Teach Yourself Latin American Spanish
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  • Teach Yourself Latin American Spanish
  • Juan Kattán-Ibarra
  • Published by: NTC Publishing Group
  • Level: Beginner
  • First Published in:

Teach Yourself Latin American Spanish is specially designed for independent learners who consider themselves absolute beginners. With the help from this book, students will be able to go over grammar, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and speaking activities without any assistance from a teacher or tutor.

REVIEW BY Tyler Follis Book EXPERT
Review posted: 18/11/2013
Have you used this book?

One topic that rarely receives adequate treatment in introductory language texts is that of dialects. We all understand that every major language is made up of multiple dialects, yet there appears to be an aversion to exposing beginners to anything other than the primary prestige dialect of the target language. While I understand the intentions behind this approach, it may prove a disservice to those who are going to be exposed to potentially many different varieties of the language they are studying. A notable exception to this common deficiency can be found with the Latin American Spanish entry from the Teach Yourself series. Not only does it provide a solid introduction to the Spanish language, it also gives a great overview of the culture, history, and dialects of several Latin American countries.

Just from reading the author's background, I already had high expectations for this book. Mr. Kattán-Ibarra, a native speaker from Chile, has decades of experience teaching Spanish, and has authored several texts for Spanish language education – qualifications which certainly shine through in the book's content. I found the author's introduction to the book brief, yet sufficient. He covers essentials about the Spanish language, the structure of the book, and how students should go about using it. One should note that the lesson on pronunciation, typically provided at the beginning of language texts, can be found at the back of this book, just before the appendixes. Each of the book's thirteen chapters follow the same basic format:

· Dialogues

· Explanatory Notes

· Phrases and Important Expressions

· Grammar

· Activities/Exercises

· Images of Latin America (cultural/historical background)

"This is a complete course in understanding, speaking, and writing Latin American Spanish. If you have never learned Spanish, or want to improve your skills for use in Latin America on vacation or business travel, then Teach Yourself Latin American Spanish is for you."

While the layout of this book is quite typical, the way the author has gone about employing it is not. Each chapter contains multiple dialogues, many more than your average Teach Yourself course. Instead of giving long, general grammar lessons, he focuses on teaching a lot directly in context through his “explanatory notes” that accompany each dialogue. Perhaps most striking, however, is the amazing amount of depth given in his “Images of Latin America” sections. Whereas most language textbooks give you little more on culture than the generic details you could find with a quick internet search, after going through this course I felt like a budding expert in Latin American society. While that may be a mild exaggeration, the main point here is that you will be getting a lot more out of this course than your average Teach Yourself book.

Now let's take a closer look at the content of the book. As I wrote above, this book is packed full of dialogues. Every chapter gives you at least two – most have more. The dialogues in general are short, and mostly cover topics one would encounter while traveling. At the beginning of every dialogue, the author points out what country the speakers are from, so that students will be sure of what dialect they are listening to. Dialects given treatment in this book include Mexican, Colombian, Chilean, Venezuelan, Argentinean, and Peruvian. Some of these get more attention than others, but I felt like it was generally enough to get a basic idea of what each dialect sounds like and some of their key characteristics and differences. I would have liked it if there were less task-based dialogues, and more dialogues relevant to student and domestic life, but I felt like the topics that were covered were done well. The audio CDs which accompany the course are an absolute necessity for students. Recordings are of high quality and greatly illustrate the variety in dialects at a normal rate of speech with lively native speakers. The only problem that plagues the audio for this course, as all others in the Teach Yourself series, is that all of the recordings are embedded in the useless explanations of some British narrator. This may not be so bad the first time around, but it will really try your patience when you are trying to get practice by listening to the recordings several times. I would suggest students (or teachers) rip the audio from the CDs onto a computer and use an audio processing software to cut out all the extraneous material from the recordings.

I found the abundance of explanatory notes accompanying each dialogue to be very helpful. Not only do they go in detail to explain usage in terms of linguistic features, but also in terms of customs and culture. Vocabulary boxes after each dialogue do a good job for the most part to save students trouble in having to look up new words. The only thing that provided a rare bit of frustration for me was sometimes when vocabulary was provided in large chunks instead of breaking out each word. There is certainly merit to the idea of grouping words together like this, but many students will probably end up wanting to know the significance of the individual pieces. The “useful expressions” section in the middle of each chapter isn't anything special that you couldn't find in any Spanish phrase book, but some students might find it useful for dedicating common phrases to memory.

I really love the breadth of the grammar lessons in this book. Not only does the author give full treatment to all tenses of Spanish verbs (something many Spanish texts seem to avoid), he provides relevant notes on usage as well, such as what forms are most common, examples of practical application using the grammar taught, regional peculiarities (such as the Argentinean vos), etc. Explanations are short, full of examples, and are sure to teach not only how it works, but also what it is for. I commend the way the author makes things easy to understand by addressing the student directly, and keep things to the point.

I think I have already amply conveyed my favor for this book, but there is certainly a lot to praise. In addition to what I have already mentioned, there are exercises in reading actual hand-written texts, listening comprehension exercises (with full transcripts in the back of the book), authentic written materials from newspapers and magazines, and more. There are certainly areas of imperfection, such as those pointed out above, and a lack of any really good drills for students to practice manipulating grammar, but overall this is a great book. I highly recommend this book be integrated into all Spanish language curricula – even intermediate-level students can benefit from these valuable lessons on dialects and Latin American society.



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