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SPA1: Use of Spanish (ab initio)

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.


This paper offers you a thorough grounding in Spanish grammar and vocabulary, starting at basic and taking you to intermediate level. As well as giving you the foundations for the literature, linguistics and translation work required by your course, the SPA1 paper equips you with the communicative resources to handle every day situations in Spanish, both orally and in writing. This includes writing and speaking on topics of general interest.

The paper aims to take you to a level of linguistic ability roughly matching that of an A-Level qualification. This corresponds to level B1 as defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

This is an ambitious goal, and our ab initio students achieve it year after year. The course is intense, but all the teaching staff are committed to making the course an exciting and rewarding experience for you. Your teacher and supervisors will be there to offer all the support you may need.

Aims and objectives: 

If you attend classes and complete all the set work, by the end of the course you will be able to:

  • Write and speak in Spanish with a good level of accuracy in simple structures. You will have some understanding of more complex structures, but errors may be present.
  • Have the vocabulary to discuss every day matters as well as topics of general (non specialised) nature.
  • Understand basic to intermediate-level texts of a general (non specialised) nature.
  • Understand spoken Spanish when speech is at slow to moderate speed.
  • Translate intermediate-level texts from English into Spanish, even though certain words may need to be paraphrased.
  • Have some familiarity with aspects of the culture of the Spanish-speaking world.
  • Meet the standards of Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
Course materials: 

In this paper we work with a combination of books, class handouts and online materials.

You will need to obtain a copy of the following books before your classes start:

  • 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 a copy of the Cuaderno de ejercicios (Workbook).
  • Grammar: A Spanish Learning Grammar, Pilar Muñoz and Mike Thacker (London: Routledge, latest edition). You will need to begin work on this book BEFORE you arrive in Cambridge, as explained in the section ‘Summer preparation for the ab initio course
  • 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.

In the MML Moodle site you will find past exam papers, and reports and in the SPA1 Moodle site grammar sheets, worksheets and other class handouts as well as links to Spanish language learning online materials.

Teaching and learning: 

Teaching for this paper has the following components:

1. Two language classes per week (one 2-hour class and one 1-hour class, offered by the Faculty), which take you through the major points of the grammar of Spanish and basic vocabulary.

2. In addition to this, you will receive two supervisions with a native speaker (offered by your College). The supervisions are small-group sessions designed to support and enhance the work you do in the Faculty classes:

- The Oral supervision (weekly) provides a friendly atmosphere where you can practice and gradually build up confidence in your spoken Spanish.

- The Language supervision (fortnightly) is there to support your learning of grammar in particular. Your supervisor will give you detailed feedback on your written work.

The two supervisions follow the same sequence of topics as your Faculty class in order to ensure that you acquire vocabulary in a progressive manner and that all parts of the course form a coherent whole.

In Lent Term, you will also have four Translation Supervisions in preparation for paper SPA2.

The Moodle site for SPA1 can be found here. The paper coordinator will enrol you on this site at the beginning of the academic year.


This paper is assessed in a three-hour written exam. You can find examples of past exam papers on the paper’s MML Moodle website. You will also work with exam papers in class in Lent and Easter.

The exam consists of a variety of linguistic exercises, divided into two sections:

Section A: Grammar exercises, reaction to a communicative situation and a translation of a short passage from English into Spanish.

Section B: A text in Spanish with related vocabulary and writing questions to test your reading comprehension skills and ability to summarise and write an argued response to the text.

Course Contacts: 
Prof María Noriega-Sánchez