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Breaking the Spanish Barrier, Level One Review by Courtney Larson

John Conner
Breaking the Barrier, Inc.
63 Shirley Road
Groton, MA 01450

Breaking the Spanish Barrier is an all-in-one Spanish text and workbook. I received the "Self-Learner Package" to review, which includes the Student Edition of the text/workbook, an Answer Key Booklet, a two-CD set, and an Oasis booklet. The Student Edition contains all instruction and practice exercises. The Answer Key Booklet contains all the answers. The CDs contain pronunciation exercises, and the Oasis is a pocket translation guide.

Level One of Breaking the Spanish Barrier is equal to a one-year high school course and should take about one school year to complete. Also available are Level Two (equivalent to a second-year high school course) and Level Three/Four (equivalent to a third/fourth-year high school course). Although Level One is equal to a high school course, it can be used in middle school.

The Student Edition begins with ten "First Steps" that introduce some basic vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation rules to get the student familiar with Spanish. There is written practice for each step. Following these ten steps are 12 lessons. Each lesson begins with a map of a Spanish-speaking country, information about the country, and a list of famous people from the country. The developers of this program believe that a strong foundation in Spanish grammar is key to learning the language. Each lesson teaches four different grammar concepts, with written practice exercises for each concept. Several vocabulary words are presented for each lesson (with lists ranging from around 30 to over 50 words), and these words are used throughout the practice exercises.

Following the teaching and written practice of the grammar concept, there is an oral practice section for each lesson. This section includes questions that use the new grammatical concepts and new vocabulary, and they are meant to be completed with a partner. (One person asks the question and the other answers, and then roles are switched.) However, they could be done independently if needed. There is a Spanish dialogue to be read aloud, followed by a series of written questions about it. All of the provided questions for both the oral practice and dialogue are in Spanish and are meant to be answered in Spanish. Each lesson concludes with a review quiz.

The two-CD set includes the vocabulary lists as well as the oral practice and the dialogue for each lesson, and these are very helpful when it comes to pronunciation. The back of the book includes verb charts, a Spanish-English dictionary, and an English-Spanish dictionary. The Oasis is an easy reference pocket translation guide that would be handy for someone traveling to a Spanish-speaking country. Topics include basic communication, shopping, and food and drink.

I think Breaking the Spanish Barrier is very well done. It follows a logical progression, and the grammar of Spanish is explained very well. The practice exercises and oral exercises provide the right amount of verbal and written practice--not so much that the student gets bored, but enough to cause the information to be understood and retained. Be aware that this book has several references to celebrities, movies, and singers or bands (such as Tiger Woods, Wall-E, the Jonas Brothers, Penelope Cruz, and Led Zeppelin). There was nothing offensive within those references, but I found them slightly annoying and wished the program used fictional names instead. These pop culture references do not detract from the quality of the program, and I would recommend Breaking the Spanish Barrier to anyone who is looking for a textbook/workbook-based Spanish program for their middle or high school student. At $70 for the "Self-Learner Package", it is an affordable and thorough choice.

Product review by Courtney Larson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010