Improving Your Spanish Reading and Dictionary Skills
already if you don’t however speak the language fluently, Spanish can be extremely easy to reach in the written form. If you understand most of the words in a text, then it is often possible to deduce the meaning of an unknown information. When you do need to look a information up in the dictionary, one obstacle can be that the dictionary may not list the exact form that you find in the text. But a few basic rules of thumb can help you locate the information and work out its meaning without a detailed knowledge of Spanish grammar.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to reading Spanish is its verb system. Spanish, like other related languages (but unlike English) has a slightly synthetic verb system: in other words, Spanish verbs can have a whole large number of different forms. However, as a functional way of starting to read Spanish more proficiently, a strategy to consider is to (a) learn the most shared irregular verb forms outright, along with the typical idiomatic meanings they may carry; (b) learn a few rules of thumb to allow you to deduce the person/tense, and if necessary look up, most other verb forms.
So turning first to shared verb forms, which should you truly learn? Out of a sample of 2,000 Spanish newspaper and magazine articles, the following are among the most shared verb forms:
(1) ha combines with another verb, and method “he/she/it has…”; the following information will usually end in -ado or -ido, and will be the equivalent of an English form ending in -ed (technically called the ‘past participle’). To look this past participle up in the dictionary, you generally replace the final -do with -r. For example, if you see ha preguntado, the form to look up in the dictionary is preguntar. You’ll see that this method “to ask”, and consequently ha preguntado method “he/she asked”. Almost 50% of the sample articles contained this construction!
(2) han, occurring in nearly 30% of the sample articles, is the plural equivalent of ha and method “they have…”.
(3) fue and dijo generally average was and said respectively, and are the simple past tenses of the verbs ser (“to be”) and decir (“to say”). The plural forms are fueron and dijeron, meaning “they were” and “they said” respectively.
(4) había is an imperfect tense form often used to average “there was/were…”.
(5) hizo is a simple past form of the verb hacer, and generally method “he/she/it did”, “he/she/it made”.
(6) podría is a conditional form of the verb poder, meaning “to be able”; the form podría is often equivalent to English “could”, “may be able to”;
(7) sido is the past participle of the verb ser: in other words, it literally method been, and is often combined with ha or han mentioned above (e.g. ha sido… = he/she/it has been…);
(8) fuera is a form commonly referred to as the past subjunctive: it method was/were when expressing a hypothetical condition, as in si fuera… (“if he/she/it were…”); traditionally, this form might not be learnt until late on in a Spanish course, but it truly occurs in 6% of the articles surveyed.
A large proportion of the lookups submitted to my own on-line Spanish-Engish dictionary are from this list of extremely shared verb forms. In other words, there is evidence that many readers could enhance their reading fluency simply by being more judicious about which information forms they choose to learn in improvement. As you can see, we’re truly cutting across a whole large number of grammar topics that, as part of learning to speak Spanish fluently, you would need to address more fully. But treating these very shared verb forms on a case-by-case basis is simply suggested as a pragmatic reading strategy.
For decoding verbs in general, an on-line or electronic dictionary such as the one I mention can help a great deal. Given most verb forms, the dictionary will understand the form and take you to the corresponding entry. However, it will nevertheless enhance your reading fluency to know some shared rules of thumb, such as:
– The “he/she/it” present tense forms of verbs ends in either -a (replace with -ar to look up in the dictionary) or -e (replace with -er or -ir).
– The “they” form ends in -an (replace with -ar) or -en (replace with -er or -ir) in the present tense. (Every single “they” form in the language ends in -n in any case.)
– If the verb form has an ending starting in -aba (e.g. preguntaban), then you have a past tense form; replace the part starting with -aba with -r. So in this case, the verb is preguntar; the meaning is “they were asking”, “they used to ask”— notice the final -n marking the they form.
– A verb ending with -ía is the equivalent to -aba, but for verbs ending in -er or -ir. So for example, comía comes from the verb comer, meaning “to eat” (so comía would likely average “he/she was eating”, “he/she used to eat”).
– However, the ending -ría (notice the ‘r’) is generally equivalent to English “would…”. In this case, remove -ía, -ían etc to get the base verb. So preguntaría method “he/she would ask”.
– A information ending in -ó is probably a “he/she/it” simple past tense form; replace -ó with -ar, and -ió with -er or -ir, to find the base verb.
– The they simple past tense forms end in -ron, and specifically usually -aron (replace with -ar to look up the verb) or -ieron (replace with -er or -ir).
I hope I’ve suggested, then, how with a little bit of judicious learning, you can develop a strategy for understanding Spanish articles of some complexity. With such a strategy, reading will help you acquire new vocabulary and above all be more useful and enjoyable.