Department of Spanish and Portuguese Part IA

Modern & Medieval Languages

Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Part Ia Option A (ab initio)

The ab initio course in Spanish

See also: Starting Spanish from Scratch: how to prepare for the study of ab initio Spanish.

The Part IA examination will consist of:

  • SP A1: Use of Spanish
  • SP A2: Translation from Spanish and Oral A
  • SP A3: Introduction to Hispanic Literature.

Aims of the course

The ab initio course is designed to take you from scratch (or GCSE) to A-level standard in the space of eight months (October-May). This is roughly the equivalent of level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The course is, therefore, very intensive. As well as language skills, the course also aims to offer you an introduction to Spanish and Latin American literature and to help you develop the close-reading and translation skills you will need in the course of your studies here.

These are exciting and ambitious goals, but do not be daunted – we see our students achieve them year after year. Your teachers and supervisors will be there to offer you all the support and encouragement you may need.


Students start Spanish at Cambridge with a wide range of linguistic ability, from absolute zero (except that you should have made a start over the summer before coming) to those who have GCSE or have lived and travelled in Spain or Latin America for an extended period of time. For this reason, you will be given a diagnostic test at the very beginning of the year so that we can allocate you to the correct level group.

You then attend two language classes per week which take you through the major points of Spanish grammar and main vocabulary areas. This Faculty-based classes are complemented by two College-based supervisions, focussing on oral and writing skills respectively. Both of these supervisions will take you through a graded series of topics, matching those dealt with in your classes, which will help you to place language in context. Together, the faculty classes and supervisions are designed to prepare you for paper SPA1. All teaching is carried out by language experts who are also native speakers.

From the beginning of the second term (Lent), the language supervision will alternate fortnightly with a literature supervision designed to introduce you to advanced reading in Spanish and to the literature of Spain and Latin America (paper SPA3). In Lent Term, you will also have four Translation Supervisions in preparation for paper SPA2.

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