How’s your Spanish library looking these days?
That’s right, I said “library.”
Maybe you’re looking for the perfect book to self-study Spanish or to be your ideal go-to resource.
Maybe your library has already swelled with the traditional books—textbooks, workbooks, Spanish-English dictionaries.
If so, good for you!
These staples fill up the crevices of your bookshelf and mind with their seemingly endless knowledge.
But you can always afford to branch out.
While textbooks, workbooks and Spanish-English dictionaries are an essential part of any learning diet, if you use them exclusively, you’re still missing out on some crucial learning resources.
The Benefits of Using a Wide Variety of Books to Learn Spanish
All sorts of Spanish-language books are useful for learning Spanish. Textbooks help you get down the rules of grammar. Dictionaries can help you learn and check vocabulary.
But an important part of becoming fluent in any language is being able to read things that were designed for native speakers. And obviously, even within books for native speakers, the types out there vary greatly. Each type of book has different advantages.
So with that in mind, why not start expanding both your library and your knowledge?
The Spanish Dictionary: The Book of Books
Dictionaries are, of course, a beacon in the darkest night. Their seemingly limitless vocabularies will keep you steady in unfamiliar waters.
So before you dive into all the books, be sure to have a good dictionary on hand to help guide you through more complex texts. There are plenty of handy ones out there available for purchase at a reasonable price, such as “Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary for Students.”
It’s also a good idea to be aware of all the online dictionaries and translators out there. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of online Spanish reference resources, SpanishDict is a good place to start.
More Spanish dictionaries and e-books of other types (including some of those below) are available on VitalSource, a site that makes it easy to purchase learning materials electronically and keep them all in one convenient place with the Bookshelf app.
So once you’ve gotten your base and your bearings, it’s time to branch out! Let’s look at the 8 kinds of books you absolutely have to have to get serious about your Spanish learning.
The 8 Kinds of Books That Are Crucial to Your Spanish Learning and Growth
1. Spanish Textbooks
You know textbooks all too well. Big, thick books with a lot of knowledge crammed into their pages. Perhaps they’re best-known for their superior back-straining abilities.
Old-fashioned textbooks just contained printed information, but more current textbooks often include activities, CDs or even online components, which greatly increases learning possibilities. So be on the lookout for newer features like these.
What Spanish Textbooks Can Do for You
Spanish textbooks provide the basic building blocks of most traditional Spanish education. Generally, they will walk you through the learning process step-by-step, and they are also very helpful to have on hand for reference.
They often have glossaries and appendices to guide you toward specific information. This is really useful because at some point (or more likely, a lot of points) you’ll realize you aren’t confident about something—maybe a conjugation or some remote grammar rule.
Spanish textbooks teach you the rules of the language. If you’re just starting out, a textbook can be the foundation upon which all future knowledge is built. Just as with buildings, a strong foundation is essential for future success.
- “Living Language Spanish” includes three coursebooks, nine CDs and additional online learning for a relatively low price. It goes all the way from beginning to advanced, so it can help learners at any stage.
- “Getting Started with Spanish: Beginning Spanish for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age” is a good option if you’re just starting out and trying to go it alone.
2. Spanish Workbooks
Workbooks are the natural companions of textbooks. This is where you practice what you’ve learned through fill-in-the-blank sentences and other activities. If you’ve ever learned Spanish in school, you may have even been assigned workbook pages for homework that you handed in for grading purposes.
What Spanish Workbooks Can Do for You
Workbooks allow you to put your studying into action and try out what you’ve learned. Applying your knowledge will help make it stick.
If you want to get the most out of a workbook, you might even consider doing the activities in pencil, erasing what you wrote and doing the activity again later. Practice makes perfect!
- “Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Spanish Grammar” offers helpful lessons immediately followed by practice activities. It’s ideal for intermediates or advanced learners who want to review. Beginners may want to check out the companion book, “Basic Spanish.”
- “Learn Spanish – Workbook 1” is a (free!) workbook you can download from the iTunes store. This is a great opportunity for beginning students to try out a workbook without having to spend any money.
3. Spanish Readers
Spanish readers are handy little books that help you practice reading Spanish. They are specifically designed to be at an appropriate reading level for helping you learn.
What Spanish Readers Can Do for You
Spanish readers are put together with the specific goal of helping you improve your Spanish, so as long as you’re using the right book for your level, reading should come easy.
Some even have vocabulary definitions in the text, so you won’t need to clutch a dictionary while you read. Once you’ve found the right level of book, all you have to do is sit back, read and improve your Spanish.
- “Easy Spanish Reader” is a beginning-level reader. It comes with both a book and CD-ROM to improve your reading as well as listening.
- “Contemporary Latin American Literature” is a good option for intermediate and advanced learners. It features well-known writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, so you will be reading notable works. Additionally, the interspersed vocabulary definitions will make it easy to keep moving forward without needing to interrupt your reading to look up words.
4. Spanish Phrase Books
Phrase books are like dictionaries for phrases instead of individual words. They are designed for travel or situations in which you want to be able to speak immediately.
What Spanish Phrase Books Can Do for You
Phrase books are a great way to learn key phrases (instead of just words by themselves) and ensure they are perfect. They’re obviously helpful if you need to learn quickly to talk with native speakers, but also just good for self-study and taking your Spanish to the next level.
