¿Puede usted ayudarme? A Hispanic customer surprised me with this question one day. My eyes popped out of my head. True, I recently took Spanish That Works , an eight-week course designed to help librarians learn basic Spanish. But could I put to use what I studied in class to assist this lady right away?
Nervously, I introduced myself to her in Spanish. Then, the No hablo mucho español I barely remembered from Mr. Orozco came in handy.
After that eye-opening day, I made up my mind that I need más Spanish to better communicate with Hispanic patrons. Fortunately, the Kansas City Public Library provides a wide variety of Spanish-learning resources in book, CD, DVD, and electronic formats. On this Cinco de Mayo , why not take your first steps toward learning Spanish – or if you’ve already studied it, brushing up?
My criteria for choosing language-learning materials are: conversational focus, practicality, and audio quality. These beginning-level books offer vocabulary, phrases, and sentences that will get you started conversing in Spanish in no time.
Speak in a Week! See, Hear, Say & Learn Spanish, Week One  by Donald S. Rivera
The popular Speak in a Week series is an enjoyable learning tool. The series has four portable mini-books (Weeks 1-4) accompanied by excellent audio CDs. The eight-lesson books offer basic sentences often used in conversations to make small talk. Each lesson contains 10 sentences in Spanish and English. What I like about this series is its colorful illustrations, extensive glossary, and useful reference section at the end of each book. My favorite phrase from Speak in a Week? ¿Qué pasó? (“What’s up?”)
Spanish for Gringos, Level 1: Shortcuts, Tips, and Secrets to Successful Learning  by William C. Harvey
This book, which comes with three CDs, turns tiresome language learning and typical grammar drills into exciting, real-life conversations. The 10 chapters feature vocabulary and phrases in Spanish that can be used in any situation. I like all 10 chapters in this book, but “One-a-Day One-Liners,” “How’s the Weather? (¿Qué tiempo hace?),” and “I’m Hungry (Tengo hambre)” are quite useful whenever I want to impress my Spanish friends. The author provides “Hot Tips!” notes throughout the book explaining grammar rules and correct pronunciation.
Your First 100 Words in Spanish: Spanish for Total Beginners Through Puzzles and Games  by Lydia Goldsmith
Vocabulary is essential in achieving language fluency. Who says adult learners don’t need games and puzzles? The activities in this book (matching game, fill in the blank, word scramble, and crossword) are designed to build up your vocabulary. The new words learned from each lesson are included in the flash card section at the end of the book. This book comes with a very high-quality CD with a native-speaker’s voice.
Global Access Spanish Basic Conversation  by Penton Overseas
The Library’s OverDrive digital collection  offers many audiobooks and e-books for learning a language. Even though Global Access Spanish Basic Conversation is designed specifically for those who plan to travel to Spanish-speaking countries, it is also suitable for beginning and intermediate Spanish learners who just want to master basic phrases in Spanish for everyday usage. The lessons include learning alphabets, numbers, months, and dates. Many chapters in this book (“Shopping,” “At the Hotel,” and “At the Restaurant”) can be applied in actual, social situations. This well-designed language course is divided into four parts that can be downloaded into four CDs or a portable device. Learn how to do this from here.
Whether you have friends, customers, or co-workers who speak Spanish, now’s the time to check out some language books from the Library and get busy. Determination, confidence, and a lot of practice will make you a successful language learner.You never know – you may even be rewarded with a dinner invitation to your friend’s home. ¡Buena suerte, mis amigos!
About the Author
Sukalaya Kenworthy is a senior library assistant and ESL instructor at the Westport Branch. Interested in learning English as a second language? The ESL class meets the first and fourth Wednesday of the month at 4:00 p.m. For more information, e-mail Sukalaya  or call 816.701.3488.