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Review of Gramática para la composición

posted September 1st, 2010

Gramática para la composición. 2nd edn. By M. Stanley Whitley and Luis González. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2007. Pp. 436. ISBN 9781589011717. $64.95.

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, Sabanci University Writing Center, Turkey

This comprehensive text is an invaluable contribution to materials for the teaching of Spanish at upper-intermediate and advanced levels. Informed by the proficiency guidelines of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, this text supports students as they move from merely knowing about the language to having the ability to spontaneously use and manipulate the language for various communicative purposes. The text is accompanied by a detailed teacher’s manual and supplementary exercises for self-directed student learning (which are both available for download free on-line). The teacher’s manual contains assistance with the broader goals of syllabus organization and the details of lesson planning as well as suggestions for additional activities for each unit and guidelines for correction and dictionary use. This highly practical, well-planned bonus will doubtlessly be of great use to instructors.

The text comprises seven chapters. The first six are dedicated to rhetorical discourse styles (e.g. description, narration, argumentation) and the final (shorter) chapter offers instruction on the use of abbreviations, verb declination with the pronoun vosotros ‘yourselves, you’, and derivation, followed by exercises in word morphology.

Each chapter moves from a focus on word- and sentence-level grammar (for which practice is provided through simple fill-in-the-blank and manipulation exercises), to guided discourse-level exercises (e.g. cued paragraph writing and discourse manipulation exercises such as changing perspective, analysis of model texts, guided self-expression, and independent essay writing). Many of the word- and sentence-level activities can be assigned for homework as reinforcement for the discourse-level exercises. As preparation for the independent composition exercise, each chapter concludes with text analysis exercises that use a model text (often taken from a newspaper) and a student’s composition. These model texts are less than a page in length and are well chosen to serve as examples of a particular rhetorical style.

The text ends with a series of appendices. The first two consist of a list of words and expressions commonly confused by English speakers (e.g. parecer, aparecer, and comparecer, which might all be translated by the word appear; or asistir and atender, which both equate to attend), which are clearly presented with examples and explanations. Following this list, the student is provided with simple fill-in-the-blank exercises to practice the meaning and use of these distinctions. The final two appendices offer a summary of verb conjugation and a bilingual glossary of linguistic terms, with a reference to where each term is found. The explanations of grammar and word use include a system of crossreferencing throughout the book, which facilitate review through revisiting appropriate sections of the text.

The emphasis on text analysis and text production constitutes a practical, skill-oriented framework to promote the mastery of grammatical structures. This textbook is highly recommended: it will be used with pleasure by students and teachers alike.