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February 26, 2012 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What is the best comprehensive Spanish grammar text in a single volume? What other books are indispensable for self-teaching Spanish?

After several abortive attempts to learn Spanish in classroom settings, I'd like to have materials for self-education, in particular a portable grammar reference. Which should I get? Are there other books that have helped you learn Spanish? Do you have a favorite online reference or references?

posted by edguardo to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
While it is not a book, SpanishDict.com is a very comprehensive Spanish language site.
posted by ScotsLament at 8:09 AM on February 26, 2012

I really liked Breaking Out Of Beginner's Spanish. it has sections on swear words, idiomatic pratfalls & irregular verbs that we're extremely useful to me when I was traveling in Mexico a lot.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:28 AM on February 26, 2012

I may not be the best answerer here, since I thrived in traditional classroom settings, but the best reference guide for me during that time was John Butt's simply-titled Spanish Grammar. Clear, as concise as one can get discussing something as complex as grammar without sacrificing coverage, and helpful. It won't teach you the language by itself--there's no vocab or practice activities or anything like that, as it's a reference book--but I found it to be a really useful supplement.

Also, it's not portable (unless you're using it on a smartphone web browser) but WordReference.com is both a solid dictionary and a great resource for interacting with native speakers to clear up questions you might have about vocab, grammar, regionalisms, etc.
posted by Kosh at 8:38 AM on February 26, 2012

Don't know what happened to Devils Rancher's link for Breaking Out Of Beginner's Spanish, but here's the Amazon link. I don't know that book, but I can recommend Using Spanish: A Guide to Contemporary Usage.
posted by languagehat at 11:24 AM on February 26, 2012

I've been learning Spanish since I was five (off and on, obviously) and ended up with a bachelor's degree in it. I have an entire shelf of these, so I can definitely give some guidance.

I never found it easy to have just one book to refer to when learning Spanish. I prefer to have a grammar, a dictionary, some slang term books, that kind of thing for when the going gets rough. That said, here's some suggestions.

For a one-book solution, you might try Streetwise Spanish. The goal with that book is conversation so if your goal is perfect reading and writing skills, you'll want to look at the suggestions above. But all too frequently, the worst area in a language class is conversation and this is one attempt to deal with that head on.

If you would like to replicate the classroom books minus the classroom experience, try the Dime books. Since they're a series of textbooks (definitely not one book, though!), you can easily progress from book to book and each book has associated workbooks.

For a grammar reference, I recommend 501 Spanish Verbs (gives the conjugation of the major verbs in Spanish, which is especially helpful for the irregular ones and for tenses you're just learning).

You should also have some kind of supplemental guide to idioms/modismos. I prefer Guide to Spanish Idioms/Guia de Modismos Espanoles but you might like Barron's Spanish Idioms when just starting out.

My favorite in-hand print dictionary is the American Heritage Spanish Dictionary, which I used for oh, 10 years straight. I'd suggest finding a print dictionary that works for you, no matter who publishes it. When it comes to online dictionaries, I tend to stick with the Real Academia Espanola but they are perhaps a little hardcore for a beginner so you might look at the other suggestions in this thread for that.

Finally, should you get to the point of needing a more advanced textbook, my all time favorite one-book Spanish textbook is Spanish Composition through Literature (I have the fourth edition, and it's cheaper). The goal with this book is to read an excerpt from famous authors that targets areas American learners typically have trouble with (different tenses of to be (ser/estar), for example). Since it involves reading entire excerpts for comprehension, it's quite a bit more advanced than where you are but it's a goal to aim for.
posted by librarylis at 6:31 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read "Teach Yourself Spanish Grammar" for a month 1 ½ hours a day during my commute before a holiday to South America. I was amazed that just that book gave me enough Spanish to be able to communicate fairly comfortably with people. I read nothing else and the only other experience I had was 8 Spanish language evening classes I attended at University 10 years previously. I think the key was the intuitive understanding of the grammar it gives you.
posted by inbetweener at 2:54 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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