I have just finished reading my first book in Spanish.
It took me awhile, but I finally got to the end.
It started in Bogota in September last year. I was wandering the streets one Saturday morning and in a little plaza off Calle Septima, I found a tiny used book store. Unlike most bookstores we’re used to, there weren’t any aisles to browse, just shelves of books behind a glass counter.
I asked if they had The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, indisputably my favourite book, one I have read at least 7 times in English and gifted to others many more times. I figured that since I already knew the story so well, I would understand it even if I didn’t know all the words.
They showed me a few copies and I selected a lovely embossed paperback that felt slightly furry. It was beautiful. In between a couple of pages I discovered a homemade bookmark of tiny pressed flowers arranged and laminated. That was a lovely surprise.
I started reading and it was slow going because I noted every unfamiliar word in my book and at the end of each section, I consulted the dictionary, translated and reread the passage again.
My progress stalled when I went looking for a copy for mi novio in Santa Marta. It seemed that in a city of half a million people there was only one bookstore, and they didn’t have a copy of The Alchemist. I tried a stationery store that had a few books as well, and the large supermarket chain Exito, and even held out hope to find a copy from a street vendor but I couldn’t find it anywhere in Santa Marta. Out of options, I decided to give mi novio the beloved copy I’d bought in Bogota.
I found my current copy of The Alchemist, a 20th anniversary commemorative hardback in the spiritual section of a fancy bookshop in Cartagena’s old city and I brought it back home with me to keep practising my Spanish.
During certain times, I get the urge to reread The Alchemist. Usually it’s a feeling of being out of control or when I’m feeling like the road ahead is long, boring and hard. Paulo Coelho’s words help me to see that everything is connected and it is all part of the journey.
Being away from mi novio for such a long time is so hard and one day I decided I needed to read The Alchemist to feel better. Since I’d already started it in Spanish, I said to myself “Righto, I should finish reading it in Spanish.” But I didn’t want to trudge my way through it with a dictionary in hand so I made the decision to just jump right in, forget about the words I didn’t know and just keep reading.
This is probably one of the best things I could have done. I came across about 3 or 4 words per page that I didn’t understand. Some I figured out just by reading, and others I guessed. Only a handful still baffled me, but the most important thing was I was reading and following the story! When learning another language one of the eureka moments is when you are able to read a book in that language. Starting with books you’ve already read in your native language makes it easier to follow the story in another.
I’m already looking forward to having another one of those “I need to read The Alchemist” moments, but the next one will most likely be
“Bueno, necesito leer El Alquimista.”
Do you speak more than one language? What was the first book you read in another language?