The Long Road – My Personal Roadmap to Learning Spanish

Posted on 6th July 2012 in Learning Strategies

The Long Road – My Personal Roadmap to Learning Spanish

By Russell Sabo

I would say that the majority of people who want to learn Spanish would like to do it as quickly and and easily as possible. Now there’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, learning Spanish as quickly and as easily as possible is the ideal way to learn. But what if the information just doesn’t sink in as quickly or as easily as you think it should? What if you’re not in a hurry? What if you like to take the time, enjoy the process, smell some roses, and just enjoy taking the long road to language learning?

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This is the route I’ve decided to take with my end goal being fluency. My goal time is 4 years. As of April 4, 2012 I’m 2 years and 3 months into my studies. I study every day for at least 40 minutes. Up until 2 weeks ago I was doing only bookwork. However, after some real-life experience in a foreign land, I’ve learned for myself just how valuable listening and speaking skills are. So now I’ve started with some audio courses and am enthusiastically learning how to hear and speak all of this Spanish that I know. In 2 years and 3 months, it really isn’t a lot.
Taking the long road is simply a matter of choice. A choice that will allow you to master all the basics of the language, such as grammar and conjugations, two of the more difficult aspects of learning Spanish.

Here, I’ve decided to lay out my own roadmap for learning Spanish. These are the books and audio courses that I’m using to learn Spanish in a self-taught manner. I will talk a little about taking Spanish classes at the end of the article.

The books listed in the Main Coursebooks section are listed in the exact order in which I’m completing them or plan to complete them. I’ve done my best to put them in the order from beginner to advanced learner. I did this for my own benefit in learning Spanish, but certainly you can benefit from this as well if you choose to follow my roadmap, or if you’re simply curious what order the beginner to advanced books follow. There are a few books that don’t have a learner level assigned to them; I placed them on my list where they best served me, and so far I haven’t had any problems whatsoever.

Main Coursebooks – The Roadmap

1. Spanish Now! Level 1

Author/s: Ruth Silverstein, Allen Pomerantz, Ph.D., and Heywood Wald, Ph.D.

Level: Beginner

Publisher: Barron's

Notes: This was the first book that I bought upon making the decision to learn Spanish in earnest. I had met a Colombian woman online, and although she spoke English, I wanted to impress her by learning her native language. I imagine that many decisions like this are made in the name of 'love.' Ha ha! This book might not be the best for the absolute beginner given the sheer volume of vocabulary that one is given. There is an easier book to start with (that I will list near the end of this article) that will make one's life much easier for starting from knowing nothing. However, if you consider yourself to be intelligent and you enjoy a bit of a challenge, then this is a great book with many fun exercises and entertaining introductory chapter stories. It contains an English/Spanish glossary and you can check your answers at the end of the book. Good advice: Bookmark the Answers section for easy reference; you'll be using it often!
2. Spanish Now! Level 2

Author/s: Christopher Kendris, Ph.D.

Level: Beginner

Publisher: Barron's

Notes: This book is a continuation of Level 1 and picks up right where I left off. It has all the games and entertaining exercises that one would expect from the first book, as well as the glossary and answers. It was while going through this book that I began to gain an appreciation of the enormity of the task ahead of me. In other words, with this book, you'll learn exactly what it is that you don't know AND just how much of it there is to learn. However, once you complete this book, you're well on your way. You'll look back at the time invested and everything you've learned so far and realize that you can only go forward from here. You've learned too much to let it all go to waste.
3. Spanish Verb Workbook

Author/s: Frank H. Nuessel, Ph.D.

