Spanish as a Second Language: Difficult with Textbooks Published with English Explanations

A few years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn Spanish as a second language in order to be able to speak basic Spanish to be able to speak to resident of the country (very likely México; in the future, Colombia) I would visit. (I am still very much a novice; translating English directly into Spanish leads to bad Spanish.)

However, the books available in the United States largely use English to explain Spanish, a language that has a rhythm and structure that is unlike English. What a book cannot do is replicate an actual conversation, specifically how to respond to another person in grammatically correct and polite Spanish.

So, I decided to stop using all of the English-based Spanish books. I was becoming too confused and distracted from my goal: to learn to speak Spanish so that I could ask for directions, order food, ask for help, make small talk, express a thought, and converse with people whose language is Spanish.

This goal is straightforward; the process of getting to that point is not. Learning to speak without any knowledge of the grammar rules could make one speak gibberish in Spanish (the speaker will be totally unaware, but the hearers will notice immediately); sole focus on grammar prevents a student from learning how to use the language. It is quite a conundrum. A mixture of the two is needed to start; I am thinking that further fluency can be developed by actually using the language and accepting feedback from native speakers.

But I made a decision–to learn Spanish vocabulary, grammar and written composition totally in Spanish. Not saying accomplishing this goal is easy. It will involve work but with a very positive outcome: I will be able to acquire another mode of expression, one I hope to maintain for life. Now, this approach is occurring in writing, my brain and mouth will have to learn how to think and pronounce Spanish. (I can only ask so much from a book, I guess.)

It is said that the ability to learn Spanish totally in Spanish is an advanced skill for an English speaker. But I have found that using English to explain Spanish means that the Spanish is lost in favor of English. This is opposed to my goal, and, thus, I had to let that go. Indeed, yes there is a learning curve as you have to learn Spanish words to read the book, but it is better to learn the words within the context of the Spanish language rather than using English to try to make the transition easier. In the end, it will only be “easier” in the English-speaking United States, not in a Spanish-speaking country.

What I would like to see (and I am most eager to find) the words used most often in Spanish, preferably with the connotations of each of those words explained so that I do not give unintended offense to a Spanish speaker. I have used books published by Sociedad General Española De Libreria, S.A.