LINGUIST List 28.2283

Mon May 22 2017

Review: Spanish; Applied Ling; General Ling: Larrañaga (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 21-Dec-2016
From: Joshua Pope <>
Subject: Cuaderno V. Los tiempos de pasado del español
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AUTHOR: María Pilar Larrañaga
TITLE: Cuaderno V. Los tiempos de pasado del español
SUBTITLE: Pretérito perfecto, imperfecto, indefinido y pluscuamperfecto
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Cuadernos de ejercicios para estudiantes de español 05
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Joshua Pope, Doane College

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The primary goal of “Cuaderno V. Los tiempos de pasado del español: Pretérito perfecto, imperfecto, indefinido y pluscuamperfecto” by María Pilar Larrañaga is to provide opportunities for learners of Spanish to practice the numerous forms of the Spanish past tense. In order to do this, Larrañaga provides some brief explanation of how each aspect of past tense has its own function in expressing temporal relationships in the past. She then provides 83 activities, most contextualized, that allow learners to practice their skills.

In the preface, the author defines four different preterites (perfect, imperfect, indefinite and pluperfect)[1] in terms of their temporal representation, their primary uses and their forms. Each of these verb paradigms can also be used with the copular verb “estar” ‘to be’ along with the present participle to represent progressive actions. The author ends the preface by explaining the rules of “El juego de rueda” ‘the wheel game,’ a memorization activity that appears four times through the workbook, meant to provide a gamified way to practice indefinite forms.

The activities presented in this workbook are arranged by difficulty in terms of the Common Reference Levels of the Common European Framework, ranging from A1 (beginning language user) to C1 (proficient language user). There are five sections in the book that align with each level (A1, A2, B1, B2 and C1). In each section, there are brief explanations of uses of the different preterites, followed by numerous activities. The section designed for learners at the A1 level (Activities 1-20) includes two exercises to practice present indicative verb forms and 19 to practice perfect forms. Next, learners at the A2 level (Activities 21-39) practice perfect forms, both simple and progressive, in the first four activities. However, the majority of this section is devoted to indefinite and imperfect preterites practiced separately. In addition to dialogue and paragraph formats, both contextualized and uncontextualized, learners may play the wheel game mentioned above in four activities. In the intermediate level sections (B1 and B2), learners begin to practice distinctions between different preterites. First, Activities 40-59, written for the B1 level, are meant to decide between indefinite and imperfect preterites primarily, although there are a few activities that also incorporate pluperfect as an option. Then, the B2 section (Activities 60-76) continues similar practice, plus an increase in progressive use. While there are brief explanations spread throughout the workbook, this section devotes ample space to explaining points of reference (opening of temporal marker, anterior, posterior to point of reference) in chronological relationship to aspectual selection. Such relationships are frequently signaled using adverbial phrases. There are activities that require learners to select between similar meanings. Additionally, some activities are paired with others to tell similar stories with different temporal reference points. Finally, the C1 section (Activities 77-83) provides a smaller number of chances for advanced learners to practice preterite selections. There is an increased emphasis here on narrations that deviate from linear chronology.

Frequently throughout the text, there are activities whose contexts provide cultural information from the Spanish-speaking world. For example, the author includes short biographies of historical figures, such as Francisco Franco (Activities 54 and 55), and authors like Alejo Carpentier (Activity 44). She also includes recent historical contexts as well. Examples of these include Spain’s economic crisis of 2008 (Activity 14) and the European Union (Activity 25). Spain’s regional diversity is also on display. There are a large number of Basque names, regions and customs referred to in these activities.


In this workbook, Larrañaga sets out to provide brief explanations and ample opportunities for learners to practice forming and distinguishing between different preterites in Spanish. By incorporating more than 80 activities that include at least 10 spaces for verb forms, she achieves this goal. Learners are able to practice forming a wide variety of regular and irregular verb forms in each of the four targeted preterites. In addition, they practice extensively the decision between said preterites, especially in the higher levels when the author provides matched activities, similar in content and structure, meant to allow comparison. The inclusion of an answer key provides immediate feedback. Since this is a workbook and there is the assumption that it is used in partnership with some other type of instruction, any kind of explanation is an unexpected advantage.

The workbook also provides a sequence that addresses the needs of learners of a variety of levels. For learners in the A1 and A2 levels, it only asks them to provide forms of an indicated preterite. It is not until the B1 level that learners are to choose between at least two of the target forms. Even these activities increase in difficulty because they advance from indefinite versus imperfect to also incorporating pluperfect and even progressive forms. Finally, unchronological events in the C1 activities provide a higher level practice to the advanced learners.

Even though the author provides a sensible sequence in terms of difficulty of verb choice, the same is not always true for the context around those verbs. This is particularly true in the A1 section. According to the Council of Europe, learners at the A1 level understand short, simple written texts that contain familiar language (Council of Europe, 2001). According to this definition, learners should not be able to understand some of the context in these activities. For example, Activity 18 includes this language: “Uf, no te quiero meter miedo pero sé que esa tienda ha vendido en los últimos tiempos muchos artículos fabricados en países donde hay explotación infantil.” ‘Uf, I don’t want to scare you but I know that that store has sold in the past many items made in countries where there is child exploitation’ (p. 16; my translation). This phrase does not meet the criteria of being short, simple language. Learners will not know many of these words since a beginning level course is not likely to address child labor.

Related to contexts, the author’s emphasis on Basque names, toponyms and cultural references is a valuable opportunity for learners to be exposed to this region in northern Spain. It helps highlight the cultural and linguistic diversity that exists in the Iberian Peninsula.

While there are numerous advantages for teachers and learners in using this workbook to practice the Spanish past tense, there are issues that need to be addressed that may take focus away from the target grammar. Learners are frequently asked to provide answers that do not relate to the four intended preterites. First, any time an answer involves either “ser” or “estar”, the two verbs that mean ‘to be,’ the activities require the selection of the appropriate word in addition to providing the past form. Even though this selection is difficult for many learners of Spanish and needs practice, its inclusion in this workbook takes learner attention needlessly away from the focus on the preterites. Another example of focus placed outside of the target verb forms is in Activity 64, when learners are directed to use conditional forms that have yet to be mentioned in the book.

Other issues that diminish the efficacy of many activities in this workbook include those related to instructions and typographical errors. At times, activity instructions do not match the activities. For example, in Activities 47 and 50, the instructions give pluperfect as an option in addition to indefinite and imperfect. However, the pluperfect is never needed according to the answer key. Even though this may be a typographical error given that all other activities around these two only ask for indefinite and imperfect, learners will be misled into second guessing their choices when they realize they have not used all options. Conversely, other activities have spaces that require options not given in the instructions. For example, Activity 64 asks for pluperfect and conditional but other forms are required to complete the activity and are listed in the answer key. Many of these problems can be fixed with edits to the instructions. Many learners will also be distracted by other printed errors that include answers given in the activity (Activity 39), misspellings (Activity 46) and inconsistencies in how direct, indirect and reflexive pronouns are represented in the answer key.

This workbook’s consideration of proficiency levels, cultural knowledge and explanations make it an asset. However, while this reviewer recognizes that mistakes are inevitable, the number of tokens is abnormal for a book of this length and decreases its effectiveness.


[1] Frequently, these four past tense forms are typically referred to as the present perfect, imperfect, preterite and pluperfect, respectively. To remain consistent with Larrañaga’s terminology, I use her terms in this review.


Council of Europe. 2001. Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Joshua Pope is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Doane University. His research interests include language learning during study abroad and language pedagogy.

Page Updated: 22-May-2017