With the increasing popularity of Spanish, demand for coursebooks is buoyant. Spanish publishers dominate the market, often with books that are multi-volume, full-colour and expensive. However, few courses are suited to the time constraints of undergraduate students taking up Spanish as beginners and perhaps aiming to set off for Spain after only two years of study.
Camino al español is ideal for such “fast-track” learners in their first year. There are 20 lessons, which can be covered in 100-120 hours of classroom contact. The general structure of the book holds no surprises, taking the learner from the basics through to a final lesson on the imperfect subjunctive. Where this book scores highly is in the presentation and range of the material.
The lesson format is straightforward: short dialogues, texts, illustrations, a range of exercises (reading, writing, listening) to consolidate what has been learnt, and a grammar section. None of the exercises is excessively long, and there is a wide variety in each lesson to encourage the manipulation of new material in different contexts. This should prevent teachers having to provide much supplementary material. The illustrations are simple drawings and photographs, all in black and white.
At the end of the book, there are verb tables, vocabulary lists and a brief guide to grammar terms. This last section is useful, although novices might find some explanations too technical. Finally, there is a “Teacher’s guide”, which indicates how all the material in one of the units can be presented and used in the classroom. This section also contains transcripts of listening comprehension exercises and answers to written exercises. Camino al español is a no-frills, though attractive, comprehensive and often imaginative textbook that fills a significant gap in the market.
Using Spanish Vocabulary is a different kind of book altogether. Aimed at undergraduates of all levels who have some knowledge of Spanish, it is part of a Cambridge series that includes Using Spanish Synonyms (also by R. E. Batchelor). Once again, the material is split into 20 sections, each providing thematic vocabulary lists graded according to difficulty or technical register. Words are drawn from Peninsular, Mexican, and then Argentinian Spanish in that order of preference - due to space constraints and the targeting of the American and the British markets. Markers indicate Mexican and Argentine items as well as the register of each item that is considered vulgar/colloquial or elevated/literary/technical.
The exercises that follow (all in Spanish) encourage students to explore the lexical items in different ways - for example, to find the difference between similar terms (“ diente ”/” muela ”), to find synonyms of words, or to provide two or more meanings of a single item. Students are encouraged to explore the different uses of individual items or concepts (for example, to explain the meaning of a list of 28 phrases to do with sight: “ no pegar ojo ”, “ costar un ojo ”, “ conocer de vista ”, “ hacer la vista gorda ” and so on. There are also cloze tests and comprehension and translation exercises written or chosen to be thematically coherent. The layout of the exercises is dense, but many are fascinating and should easily stimulate curiosity about how words are used.
With a systematic approach, no one could fail to improve their awareness of Spanish vocabulary. But this is also a fascinating book for learners at any level beyond the basics to dip into or browse.
Francis Lough is senior lecturer in Spanish, Kent University.
Camino al español: A Comprehensive Course in Spanish. First edition
Author - Consuelo Andrés Martínez, Eugenia Ariza Bruce, Christine Cook, Isabel Díez-Bonet and Anthony Trippett
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Pages - 443
Price - £45.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 521 82403 6 and 53075 X