that helped me read my first Spanish book in three weeks.

Knowing the book and the story very well in my mother tongue

I remember the first part of Harry Potter well. Not by heart, but enough to figure out what something means, and to do it faster.

It was something I enjoyed

A few times during my adult years I wanted to read Harry Potter again. An adult being adult, I didn’t do it as there were more “important” things to do. Learning Spanish gave reading a book about wizards the practical dimension (excuse) I needed.

Read every day, bit by bit

I put 10 minutes of reading on my daily to do list. Most of the days it was more than that, because I enjoyed it and wanted to know what happens next.

Whether it’s 5 or 15 minutes doesn’t matter. The important part was that I could find time to read on any day, even busier ones.

I made sure not to go too much over time (except for weekends) and stopped even if I wanted to continue. I know, for example from my attempts to learn to code, that I tend to overdo my effort in the early stages and then fade out.

Basic grammar

Knowing simple past and future tenses helped a lot. So did being able to distinguish which person is the character referring to. 

Some awareness of more advanced grammar helps, too. Not having to pause at phrases like habían pasado (“had passed”) makes reading smoother.

Not translating every new word

Searching for a word or a phrase every few moments would take the joy away from my reading. Understanding all the words isn’t worth it for me.

There are cases when I pick a phone and use the app Deepl to translate something. I do this when:

  • I don’t understand the meaning of a sentence or a paragraph
  • a word is repeated and seems important to the story
  • the story is in its peak and I don’t want to miss a single detail. For example, at the end when Harry fights professor Quirrell and then asks Dumbledore some important questions

I’m not writing the new words down. I realize it’s something I could benefit from. I need to find a way to capture the new words while keeping the flow and the joy of reading.

I’m already looking forward to reading my next book in Spanish.

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