7 October 2010

Reading Spanish novels with Kindle 3

I read recently that a school in Kansas had given all of the students Kindle readers instead of the usual course books. There were several advantages for the students: they didn’t have to drag heavy textbooks around with them, all the course books had been downloaded onto a device weighing a few ounces. Just like a real book they could highlight sections and make notes in the margins. I thought "how interesting" but didn’t feel inclined to invest £150 in an electronic reader. Until I found this… Dave Slusher has created a free Spanish to English dictionary for the Kindle, you can get it here

I ordered a Kindle 3 from Amazon the same day. This looked like the answer to my prayer. When I try to read Spanish novels I frequently come across words that I don’t know, I could read on and ignore the mystery word, or guess it sometimes. Or I could stop reading and look it up in the dictionary. Now if I am reading on the Kindle 3 I just move the cursor to the left of the word and the translation appears instantly at the top or bottom of the screen.

Here are a couple of pictures to demonstrate. The book is by Isabel Allende, called La casa de los espiritus:

Kindle 3
Kindle 3

look at the tenth line down, suppose I didn’t know the word "gitana", I move the cursor to the left of the word using the five way toggle switch

Kindle 3 - 5-way toggle switch
Kindle 3 – 5-way toggle switch

and the translation appears at the bottom of the screen:

Kindle 3 - display - Spanish translation
Kindle 3 – translation at bottom of page

So now I can lie in bed and read my novel without having to grab a dictionary every few seconds. Delightful.

5 comments to Reading Spanish novels with Kindle 3

  • tom strotman

    Does this work for every Spanish book or just for a few books? Gitana is an easy word, will it also find more complicated words? How big is the dictionary to which these books are hyper-linked?

  • Hi Tom
    As far as I know this works for all Kindle Spanish books and anything you can get onto the Kindle as a text file. The dictionary lives on the Kindle and all you need to do to look up a translation is to move the cursor to the left of the word. It is very good for simple nouns and verbs, if there are enclitic pronouns on the verb it doesn’t do so well. It also doesn’t do combinations, for example “quiero decir” would not be translated as “I mean”, it would only pick up the word to the right of the cursor; so it would translate “quiero” as I want and you would have to move the cursor to translate “decir”. So, no it is not perfect but overall I find it very useful, it probably gets 80% or more of the words I look up. And for a freebie I have no complaints. The file size is 6.22Mb which is not much out of the 3Gb available on the Kindle. You can always remove it if you decide after a while that you don’t like it, or if something better comes along.

  • Ronald Howard

    I, too, use the Kindle 3g extensively for language learning, however; instead of a bilingual dictionary- I use a monolingual dictionary. The Larousse Spanish for kindle dictionary has over 100,000 entries and recognizes conjugated verbs. I also use the Priberam Portuguese dictionary, which is of similar high quality to the Larousse, when reading in Portuguese. I find that I learn more whilst staying in the language whenever possible. I am at an advanced level in Spanish and at a basic level in Portuguese, though I find my knowledge of Spanish helps me a lot with Portuguese.

    What a joy it is to simply move the cursor to the left of a word and have the definition pop up!

    I also download audiobooks from librivox.org and gather the e-text for the books (all public domain). I then convert the e-text into mobi format with the free and open source Calibre program and put it on my kindle. I then listen and read using my built-in dictionary for help when I need it. Yeah, the kindle is a bit clunky to use with audio but for $138 it is a fantastic resource that I use everyday both indoors and outdoors.

    Calibre is a great way to download news and blogs and view them at your leisure on your kindle for free.

  • Bernd Waltman

    Hi Bill,

    I’m about to order a Kindle 3 in the US. At the moment I’m living in Spain (I’m from The Netherlands) and want to use the Kindle 3 for both Spanish & English literature. Do you know whether it’s possible to download the Spanish dictionary and use both the Spanish as the original dictionary at the same time or do I have to change the settings whenever I’m going to read a book in another language?

  • Bill Ferguson

    Hi Bernd
    The Kindle 3 only lets you use one dictionary at a time but you can easily switch between dictionaries using the menu to select whichever one you want. Maybe in the future there will be automatic language recognition but its not available yet for Kindle 3 (as far as I know).

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Bill Ferguson
Bill Ferguson

Spanish Teaching Resources

Getting good quality teaching and resources

The information I am going to share is an honest account of what I have tried over the past year and my opinions are just that, opinions. I will share my likes and dislikes, what works for me and what doesn't. This is a personal experience, I am not an expert but if you share my ambition of learning to communicate in a third, foreign language, then maybe we can help each other along the way.

According to Friedrich Nietzsche: "One who speaks a foreign language just a little takes more pleasure in it than one who speaks it well. Enjoyment belongs to those who know things halfway."

I think he is right. Its hard to define halfway but I think the fun starts when you know enough of a language to be able to make yourself understood, given sufficient time to think. At this stage you are not merely tolerated but treated as an honoured guest in a foreign country. People see you bravely struggling to speak and understand, and give you credit for trying. They are nearly always kind and supportive.

Go beyond this to fluency and its like a toddler growing up, you are no longer cute and vulnerable. You are competing for resources, in the adolescence of language acquisition unless you have a definite role you are treated with suspicion. Maybe that is the stage to consider moving on to another new language ...

Getting good quality teaching and resources is vital to success: encouraged by an influential book by Harry Ferber I now view language acquisition as a military campaign, I need to use my resources efficiently to overcome all resistance, I need to capture vocabulary and not let it escape. I need to wear down the opposition by attacking daily and not allowing it time to regroup. I need to learn the predictable tricks that the new language will play on me and be ready for them (this means learning grammar). Like any military campaign good quality intelligence is vital.

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My current ambition is to be able to communicate comfortably in English, French and Spanish. I began to study Spanish in 2008. I have been a student of French, on and off, for about 30 years and up to last year ....read more

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