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Better Reading Spanish by Jean Yates (review)

From: Hispania
Volume 96, Number 3, September 2013
pp. 599-600 | 10.1353/hpn.2013.0093

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The most recent addition to the Better Reading series, the second edition of Better Reading Spanish, will not disappoint those who enjoyed the first edition, published in 2002. Updated to include articles and passages that reflect real-life, contemporary issues, and culture, the newest edition is sure to engage a diverse readership. For use as a supplementary text to an intermediate level Spanish course, Better Reading Spanish is an appropriate tool for college or high school Spanish teachers who wish to incorporate authentic reading materials (in small doses) in their instruction of native English speaking students.

Little has changed from the first to the second edition with respect to format. Still organized by thematic chapters, Better Reading Spanish contains eight sections that group readings based on the following themes: cuisine, music, sports, film and theatre, art, family, contemporary living, and history and politics. Each section features between six and nine short passages that are followed by activities designed to develop effective reading skills. The passages increase in length and difficulty as each chapter progresses. The author suggests in the opening section titled “How to use this book” that students either select articles from the book according to their interest or level of Spanish, or that they advance directly through each chapter, starting with basic readings and advancing to more difficult readings.

As with the first edition, the new edition of Better Reading Spanish presents exclusively authentic reading materials. Drawn from magazines, newspapers, and the Internet, the primary sources represent a significant advantage of this publication. None of the passages has been simplified or altered, allowing students to develop effective reading strategies that will easily transfer to reading in Spanish beyond the foreign language classroom. Unfortunately, the newest edition reflects little change in terms of content. Only approximately 20% of the articles featured in the new edition are new when compared to the articles found in the original edition (per this reviewer’s calculations). This feature could be a disappointment to teachers hoping for a newer, more current version of the 2002 edition.

In addition to suggestions for how individuals may choose to navigate through the book, the “How to use this book” section highlights the objectives of the exercises that students will encounter throughout the various sections. Readers are instructed to “read the text in its entirety, then proceed with the exercises, without the use of a dictionary” (x). Yates does not outright condemn the use of a dictionary, but strongly cautions students against adopting bottom-up strategies, such as looking up every unfamiliar word. Instead, she encourages readers to “read to get the overall meaning” and to use a monolingual Spanish dictionary before a bilingual Spanish-English dictionary, an approach that many foreign language teachers will support.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of Better Reading Spanish is its layout: texts appear with no formal introduction or instructions. Paradoxically, schema-activating exercises appear after the text—too late, in my opinion, to serve their purpose. Although the directions to the exercises are written exclusively in English, there is no explicit instruction for students to return to the text while “scanning for details” or “skimming for general ideas.” For students already familiar with effective reading strategies, such as skimming and scanning, there may be no need for such explicit instruction. Students lacking formal reading skills, however, may struggle to benefit from these implied techniques.

The exercises Yates has designed to complement the readings will help students develop practical literacy skills. Post-reading activities encourage students to derive meaning from cognates, derivational morphemes, and context. A top-down approach to reading is embraced, as students are not provided with word glosses adjacent to the readings. Following the readings, the author redirects readers’ attention to high-frequency lexical items and grammatical words, allowing readers to infer meaning through exercises that are written half in Spanish and half in English. At first, this design feature may seem odd and even awkward for readers (and especially teachers), but it is perhaps justified by the fact that Better Reading Spanish emphasizes building beginner- to intermediate-level Spanish reading skills for native English speakers.

As Yates writes in her preface, “[T]he more you read, the better you...



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