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Review of UC Davis Basic Spanish Vocabulary Specialization on Coursera

This academic specialization in Spanish for beginners aims to offer a comprehensive, rigorous, and holistic entry point to the language. Read my review to see if it might be a good fit for you.

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Coursera Professional Certificate – UC Davis Basic Spanish Vocabulary Specialization: Our Verdict (2023)

Course Rating

4.3 / 5

The UC Davis "Learn Spanish - Basic Spanish Vocabulary" Specialization on Coursera is a rigorous beginner-level course taught by Dr. Robert Blake, a Spanish Linguistics professor. It offers an academic learning approach focusing on grammar, cultural insights, and practical uses of the language. The course includes real tests and reviews graded as you progress through the activities, ending with a final project you must create to complete the learning path. The course provides a clear and cohesive learning experience that needs to be followed with commitment and rigor.


  • Taught by a professor in Spanish linguistics from UC Davis
  • Learning method with rigorous pedagogical structure
  • Good balance between grammatical structures and applied knowledge
  • Real testing and grading
  • The final assessment is a project


  • Considerable commitment to complete the course
  • Lacking in flexibility

Time-limited offer
$100 USD off your first year of Coursera Plus Annual (expires 1 April 2024)

Coursera is one of the most prestigious educational platforms online, offering courses, specializations, and degrees in many disciplines from leading universities worldwide. At the end of the courses, you can get a certificate issued by Coursera and the host University that offers the course. One of Coursera’s Specializations is “Learn Spanish: Basic Spanish Vocabulary,” a beginner Spanish course offered by the University of California Davis and taught in English by Dr. Robert Blake. In this review, we’ll have a closer look at what this program has to offer those looking to learn Spanish – read on to see if it might be a good fit for your learning needs!

Table of Contents

This Spanish learning program follows a formal structure shared across all Coursera courses, which resembles going to class, listening to a teacher, doing assessments, and being graded. This is a great option for learners who want to engage rigorously and intensively in learning Spanish.

The program is taught by Dr. Robert Blake, a professor of Spanish linguistics at UC Davis and director of the Davis Language Center. In 2004, he joined the North American Academic of the Spanish Language and the Royal Spanish Academy.

Providing an overview of the key characteristics of the course
Here you can see broadly the characteristics of the course

How does the program work?

Every course has an outstanding and clear structure of pedagogical elements, such as videos, texts, activities, assessments, quizzes, and reviews. This gives you concise information about how to use the platform and the order of activities you need to follow to learn effectively. Each course is divided into modules that take 3 to 4 hours to complete. Every module has different activities you must follow in a single linear path. Different from other online language-learning services or apps, where you can jump across topics, levels of difficulties, or sessions, this course is designed as a progressive learning path that guides you from one activity to the next. Although this gives less flexibility, it might be the best option to approach learning Spanish comprehensively, coherently, and cohesively.

Visualizing the modules of the Specialization along with their respective durations
Here, you can see the modules of the Specialization with their corresponding durations.

Learning activities inside modules are varied and target the development of all linguistic skills you must have to become fluent in the language (speaking, reading, and listening). In this course, only watching videos or linking images to concepts becomes secondary, so you must be actively engaged and committed to completing all activities to progress along your learning path.

Every module starts with an introductory video where Dr. Blake describes the goals and general prospects of the sessions. It is followed by videos and readings introducing new vocabulary and concludes with quizzes and reviews. Then, you proceed to grammar activities that follow similar activities from the first part. Later you continue to a set of activities called “Perspectivas”. Here, you will be introduced to videos about cultural aspects of Spanish-speaking countries, focusing on daily-life activities, popular places, or daily life situations that you might encounter in Spanish-speaking contexts.

A snapshot of a grammar video, showcasing its visual elements and style
This is what a grammar video looks like.

Reading activities are not part of the platform itself, but rather, they are embedded through a hyperlink that will take you to another service called ICultura. Here, you will have an interactive space that resembles another kind of language learning service. In this platform, you will be guided through different activities where you will read instructions, match words with pictures, fill in blanks with concepts, or associate words with meanings. This complements the teaching videos greatly as it gives you a more holistic and entertaining way of making new associations between words, images, and meanings.