Level: Advanced Beginners

Publisher: Barron's

Notes: A complete guide to the Spanish verb conjugations. A part of me began to go crazy during this book when I realized completely how much I needed to learn. Don't expect to remember everything you learn in this book. There are still plenty of books to go.
4. Spanish Verb Tenses

Author/s: Dorothy Richmond

Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

Practice Makes Perfect series

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: Another book of conjugations?! Most definitely! Here I was hoping to drive all the conjugations into my head through sheer repetition. Did they stick? No. I was rushing, which created lots of leaky holes in my memory. However, by the end of this book, I had created my personal roadmap to learning Spanish and had decided to take in everything one manageable chunk at a time.
5. Spanish Irregular Verbs Up Close

Author/s: Eric W. Vogt, Ph.D.

Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

Practice Makes Perfect series

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: This turned out to be a wonderful book for me with the system it uses to deal with irregular verbs. I use this system still for learning the base conjugations for every verb. For example: "to speak" - "hablar" (hablo, hablas, hablar, hablé, hablando y hablado). While learning from a book, I will write this for every single verb or verb phrase that I encounter in the vocabulary sections. If you do this, expect to use a lot of paper!
6. Spanish Pronouns & Prepostions

Author/s: Dorothy Richmond

Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

Practice Makes Perfect series

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: I still have a little bit of trouble with pronouns and their proper placement after completing this book. But once again, I wasn't taking the necessary time needed to let it all sink in. Everything you need to know about pronouns and prepostions is in this book and I'm looking forward to reviewing it again in the near future.
7. Spanish Vocabulary

Author/s: Dorothy Richmond

Practice Makes Perfect series

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: I was becoming bored with grammar and decided that this was a perfect point to concentrate on some vocabulary. The book covers many different topics and offers many useful words for most situations. Will you remember everything? Definitely not. This book was made to be consulted time and time again. While learning from this book, I bought Post-It notes and covered my apartment with the names of everything in Spanish.
8. Complete Spanish Grammar

Author/s: Gilda Nissenberg, Ph.D.

Practice Makes Perfect series

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: This was the point where I was determined...absolutely committed to mastering Spanish verb conjugations. My strategy here is to go through each chapter on verb tenses and then spend at least two weeks working with each verb tense. Read about 'The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs' below to see my method. For the curious, at this point in my Spanish studies I can be understood by native Spanish speakers and have conversations that don't require a lot of depth. For those of you who enjoy debating, you won't be quite there yet at this point. For online conversations with a Spanish speaker, some Google Translate (or your favorite translation program) use will still be required.
9. The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs with CD-ROM

Author/s: Ronni L. Gordon, Ph.D. & David M. Stillman, Ph.D.

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: After completing a Verb Tense chapter from the 'Complete Spanish Grammar' book above, I come to this book. There are 555 verbs in this book, complete with every conjugation for each verb, as well as sample sentences to see how each verb is used. As an example, once I complete the chapter about the Past Tense (Preterit) in the 'Complete Spanish Grammar,' I'll open up 'The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs' and conjugate every single verb in the book using the past tense conjugation. For example: "to eat" - comer: comí, comiste, comió, comimos, comisteis, comieron. I do this not to learn the verb itself, but to learn the form of each tense conjugation. And because I write each conjugation form 555 times, you can be sure that it sticks in my head. I do this for a half hour a day, five times a week (during my breaks at my day job). It takes me just over two weeks (11 work days) to write the 555 verbs. It takes me 3-4 days to complete a chapter of the 'Complete Spanish Grammar' book. So I can complete one Spanish verb tense in a little under 3 weeks given my half hour a day time allotment. So for me, I can expect to complete this book in just under a year. I can also expect to never have problems with verb conjugations again. Crazy? You decide.
10. Spanish Verb Drills

Author/s: Vivienne Bey

Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: After completing this book, I feel I have a very good grasp of the conjugated forms of Spanish verbs. There are a ton of practice exercises and the system for memorizing the subjunctive tenses is very simple. Now I just need to learn the nuances of when to use each verb tense.
11. Spanish Problem Solver

Author/s: Eric W. Vogt, Ph.D.

Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

Practice Makes Perfect series
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: I may have completed this book out of order because it seemed more like a Spanish Problem Causer. However, it made me aware of many of the finer points of Spanish grammar and there were a lot of problems that I wasn't aware that I was having. That being said, this is going to be an awesome book to come back to any time that I'm having problems in the future, but not something I'll be looking at until I finish Spanish Conversations.
12. Intermediate Spanish Grammar

Author/s: Gilda Nissenberg, Ph.D.

Level: Intermediate

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: After Spanish Problem Solver, this book was more suited to my experience level. There is plenty of practice with verb conjugations (which is always good to review) and also with idiomatic expressions (darse cuenta - to realize). This book provided just enough of a challenge for me to understand everything without being too tough.
13. Spanish Grammar Drills

Author/s: Rogelio Alonso Vallecillos

Practice Makes Perfect series
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: The title is Spanish Grammar Drills, so what I expected is different from what I actually experienced. I was expecting pages upon pages of JUST Spanish grammar drills. Not so. This book is actually a lesson book with lots of drills based on that particular lesson. In short, I LOVED this book because it went into different aspects of Spanish grammar that I hadn't known existed, as well as expanding on my knowledge of how to use the verb conjugations correctly and in different ways. One of my favorite parts of the book was right near the end, where I finally learned how to use the word "así."
14. Spanish Conversation

Author/s: Jean Yates, Ph.D.

Level: Intermediate

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: This book was short and sweet at only 149 pages long with a short grammar review after that. With this book I learned all of the commonly used idioms that people use in conversations such as the Spanish versions of "Let's see," "nevertheless," "Of course," "In other words," among many others. I also learned how to use certain words that normally give me a headache, such as "faltar" and "tratar." Definitely a useful book that I will be reviewing a lot in the future.
15. Spanish Sentence Builder

Author/s: Gilda Nissenberg, Ph.D.

Level: Intermediate

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: I went through this book rather quickly and learned a lot. This book focuses on how to build good sentences, including how to use adjectives, adverbs, creating questions, using idioms, and so much more.
The skill level of this book was pretty easy for me after all of the previous books; however there were parts of this book that were very useful, like the Idioms and Special Phrases chapter which dealt with sayings and colloquial phrases.
In brief, the entirety of good general sentence construction is taught in this book, and while other books teach you how to create sentences, they don't focus in on the skill like this book does.
16. Spanish Pronouns Up Close

Author/s: Eric Vogt, Ph.D.

Level: Intermediate

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: I had forgotten just how many types of pronouns there were until I went through this book. At this point, it was all mostly a review, so I didn't have many problems.
I took this book to Peru with me to study in my downtime from site-seeing and actually blasted through 3/4 of it within 6 or 7 hours. All of the lessons were presented well and were easy to understand, so the time spent was mostly grinding through the exercises. At this point in my studies, grinding through exercises is all part of the process, especially after the whole Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs fiasco (Thank God I'll never have to do that again!).
This book is worth buying simply for the excellent review of pronouns that you'll get. And at 99 pages, it's a quick study.
17. Spanish Past-Tense Verbs Up Close

Author/s: Eric Vogt, Ph.D.

Level: Intermediate

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: This book was basically a review of all the past tense verbs combined into one book. I have to recommend it though as the challenge rating (and the review) were something that I needed.
It is good to go through the Preterit vs the Imperfect tenses once again. Sure, they're easy to form, but there are definitely times when I have trouble figuring out which one to use.
At this point in my Spanish learning I've come to the conclusion that all the work I did writing out each conjugation in the Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs was a big waste of 9 or 10 months of my time. Since then, I've done so much conjugation work with the other books that I'm certain I would still be at the same level of understanding without having done all that work.
18. The Spanish Subjunctive Up Close

Author/s: Eric Vogt, Ph.D.

