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8 Travelers Share the 12 Best Books to Learn Spanish

Posted in: Expat Hacks, Expats Everywhere, Language Learning

So, what’s the best book for learning Spanish?

It can be pretty hard to sort out. There are thousands of options!

To get the best of the best, we asked 8 travelers and expats to share the books that helped them learn Spanish. Here are their top twelve:

best books to learn Spanish

12 Best Books to Learn Spanish

Lets begin!

1 – 3) Lonely Planet Spanish Phrase Books (Latin America, Mexico, Spain)

Submitted by: Chris Hoyt | LanguaTravel

I organize Spanish immersion trips for a living, so I get asked this question often.

I always say that the best book for learning Spanish, is the *one you’ll actually use.* It needs to be accurate, well organized and accessible.

For this reason, I’ve started recommending the small Lonely Planet phrase books.

They pack regionally specific vocabulary and relevant phrases into a book small enough that travelers will actually carry it with them, rather than leave it in the hotel room.

They are about the size of a stack of 3×5 notecards, so they are perfect for studying on those long train and bus rides, and small enough to whip out in a communication emergency.

They offer Latin AmericaMexico, and Spain versions.

4 – 5) Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses

Submitted by: Greg Archbald | Founder GreaseBook, LLC

I was a ‘gringo abroad’ for a time… and now I own a business which keeps me very busy.

Anyways, I saw your request, and couldn’t help but answer…

In my twenties (I’m 32 now), I backpacked and visited every Spanish speaking country in South America.

I’ve also lived in both Colombia and Argentina for a short stints, roomed with a good friend from Mexico City for almost two years, and completed my MBA at ESADE in Barcelona, Spain — ranked by the Financial Times and Business Week as one of the top international business schools in the world…

More than anything, I wanted to learn Spanish.

There are several good sources (Spanish R&B Music being some of the most fun/effective), but as far as books go, bar none: “Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses and “Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions is some of the best material I’ve found on the subject…

It seems they’ve updated and expanded on this series since I bought it (the newer, revamped books don’t get as high of marks as the older ones…), so look out!

Why I like it so much is that it’s a book that, most importantly, isn’t overwhelming. Each book is around 100 pages. 100 pages is doable. 100 pages one can accomplish. 100 pages you won’t quit… Do yourself a favor, and buy this series… it’s one decision you’ll never regret 🙂

6) Spanish English: Bilingual Visual Dictionary

Submitted by: Anne Dirkse | Travel Photography & Workshops

My name is Anne and I’m a travel photographer, fluent in Spanish.

I did most of my learning when I was a lot younger, from junior high through college, but I still really find this visual dictionary really useful: Spanish English: Bilingual Visual Dictionary

Rather than the typical dictionary, it is organized a lot more like a phrasebook, by topic, but the focus is on building vocabulary.

I’m a visual learner, and the color photographs make the vocabulary a lot more memorable to me, and they resolve ambiguities when I don’t necessarily know the name in English: what’s the name of that little round bread…? This dictionary shows you, through pictures, and gives you the English name too.

The arrangement of words by topic is a lot more practical than the typical dictionary, where you have to know what you’re looking up. You can use this dictionary that way too, but the arrangement is designed for building vocabulary, for example learning the names of colors, animals, or tools.

7) Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish

Submitted by: James Kaiser | Author and photographer of Costa Rica: The Complete Guide

I lived in Costa Rica for five years while researching my guidebook Costa Rica: The Complete Guide, and during that time I went from zero Spanish to fluency.

The best Spanish book I read, and which I still refer to, is Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph J. Keenan.

It is an absolute classic.

In addition to clearly explaining confusing Spanish concepts like the subjunctive, it’s a fun read with lots of fun insight on Latin culture.

8, 9) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Spanish on Your Own

Submitted by: Elizabeth Avery | Founder/CEO

Having spent part of my high school years in Florida and minored in Spanish in college, I have always loved both the spoken Spanish language and literature.

