Improve your Spanish: Libraries

If you’re living in Spain, and want to improve your Spanish, a couple of visits to a library every month could make all the difference, as Sarah Barguirdjian explains.

As we all learned at school, an excellent way to improve your vocabulary skills in any language is to read, read and read some more. And if you live in Spain, what better place to start than your local public library? Remember you’re looking for a “biblioteca” – a “librería” in Spanish is a bookshop.

Spanish libraries seem to vary in quality from village to village or from town to town. Our local one is the pits. The shelves stock more dust balls than books and what tattered books we have all seem to varying editions of Don Quijote.

It’s worth shopping around though - the next village on from us has a great library, stacked with new releases, local and national papers and a very helpful librarian.

Belonging to a library here doesn’t mean you have to start plowing your way through volumes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In fact walk swiftly past the novels and reference books and go straight to the children’s section, but don’t forget to take and adult sized chair with you!

Joining a Spanish library is simple: Just take your id and 4 stamps (the stamps are not required in all libraries) and fill in a form. When you get your card you can borrow 7 books for a fortnight, or 3 DVDs, videos or CDs for 4 days from any Andalucian library.

It’s recommended that you go in the morning when children are still at school. You’ll have all the books to yourself and can avoid the embarrassment factor. Have a good look around and see how the books are arranged. They should be clearly colour coded by age group by tags on their spine. Beginners should start at the 3 to 5 year olds section. The books are simple and short, pictures bright and jolly and the big bold type is an added bonus.

For intermediate standard learners, browse through the 6 to 9 year old sections, or pass on that and go straight to Asterix and Tintin nearly always on the bottom shelf. You might not get all the play on words, but you’ll get the gist and have a giggle. Be warned that Asterix in particular may be harder to read than you imagine – Tintin and the Simpsons are far easier.

There are some wonderful Spanish books and poems (Gloria Fuertes is one of the best) written for children and most libraries stock a good section of translated foreign classics too. Short stories are a good idea. Sherlock Holmes mysteries or Roald Dahl tales will keep you gripped and the language is reasonably simple. A well illustrated children’s encyclopedia is good for dipping in and out of and you might learn some interesting facts in the bargain.

Rereading a book you loved as a child is another lovely way to learn Spanish, though you might want to give Enid Blyton a miss. I’m now rereading “The Little Prince” or ‘El Pricipito” a wonderful book in any language.

Once you’ve worked your way through the children’s section, venture out. Again, translated short stories by a favorite author are a good idea.Or, have a look at what a Spanish writer has to say about a particular interest you might have such as yoga or gardening. You’ll be more motivated look up and remember words you don’t know.

Good luck and happy reading.


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