Spanish lessons for the grown-ups

Breakthrough Spanish 2 - New Breakthrough Spanish
November 27, 1998

These packs are aimed at non-specialist adult learners either for self-study or as part of a post-16 course. New Breakthrough Spanish covers similar ground to the earlier Breakthrough Spanish (1992) but has been fully revised. It concentrates on the present tense with the last two of the 15 units introducing the future and preterite tenses. Breakthrough Spanish 2 has 12 units, the last six covering the imperfect, perfect, conditional, present and imperfect subjunctive.

Both follow a standard format: dialogues, oral and written exercises, a short grammar section with exercises, a full-page list of key words and phrases and a set of revision exercises. New Breakthrough Spanish provides a grammar summary, grammar index, Spanish-English vocabulary and an index of language functions and situations at the end. Breakthrough Spanish 2 replaces the grammar summary with verb tables including useful lists of irregular verbs. Finding information is usually simple.

The backbone of the courses is the cassettes. The recordings are at natural or near-natural speed to encourage serious and profitable listening from the outset. There is a good mix of studio and "authentic" recordings and the quality of both content and sound is excellent. New Breakthrough Spanish reuses some recordings from the earlier version but most are new. The exercises, also new, are well-structured, varied and comprehensive, each set providing clear and precise focus on a particular language feature. Answers are on the tape or in the books.

New Breakthrough Spanish is all in full colour, although curiously Breakthrough Spanish 2 alternates double-page spreads in colour and black and white. The introductions to the books and each unit offer sound advice to encourage the learner to make the most of study time.

These are very good packages marred only by a few avoidable weaknesses. Neither claims to provide a thorough grounding in grammar, but the difficult compromise between offering some basic information and avoiding too much terminology can lead to problems, particularly in New Breakthrough Spanish . Pronouns, especially subject pronouns, are not handled well and may confuse those studying without a teacher. The literal translation of soy is given as "am" and in the grammar summary it is suggested that with Spanish verbs "it is more usual to omit the subject" (rather than the subject pronoun). The present tense in English is given as either "I am speaking" or "I speak" - no mention is made of "I do speak" even though the interrogative form is, naturally, used throughout the book. The pronunciation guide is given piecemeal at the beginning of each chapter, so for example the letters "j" and "g" are not commented upon until Unit 8, and "c" and "z" are discussed in Unit 12, almost at the end of the book.

These are minor reservations, however, and do not detract from the quality of the packages.

Francis Lough is senior lecturer in Spanish, University of Kent.

Breakthrough Spanish 2

Author - Sandra Truscott
ISBN - 0 333 71917 4 and 71919 0 (pack)
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £14.99(3 cassette pack £42.50)
Pages - 218

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