Xylophones and zebras part II: learning Spanish

Here’s an example related to my previous post on xylophones and zebras.

I’ve been listening to Spanish With Michel Thomas in my car lately. These CDs are very different than the academic foreign language classes I’ve taken. Thomas emphasizes the regularities, not the exceptions. For example, he may give some rule and explain that around 3,000 words follow the pattern but there are 3 minor exceptions. He says what the exceptions are, but doesn’t dwell on them. In the classes I’ve taken, those 3 exceptions would certainly be on an exam and the 3,000 words that follow the rule would not.

There is a kind of logic to focusing on the exceptions, especially if the purpose is to assign grades rather than to actually teach people to use a foreign language, but it doesn’t build confidence. I feel like Michel Thomas is trying to increase my confidence and get me speaking the language as quickly as possible. That was definitely not the feeling I had when studying French in college.

Related posts:

Xylophones and zebras, parts I and III
Evaluate people at their best or at their worst?
Word frequencies in human and computer languages

3 thoughts on “Xylophones and zebras part II: learning Spanish

  1. I feel the same regarding the press, and with Mathematical Analysis (as opposed to Calculus)…the exception is highlighted and not the real life…a single counterexample does not invalidate the efficacy of a vaccine!

  2. When I took first-year Russian as a freshman, our professor taught us the alphabet on Monday and gave a test — not a quiz — on the alphabet on Friday. She wanted us to quickly overcome the “fear” of believing that the language was more difficult than it was. She also pointed out that most of the exceptions in Russian dealt with scientific achievements made elsewhere for which the Russians wanted to take credit — e.g. television, radio. The Russian pronunciation for these words violated every grammatical rule, but because their pronunciation was similar to English we never had to worry.

Comments are closed.