There comes a time in every language learner’s life when they must start looking for books.
Whether you’re in Barnes and Noble or browsing Amazon, make sure you go prepared.
It does no good to just stare at the many Spanish learning titles, trying to pick the best ones based on their back covers.
Lots of quality time with Spanish learning books will be critical to your success.
So, naturally, you want to make sure you choose the right Spanish learning books.
As you stand in that aisle you’ll be thinking, “Which book should I buy?”
While scanning all the titles, it’s important to realize there are several types of books.
All of these books will have a key influence on your Spanish learning journey.
As you build your Spanish textbook library, it’s wise to have a good variety of books.
All this sounds like a lot of work. But, hey, as much as we all want to be Spanish experts overnight, it isn’t possible. There’s no golden secret to instant Spanish success — if you want to achieve Spanish fluency, then you’ve got lots of work ahead of you!
By choosing the right books, you can make sure that you don’t waste any time using less-than-awesome learning materials. Heck, the right books can even making textbook learning fun.
We’ve highlighted a few of the best titles from each of these categories that have proved themselves highly valuable for Spanish learners.
Which Spanish Textbook Is Best for You?
Barron’s Foreign Language Guides are standard in anyone’s language library and there’s a good reason why. Christopher and Theodore Kendris wrote four books which cover all the basics. In this series, there’s a book that focuses on vocabulary, another for verbs and a third for grammar. If you’ve got these books at your disposal, you’ll find answers to all your Spanish speaking questions. Most of these books even come with MP3s or CDs so that you can hear and read the text.
These reference books will help you improve your Spanish whether you’re just starting your language journey or whether you’re looking to brush up.
First things first, vocabulary. It’s going to be hard to communicate with anyone if you don’t have a basic vocabulary.
I love learning vocabulary, it’s actually my personal favorite thing to study. Vocabulary is tangible, you can see and feel the words you’re learning around you in your daily life.
The Kendris team has captured the simple joy of learning vocabulary. The book is organized by theme, which is incredibly helpful if you’re searching for something specific.
Maybe you need to stop by the doctor’s office while on that business trip in Guatemala. Just flip open “Mastering Spanish Vocabulary” to the medical section and you can tell the doctor that you have a headache instead of a brain tumor.
This book also comes with audio MP3. How does this help your Spanish? You’ll read the words and hear them. This is immensely helpful when learning a new language.
I remember when I first opened “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I had no idea how to say “Hermione.” I think that in my mind I said something like “her-me-own.” It wasn’t until I actually heard the actors in the movie that I was able to pronounce her name correctly. The MP3 will help you from making simple mistakes like these around Spanish speakers.
Now that you have mastered your basic vocabulary, you will need to some verbs. This book will introduce you to all the most commonly-encountered verbs in the Spanish language.
They’re all the verbs you’ll need to hold 99.9% of Spanish conversations, conjugated in all of the Spanish languages 15 moods and tenses.
This one’s going to help you with all of your verb woes. Conjugating verbs in another language feels foreign and unnatural. When learning verbs I often found myself thinking, “do I use the pluscuamperfecto tense or perfecto tense? What’s the difference anyways?”
This book goes into all of the nitty-gritty details without being too overwhelming. The introduction alone is dedicated to explaining the different tenses and when it’s appropriate to use them. Then the book segues seamlessly into teaching you different verbs in each of these tenses.
There are many examples of English sentences with their Spanish sentence counterparts. This is going to help you see exactly how a verb tense is used in Spanish. Because let’s be honest, you probably don’t know all of the names of the tenses in your native language. You’ve never had to dissect sentences in your native language because thing just flow naturally. This isn’t the case when learning another language. This book will help you learn exactly when it’s appropriate to use a certain verb tense.
Last but not least, the daunting monster: grammar.
No two languages have the exact same grammar. Of course, there are parallels in similar languages like French and Spanish, but there are still differences. When I learned Spanish I remember thinking, “why would you say casa blanca instead of blanca casa?” Grammar doesn’t have to be so intimidating and this book proves it.
The Kendris team has made Spanish grammar totally approachable.
In their book “Barron’s Spanish Grammar,” you don’t have long lists of grammatical rules. There are boxes with tips in bold font, highlighted key points and memorization techniques included along the way to make the content more engaging. The lists that are in the book are easy to scan and study.
