The Best Spanish Book for Beginners? [A Review of Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish]

Learning a new language requires a lot of hard work and consistent effort. Listening to native speakers, sounding out words and practicing your pronunciation, studying vocabulary. There are a lot of moving pieces that require attention.

Fortunately, there are also some amazing resources out there to help you improve.

One such resource that should be in every Spanish student’s library: Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish.

This is my favorite book for Spanish beginners. Margarita Madrigal wrote this book in the 1950s and it’s still an incredible resource today. 

Margarita Madrigal: The Language Legend

Margarita Madrigal was a Costa Rican American author and language teacher. Her teaching was so effective and received so much acclaim that she went on to instruct famous authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. She later was employed as a tutor for the FBI, The Rockefeller Institute, Time Life International, and other important political and military figures of her time.

Margarita Madrigal was undoubtedly one of the best language teachers of all time, and her books remain popular to this day. Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish remains one of the best Spanish books for beginners.

A “Start With What You Know” Approach

What sets this book apart from others is the strategy it uses to teach you Spanish. The concepts in the book are so easy to digest, even if you’re just getting started because the author has put a ton of thought into how to get beginners to grasp the basics in a short amount of time. She focuses on cognates that will help you learn hundreds if not thousands of words in literally minutes. 

Cognates are words that have the same linguistic root, and often (but not always) have the same meaning. For example, a hospital. It means just what it looks like, and has the same origins.

If you are a beginner at Spanish, let me tell you right now you already know hundreds of words in Spanish. Do any of these sound familiar to you? Like, popular, capital, animal, hotel, radio, conductor, probable, cable. These are all cognates; the words are the same in both languages.

The English Advantage

Using words that you already know puts you at a huge advantage as an English speaker learning Spanish. The author, Margarita Madrigal, knew this and decided to use this as an important element to help get you to speak Spanish quickly. This method gives you tools to learn a ton of new vocabulary right from the get-go with super easy to grasp techniques.

Usually, words that end in -tion in English end in -ción in Spanish. For example, Action/Acción, Temptation/Tentación. It is easy.

Now the book says it’s “A Creative And Proven Approach,” and that’s because it truly is; the author was one of the best language teachers of her time. The FBI even hired her to teach their agents how to learn Spanish. Now that’s pretty awesome!

A Logical Way to Learn Spanish

Another important concept the book highlights is that beginners shouldn’t be learning the present tense first in Spanish. You should focus on the past and the future tense because that’s what you use most of the time when you’re talking to somebody. 

For example:

  1. What did you do today? (past)
  2. What are you going to do? (future)

Taking this approach allows you to start using Spanish right away. Also, the author introduces new vocabulary and sentence structures simultaneously. So, as you learn the new vocabulary, you’re also learning tons of new sentences that you can use just by switching out a word or two here and there in Spanish.

Learn Grammar the Easy Way

The book also does an excellent job of helping you understand how Spanish works when it comes to verb conjugation. When you are new to Spanish, this is a super important concept as it makes everything that comes later on so much easier. When you understand that verbs change according to who you’re talking about, everything begins to fall into place. You’ll also learn how to translate sentences between English and Spanish in a logical way. The pronunciation guide is excellent too.

Spanish is a phonetic language, so once you understand how the different letters are pronounced, it’s effortless to read a word the correct way. Now, it might seem a little ambitious to believe that you can learn proper pronunciation from a book but the author does a great job of laying out how to pronounce the language. Once you understand how to pronounce the letters in the alphabet, you’ll know how to say the words that you’re reading in Spanish.

A Great Tool for Your Spanish Journey

I used to carry this book around with me everywhere. I would read lessons whenever I had free time, reading the sentences, and saying them out loud. It helped me get a solid foundation for Spanish early on, so I highly recommended this book if you’re new to Spanish.

Learning the Spanish language doesn’t just happen in a day or so. It takes a lot of patience and hard work. But, by using the right tools and learning a few tips and tricks, you’ll be much better positioned to succeed.  

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