Spanish introductory reading list

Hispanic Studies at Cambridge consist of a mixture of cultural studies and intensive language work in Spanish, with more emphasis placed on the latter during the first year (Part IA), particularly if you are a beginner in Spanish (in which case you would concentrate entirely on language work for the whole of the first term). In later years, literary, linguistic and cultural studies (covering both Spain and Latin America) are given more emphasis than language work, although you are expected to maintain a high level of competence in written and spoken Spanish throughout your time here.


Studying the language

If you already have an A2-level in Spanish (or equivalent) by the time you come here, then for Part IA you will follow a course of study designed to improve your language skills in three basic areas. Here is a brief description of those areas, with suggestions as to what you can do now to prepare yourself for your studies:

Use of Spanish (Paper B1)

This class (taught in the Faculty of Modern Languages, not in College) will be aimed primarily at improving your written skills in the language, but also, in a wider sense, your communication skills. It aims to promote active, but correct, use of the language. It also serves as the main focus for your grammatical study of Spanish, as it is impossible to express yourself accurately if you do not have a sound (even if intuitive) knowledge of Spanish grammar.

You will need to obtain a copy of the following book: Uso de la gramática española, (nivel avanzado), Francisca Castro (Ed. Edelsa, Spain, 2011 edition), ISBN 978-84-7711-7148. The recommended grammar (although it is not compulsory to buy it) is: A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish, John Butt and Carmen Benjamin (London: Arnold, latest edition) ISBN 978-1444137699.

If your understanding of Spanish grammar is rusty or basic, then you could go a long way towards easing the work load for this course if you familiarise yourself with all the grammar points drilled in: An Essential Course in Modern Spanish (by H. Ramsden, republished by Thomas Nelson) and work through the self correcting exercises there, especially those of the later, advanced chapters (but please note that this book will not be used explicitly during the course unlike the others mentioned). You should also read Spanish and Latin American newspapers and current affairs magazines (available online) on a regular basis, so as to pick up good sentence structure, as well as vocabulary relating to current issues.

Translation from Spanish (Paper B2)

This fortnightly class (also taught in the Faculty) will aim to improve your reading and comprehension skills in Spanish, widen your vocabulary, and train you systematically in the comprehension of a variety of linguistic styles, from Golden Age Literature to 20th Century journalism. It will also help you understand the difficulties involved in translating from one language to another and give you the tools for overcoming those difficulties.

Since a very wide vocabulary is required for good translation, you may like to try collecting and learning vocabulary in a systematic way as preparation for this course, especially from your reading of literature (see below). This involves noting down new words as you come across them, looking up their meanings in a good dictionary, and noting examples of their use.

Oral work

In the first year, this is mostly conducted in small-group language supervisions with a native speaker. The best way to improve your oral skills, however, is to plan to spend some or all of the summer/ year abroad after sixth form in Spain (or Latin America if you can afford it) — preferably not at a resort filled with English tourists! There are several good summer courses run by universities and language schools in Spain. A good place to head for in Spain is Salamanca.


Ab initio Spanish

If you are planning to take Spanish from ‘scratch’ here at Cambridge (including if you have GCSE or AS-level), then slightly different arrangements apply. You should obtain copies of the following texts:

Please note: You are expected to do some preparation before you come to Cambridge: from Part I of the book A Spanish Learning Grammar (above), you must familiarise yourself with the content of the following chapters and do the corresponding exercises (key at the end of the book):

You may wish to complement this with a recorded language course such as the BBC’s Sueños or ¡España viva!, which will start you off on basic oral skills. If at all possible, go to Spain in the summer for an extended period of time: if you start your course with some knowledge of Spanish then you will find it a lot more enjoyable and you will have the opportunity of moving in a faster stream than the absolute beginners.

If you want to try reading some literature, then you could have a go at Gabriel García Márquez’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada, and Carlos Fuentes’ Aura (two of the beginners’ set texts), or try the Penguin parallel text edition of Short Spanish Stories (Spanish on one side of the page, English on the other).

You should aim to arrive in Cambridge with at least a smattering of the language and systematic knowledge of the basics of Spanish grammar (from the exercises listed above).

Please see the MML website and the link to 'Starting Spanish from scratch' on that page for further information.

Visit the MML website


Literary and cultural studies

For students with A2-level equivalent Spanish, approximately one third of your work in the first year will be devoted to cultural studies and linguistics. You will study a course entitled Introduction to the Language, Literatures and Cultures of the Spanish-speaking World (Paper SP1), which includes literary texts, two films and an optional linguistics element. For this paper, it is essential that you do some advance reading before you get here, as there simply is not enough time during the eight-week term to do all the reading that is required of you plus the large amount of language work. I cannot emphasise this enough — you will write three essays during the first eight weeks in Cambridge on some of the texts indicated below, and you will not have time to read them all when you are here! Needless to say, your reading of Spanish/Latin American literature will greatly help in improving your language abilities all-round.

You should read at least the asterisked texts below, but ideally more (some of these will not be studied till the Lent Term, and this is not a full list of texts to be studied; you will also get the chance to study a couple of films if you wish):

  1. Narrative: *Vargas Llosa, Mario, La tía Julia y el escribidor  *La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes (anonymous)
  2. Isaacs, Jorge, María
  3. Drama: *García Lorca, Federico, Romancero gitano
  4. Poetry: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, A Sor Juana Anthology (bilingual ed. by Alan Trueblood)

You’ll be studying other texts, including a film (También la lluvia), but you do not need to read/view these in advance. There is more information about SP1 on the Spanish Department Website (please note that at the time of writing this, the information is not yet updated) the course and some of the set texts are changing for 2016–17. You will also find information on this website about Linguistics elements available for SP1.

Books can be obtained from Grant & Cutler Booksellers of London, Heffers and other on-line retailers such as Book Depository.

I hope all this does not sound daunting, but it really is worth putting in the effort before you arrive, and you will find your course will be a hundred percent more enjoyable, guaranteed!

— Geoffrey Kantaris

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