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Beginners Course

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Summer Preparation: Spanish

Before you start the ab initio course

Language work

Students start Spanish at Cambridge with a wide range of linguistic ability, from absolute zero (except that you should have made a start over the summer before coming) to those who have GCSE or have lived and travelled in Spain or Latin America for an extended period of time. For this reason, you will be asked to complete a short questionnaire and a diagnostic test on Moodle (our digital learning platform) prior to coming to Cambridge so that we can allocate you to the correct level group.

You are strongly advised to study as much basic Spanish grammar and vocabulary as possible before you arrive in Cambridge. Details of the minimum preparatory work that should be undertaken are set out below. Additional independent study and/or attending language courses either in Great Britain or abroad is encouraged. 

In order to be ready for the rapid pace of the course, you should complete the following minimal preparatory work by the start of the Michaelmas term:

1. Work your way through the following chapters from A Spanish Learning Grammar, by Pilar Muñoz and Mike Thacker (London: Routledge, latest edition) and do the corresponding exercises. Please use the key at the back of the book to correct your answers. You will be asked to submit this work, marked by you, at the start of the Michaelmas term:


  • Chapter 1. Pronunciation, Accents and Spelling
  • Chapter 2. Articles
  • Chapter 3. Nouns
  • Chapter 4. Adjectives
  • Chapter 7. Personal Pronouns
  • Chapter 8. Demonstrative Adjectives and Pronouns
  • Chapter 9. Possessive Adjectives and Pronouns
  • Chapter 13. Verbs: 13.1. Present Tense.

By all means explore other chapters as well if you can; this is just a minimum requirement. 

2. The companion website to the Colloquial Spanish book (Routledge) has free audio files available online in MP3 format. Although we will not be using this book in class, we recommend that you listen to the audio file Track 2 with a pronunciation guide in Spanish (and any other tracks you may wish to listen to in order to familiarise yourself with how Spanish sounds):

3. The internet is a phenomenal source of language learning material, much of it completely free: you can practise your grammar, read the news or listen to the radio in Spanish at the click of a mouse. BBC Languages has an excellent range of resources for beginners Spanish, even though their pages are no longer updated: read the Guide to Spanish, watch the video drama Mi vida loca, and check the links to Spanish news, TV & radio.

4. We recommend that you start using Quizlet or Memrise to learn basic vocabulary. You may also want to try the free app Duolingo:

5. You will need to obtain a copy of the following books in time for your first class of SPA1 Use of Spanish:

  • Coursebook: Campus Sur. Curso intensivo de español A1-B1. Libro del alumno (Barcelona: Difusión, 2017 or 2019 edition). ISBN: 9788418032448. Note: you do NOT need to get a copy of the Cuaderno de ejercicios (Workbook)
  • Grammar practice: Uso de la gramática española - nivel elemental, Francisca Castro (Madrid: Edelsa, latest edition). In the Lent term, you will also need a copy of the "nivel intermedio" book from the same series. There are some copies of these books to borrow from the MMLL Faculty Library and from College libraries. Note: you do NOT need to get a copy of the answer key (Clave).

You can purchase these books from different booksellers as explained below. You may also be able to purchase second-hand copies from students in your College or from Heffers bookshop (tel. 01223 568568).

Literature and Culture: Preparatory Reading

Please read the following:

A. General introductory and background material

1.    Some general background on Spanish and Latin American literature (not exhaustive and further introductory and explanatory material will be available when you arrive in Cambridge):

§  Jo Labanyi, Spanish Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2010)

§  Rolena Adorno, Colonial Latin American Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2012)

§  Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, Modern Latin American Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2012)

B. Set texts for the first-year course ‘Introduction to Spanish Culture’ (SPA3)

Link through to the course page to find the list of current set texts. These are works that you will study during your first year. It will help you feel better prepared if you are able to read (or watch) some of them in advance of beginning the course. Reading them either using Spanish/English dual language books or in English is encouraged.

2.    Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Obras selectas.

§  Recommended edition: Trueblood, Alan S., (trans), Juana Inés de la Cruz, A Sor Juana anthology with both Spanish and English versions, (Cambridge, Mass, and London, Harvard University Press, 1988).

3.    Icíar Bollaín (director), También la lluvia (film, 2010)

4.    Federico García Lorca, Romancero Gitano

§  Recommended edition: Romancero gitano: edition by Madrid: Cátedra, by Allen Josephs and Juan Caballero (title is Poema del Cante Jondo; Romancero gitano), or edition by Herbert Ramsden, (Manchester University Hispanic Texts, 2008)

5.    Emilia Pardo Bazán, Cuentos (a selection): ‘Un matrimonio del siglo XIX’ (1866); ‘El indulto’ (1883); ‘El encaje roto’ (1897); ‘Las medias rojas’ (1914)

§  Recommended edition: No single edition of any compilation of Cuentos includes all four of these texts, but all of these stories are very easily accessible online. The Taurus edition by Juan Paredes Núñez (1988) features a very useful introduction (in Spanish).

Additional resources

  • In addition to completing the minimal preparatory work indicated above before starting your course, you may find the following suggestions for independent study helpful: One of the most effective and enjoyable ways of learning a new language is to start reading in it as soon as you can. There are a number of Easy Readers available on the market.  For the most adventurous of you, there are also unabridged parallel texts in Spanish and English, such as Penguin's Parallel Text: Short Stories in Spanish/Cuentos en español, edited by J. R. King. In the Centro Virtual Cervantes you will find short stories in Spanish with a glossary and activities to guide your reading: Lecturas paso a paso
  • There are a number of useful teach-yourself Spanish packages available from bookshops. 
  • To help you acquire vocabulary there are several useful wordlists available, e.g. Palabra por palabra (P. Turk) or Oxford Spanish Wordpack (A. C. Llompart). 
  • You may be able to attend evening classes in your area. Ask at your local library for details.
  • Try to watch films and documentaries in Spanish (with English subtitles!).
  • Time and money permitting, a period of immersion in a Spanish-speaking country can prove invaluable. There is a variety of good courses held in Spain and Latin American countries in the summer and at other times of year. Once in Cambridge, you will be able to find out about College travel grants.

Obtaining books

You may order books online from Amazon or from European Schoolbooks ( We have partnered with European Schoolbooks Ltd so that you will get 10% discount off the price of all the books you buy, even in other languages than Spanish. Click here or select ‘University of Cambridge Spanish’ on the Partners page at

You should also be able to purchase set texts in Cambridge from Heffers (they may have some second hand copies), or Waterstones.