Suenos Spanish Course - BBC

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Suenos Spanish Course - BBC

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Review of "Suenos Spanish Course - BBC"

published 05/07/2003 | Schmutzie
Member since : 30/11/-0001
Reviews : 126
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About me :
Pro It tries hard.
Cons Too hard, in fact.
very helpful
Type of Book
Quality of Text
Logical Layout?

"Sueños Can Be Nightmares."

(Prices for this on Amazon are varied and complicated. The textbook, with cassettes or CD pack, ranges from c.£20 to c.£40).

Why learn Spanish?

Is it worth the bother ? This question may be more relevant than usual if you plan to go to the tourist areas of Spain, where so many people speak English. I admit I hate those places, with their ‘English’ pubs, bacon and egg cafés, all-night discos. But there’s another Spain, which some of you will have found too, a land of immensely dignified, polite, rather formal people, honest, tough and independent.
Speak their language, and they open up like sunflowers in their own hot sun.

Is It Difficult?

No. Apart from Norwegian, it’s the easiest of European languages to learn to speak with reasonable proficiency. If you can add a bit of spit and sibilance to your speech you can attain a good accent, too. The only unusual sound is the guttural ‘j’, but it’s similar to the ‘ch’ in the Scottish word ‘loch’, and most people have no problem with it. There are a few little grammatical quirks, like having two verbs ‘to be’. (Why don’t they give one to the Turks, who have none?). But the rules are both simple and logical.
Nouns have masculine and feminine genders, but it’s nearly always apparent from the endings which gender they are.

Learning At Home.

With my other language opinions I approached the subject as one who’d been a fairly recent student, so the pitfalls and pleasures were still fresh in my mind. But Spanish and French were two of my ‘A’ level subjects, which I’ve both kept up and taught at various levels, so my angle on Spanish is going to be a bit different, and I must imagine I’m coming fresh to it.

Which Course?

There are many, some good, some a total waste of money and time. As always, I turn to the BBC to see what is available, and currently it’s the very high-profile Sueños (Dreams). It’s always a good idea to look at the BBC first.
It will bear repeating that I think the appearance and layout of a textbook are of vital importance, particularly if you’re studying at home. This is not being trivial. If the book looks good, feels good to handle, has an attractive page layout with illustrations, then you’ll enjoy it much more. If it has cultural and historical tips to inform you and divert you from the business of learning for a while, then these are more advantages. Learning anything is a discipline, and anything that makes it all a bit lighter and more pleasant can’t be bad.

Does Sueños Have These Features?

Yes, in abundance. In those respects it’s superb. The paper is smooth and high quality, and you can sit and look through it as if it’s just a rather classy magazine. For general arrangement, graphics, typeface and colour it’s up there with the queen of all courses, the BBC’s Italianissimo. It promises a terrific learning experience.

Does It Deliver?

No. It pains me to say this, because the potential is there for a great course. The main reason for its failure as a course for beginners is that it tries to do far, far too much.

Imagine you are a foreigner learning English.
You buy a course, and find that not only are you presented with standard English, but different terms from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and other English speaking parts of the world. They have different words for many things, and very different accents. Lesson one in this nightmare course I’ve dreamed up : a Glasgow Scot is exchanging greetings with an Aussie Queenslander and introducing him to a Jamaican. This is a good analogy for the Spanish course. It’s very like that.

I am not exaggerating. Spanish as it’s spoken in Madrid is not exactly the same as that spoken in Granada, and both are very different indeed in many ways from Argentinean or Peruvian Spanish. All right, the BBC hasn’t conned us. They do subtitle it ‘World Spanish’. All I’m saying is that it’s far too confusing and off-putting for a beginner. I am convinced that if you just learn the educated Spanish of Madrid you will be understood everywhere, and can then take your time getting your ear in with the peculiarities of Spanish in other areas of Spain; in Andalucia, for example, they lisp. You can ignore South American Spanish unless you plan to go to South America, or unless you are a North American, when it will be more use to you.

What’s In The First Chapter ?

Far too much. To list everything would drive me and you mad. Quite simply, it’s like an overstuffed cushion, and I want to pull some of the stuffing out.
In any first chapter you expect to learn simple greetings. You don’t need or want a lot of variations at this stage, but they are given.
As with most European languages, there are two words for ‘you’, one formal, one not. An easy guide: use the formal one to strangers, bosses, officials, much older people. Use the informal one for friends, family, children, pets (or for insulting people. But I don’t advise that just yet). This course makes a meal of it, with lengthy explanations, and we’re even told that in Paraguay they use a different word for ‘you’. Who needs to know that at this stage ? And who needs to know that only in Chile, Colombia and Peru does ‘guagua’ mean ‘child’ ? I didn’t want to know it, but I bet I’ll never forget it now. Oh, and in Cuba and the Canaries it means a bus. Just think of the potential for embarrassment if you mix them up.
Is the ordinary Spanish word for ‘child’ given ? No.

Is There A Lot To Put You Off?

I’m afraid so. There are countless examples of the kind of thing mentioned above: overelaborate explanations where they are redundant, lack of simple explanations where they are essential.
Mixed up in the somewhat indigestible hotchpotch is a lot of information about things which seem to have no connection : pieces on a famous contemporary singer and on the king, Don Carlos, both in Spanish, and both impossible for a beginner to understand; no vocabulary list is given for them. Possibly in a class, with a good teacher, things would be easier. But I’m glad I didn’t have to use it when I was teaching adult education classes.