Practice makes perfect, right? That’s why your elementary school teachers made you spell out new words fifty times. It’s the same reason why your high school teachers assigned 100+ algebra problems for homework. The same applies when learning a language.
You can read and study for hours, but eventually you will need to get a pencil and a paper and start writing down conjugations yourself.
There are many different workbooks out there to help you gain confidence in your Spanish writing skills. There are three main workbooks I want to highlight: “Easy Spanish Step-by-Step,” “The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice”, and “Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Verb Tenses.”
“Easy Spanish Step-by-Step” is a great workbook to start with because it starts with the basics and assumes you don’t speak a lick of Spanish. It also provides lots of examples and opportunities to test your knowledge.
This book, along with many other Spanish learning books, is available on VitalSource, a convenient online resource where you can rent or buy e-books. It’s great for keeping track of learning material if you prefer it in an electronic format.
This book is my personal favorite. When I started college I took an advanced Spanish class and this was the workbook we used.
Unlike many people, I learned Spanish on the streets of Spain and learned mostly through immersion. It was great, but my grammar paid a heavy toll as the years went on. I would just guess what sounded right because that’s how I initially learned Spanish.
This book took me to a new level with my Spanish. This book has hundreds of exercises for you to test your own Spanish knowledge.
My favorite thing about this book is that some of the instructions are in Spanish. This helps you see exactly where you stand with your Spanish reading. Of course, some sections are in English to help you along, but I love a Spanish book that has Spanish instructions.
Last but certainly not least in the workbook category is “Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Verb Tenses.” There are several workbooks in the Practice Makes Perfect series, but I’m going to highlight this one specifically since its main focus is on verbs, my personal Spanish speaking Everest.
This book helps with more than just conjugating basic verbs. What I love about it is that there are paragraphs you’re asked to translate completely. This is especially helpful because it’s taking your Spanish verb knowledge and putting it into a real situation.
“Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Verb Tenses” has over 200 exercises, pages of verb explanations and available audio content.
Dictionaries aren’t very fun. Books full of words and no pictures?
Lists and lists of words on every page is intimidating for anyone. A dictionary is important to look up words that you don’t understand. While most vocabulary books will help you with this, a dictionary is a necessary resource.
There are two kinds of dictionaries: pocket dictionaries and traditional dictionaries. Each has its pros and cons. The biggest difference is you can carry a pocket dictionary around and a traditional dictionary will make its home on your desk or nightstand.
Most people, myself included, won’t pick up a dictionary and read it in their leisure time. A dictionary is used more commonly for looking up words that you hear and don’t know what they mean.
This pocket dictionary is perfect for just that. As you’re roaming the streets of Honduras or maybe just the supermarket, you’ll hear Spanish words that mean absolutely nothing to you.
So what do you do?
You could always stop the stranger and ask them what they just said, but that’s a little bizarre by most people’s standards. Instead, just pull out your pocket dictionary and look up the word.
This may not fit in the front pocket of your new skinny jeans, but it’s small enough to fit in a purse or briefcase.
Having a mobile dictionary is so important to learning a new language. By the time you make it back home and pull your huge dictionary out of your desk drawer you’ve probably forgotten the word already.
You can pull out this pocket dictionary mid-conversation if you need to find a specific word. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried communicating with someone who spoke a different dialect of Spanish than I did, and I had no idea what they were saying just because I couldn’t understand one word in the conversation.
When my family and I moved to Spain, this was our go-to dictionary.
I think we must’ve had five or six copies lying around our house because it seemed like there was one in every room. My mom would spend hours poring over this dictionary improving her Spanish. This dictionary is fantastic for several reasons.
First, it’s Mass Market size, which means it’s the size of a small paperback book. This made it easy to throw in my backpack on my way to school or it could easily fit on my desk next to my notebook.
Also, it’s comprehensive. This dictionary boasts over 1,000 pages of words. The writing is pretty small, so you know those 1,000 pages are put to good use.
So which book should you pull off the shelf at Barnes and Noble? How can you successfully build a strong Spanish library?
Start with one or two books from each category.
If you have one book from each of these categories, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an advanced Spanish speaker.
Oh, And One More Thing…
If you want to grow beyond textbook Spanish, you’ve got to try FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, commercials, news, and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized Spanish learning experiences. Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
The FluentU Spanish video collection boasts a wide variety of videos—covering topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App from the iTunes store or Google Play store and access its language-learning tools on your iOS and Android device.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.