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As an adult, I have a passion for learning languages and using them when I go abroad - not only because I hate being labeled as a lazy British person, but also because it gives me a sense of achievement.
I put this down to the fact that when I wass younger, my mum would always give me books to help me learn French, German and Spanish - not necessarily because she wanted me to be bilingual, but she knew it would be a useful tool when I came to look for a career.
One such book was My First 100 Spanish Words. I still own the hardback edition, which is described on the front as a "pull-the-tab" word book. It varies ever so slightly from the one in the picture in terms of illustration on the front and back covers, but other than that it is exactly the same.
Background information about the book
First published in 1993 by World International Publishing Limited in Manchester, the book was a UK only product.
At the time, the writers ( a team at a company called Brainwaves) stated that Spanish was spoken by nearly 300 million people throughout the world - and that doesn't include holiday-makers.
According to wikianswers.com, nowadays Spanish is spoken by 330 million people as a first language, and by a further 50 million as a second language. It might not seem like a huge rise, but remember we are talking millions!
Clearly one of the main challenges in producing a children's book is keeping the attention span of a little person. This has got to be even more difficult when you're trying to teach them a second language!
This book is beautifully illustrated in bright colours to attract your attention and hold it there. In each section, you are presented with a full page picture of a scene related to the section topic, which includes pictures of the items you are learning about. The intention here is to get the child more involved by actively searching for the animal/person/object in the picture before saying aloud the Spanish word for it.
The book has six sections - five different areas in which to learn the names and spellings of items in Spanish, and one which is there to aid your pronunciation. It has a full page picture on the left, and a page with smaller pictures on it, which initially tells you the English name for the object, but then when you pull the tab, you are presented with the Spanish terms.
The sections are as follows:
The Farm / La Granja
In the full page picture, the scene is fairly active with numerous animals around the farmhouse and in the fields, as well as farm workers using machinery and tending to crops. On the page to the right, there are twenty individual images of farm-related personnel, animals, buildings and machinery.
The Spanish terms are fairly straightforward, with the exception of "Scarecrow" which is rather long and a bit ominous looking in general.
The Shop / La Tienda
The full page picture for this section depicts a fairly chaotic looking store where milk has been spilt on the floor, posters are a bit skewiff on the walls and children are naughtily picking up sweets while their parents aren't looking. On the second page, the words to learn are mainly food items, with the exception of bag, trolley, cashier and till.
The scariest looking word here is for till - "la caja registradora", but I think this is much easier to grasp than "Scarecrow" as mentioned above.
The Park / El Parque
The full page picture is again very busy, with mothers pushing their babies in prams, dads relaxing with a book on the lawn, and several children carrying out activities such as skipping and skating. The second page has a variety of objects from plants and installations like slides and swings, to birds and roller skates.
In my opinion the most daunting word here is for swings - "los columpios", but that's only in comparison to the other words on the page. I'd say it was quite achievable after a few attempts.
The Town / La Ciudad
The full page picture shows a busy town setting with various vehicles going up and down the roads, people using ATMs, policemen directing people and people working in an office. The objects on the second page included people, buildings and transport.
The most difficult looking word here is for petrol station - "la gasolinera" - I think you'll agree that's not too bad!
The Home / La Casa
The last of the word sections has a full page picture featuring a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom and bedroom, with a mum, dad, son and daughter carrying out various activities in each. Across the page, the words to learn range from members of the family to objects like television, bath and staircase.
The worst looking word here is for fridge, "el frigorifico". Again I don't think it's that bad, but against the other, smaller words, it could be daunting for a little one.
This double page spread has six coloured panels which relate to the different word sections in the book. Each panel is made up of three columns - one with the English words, one with the Spanish spellings, and the last with the Spanish pronunciation.
Depending on the age of the child learning Spanish, it might be wise to help them with reading the pronunciations, as it might seem a bit confusing to have for example "farmer, el granjero, el granHEro" put in front of you. I'd imagine children of about 6 or 7 would maybe understand how to read the pronunciations a bit better, but it all depends on how advanced their reading and understanding of language is.
What age range would benefit from using this book?
As I say, I had this book when I was younger - I'd say around four or five perhaps, and I didn't have much trouble with it at all. I really enjoyed reading it and learning from it with my mum.
At the same time, I believe she was picking up new words by teaching me, and at that point she would have been around 38.
Now, I have a little niece aged 4, and her mum's sister currently lives in Italy with her partner and my niece's two cousins. My niece can already hold short conversations in Italian, so I believe learning the Spanish words from this book would be a complete doddle for her. I'd say she's clever, perhaps not child prodigy status, but able and aware of picking up new skills - so if this sounds like a child you know I think they'd be able to learn from this book too.
Why is this book so useful?
There are a few reasons why I believe this book is so good. First of all, the fact that the pull out tabs have both English and Spanish on them means that the book can be used either for English children learning Spanish, or Spanish children learning English. I'd imagine it would be particularly useful for a family where perhaps your children live with you in England speaking English, yet your brother or sister's children live with them in Spain speaking Spanish. The book easy to use for both purposes and I believe it could help breakdown the language barrier between the children because of the "point-to-the-picture" element.
Secondly, I believe that the full page picture helps the child retain the learned words in their memory. Looking at the pull tab page means they can read the answer straight away, whereas looking at the full page picture to both find and name the item brings a new element of difficulty to test the child.
Another good point is that even though it is a children's book, it would be so simple for an adult to use. It's much more exciting than a regular language book, and you'd pick up these 100 words in no time at all.
My overall opinion
I really recommend this book, because it will really appeal to children with the bright colours and wonderful illustrations, and I don't think they will feel like they are learning, it will seem more like play.
It's so useful to have the pronunciation guide in the back too, as it ensures you are teaching the child how to say the words properly. Also as I mentioned before it is "backwards compatible" if you like, because it can help Spanish children learn English.
On the back of my copy it says the recommended retail price is £5.95, but I don't think we paid that, and this is going back more than a decade! I'd imagine you can get it for a couple of pounds in book stores, but I know for sure you can get a copy identical to mine for just over £2.60. I don't think it's a massive amount for what can be a huge investment for your child's future.
Interested in purchasing the book?
For those of you interested in getting the book either to ease yourself in or for a child, you'll be needing this:
ISBN 0 7498 1272 9
Also published on Ciao