15 Essential Books to Lift Advanced Spanish Learners to Fluency
How can you push yourself beyond advanced Spanish?
A little more formal study might be the boost you need to get you where you’re going.
Here, we’ve provided all the best learning textbooks, reference books and dual-readers for advanced Spanish learners.
- Why Advanced Spanish Learners Still Need Books
- 15 Essential Books to Lift Advanced Spanish Learners to Fluency
- 1. “Palabra por palabra”
- 2. “The Big Red Book of Spanish Vocabulary”
- 3. “Advanced Spanish Grammar: A Self-teaching Guide”
- 4. “Advanced Spanish Grammar”
- 5. “Say It Right in Spanish!”
- 6. “Spanish Pronunciation: Theory and Practice”
- 7. SparkCharts
- 8. Language Babel Quick and Dirty Guides
- 9. “Chilenismos: A Dictionary and Phrasebook for Chilean Spanish”
- 10. “Red-Hot Book of Spanish Slang: 5,000 Phrases to Spice Up Your Spanish”
- 11. “Dictionary of Spanish Slang”
- 12. “The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems” (Bilingual Edition)
- 13. “Caña quemada” (“Burnt Sugar”)
- 14. “Espejos y ventanas” (“Mirrors and Windows”)
- 15. “Tapestry of the Sun”
- Choosing the Right Advanced Spanish Books
Why Advanced Spanish Learners Still Need Books
There’s a common misconception out there that textbooks are just for nailing down the nuts and bolts of language. You know, for when you need to write and write sentences over and over until you start to understand how correct Spanish should sound. We know you know how Spanish should sound. That’s why we’re going way beyond the basics with these books.
You’re on a whole different level of Spanish learning now—you’re advanced enough that you can finally focus on attaining that lofty goal of sounding like a native. We’re not just going to solidify your fundamental Spanish knowledge, we’re going to build on that with real-world language practice and literary immersion.
15 Essential Books to Lift Advanced Spanish Learners to Fluency
We’ll begin with the section of formal learning books:
1. “Palabra por palabra”
Want some advanced Spanish vocabulary that’s actually practical for your life in the modern world? The vocabulary contained in this book is somewhere between slang and formal Spanish. Here, you’ll find modern terms, phrases, expressions and buzzwords that end up in newspapers, magazines, advertisements and news broadcasts.
It’s the language of popular culture. If you’re looking to learn how to say oddly specific things like “swine flu,” you’d usually have to wait until the situation arises—and then it’s already too late.
2. “The Big Red Book of Spanish Vocabulary”
This is the big bad granddaddy of Spanish vocabulary. Anything, absolutely anything you need to learn is in this massive collection of useful words, and it’s beautifully organized for easy studying and reference.
3. “Advanced Spanish Grammar: A Self-teaching Guide”
This book is designed to challenge your Spanish. The entire text is written in Spanish, meaning you’ll never be able to slip back into English mode. It works as an all-around grammar study guide and reference book, since no topic is left off the index.
You’ll be able to go right back to the very beginning if need be, starting at -AR, -ER and -IR verb conjugations. This book gives plenty of tests to help you review your knowledge and practical understanding, making it our number one choice for grammar learning and practice.
4. “Advanced Spanish Grammar”
This book by McGraw-Hill Education is truly the gold standard in Spanish grammar. It’s a great reference guide for when things get sticky, or when you’d like to solidify your understanding of a particular grammar topic. Given its bilingual vocabulary glossary, grammar glossary and well-organized index, this book is our selected recommendation for grammar reference.
5. “Say It Right in Spanish!”
This book is geared more towards beginners and intermediates, but going back to the basics may be exactly what you need to get your pronunciation right.
Pronunciation is something that slips through the cracks for many Spanish language learners—particularly English-speaking learners. A flat American accent can effectively butcher even the most perfect Spanish sentence. Even if you’re speaking fluent Spanish in every other way, many people will still struggle to understand you if you haven’t mastered the Spanish accent.