Displaying a selection of reading activities available in ICultura
Displaying a selection of reading activities available in ICultura
These are some of the reading activities you can find in ICultura.

Other activities in Coursera’s platform include discussion prompts, where you will be asked to describe situations from your experience, such as where you live or what you like to do. This comes after watching a previous video where a native speaker exemplified how to talk about a certain topic.

Dr. Blake introducing different perspectives on discussing illness in the section titled 'Perspectivas
Here Dr. Blake is introducing ways to talk about illness in the section called “Perspectivas”.
Following an introduction to discussing a specific topic, students are prompted to apply their learned knowledge in Spanish
After being introduced to ways to talk about a specific topic, you will be asked to do the same, using the knowledge in Spanish you already have learned.

How is the course graded?

Coursera’s grading system is quite similar to those of other academic institutions. Every module has a final test that you need to pass with over 80% of correct answers. This means that, in order to progress to the next module, you need to show that you effectively learned the topics of the module. This will ensure you a thorough understanding of new information and your skill development.

Tests are often composed of multiple-choice and filling-the-blank questions. Coursera takes the testing very seriously, and you need to agree on the Coursera Honor Code before submitting your answers. This academic policy and code of conduct assures Coursera that you are aware of and follow standards that keep the integrity of learning when undertaking Coursera platform experiences. In other words, if you submit work that is not yours, you might face the permanent failure of the course and the deactivation of your account.

Illustrating the format of multiple-choice questions in final reviews
This is what multiple-choice questions in final reviews look like.

After you complete all the activities, reviews, and assessments and present your final project, you will be graded and receive a certificate from Coursera and the corresponding University that you can use to add to your professional profile and CV. This might be one of the main advantages of taking this Spanish course if compared to other online services, as it will grant you proof that you can effectively use Spanish for your professional or educational activities.


This course offers a 7-day free trial that grants you unlimited access to all courses in the Specialization. You can cancel anytime without penalties if you do it before the free trial ends. After this, you can continue the course by paying $59 monthly for Coursera Plus or $49 for only the individual course.

What are the pros and cons of this course?


  • Course taught by a professor in Spanish linguistics from UCA Davis: Blake is a Spanish linguist who dedicates his life to the research and teaching of the language.
  • Learning method with rigorous pedagogical structure: The specialization is an academic course that follows the learning method, assessment, and grading system.
  • Good balance between grammatical structures and applied knowledge: The course focuses on in-depth knowledge and practical use of the language.
  • Real testing and grading: The specialization works as an academic course. If you don’t pass the exams, you can’t complete it.
  • The final assessment is a project: In order to finish the course, you will be asked to make a final project where you will use all the knowledge you learned.


  • It might require a lot of commitment to complete the course: Being an academic course can be a double-edged sword. Although it can offer a rigorous learning experience, it can take you a lot of time and concentration in order to achieve learning goals.
  • There’s not much flexibility: The course’s learning path is linear without the possibility of combining learning difficulties.

What is the best audience for this course?

This Learn Spanish Specialization is very clear about the targeted audiences. It is designed for beginners who want to have a comprehensive, rigorous, and holistic entrance to the Spanish Language. However, I would say that since this is a more academic Spanish course, intermediate learners can benefit from it, and more if they are coming from more informal ways of learning. The requirement of passing tests and doing a lot of writing can be beneficial even if the basic knowledge is already learned.

My overall recommendation

UCA Davis Specialization “Learn Spanish: Basic Spanish Vocabulary,” offered through Coursera, is a great course with relevant knowledge of the language’s structures and practical uses with in-depth explanations and the possibility of being graded and certified by a real university. This is a great option for those Spanish learners urged to feel that they are being taught in a structural and scheduled way. This can be a great option for those learners who struggle to find motivation to invest time and concentration in learning Spanish.

Time-limited offer
$100 USD off your first year of Coursera Plus Annual (expires 1 April 2024)