Books I Like for Studying Spanish

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best way to learn a language is to speak it. Find someone to practice with. There’s no substitute for practice.

And if you aren’t speaking it, listen to it. Listen to music. Listen to podcasts. Listen to university lectures in ITunes University, a free part of the ITunes store.

But if you want fluency, you have to hit the books too. Don’t stress yourself out. Just do a page or two a day. Studying in frequent but short periods of time is better than hours of cramming once a week. As both a teacher and student, I fully agree with the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Choose books with simple, clear text—not a lot of photos and distractions. The books I have for my university English classes where I work here in Mexico are full of confusing, unnecessary and downright cheesy stuff, as if to distract the students so they don’t realize they are studying, but having fun instead. Ridiculous.

(I have a theory about ESL books – that every one includes Nelson Mandela, J.K. Rowling or the Japanese hot dog-eating lady.)

It’s absolutely necessary to have answers to the exercises in the back of the book. Again, the books I have to teach English with don’t do that. It must be part of the contract between the publishing companies and the universities.

If you are a total beginner, get a book that teaches what you need most: common questions and answers.

Communicating in Spanish is a good guide to get you started speaking Spanish. It has the basic questions and answers and lists of important vocabulary. It won’t confuse you with explanations of complicated Spanish grammar.

(Click the pictures of the books below to see them on Amazon.)

One of the hardest things about Spanish – a big difference from English – are verb conjugations. Verbs change for every person (I, you, she, we, etc.) and every tense (past, present, etc. – including several that don’t exist in English, like imperfect, pluperfect, and the frustrating subjunctive tenses). You’ve got your work cut out for you.

Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish is the best book I’ve seen that introduces these grammar necessities:

Because of this abundance of verb conjugations in Spanish, you have to do a lot of exercises. I’ve worked my way through Spanish Verb Tenses twice now.

(Tip: don’t write in your books. Write in a notebook or on scrap paper instead. Then you can do the exercises again or sell the book.)

This series, Practice Makes Perfect, has a lot of good workbooks. I’ve used this one too:

Then there are books that incorporate more than just grammar, but also vocabulary and reading exercises. Advanced Spanish Grammar covers a lot of ground – vocabulary, verb conjugations, cultural notes and regional differences in Spanish. Plus it’s all in Spanish – instructions too, which is useful:

Similar but less impressive (but easier – not really advanced) is Advanced Spanish Step-by-Step:

And finally, once you are reading to do some real reading in Spanish, pick up Contemporary Latin American Literature, an overview of important writers with their poems, short stories, and novel excerpts.

Literature in Spanish can be quite wordy, but for a classic that is written in an atypically straightforward manner, I recommend Pedro Paramo.

Please leave you suggestions for studying Spanish the comments, and thanks for reading!

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About Ted Campbell

U.S.-Canadian writer, translator and university teacher in Mexico. Travel stories and practical tips on my blog No Hay Bronca: nohaybronca.wordpress.com Twitter: @NoHayBroncaBlog // Contact: nohaybroncablog (at) gmail.com

Posted on September 14, 2013, in Learning Spanish, Reading material and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I have the book about tenses, and I bought the one about Madrigal but I didn’t like it. I needed something easier and better explained, so I got “A Good Spanish Book!” in Amazon and I like it much more. Now I am thinking I need some book specific for slang, but I don’t have it very clear. Perhaps the one from Berlitz Publishing?

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