6. “Spanish Pronunciation: Theory and Practice”
This book contains not only correct pronunciations and easy phonetic guides to train your mouth in Spanish pronunciation, but it also explains the linguistic principles underlying Spanish phonetics. Are you the kind of person who loves to know how things work? Does your brain remember concepts better when you understand them to their very roots? Then this book might be right for you.
Now we’re heading to our second selection of books, where you’ll learn modern, real-world Spanish.
Remember that time you couldn’t finish “A Tale of Two Cities” (or insert lengthy classic work here) and just glanced at the SparkNotes before the exam? If you have a memory like that, then you’re totally going to love SparkCharts. This is pretty much the same thing, except you’re SparkNoting the language and culture of the entire Spanish-speaking world. It’s the lazy way to study and refer back to advanced Spanish vocabulary, idioms and expressions.
Let’s take an example of how this chart will come in handy. You probably know the majority of important prepositional phrases, but every now and again you’ll have trouble recalling which phrase uses which preposition (“Is it cerca a or cerca de?”). This chart is well-organized and easy to scan for quick reference for little details like these.
8. Language Babel Quick and Dirty Guides
This is a series of quick and dirty guides to slang, idioms and expressions found all over the Spanish-speaking world. To get the most out of this series, choose the book that corresponds to the country you plan to speak Spanish in. There is a book for each of the following Spanish dialects: Mexican, Dominican, Colombian, Venezuelan and Peruvian.
9. “Chilenismos: A Dictionary and Phrasebook for Chilean Spanish”
Anyone who’s had the distinct pleasure of speaking with a Chilean knows that Chilean Spanish is a whole different animal. The language spoken in-country has an insanely different pronunciation, consonants are dropped indiscriminately, words are blurred together in rapid-fire succession and the vocabulary is, well, unique. If you’re planning to spend any time in Chile, save yourself the initial frustration of having to adjust to this new Spanish and bring this book along with you.
For a more general Spanish phrasebook, look to Lonely Planet. They have a few other regional options, like Mexican, Costa Rican and Latin American Spanish phrasebooks. But the real meat and potatoes is their classic Spanish phrasebook, which comes complete with audio pronunciation and app access—and the app even has an instant translation feature and a special decoder for Spanish restaurant menus. Ah, modern living!
10. “Red-Hot Book of Spanish Slang: 5,000 Phrases to Spice Up Your Spanish”
This book is all about quantity. You will literally never miss another Spanish slang word as long as you should live. What it lacks in organization it makes up for with diversity. This is best for those learning Spanish in their home country, with little opportunity to speak in the Spanish-speaking world. It’ll broaden your linguistic horizons and introduce you to the more colorful elements of the Spanish language from afar.
11. “Dictionary of Spanish Slang”
Now, let’s say you’re planning a lengthy trip throughout various countries in Latin America. You don’t really want to buy a book for every individual country, but you also don’t want a giant, high-quantity book like the previous one. What you really want is an organized reference book that will provide you with the language you need for each country on your itinerary.
This dictionary has a respectable quantity of Spanish slang (~4,000 terms), and is organized both alphabetically and by country/region. Each entry also contains a sample sentence to demonstrate how to properly use the word in context.
We’re now leaving the world of modern language and entering the realm of fine Spanish literature.
At an advanced level of Spanish, your main concern with reading should be smoothness and speed. As your eyes scan a Spanish text, are you hitting little speed bumps here and there that stop you from becoming totally immersed?
The following texts are all bilingual—or dual-readers—which contain both Spanish works and their English translations. This means that you can simply check the English version of the poems and gauge your comprehension of the text without having to break concentration and consult a dictionary.
12. “The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems” (Bilingual Edition)
To take a few baby steps into the world of Latin American literature, read this smattering of beautiful, timeless poems by this Chilean Nobel Prize winner. The romantic language flows naturally, and the vocabulary often stays thematically consistent within one particular poem.