(I’d like to pop in a brief note about those here. In any class you’ll find some who have severe problems with learning languages, and some who may well speak several and just want to race ahead. Trying to devise lessons to help and interest them all is not easy. Before you sign up for a class in the autumn, check on two things : the qualifications of the teacher and the course book to be used. Most department of education classes allow you to have a refund of the course fees if the first lesson hasn’t appealed to you. Students are not always told this).

As I said earlier, there are two verbs ‘to be’. In the first chapter you are not told this, but are given the full form of one of them to learn. Fair enough. I’m all in favour of introducing grammar in easy stages. But, a very big but, the perceptive student will have noticed that there seems to be another way of saying ‘to be cropping up. How is he/she supposed to know what is going on ? It could easily be suspected that there are misprints in the text.
There are confusions on the audiotapes. In a short conversation a woman is asked her name. The reply you hear is ‘Blanca Margarita viuda de Ferros’. Any beginner would, naturally, imagine that this is her full name. What it means, in fact, is ‘Blanca Margarita, widow of (Mr) Ferros’. But since the word for ‘widow’, ‘viuda’, is not mentioned anywhere in the chapter, how can you possibly know ? And is this the accepted way you are supposed to introduce yourself if you’ve lost a spouse ? I’ve never heard of it before.
The brief conversation containing this also includes two reflexive verbs and an example of the passive voice, before you even have any idea how to conjugate the present tense of regular verbs.
The whole book is full of confusions of this sort. It makes my head spin just writing about it.

I watched only a couple of the TV programs, and was disconcerted that in places I found the Spanish very hard to understand. Had I been a beginner, I’d have gained the misleading impression that it’s a difficult language. The same is true of the cassettes. I didn’t have a CD, but it will be the same as the audiotapes. Visually, the TV programs were very good.

Is The Course Any Use?

For a beginner, unfortunately not. There’s ample material in there for two books, and if this one were stripped down to the basics it could be very good indeed.
For people who’ve done, say, a couple of years already, or need revision work up to A-level, it’s useful. I think even undergraduates could benefit from parts of it. You’d know which were the useful bits to pick out. I found I learned quite a lot of new things going through the book for this review, though nothing I’d call essential. If you are very confident about languages, if you see the book in a charity shop, then give it a go. Otherwise, leave it alone, or until much later on. If you can pick up a very cheap copy, then it’s interesting enough to look through, and to read the parts about life in Spanish-speaking countries.

Anything Unusual About Spanish ?

Yes, and it’s unique among European languages in this. It’s a two-tier language. There’s the Spanish spoken by the person-in-the-street, clear, grammatical, acceptable in every way. There’s also what I can only call a ‘poetic’ version, where the well educated and/or linguistically aware try to express themselves as elegantly as possible.
For example, suppose you want to say, "I’m so happy." You can translate it word for word, "Soy tan alegre", and it’s perfectly correct.
The elegant way is, "Que alegria la mia" : "What happiness the mine."

There’s also the ‘copla’, the little rhyming couplet composed to suit whatever is happening at the moment. If you can produce these you’ll be much applauded. They must be original and spontaneous, and can’t be prepared in advance. I only ever managed one, in a restaurant in Madrid. Some guy said, loudly, "Habla ingles?" (Do you speak English?) and when I said yes, he replied, "Yo no!" (I don’t). His boozy pals took this to be the height of wit.
My one and only copla :
"Gracias, señor. Ha mostrado a la gente
Que de los dos soy yo mas inteligente."
(Thank you, sir. You’ve proved to everyone that of the two of us I’m the more intelligent.)
It’s not a very good copla because the rhyme and metre are faulty, but coming from a foreigner it was much applauded.

So Where Can You Find a Good Course?

Breakthrough Spanish, from c.£25 for book/cassette pack. See Amazon. This is lively, clear, very attractive to look at and handle, and explains things simply and well. It’s also a bargain at this price for the textbook and the cassettes, and can be cheaper if you buy it second hand.
* * * * * * * *

Learning a new language demands a big investment from you in terms of money and time. It’s wretched to buy something and find that you just can’t get on with it. I can’t tell you the money I’ve wasted on dud textbooks in the past, before I wised up. And I can still mess it up sometimes. (Yes, it’s that appalling BBC Greek again. I have to rant about it from time to time). Even worse than the waste, poor courses may give you the impression that you are at fault in some way. The Breakthrough series books that I’ve seen have all been very sound indeed, and enjoyable.
Give Spanish a go. I think you’ll like it.

The ratings below are virtually impossible to give.

© Schmutzie 2003
(Some members tell me about languages they speak, are learning, or would like to learn. Please keep on giving me news of this, as I’m really interested.)

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Comments on this review

  • possu71 published 12/10/2007
    Great detailed review! Some of the disadvantages you list are actually the reasons why I might buy the pack - I was concerned tat it will be too basic and now I think it will provide what I am looking for - differences between Spanish spoken throughout the world! I was surprised though when you said that Spanish is unique in any way - having 2 languge within a language is characteristic certainly also to Italian and I suspect also to French. Thumbs up for the great revew of yours! (Spanish is not the only language playing aound with the word sequence either ;o)
  • weetoon published 08/01/2006
    Excellent review, very interesting. I am using this course myself and I have to say I rather enjoy it, sometimes for reasons you list as faults. But then again, I am a language teacher, perhaps not your run of the mill beginner. I have to be honest and say that I have been 'on a break' from this course for rather a long time. Your review may well be the incentive I need to start up again and write my own review when I finish! Thanks again for your review, it's great to see what other people think.
  • Leni_84 published 08/07/2005
    Really good breakdown of the course: useful in helping me make a decision - as a beginner, I think I'll start with something less chaotic in structure!
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Listed on Ciao since: 05/07/2003