My first Spanish class was a short course over the summer offered by the continuing education department at a local college, and it was a real mistake. The class was sloooooow paced, and the teacher seemed to gain most of his Spanish skills through ordering tortas at La Vallesana. Actually, my first suspicions about the class came when I bought the text, See It and Say It in Spanish by Margarita Madrigal–a $6.99 mass market first published in 1961. ¡Aye! I wondered, “what have I gotten myself into?”
Actually, the book isn’t nearly as bad as I had feared; it does have its pluses. To start, it’s obviously a really inexpensive way to delve into the language. In a world of learn behind the wheel, learn behind a rosetta stone, learn through a really expensive website, etc., you can’t beat $7 for a basic language text. Also, it’s easy to use and gets you started reading right away: “Voy al banco.” is the first sentence in the book–so you know you’re going places! Each section introduces useful vocabulary, and the exercises get you thinking (if you don’t peek at the answers). And for the tourist, there are several handy word lists in the back of the book: “In the Restaurant,” “In the Hotel,” etc.
The teaching philosophy behind the book was a little strange to me at first. Almost every verb in the first part of the text is taught to be conjugated in the preterite (simple past, pretérito) only. I think the idea is that we mostly speak to each other about things in the past: I went to the store, I bought groceries, and I made dinner. But the book is out to lunch when it comes to explaining grammar…or even exposition of any kind. So difficult nooks aren’t explored at all, and the reader is left to fend for herself in trying to figure out just what the heck the simple past is in the first place, which isn’t necessarily an easy question to answer about Spanish.
On the other hand, the book does have some neat little line drawings to illustrate sentences, nouns, ideas, etc. (Thankfully, the boring illustration above is not from the book!) El plato de sopa has heat lines emanating from it, el tostador has pan tostado flying out of it, and el pescado has the classic cartoon “x” eyes–so you know it’s not going to flip off your plate when you try to cut into it. But for all the quaintness of the illustrations, the book is out of date. The mostly out-of-use “diez y seis” forms of the numbers 16, 17, 18, and 19 are used throughout, as is the old accented versions of fuí, fué, etc. More of a problem are the nouns used: record player (el tocadiscos), record (disco), typewriter (máquina), and so on. But you get what you paid for. Also, if you are thinking about using this book, you’ll need some form of audio supplement because it gives no clues to pronunciation other than a short guide in the front, and there is no discussion about stress and the use of accents in Spanish. And that just seems IDiotic…or is it idIotic…or idiOtic…or…?