For the majority of his poems, Neruda’s language circles around passionate love and nature. While he deals with the complex issues of human nature, the language is the perfect level for advanced students. You’ll find plenty of familiar, simple language, tons of cognates and a few obscure words thrown in the mix to keep things interesting.
Reading both the English and Spanish versions is equally helpful for your overall cultural awareness, because Neruda’s work has found a place in the popular culture of the English speaking world as well. And Neruda scholars the world over are on agreement here—this hand-picked collection is a great starter kit for those interested in further exploring Neruda’s written works.
13. “Caña quemada” (“Burnt Sugar”)
To transport yourself to the sun-soaked streets of Havana, look no further than “Caña quemada,” a collection of Spanish language poems by contemporary Cuban and Cuban-American authors. All the poems have been translated into English for this particular anthology.
With tales of familial ties, old friends, love, coming of age, seasonal changes, farming sugarcane and island living, you’ll come away feeling an echoing, poignant nostalgia that makes you long for the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of island nation you’ve probably never visited.
This book was a Christmas gift from my mom when I was first enthusiastically learning Spanish in high school, and it imprinted itself on my memory. I hope it will do the same for you.
14. “Espejos y ventanas” (“Mirrors and Windows”)
This book is less of a dual-reader and more of a bilingual piece of literary art. The author sought complete and full expression by writing in both English and Spanish. It throws open a huge, airy, floor-to-ceiling window to the issues faced by modern Mexican and Mexican-American people. It was born of a storytelling project which aimed to illustrate the lives of immigrants and their families. The text is really just a transcription of oral histories, so the featured individuals themselves speak clearly, strongly and in their own voices.
It’s a perfect reading choice if you’d like to gain a fresh perspective on immigration issues in the United States—or if you’d just like to read stories of family loyalty, language barriers, cultural confusion and second-generation Mexican-Americans discovering their own unique identities. Because the book is derived from spoken stories, the Spanish used is even more casual and straightforward, allowing for greater ease of reading.
15. “Tapestry of the Sun”
The rough-and-tumble coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuador is a strangely wonderful place. The complexity of the city is apparent to any first-time visitor. Many Ecuadorians will give you foreboding warnings to never set foot there, and just as many will tell you that it’s an incomparable cultural treasure. It’s rich with history, stories of colonialism and independence, wealth and poverty, economic security and crime. Springing from this dangerous and beautiful place are the poems unified by “Tapestry of the Sun.”
The poems are just as diverse as the ecological landscape of Ecuador, and they’ll guide you through key historical, political, cultural and personal nuances to life in Guayaquil and in Ecuador as a whole. If you’d like to gain a poetic perspective on life in urban Latin American environments, this creative piece holds the ticket. The language is lofty and romantic in many poems, earthy and guileless in others. This book will absolutely put your advanced Spanish skills to the test.
Choosing the Right Advanced Spanish Books
The books we’ve recommended fall into three major categories:
- Formal learning
- Modern, real-world Spanish
- Literature for Spanish immersion
With the first category, you’ll hone the skills you’ve previously developed in terms of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
In the second, you’ll fill in all the little details that you might have found missing while watching Spanish television, reading Spanish magazines or chatting with native speakers. They’re also a nice supplement to video-based immersion programs like FluentU.
In the third, you’ll put all of your Spanish learning into practice, improve your reading comprehension and boost yourself to overall Spanish fluency.
While they all tackle different subject areas, these books share a few major characteristics:
- Reputable. These books are all published by well-known and trusted publishers, have received excellent user reviews and have been assessed first-hand by yours truly.
- Thorough. Nothing slips through the cracks with these books. The whole point is to track down those oft-forgotten little details that differentiate the advanced students from the fluent speakers. You’ll be attacking Spanish from all possible angles, to ensure the fastest advance to fluency.
- Relevant. The content is practical knowledge that you should store away for future encounters with the Spanish-speaking world.
A mix of sources from different categories will help give you a broad understanding of the language, while also keeping your interest up as you study.
The books listed above are just the nudge you were looking for to glide your advanced Spanish all the way to fluency.