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Ab initio Spanish

Starting Spanish from scratch

A very warm welcome to the Spanish beginners course!

About a third of the students admitted to Cambridge to read Spanish each year can be classed as 'beginners' — a broad term covering anything from those with no knowledge at all of Spanish to those who may have done a GCSE, or who may have some oral familiarity with the language. We welcome beginners of all levels, and aim to match you to the correct class for your level by means of a pre-sessional diagnostic test.

Course material for your language classes

You will need to obtain a copy of the following books:

  • Coursebook: Campus Sur. Libro del alumno (Barcelona: Difusión, 2017). Note: you do NOT need a copy of the Cuaderno de ejercicios (Workbook).

  • Grammar: A Spanish Learning Grammar, Pilar Muñoz & Mike Thacker (London: Routledge, latest edition). You will need to begin work on this book BEFORE you arrive in Cambridge (please see below).
  • 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.

You may also be able to purchase second-hand copies of some of the books from Heffers (tel. 01223 568568). In addition, we have partnered with European Schoolbooks Ltd so that you will get 10% discount off the price of your Spanish coursebooks, reference books and literature. Click here or select 'University of Cambridge Spanish' on the Partners page at

Whatever option you go for, it is very important that you get a copy of the books BEFORE your classes start

Work to be submitted at the start of the Michaelmas term

The ab initio course is very intensive. We need to cover a lot of material in just one academic year, which is why we ask you to work your way through the following chapters from A Spanish Learning Grammar OVER THE SUMMER 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. 13.1. Present Tense.

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

For a description of the language papers you will be taking, see Beginners' Language Courses.

Making a start on Spanish

Apart from this grammar work, we very much encourage you to take advantage of some of the many options at your disposal to make a start on the language before you come to Cambridge. Here are a few suggestions: 

  • 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. Here you can find links to television and radio stations in Spanish. 
  • 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. We highly recommend them! 
  • 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.
  • 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. You will also have direct access to our files of brochures for language courses both in Spain and Latin American.

We hope that you will find these suggestions helpful. If there is anything on which you would like further advice, please contact your Director of Studies at College, or our Departmental Secretary.

We look forward to welcoming you in Cambridge!


Please see here for the literary texts to be covered by ab initio students for SPA3.

Please also refer to our Recommended Dictionaries and Grammars (at all levels).