Level: Intermediate/Advanced

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: This was a great book for learning how to better use the subjunctive mood. Everything was well-explained and I felt that going through everything once again helped me to understand better how and when to use the subjunctive mood.
The challenge level of this book was exactly where I thought it should be, and at 90 pages, it wasn't too long.
The fun part of this book was that at page 69, the Comprehensive Exercises started and lasted until the very last page! That's 21 pages of exercises of choosing which subjunctive form to use.
The only exercises that I didn't like were the "We've supplied a list of verbs for this fill in the blank and now you've got to choose the correct verb with the correct subjunctive form to complete this paragraph" exercises. Those boggled my mind a little bit and I got a lot wrong because there were verbs that I thought should fit in the sentence (and they did fit) but the author had something else in mind.
Oh well. It was still a good book and worth the purchase.
19. Advanced Spanish Grammar

Author/s: Rogelio Alonso Vallecillos

Level: Advanced

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: My very last book in my Spanish book-learning plan, at least for textbook-type learning.
I had my apprehensions at first, but once I started in on this book, I absolutely loved it. This book seemed to hit on everything the other books seemed to miss. The chapter on reported speech vs direct speech was great (he said that she did this vs he said, "She did this").
There are also 2 chapters about prepositions which I really needed to review again.
I will be reviewing the passive sentence construction chapter again because there are more ways than I had expected to create passive sentences.
The challenge level (advanced) felt very comfortable to me and I think that quite possibly, the Spanish Problem Solver would be great to do after this book. I've learned a lot since then so maybe I'd be more comfortable with the content now.
All-in-all, this book was definitely worth it and if you're at an advanced level of Spanish grammar understanding (or taking your first steps into advanced level grammar) this is a must-buy book.

Helpful References

1. The Big Red Book of Spanish Verbs with CD-ROM (Referenced above as #9)

Author/s: Ronni L. Gordon, Ph.D. & David M. Stillman, Ph.D.

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: Currently this is my most used book that I own. If you haven't read my notes above about this book, read #9 now and you'll understand why it's the most used book that I own.
2. The Big Red Book of Spanish Idioms

Author/s: Peter Weibel

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: Those crazy idioms that provide much of the spice of the Spanish language. I make an attempt to learn one new idiom a day. My favorite so far? Él es un aborto del diablo. The nice translation is: He's as ugly as sin.
3. Oxford Spanish Dictionary

Spanish/English & English/Spanish

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Notes: Necessary (and HUGE!!!) If you need something smaller, anything from Oxford or Larousse should be good.
4. Correct Your Spanish Blunders - How to Avoid 99% of the Common Mistakes Made by Learners of Spanish

Author/s: Jean Yates

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Notes: A wonderful reference book for correcting any of the mistakes that you'll make along the way.

Audio Courses

1. Rocket Spanish

Author/s: Mauricio Evlampieff

Level: Beginner. Perfect for starting out knowing nothing of the language.

Notes: When you decide to learn how to speak and understand spoken Spanish, I recommend that you begin with this course. This will provide a good foundation for learning all of the new sounds that you'll hear as well as make it easy to not be quite as tongue-tied.
2. Learning Spanish Like Crazy - Nivel 1

Author/s: Patrick Jackson

Level: Beginner, although one should know a little Spanish before beginning.

Notes: If you already know a little Spanish, then this is a perfect starting point for learning how to speak and understand everyday conversational Spanish. If you enjoy a challenge, just wait until you reach the infamous Lesson 13. This course is a must for learning to speak and understand conversational Spanish. The complete course, including all the bonuses, will total around 100 hours or so of spoken Spanish.
3. Learning Spanish Like Crazy - Nivel 2

Author/s: Patrick Jackson

Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate

Notes: I loved this audio course because it was my audio introduction to the Spanish subjunctive mood. There are 10 lessons that deal solely with the subjunctive mood, as well as lessons on comparisons, the future tense, the conditional tense, commands, and verbs that are similar to "Gustar."
As with all of the Learning Spanish Like Crazy products, you'll learn a lot of new vocabulary words. A lot of the new vocabulary stays in your memory, while some of it requires more review. For me ALL of the verb tenses remained "learned" after going through this course.
4. Learning Spanish Like Crazy - Nivel 3

