Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Modern & Medieval Languages

Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Ab initio Spanish

Starting Spanish from scratch

A very warm welcome to the Spanish beginners course!

About a third of the students admitted to Cambridge to read Spanish each year can be classed as 'beginners' — a broad term covering anything from those with no knowledge at all of Spanish to those who may have done a GCSE, or who may have some oral familiarity with the language. We welcome beginners of all levels, and aim to match you to the correct class for your level when you arrive by means of a diagnostic test.

Course material for your language classes

You will need to obtain a copy of the following books:

  • Coursebook: Vía rápida, (Barcelona: Difusión). Note: you do NOT need a copy of the Libro de ejercicios (Workbook).

  • Grammar: A Spanish Learning Grammar, Pilar Muñoz & Mike Thacker (London: Arnold, latest edition). You will need to begin work on this book BEFORE you arrive in Cambridge.

  • Grammar Practice: Uso de la gramática española - nivel elemental, Francisca Castro (Edelsa, Spain, latest edition). In the Lent term, you will also need a copy of the "nivel intermedio" book from the same series.

You can purchase these books from your local bookshop or order them online (e.g. from Cambridge bookshops (Heffers and Waterstone's) are aware of our reading lists. You may also be able to purchase second-hand copies of some of the books from Heffers (tel. 01223 568568). Whatever option you go for, it is very important that you get a copy of the books BEFORE your classes start.

Work to be submitted at the start of the Michaelmas term

The ab initio course is very intensive. We need to cover a lot of material in just one academic year, which is why we ask you to work your way through the following chapters from A Spanish Learning Grammar OVER THE SUMMER and do the corresponding exercises. Please use the key at the back of the book to correct your answers. You will be asked to submit this work, marked by you, at the start of the Michaelmas term:

  • Chapter 1. Pronunciation, Accents and Spelling
  • Chapter 2. Articles
  • Chapter 3. Nouns
  • Chapter 4. Adjectives
  • Chapter 7. Personal Pronouns
  • Chapter 8. Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns
  • Chapter 9. Possessive Adjectives and Pronouns
  • Chapter 13. 13.1. Present Tense.

By all means explore other chapters as well if you can; this is just a minimum requirement.

If you are not familiar with grammatical concepts and terminology, you may find the following book useful: Spanish & English Grammar Side by Side, by E. R. Farrell and C. F. Farrell (Passport Books).

Every summer, our reading lists get sent to the main Cambridge bookshops (Heffers and Waterstone's), so you might obtain the set texts from these shops, but once again: please get your copies well in advance.

For a description of the language papers you will be taking, see Beginners' Language Courses.

Making a start on Spanish

Apart from this grammar work, we very much encourage you to take advantage of some of the many options at your disposal to make a start on the language before you come to Cambridge. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The world wide web is a fenomenal source of language learning material, much of it completely free: you can practise your grammar, read the news or listen to the radio in Spanish at the click of a mouse. BBC Languages has an excellent range of resources for beginners Spanish. La Página del Idioma Español features a comprehensive list of links to Spanish-language radio stations. For more suggestions do check out our selection of links.
  • One of the most effective and enjoyable ways of learning a new language is to start reading in it as soon as you can. There are a number of Easy Readers available on the market, but for the most adventurous of you, there are also unabridged parallel texts in Spanish and English, such as Penguin's Parallel Text: Short Stories in /spanish/ Cuentos en español, edited by J. R. King. We highly recommend them!
  • There are a number of useful teach-yourself Spanish packages available from bookshops.
  • To help you acquire vocabulary there are several useful wordlists available - e.g. Palabra por palabra (P. Turk) or Oxford Spanish Wordpack (A. C. Llompart).
  • You may be able to attend evening classes in your area. Ask at your local library for details.
  • Time and money permitting, a period of immersion in a Spanish-speaking country can prove invaluable. There is a variety of good courses held in Spain and Latin American countries in the summer and at other times of year. Information on most of them may be found on the web. Some language course brochures may also be obtained from our Departmental Secretary. Once in Cambridge, you will be able to find out about college travel grants. You will also have direct access to our files of brochures for language courses both in Spain and Latin American.

We hope that you will find these suggestions helpful. If there is anything on which you would like further advice, please contact your Director of Studies at College, or our Departmental Secretary.

We look forward to welcoming you in Cambridge!

Literary texts to be covered by ab initio students (Paper SPA3)

[ This paper has a Learning Resources Web Site ]

Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, mártir [Spain]
Carlos Fuentes, Aura [Mexico]
Leopoldo Alas ("Clarín"), Doña Berta [Spain] [NEW from the academic year 2015-2016]
Gabriel García Márquez, Crónica de una muerte anunciada [Colombia]

Please also refer to our section Recommended Dictionaries and Grammars (at all levels).

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