Speed reading in Spanish: En las sombras de Estados Unidos

This is the first book in Spanish that I plan to complete.

I started my fourth week at Hoy today, and thus far have been having a lot of fun.To be sure, there are many, many aspects of the job to learn.

How to relate to my new colleagues.  How to understand my boss’ vision for the role I can play on the team.  How to effectively access the Tribune’s enormous resources.

And how to work in Spanish.

Before I took this job, I had taught myself how to speak relatively well through a combination of reading Hoy, listening to Spanish-language radio and watching Destilando Amor, a telenovela about the scion of a tequila producing family falling in love with one of the seasonal workers.

I did this in 2007, when Jon and I did a project about undocumented Latino immigrants who become disabled while working.

Since then, I’ve continued to practice speaking, but have never formally studied the language. I have gotten to the point where I could interview a number of women about childhood sexual abuse for a project last year at The Chicago Reporter.

I also spent a lot of time talking with close friend Brandon Magruder, one of the smartest people I know.

Still, there’s a long, long way to go from where I am to being totally fluent in the language.

Specifically, I’ve got to learn to read and to write.

The reading I’ve taken on in the first month.

And, thanks to my late father-in-law, Marty Kelly, I’ve found that the same speed reading tactics to which he introduced me in English also work in Spanish.

I made this discovery during my first day of taking on reading Hoy cover to cover.  I had been going line by line and word by word for about an hour, circling the words I did not understand.

Being at about page six, I calculated the rate at which I would finish the paper and decided I might as well give speed reading a shot.

To my surprise, it worked.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I still read a lot more quickly and accurately in English.

But I am making progress both in pace and comprehension level.

And, last night, I took on the first full-length book I expect to complete.

En las sombras de Estados Unidos, or In the Shadow of the United States, is part of the Voices of Witness series created by Dave Eggers, author of Zeitoun, among other works.

This book is a collection of 16 undocumented immigrants’ experiences in the United States.

I’ve only read the first two so far, but they are enough both to make me optimistic about finishing the work and learning from it.

The first story, like Zeitoun, tells about an immigrant caught up in the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Rather than a Lebanese man, Anna is a Peruvian woman.  The second piece is of a Chinese man who takes an improbable journey from his homeland to the United States, passing through Cuba and Mexico along the way.

Although drenched in suffering and loss, their tales also have strength and resilience and hope.  This combination of elements can almost be a cliche, and, for these two anyway, it works.

I’ll keep you posted on the rest of the book, and I believe successful reading is on the horizon for me.

I’ll write my first blog post in Spanish this week.


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