THE BRAIN-AS-COMPUTER METAPHOR in language learning

 “If you want to teach a computer to play chess (…) the old model is ok; but if you´re interested in understanding real intelligence, you have to deal with the body” Rolf Pfeifer, director of the artificial intelligence lab at the University of Zurich.

After the modern computer advent in the historical stage and especially after the artificial intelligence development was made known, human brain started to be understood by many as a computer.

As a Spanish teacher, I have seen this premise operating in the way people plan their second language learning schedule.

Here´s one example of the sort of conclusion people reach when it comes to decide how many hours a day of Spanish lessons they should study in order to learn the most:

Let´s say it takes around 5 years at 1 hour a week lesson rate to go from scratch to an advanced level in an immersion situation. That would be 52 hours a year, multiplied by 5 years that´s 260 hours total. So if I took 4 hour lessons per day Monday to Friday, maybe I could go from zero to advanced in these 3 months I have here in Latin America.

This is the kind of erroneous conclusion people come to when thinking of our brains as a computer and the language as a program to be installed in it.

Let´s consider the following FAQ:

– Why is it that I can´t use the verbs correctly when speaking if I can do the grammar excercises in the book with no problem?

– If I understand the rules, why do I keep making mistakes?

– Why do I remember the conjugations when I´m studying the verbs but I keep getting them mixed while speaking?

– Why after going through all the subjunctive rules I still can´t use them.

The answer to these questions is normally the same one: you are going too fast. You are filling your brain with more information than the poor can handle. You are not letting yourself absorb the new knowledge because you are keeping it in your short-term memory to be soon forgotten due to lack of repetition and use.

LEARNING in function of HOURS behaves approximately like a Gaussian bell- shaped curve:

spanish_lessons_buenos_aires_gauss

If you add some class hours, you improve; but if you add too many class hours, you start to get tired, overwhelmed and eventually frustrated by the feeling that you should know more than you actually do.

Of course it also depends: it depends on your mother tongue, on other second languages you speak, if any,  on the time you spend in contact with the target language, on the time you study outside the lesson, on your own research, on your studying methods, on the levels of stress in your life, on your motivation, on your learning pace, and so on.

How many hours a week? There´s no ideal fixed amount. However, I’ve got this to say: don´t forget your brain is a part of your body and, ultimately, as Fernando Savater once said: it´s not only that we have a body but we are a body.

Take care!

ARGENTINE SPANISH DICTIONARY

Languages, like all human products, are subjected to changes overtime. And when a language such as Spanish, in view of its eventful and long history […] has come to be a thousand years there will inevitably be differences manifesting along and across the broad geography in which it settled.

José Luis Moure
University of Buenos Aires – CONICET – Academia Argentina de Letras

Unlike many dictionaries of Argentinismos (that suggest the idea of a fixed inventory of Spanish words to which one could attach an “expansion pack” of Argentinian slang) this dictionary presents Spanish as it was constituted by the Argentine standard. It includes words shared by other Spanish speaker countries excluding those ones exclusive of other dialects. The different meanings of the words are ordered according to the frequency of use in Argentina.

It´s an essential tool for all those who are living here or who would like to adopt our variety. To start using it click on the link below:

ARGENTINE SPANISH DICTIONARY

When language determines human behaviour or on how to avoid waiting too much.

You have certainly heard, read or experienced yourself that if you want to call to have a party at 10, you better tell your Argentinian friends to come a few hours earlier. Although this might be true (here´s a former post on the subject), the worst cases are mostly due to the misuse of the word “fiesta”. Why is that?

Because, although no dictionary would hesitate in translating “party” as “fiesta”, there are certain things implied in “fiesta” that make it different from a “party”.

Spanish_tutor_buenos_aires_cena_tranqui

So lets say you want to plan something with your Argentinian friends on a Friday night, around 9 pm, but you would like to be done at 12 am. In this case, you should invite everyone to a “cena tranqui”. If it were a goodbye party, then it should be “una cena de despedida”. Of course, there should be food since no one would have had dinner by nine but it doesn´t have to be anything very elaborate: some empanadas or pizzas would make everyone happy.

If, instead, you would like to start a little later, sometime around 11 pm, with some drinks, snacks and chill music and you would like it to go on for a few hours then we are talking about a “reunión”. You could also call it a “previa” if the plan were to go to another place later, such as a disco, pub, etc.

Keep the word “fiesta” only for those nights you:

buy lots of drinks and no food; when you are planning to play music you can dance and you are ready to sacrifice your living room to the furious dancers from 12 am until the candles burn out.

Spanish_tutor_buenos_aires_fiesta