An independent language review by Sarah Maddocks
BBC Quickstart Spanish is a 140-minute audio language course on 2 CDs, designed to be an all listening, little reading, no writing kind of course. It’s aimed at people who want to learn the basic ‘holiday’ vocabulary and who don’t want to know the ins and outs of the grammar. The Spanish CD follows three friends, Susana, Miguel & Alex for 24 hours around Madrid. The 24-hour ‘language adventure’ is split into sections, each one dealing with a different situation that you are likely to come across when travelling.
When I first plugged my headphones in I couldn’t wait to get started as I hadn’t studied Spanish for a very long time and wanted a refresher course before booking a holiday. As soon as I pressed play I decided that maybe I should have waited! The CD greeted me with the typical language learning music, supposedly from the country whose language you are learning (cue the flamenco guitar playing!!), and the corny joke of “Susana & Miguel, two friends, purely platonic” (cue fake laughter). It really made me think that this was going to be a tacky learning course which I wouldn’t be able to listen to for one minute – let alone 140 of them! But I’m pleased that I didn’t press stop and give up. I managed to learn to block the music and the bad jokes out of my head long enough to learn some new Spanish and refresh the old Spanish that I already had.
The CDs each have seven episodes with two conversations on each. The episodes are split into four separate sections, “time to listen” (listening to the conversations), “time to reflect” (explaining the conversation) “time to kickstart” (practicing pronunciation & language) and “time to recap” (seeing what you have learnt). These sections are overall well-structured and useful when learning the language. The only thing that does get irritating is the repetition of “right, now it’s time to kickstart your Spanish” (by the way it’s a play on ‘quickstart’. Pure genius!).
The subjects of the sections are typical day-to-day topics which will be needed when in the country, i.e. CD1 covers everything from “hola (hello)” to buying postcards & stamps, while CD2 covers going out and dealing with any problems you might come across.
In the “time to reflect” section, there are often very basic grammar tips. This is ace as they don’t overload you with the grammar, but they give you just enough to get by and adapt what is on the CD if people ask you something that isn’t included on the course. By the end of episode two, you already know two of the pronouns and verb endings for one of the most commonly used verbs. But don’t get too excited, as you still have the corniness of language learning CDs shining thorough in this section (“now do you think you’ve got a few greetings under your belt” is just a little taster of what you have to come)! Obviously the grammar isn’t a huge part of the course, as this is primarily an audio course. It would defeat the object if you had to write down all the grammar. I think this is a fab way of doing grammar, as I always used to get unbelievably bored doing verb drills. This way you learn the most common verbs without having to do the boring bit.
The course is accompanied by a small phrasebook and a transcript of all the conversations. This is very helpful when doing the course as you can also learn to recognise the Spanish words written down, rather than just recognising them from speaking. Some phrases are a little obscure if you’re only spending 24 hours in Spain. For example the BBC have included “te quiero” meaning I love you – I’m not 100% sure if this is the BBC implying that you will find love if you know Spanish and are on holiday!
As far as the speaking on the CD is concerned, the Spanish is not too fast and not too slow. There is a slight change in the speed of the Spanish after Episode 1, but the narrators do not jump straight into reeling off Spanish so fast that the only words that you get are the first and last ones. On the contrary, the speed is slow enough to hear the intonation and the way the individual letters are spoken by native speakers. Each episode also gives you the chance to repeat what has been said straight after the native speaker. This is good, but I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I was pronouncing it wrong (but to me it sounds exactly like the CD!). I suppose the only way I could try this out was to go to Spain. So I’ll let you know how it goes and if people understand my Bristolian turned Spanish accent!
Overall I think this course is an effective and fast way of learning basic touristy Spanish. It also gives a starter block to go on into more in depth Spanish (bear in mind this may be more grammar!!). The course is available in other languages such as French, German and Italian and I will definitely consider the Italian CDs. I’m not sure how well a Bristolian accent would sound trying to be Italian, but I suppose there’s only one way to find out.