on 20 October 2013
The book arrived earlier than expected and, as always, in perfect condition.
I like this series of language books in particular (Colloquial) since each of the chapters has loads of practical exercises to
re-enforce the points to be learned and greatly help the learner to remember them.
Many language books concentrate on the 'spoken' aspect of language learning, using CDs and a series of listening and repeating practice, like the holiday phrasebooks which are fine if you can find the exact phrase you need and all you want are some tablets at the pharmacist for the headache you have because you over-indulged the night before! But you never learn how to use the language more freely and more confidently, because the grammar behind it all is briefly glossed over if mentioned at all. Nevertheless, regardless of whether you are happy to learn some grammar or just hate it from old school English and French lessons, grammar is the cement of any language which holds all the words together, and with a modest knowledge, you will be able to string along a lot more words into meaningful sentences than you ever dreamt of. Even if you make mistakes, any foreigner will be impressed by your attempt to communicate in their language and will forgive you any slips!
The Colloquial series gets round this by having not only several CDs to help with the dialogues and the pronunciation, but each chapter also comes with a huge amount of exercises, the answers to which, are best written out before checking the key at the end of the book. These exercises cover not only the key grammatical points in the chapter and with a good amount of them to work on, but also the new words introduced so you get ample practice with repetition to help remember them. Therefore you complete each chapter with both confidence and competence in all the points presented.
So for those planning to undertake language study on their own, this would be a very good investment, but also for those, for example, going to an evening class, where often the text used concentrates on the spoken aspects, then this book would be a worthy addition to substantiate the learning.
on 9 February 2014
PART 1.0 - MY REVIEW
I have submitted this review in two parts. The first part covers Routledge Colloquial Spanish. The second part offers suggestions for follow-up study.
PART 1.1 - WHAT'S IN THE BOX ... OR WHAT SHOULD BE:
Be aware that the Routledge Colloquial language series COURSE BOOK and 2 CDs are often SOLD SEPARATELY. This is often not clear on Amazon. Since the separate components are of little value on their own, be sure that you know exactly what you're buying and order both components. You can also order the complete "package" directly from Routledge via their website. I purchased my own copy at a local bookstore.
PART 1.2 - GOALS: REASONABLE and ACHIEVABLE
Generally speaking, the Routledge Colloquial courses provide a very BASIC introduction to a given language. The scope is limited to helping English-speaking travellers to a foreign land express their immediate needs in typical situations: greetings, introductions, arranging for accommodations, ordering in cafés and restaurants, requesting taxis and sight-seeing tours, renting a car, handling minor emergencies, and so on. While you will acquire a basic vocabulary of approximately 1,300 words as well as an understanding of how the language is structured, you will NOT achieve a conversational level of language skill with courses of this nature. Once "over there", chances are that you will experience considerable difficulty in understanding native speakers (they speak quickly, have accents, drop syllables, use colloquialisms, and deploy vastly more vocabulary than can be covered in a basic course). However, understanding "them" is not an essential skill for the casual visitor; the goal in this type of course is to HELP YOU BE UNDERSTOOD by the locals. Assuming that you complete the course, you can expect to be somewhere in the A1-A2 range of the CEFR language skill levels or "Advanced Beginner" (but definitely not Intermediate) and, to achieve this level, you should expect to put in about 200 hours of study.
PART 1.3 - MY RATING (4 stars)
In terms of overall quality, this course merits 5 stars. Nonetheless, I have assigned it 4 stars because I believe that it would have been much stronger had the editors added a third CD of audio exercises. Doing so would not have unduly influenced the cost of producing this course but would have greatly enhanced its value (I should mention that many publishers limit their courses to two CDs, as well). The series editors of the Routledge Colloquial language courses have put together some very good material. Yes, the scope of this course is limited. However, one assumes that you want to learn only the BASICS of Spanish, so that you will be understood as a traveller in common situations. If this is your goal, then this course will help you achieve it (provided you put in the study time).
PART 2.0 - OTHER RESOURCES:
Since you've located my review of Routledge Colloquial Spanish, I assume that you can find the almost unlimited number of competing self-study language courses along with their respective glowing reviews. So, while I won't comment on any of them individually, I will say that, generally speaking, almost all competing courses are surprisingly well-designed, they all contain more-or-less the same content, they will all help you achieve more-or-less the same level of skill (Advanced Beginner) and that YOUR own STUDY PLAN will be the true KEY to your success ... irrespective of the competitors' claims of effectiveness and despite any differences in pricing. If you're really intent on increasing your knowledge of Spanish, you will need to expand your vocabulary, develop a reasonable understanding of grammar, improve your listening skills, and practice speaking. Hint: DO NOT buy more than ONE Basic Course; they all contain more-or-less the same material. Many publishers claim that their basic courses provide advanced training and guarantee "fluency", a term that they take pains not to define. Frankly, you can take virtually all such claims with a huge grain of salt. If you wish to pursue your Spanish studies beyond the very basic level offered by the vast majority of the commercial courses, there really aren't a lot of choices. Since most people abandon their self-improvement projects, few publishers are willing to invest in Intermediate-Level language courses. Notable exceptions are ASSIMIL and LINGUAPHONE. So, how do you improve your language skills? While there are many different paths you might choose, apart from moving to a Spanish-speaking country, I suggest the following:
You should consider buying a collection of "Graded Readers." The vocabulary often extends well beyond that encountered in basic language courses. Listening to and repeating the accompanying audio files will improve your listening and speaking abilities. Despite the progress you have already made with your basic language course, you will be quite surprised just how challenging these Readers can be! Be advised, though, that most Graded Readers are written for "Young Adults" and that, while they do indeed represent a linguistic challenge, you might find the story-lines themselves somewhat less than stimulating. A few publishers, such as ELI, offer simplified versions of literary classics for true "Adult" Readers. I suggest that you work with your local bookstore to locate and import the ones that are likely to suit your needs.