To use a phrase book, you can first peruse for phrases you’d like to learn. Since the phrases are already put together, you won’t need to worry about conjugating any verbs. Phrases are generally grouped thematically, so you can pick one focus at a time and learn a bunch of phrases before moving on to the next section.
- “Easy Spanish Phrase Book” offers over 700 common phrases. This is a great book to have if you’re preparing to travel and need to get down the most important phrases quickly.
- “Guide to Spanish Idioms” is great for advanced learners who already know the dictionary definitions of words but are ready to speak like a native. It is also a great guide for anyone planning to travel to a Spanish-speaking country.
- “Dirty Spanish: Everyday Slang from ‘What’s Up?’ to ‘F*%# Off!'” will help teach you all the fun, naughty words that textbooks shy away from. Excellent for any student with the mouth of a sailor!
5. Spanish Children’s Books
Children’s books are obviously light on text and have a lot of pictures. You read them as a kid, but they are helpful for adult learners of foreign languages as well. With simple plots, they are usually easy to follow, so you can work on your Spanish without having too much brain-strain.
What Spanish Children’s Books Can Do for You
Children’s books are particularly useful for beginners, but intermediate level learners can benefit as well. If you’re a beginner, you can use the pictures to help you infer anything you do not understand.
As an intermediate learner, you should be able to understand most of the text. Try to understand it in Spanish rather than translating it in your head. Practice like this helps lead to fluency.
Read through the book and understand all you can. Look carefully at the verb conjugations and consider what they indicate. You can look up any words you don’t understand in a dictionary.
- International Children’s Digital Library offers free Spanish-language children’s books online.
6. Spanish Novels
Novels are, of course, the works of fiction that you often read for entertainment. With all the diverse subjects and unique vocabulary out there, you’re sure to find something that will both entertain and educate you.
What Spanish Novels Can Do for You
In general, novels are best for intermediate and advanced learners, but choosing a book that’s appropriate for your specific level can also be very helpful.
As you read, you may want to underline words you don’t understand or keep notes in the margins. This way, you can go back and go over anything you didn’t understand.
As you progress, reading novels that are more and more advanced will help you engage with the language. Practical practice like this will help you learn to read as native speakers read rather than reading as a Spanish student.
- “The Little Prince” is available in Spanish. This is a good option for intermediate readers since it is not overly text-dense.
- “Don Quijote” is an excellent free option for advanced learners. Not only will this help you practice your reading, it will also help familiarize you with one of the most notable Spanish-language novels of all time.
7. Spanish Hobby and Entertainment-based Books
Here, I’m talking about books that are designed for native speakers and focus on diverse topics ranging from crafts to entertainment to home repairs. You can learn Spanish from books like this while picking up additional skills at the same time.
What Spanish Hobby and Entertainment-based Books Can Do for You
These books can help you learn a lot of vocabulary specific to a certain area of interest. Additionally, if you follow directions for making or doing something, you can not only learn a new skill or hobby, but also improve your Spanish by applying it to a real-world context.
If you’re an advanced learner, you can simply choose a topic of interest and try to read the book as you would any book. Beginning and intermediate students will probably need to look up key words.
The good news is that hobby-based books often use the same set of words repeatedly, so you’ll master them quickly and won’t have to refer to a dictionary too often.
- “Mis recetas de cocina anticáncer” (“My recipes from an anticancer kitchen”) can help you work on your Spanish and stay healthy while eating tasty food.
- “El gran libro de la costura” (“The big book of sewing”) is a fun way to learn two new skills (sewing and Spanish) simultaneously.
- “Busca 2400 palabras” (“Find 2400 words”) provides word searches to help you pick up some new vocabulary.
- “Mafalda” is a cute comic strip that will both amuse and educate.
8. Spanish Travel Books
Travel books give destination-specific information for your next trip. Even if you don’t have a trip planned, they are a fun way to learn Spanish while thinking about places you might want to visit in the future.
What Spanish Travel Books Can Do for You
If you select a Spanish-language book intended for a Spanish-speaking destination, you can learn more about culture in addition to language. As you go through the book, jot down notes on key words, phrases or even places. You can then look up more information on these terms and locations.
Learning about culture is an important component of learning a language, since the two are tightly linked. These books often contain maps, as well, so you’ll be able to brush up on your geography. Additionally, if you read about a Spanish-speaking destination and it appeals to you, it’ll give you that much more motivation to perfect your Spanish.
- Michelin guides: Michelin’s helpful guides are available in Spanish! Why not try “Spain & Portugal”?
- Lonely Planet guides: These familiar guides also have Spanish editions. So when you plan your next trip to South America or Mexico, do it in Spanish! There’s a reason why Lonely Planet is world famous for its books—they’re great! Search the Lonely Planet site to see the many books about countries where Spanish is spoken.
This wide assortment of books will make you fluent in no time!
And One More Thing…
If you enjoy engaging resources like the above that make Spanish learning easy, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos, like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into 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.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos—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.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. 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 App from iTunes or the Google Play store and bring FluentU’s innovative language-learning experience to 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.