Now I’ve never counted myself as a fan of For Better or For Worse, the family comic that graces most funny pages in the US and Canada. The strip focuses on the Patterson family, a typically pleasant collection of suburban characters living near Toronto who, until a couple years ago, accurately aged throughout the years of the comic’s publication: children grew up and married, the dog passed away, and so on. But for some reason, someone had the idea of using the strip as a basis for language study. I don’t know if it was the strip’s creator Lynn Johnston or writer Brenda Wegmann or both, but the result is Laugh ‘n’ Learn Spanish: Featuring North America’s #1 Comic Strip “For Better or For Worse,” which ends up being a novel approach to improving one’s Spanish skills.
The book is split up into 100 strips that are organized for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students, but they don’t need to be read in a particular order. Though generally I’d say knowing a little Spanish would be helpful before cracking open the book. Each strip (all in Spanish by the way) introduces a theme, ranging from simple tasks like asking to use the bathroom to thinking about the future and even making wedding plans, and each is followed by a fill-in-the-blank exercise. They also include word, grammar, and phrase help.
All of which creates a rather unusual language book: no rote memorization and no inane dialogues. The strips present real situations with useful conversational phrases, and the visuals help to reinforce the language and vocabulary. And though it seems particularly uncool of me to admit, some of the strips did make me chuckle a bit. (Have I sold out?) I’d say the book seems like an especially good tool for visual learners. However, I wouldn’t go throwing out your old textbook just yet. Sometimes grammar needs to be laid out in all its nooks and (sometimes boring) crannies. So I would suggest this book to the Spanish learner as a complimentary tool and not an end-all, be-all authority.