These magazines are most often directed at the adult reader. They are an interesting and inexpensive alternative to Graded Readers. I suggest that you take a look at the THINK SPANISH audio magazine. The articles cover the culture, cuisine, art, geography, and history of the Spanish-speaking peoples and their locales. The monthly issues are about 25 pages in length and are accompanied by about 30 to 45 minutes of audio. If you subscribe, be sure to download and save your monthly issues on your computer as, once your subscription expires, you will no longer be able to access them online. You can find a few, very interesting, competing magazines by a search of the Web.
Podcasts, Videos, Etcetera
I could expand the discussion into this area, but it would take too much space. If you have questions, visit the Language Blog "How-To-Learn-Any-Language" (see below).
PART 2.1 - LANGUAGE FORUM
The "How-To-Learn-Any-Language" website is probably the best place for language enthusiasts to ask questions. If you spend some time reading the current and older discussion threads, you'll develop a good idea of what the most common questions and answers are. To ask questions or post your own comments in reply to someone else's posts, you will have to register as a member of the Forum. Members range from neophytes to hardcore language junkies. You'll notice that some of the posts refer to the additional sources of FREE language-learning material listed below. One of the key features of this free material is that the courses often provide extensive DRILLS and audio files that exceed 50 hours!
PART 2.2 - FSI-LANGUAGE-COURSES.ORG
Some kind soul, with the help of numerous volunteers, built this website to collect and archive some older, but extremely interesting and effective U.S. Government language courses that are now in the Public Domain. You can download the material as PDF and MP3 files FREE-OF-CHARGE. In virtually all cases, the audio files were created by converting aging magnetic audio cassettes to mp3 files. Since the source audio files were somewhat degraded, the sound quality of the mp3 files is not always clear. But then again, in real life situations, a lot of people mumble! Nonetheless, these courses are most definitely worth the try! Some further comments on the courses:
DLI (Defense Language Institute) "Headstart" Courses
The "Headstart" courses were published in the 1960's through the 1980's as VERY BASIC "self-study orientation" courses. They were designed to help U.S. Military personnel acquire a very rudimentary knowledge of the language of the region to which they were being deployed. They are the equivalent of a "tourist speak" course and, although grammar is not discussed, and although they are limited, they are quite useful. The courses may include some military terminology, consisting mostly of military ranks, for which the astute learner can easily substitute terms such as policeman, officer, waiter, hotel manager, etc. The "Headstart for Spain" course is, to a limited extent, similar to the Routledge Colloquial Spanish course. While the accompanying 7.6 hours of audio include instructions and explanations in English, most of the audio is devoted to exercises based on the dialogues. It is "worth the detour."
FSI (Foreign Service Institute) "Programmatic" Courses
Most of the programmatic courses were published in the early 1970's as BASIC "self-study orientation" courses. They are based on the "programmed learning method" that was popular at that time. Some of them are excellent, such as the German and Brazilian Portuguese courses. Some are good, such as the Spanish course. Some of them are a disaster, such as the Italian course. One minor irritant of these courses is that, in some cases, for the first few lesson units, a phonetic spelling was adopted. However, they eventually embark on correct spelling. If you're studying SPANISH, the FSI Programmatic Spanish course is worth a try. The two volumes are accompanied by about 50 hours of basic exercises.
FSI (Foreign Service Institute) "Basic" Courses
Ah, la crème de la crème! The FSI BASIC courses were published in the 1960's and were meant to be presented by an instructor in a classroom. Since the texts and audio files supported the classroom instruction, in some cases, the explanatory notes are somewhat skeletal. However, the DRILLS are absolutely FANTASTIC for practicing a given language! These courses include literally thousands of exercises and drills that are spread over 50+ hours of audio recordings. Essentially, the procedure for every Unit is: (1) read the notes and explanations of grammar, (2) if you're a little lost, consult a grammar for clarification, (3) go through the conversations several times and, if it suits you, memorize them, (4) go through all of the drills several times, (5) in my experience, a good "test" is to respond to the "variation drills" within the space allowed in the audio files, (6) move on to the next Unit. I recommend that you practice at least 1 hour per day, for 3 weeks, per Unit. Many experts consider the FSI BASIC SPANISH course to be the prototype of the "language laboratory" approach to language instruction. Its four volumes are a true linguistic marathon!
FSI (Foreign Service Institute) "FAST" Courses
These courses were developed in the late 1970's through the 1980's. Like the FSI Basic courses, they were meant to be presented by an instructor in a classroom. Some of them are quite brief, such as the German course, whereas some of them are quite extensive and truly excellent, such as the Italian course. In my experience, if used for self-study, these courses require some prior knowledge of the language covered.