Introduction to this textbook

Tools for success

To succeed in this course you will need a comprehensive Spanish/English dictionary. Any unabridged bilingual dictionary will work well (Oxford and Larousse are excellent choices). You can also use Word Reference, an excellent online dictionary. In addition to serving as a dictionary, Word Reference has verb conjugation tables that can help you as you progress in the course. Bookmark these resources for future use.

Optional resource: If you feel that your knowledge of English grammar is lacking, you may want to purchase a used copy of English Grammar for Students of Spanish. This textbook can help you contextualize what you learn in this class and explain any grammar terms with reference to English. Copies are widely available and affordable.

Similarities between Spanish and English

While English is a Germanic language and Spanish has its roots in Latin, there are still similarities to be found. In this textbook the similarities are pointed out so that you can begin to recognize patterns that exist between the two languages. Here are just a few examples to illustrate the relationship between English and Spanish:

Nouns ending in -TION in English = –Ción in Spanish

  • action = acción
  • perfection = perfección
  • distraction = distracción

Verbs Ending in English -tain =  –tener In SPANISH

  • to contain = contener
  • to detain, to arrest = detener
  • to entertain = entretener
  • to maintain, to keep, to support financially = mantener

How to learn Vocabulary

The focus in this course will be on learning the grammatical structures you will need to read and translate from Spanish to English, not memorizing vocabulary. Basic vocabulary will be listed at the end of each unit in this textbook, with the focus being on verbs, expressions, and common parts of speech: adverbs, prepositions, etc. that you would likely encounter in any context. Basic nouns will be provided, especially at the beginning of the course, to help you build a base of high use words. However, since nouns are the easiest to look up when reading a text, we have chosen to include them only minimally. Instead we have opted for teaching the differences in syntax between the two languages. As much as possible, place your focus on memorizing verb endings and grammatical structures. Vocabulary will come with exposure to Spanish – the more you read, the more you will learn.

We will also point out how to make the most of your knowledge of English to save time looking up words. This means memorizing common patterns, such as those previewed above. Knowing these patterns will save you time looking up words in the dictionary because you will be able to make educated guesses about their meaning in order to prioritize verb tenses and syntax.

Also, please keep in mind the following:

  • Whenever possible and helpful, English cognates are given in parentheses immediately after vocabulary listings. They are routinely omitted in very obvious cases (such as entrar, preparar, estudiar, visitar, etc.), but are given in other less or not obvious cases. At times, they may seem obscure or relatively so. The larger your English vocabulary is, the easier it will be to recognize them.
  • The examples of vida and “vital/-ity” as well as nadar and “natatorium” are two of many in which you see a d in Spanish taking the place of a in English. In general, these two consonants are similar.
  • The amount of vocabulary presented, if you are a true beginner, may at times seem overwhelming. Nonetheless, many of the new words are related to each other, e.g., preguntar (“to ask”) and pregunta (“question”); estudiar (“to study”), estudiante (“student” [n.]) and estudiantil (“student” [adj.]). At the beginning of this text, most of the vocabulary given is basic. As you progress in the text, you may be able to choose which vocabulary items may be useful to you and your field of study/interest and which may not.
  • Noticing patterns in word families, such as the examples in the previous bullet point, and making note of the words you think you may encounter in your own research and reading are two to of the best practices you can develop while taking this class.


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Spanish for Reading and Translation by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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