Although I am especially keen on watching Spanish language movies and news on Univision to become more fluent, I can also recommend: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Spanish on Your Own“.

Positive points:

  1. It includes cultural tips as well as language learning.
  2. They have an especially unusual whole chapter on cognates and false cognates! For anyone who mixes up embarazada with avergonzada ((pregnant with embarrassed), this is quite a difference. In addition, if you were looking for an avocado and were referred to a rather stern looking professional, you may have confused an aguacate with an abogado!
  3. It injects humor (Chap 5 Are Idioms for Idiots?) rather than mere rote memorization.

10) ¡Exacto! A Practical Guide to Spanish Grammar

Submitted by: Melissa Mesku | New Worker Magazine

For your piece on the best books for learning Spanish, I highly recommend ¡Exacto! A Practical Guide to Spanish Grammar by Ane Ortega, et al.

It’s incredibly straightforward and concise. Each grammar point is reinforced with a variety of explanations and examples so you can be confident you understand.

It was my go-to resource while learning Spanish in Guatemala and Mexico, and my language teachers ended up buying a copy as well.

There are so many grammar books, and grammar can be so dull, but this one keeps it simple without losing depth.

Here’s the book on Amazon: ¡Exacto!

11) How to Improve Your Foreign Language Immediately

Submitted by: Judith Meyer | | Twitter @Junesun

I’m a polyglot – I speak more than 8 languages.

The book that helped me the most was “How to Improve Your Foreign Language Immediately” by Boris Shekhtman.

It has some really unusual tips that helped me improve my fluency a lot.

Most Spanish learners don’t lack vocabulary or grammar, they just lack fluency, and Boris Shekhtman specializes in training people to speak a lot more fluently without having to learn tons of new vocabulary.

As such, the book is not specific to Spanish, but I feel that you can’t leave it out.

12) Learn Spanish Workbook

learn-spanish-workbookSubmitted by: Jeremy Levine | La Escuela Del Sol

I saw your query seeking the best books for learning Spanish and thought you might be interested in our free iBook written by Spanish teachers of La Escuela Del Sol. If you have an ipad or mac computer, you can download it for free here.

La Escuela Del Sol provides a warm weather travel adventure for active adults who want to learn Spanish, fire dancing, surfing, obtain scuba certification or practice yoga in a tropical paradise. You can take a combination of almost any of our courses from 1 to 12 weeks. We even offer college credit for our Spanish curriculum.

The book is interactive and features audio for pronunciation, video lessons and tons of interactive exercises. Book two should be released before the end of the year as well.

Our Picks: In addition to these hand picked favorites, we used a very different set of tools. Here are the 11 books and courses we used to learn Spanish.

Bonus: More Language Learning Resources 

In addition to the print books (above) we also want share the following Spanish – and general language learning tools.

DuoLingo: Learn Spanish App

Submitted by: Eric Gaden |

Books are great, but I like a free app called duolingo better.

Pimsleur and Spanish for Cruisers

Submitted by: Dana Greyson |

More word of-mouth as we plan to do our studying once we push off from land in mid-December.

We’ll be using Pimsleur (not a book) on passage &, this is narrow, given our mode of travel Spanish for Cruisers (there is a French version as well, which will come in handy in French Polynesia)

Learn How to Learn a New Language

Are you concerned that you don’t have that “language gene”? And that you just can’t learn a new language?

You need to check out this video – it is an Irish guy speaking 10 different languages. If you need a little motivation, this is it! While he does sell a premium course, he has tons of free content and videos. Check out: Fluent in 3 Months

See our reader’s choice: The Best Book to Learn Spanish

Now, It’s Your Turn

What is your favorite book for learning Spanish? Do you agree with these choices? Do you use a better tool, book or system?

Please share it in the comments below!

Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Verb Tensesbreaking out of beginners spanishHow to Improve Your Foreign Language ImmediatelySpanish English Bilingual Visual Dictionary
exacto Spanish grammar

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Travel.

9 comments… add one
  • Jim Fisher Jun 23, 2017, 3:06 pm

    Tech update: So, I just researched electronic translators and found this…
    Seems to me this might be a great tool to travel with, AND learn the language!
    Any thoughts or feedback from others about this technology Bryan?

  • Kimmy Jan 23, 2017, 8:35 am

    Hi! Cool post! I also have 2 of the books you mention. Recently I bought one for beginners called “A Good Spanish Book!” by a Spanish professor from Spain, and it’s also very useful. The Lonely Planet travel guide has awesome pictures by the way!

  • Rick Morrow Oct 5, 2014, 8:52 am

    The best, the very best – and I have tried others including at least one of the recommended books, are downloadable programs by Marcus Santamaria. The first course, , Shortcut to Spanish, really caught my interest and made learning Spanish……………fun! Google Marcus’ name and you shouldn’t have trouble finding him. The courses cost – they are more expensive than books, but you get what you pay for.

  • Nick Fenger Oct 4, 2014, 10:13 am

    I learn daily Spanish the easiest by putting the English into Google’s translator so I can see the contexts of a word or series of words then use it in conversation. If the sentence needs correction the person I am speaking with will generally correct my use. I save the translations in a file so I can remember them in new situations if necessary. To get familiar with situations that are unusual to me I read the paper and keep tract of the new vocabulary.

    • Jeff Oct 12, 2014, 8:47 am

      My recommendations for anyone using Google Translate as a learning tool include the following:

      1. When you’re typing your English text, as much as possible avoid any words that might have multiple meanings or be otherwise ambiguous. Also avoid contractions.

      2. Many old English grammar rules either have been, or are being revised. Things like not splitting infinitives, not ending sentences with a preposition, and not separating modifiers from what they’re modifying… all of these were based on Latin grammar requirements. As such, these rules are now sliding into obscurity, because they’re simply not necessary in modern English. Spanish, however, is based on Latin, and therefore we need to observe these rules in Spanish. So to get the best possible *initial* translation from English into Spanish, think back on your early grammar instruction and keep to the rules!

      3. Write shorter sentences. I’ve found that longer, compound sentences introduce a much greater likelihood of things being mistranslated into Spanish.

      4. Once you have your initial Spanish translation, copy and past the Spanish from the right side of Google to the left side. Once you’ve done that, change the translation function to go from Spanish to English. Then look what you have!

      5. If you followed the other suggestions I provided above, you are probably staring at a small handful of mistakes. Pronoun errors are very common, as are mis-used words and a few other things. There also going to be about 1/3 as many words as you actually need. If you know at least a little Spanish grammar at this point, it will help tremendously as you tweak your Spanish message to produce a very clear English translation. For instance, knowing simple past, future, and present tenses for common verbs is extremely helpful. If you aren’t that advanced, I highly recommend the verb conjugation charts on Especially with past tense, accent marks are critical to an accurate translation.

      6. Now, simply keep tweaking your Spanish text on the left side of the screen until your new English translation on the right side pretty much matches your original text. It won’t always be “perfect,” but then again you must get out of the mindset that there is such thing as a word-for-word translation–it’s just not so. Shoot for a close approximation in those situations where nothing you do seems to yield the correct results.

  • Paul Acee Oct 1, 2014, 4:30 pm

    Easy Spanish Step-By-Step” is an excellent book also (on Amazon). It starts with vowels.

    • Bryan Haines Oct 2, 2014, 8:11 am

      Nice – thanks for the recommendation Paul!

    • Jen Mar 30, 2016, 5:24 pm

      That’s the same book I’m using, recommended by a native speaker (from Mexico) who leads my Meetup group for Spanish students. Oh, and just today, I received my copy of Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish! 🙂

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