Best Books for Learning Spanish
The Best Spanish Book Isn't Necessarily a Spanish 101 Textbook...
I was fed up with Dicho y Hecho, the textbook I was obliged to use for my Spanish 101 class. Instead of well-organized chapters that explained the Spanish language in a logical and straightforward way, I saw cluttered pages full of pictures, cultural side notes, multiple font styles, and tutti-frutti colors. It was enough to make my head spin.
The Dicho y Hecho textbook treated me as a beginner on the one hand, yet at the same time it assumed I was advanced enough to deal with sentences and paragraphs written in untranslated Spanish. I knew if I depended on this book to get me through the class, I would fail.
So I went to the library and borrowed as many books on learning Spanish as I could carry. Later, my husband bought copies of the books that were the most helpful to me--the ones I knew I would refer to over and over again. This is a list of those Spanish books.
Easy Spanish Step-By-Step by Barbara Bregstein
This is the book that's probably going to save my butt in Spanish class. What I love about it is that it doesn't waste time with fluff, yet it's easy to read. It starts you off with a solid understanding of the rules of grammar. The exercises in the book help reinforce the information you learn. Along the way, you're introduced to new Spanish words that you'll use again and again. Easy Spanish uses a building block approach I desperately wanted and simply wasn't getting from my Spanish textbook.
Easy Spanish is not a comprehensive language book by any means--it's no substitute for a Spanish dictionary, for example. But as a beginner, I depend on this book the most.
Spanish for Dummies
I checked out Spanish for Dummies from the library at my teacher's recommendation, but I didn't end up buying it. While it's a good introduction to the Spanish language, it uses an entertaining and sometimes "fluffy" writing style. Since I'm taking a Spanish class and want good grades, I prefer a no-nonsense yet easy to understand book that cuts straight to the point. That's why I went with Easy Spanish Step-By-Step instead.
However, if you can't stand dry books and need a writing style that's conversational and fun, you certainly can't go wrong with Spanish for Dummies.
Also, I HIGHLY recommend this book's little brother, Spanish Essentials for Dummies.
Spanish Essentials for Dummies
For a stripped-down list of the basics, Spanish Essentials for Dummies is one of the best companion books to have. Sometimes I need a quick refresher on a certain aspect of the language, such as expressing date and time, or communicating in the past and present tense, etc. Although the regular Spanish for Dummies book is good for learning Spanish, Spanish Essentials for Dummies is superior if you need a quick reference book.
Merriam-Webster's Spanish-English Dictionary
Even if I had the perfect Spanish textbook, I would still bring a Spanish dictionary to class at minimum. We often have in-class assignments where it helps to know more than a handful of Spanish words, and that's where a Spanish-English dictionary comes in handy.
Besides, if you need a quick reminder about what a word means, it's easier to look it up in a dictionary. I hate flipping haphazardly through a textbook, trying to remember where I saw a particular word or phrase.
501 Spanish Verbs
A basic introduction to Spanish guide will introduce you to a few important verbs, such as talking and eating, but they barely scratch the surface. Think of all the verbs we use in English every day: He ran, I tripped, she answered, I stopped, we drove, he cooked, etc. If you didn't know so many verbs, you wouldn't be able to say much.
You can't be fluent in Spanish unless you know a lot of Spanish verbs, period. 501 Spanish Verbs is the best, since it gives you a complete list of fully conjugated verbs. You can practice the verbs in all their tenses (I go, he goes, we're going, we will go, etc).
Why You Need More Than More than One Spanish Book
I didn't just settle on one Spanish book: I bought several. That's because there isn't a single perfect, all-in-one "Learn Spanish" book. Some books explain certain concepts better than others. Some books approach the language in a general way, while others zero-in on verbs or grammar structure. You need a more generalized Spanish book to help you learn the basics of the language and walk you through the rules of grammar, but it helps immeasurably to also have at least one reference book (such as a dictionary).
For me, having multiple references helps give me a better understanding of the language I'm trying to learn. If an explanation in one book is a little weak, I'll turn to another book for a better definition. If one book is an unbeatable grammar reference but doesn't list many new Spanish words, I'll turn to the Spanish-English dictionary.