Author/s: Patrick Jackson

Level: Intermediate

Notes: This was another fine product by the Learning Spanish Like Crazy company. After completing the first 2 levels, the 3rd level was just as easy to learn.
In this course you'll learn about the imperfect subjunctive, present perfect subjunctive, conditional perfect, how to say that you "could have done" something, the passive voice, and a lot more.
There are 20 lessons in this course, and then when you want to improve your listening comprehension and response time, you can go through the 15 original lessons that were provided as a bonus to this course. I actually had a lot of fun going through these lessons, and while I was frustrated a lot at first, I came to appreciate learning how to respond quicker because of the lesser amount of time given.
Get this course!

Classes

Currently I have no specific classes that I plan to take. I live in Minnesota and the most convenient classes that I’ve seen are the local Community Education classes for Beginning Spanish and the Continuation of that class. I signed up once and it was cancelled due to lack of interest. Possible mandatory overtime from my day job means that college courses are not financially feasible.

In the long term, however, I do plan on taking a class. Once I finish with all of my books and audio courses I plan on heading down to Colombia and enrolling in one of the Spanish schools there. Either Medellin or Cartagena.

I haven’t picked a specific school yet, but it must teach conversational Spanish. That’s my only requirement; I like to keep it simple. If you decide to take a class, make sure you know what your goals are and pick a school that meets those goals.

Other Recommended Books

1. Breaking Out of Beginner's Spanish

Author/s: Joseph J. Keenan

Level: Intermediate

Publisher: University of Texas Press
Notes: This book is awesome! It's full of practical information that most of the instructional books that I'm used to don't mention, such as: how to be polite, correct verb usage for the 'tricky' verbs, sentence starters and fillers (the Spanish versions of 'well' and 'um...'), idioms, and swearing. The author also has a good sense of humor; it's not often that I laugh out loud while reading a language guidebook. You should be at an advanced beginner or intermediate stage of learning before this book really has any use for you. Total beginners will be very confused, judging by their reviews at Amazon.com and from what I've seen in the book.
2. Madrigal's Magic Key to Spanish

Author/s: Margarita Madrigal (Illustrations by Andy Warhol)

Level: Beginner-Advanced

Publisher: Broadway Books
Notes: I've glanced through this book and I'd have to say that it's a book of vocabulary that also teaches basic grammar and conjugations. I'll be going through this book very soon. I can say for sure that if you want to greatly expand your vocabulary, get this book!

For Absolute Beginners

1. Getting Started With Spanish

Author/s: William E. Linney, Antonio Luis Orta

Level: Beginner

Publisher: Armfield Academic Press
Notes: I don't own this book. However, I did a search on Amazon.com for the best book for an absolute beginner. Somebody who hasn't had any experience with the Spanish language whatsoever, besides what you may have heard on Sesame Street. This book has 177 lessons in 292 pages, meaning each lesson is divided into easy to digest chunks. Its reviewers wrote that it starts very slowly, so you may want to go through the first 30 lessons as quickly as possible so you can start getting down to the business of language learning. By the end of the book you should be able to jump off into any of the other language books that I've mentioned or that you've chosen. You can go to the book's website to download the mp3 files included for each lesson, perfect for learning how to pronounce all those new words that you're learning. Remember though, that this is an absolute beginner's book. You're not going to learn how to have a conversation. You're going to learn about 200 words total and how to put them together into sentences. But if you're an absolute beginner and are a little nervous about jumping into the Spanish language, this is what you need to get you started.

Learning Spanish can be done in many different ways and this is only the road that I’m taking. I’ll discuss quicker ways to learn in other articles as well as when you should begin with audio courses. The answer to that is, of course, much sooner than I did. However, with my book choices above, I have no doubt that I’ll be enjoying the learning process for quite some time.

 

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