A spoon full of sugar….

You know you are a parent when you watch more kids programs than “adult” programs(No, not those kind of adult programs, shame on you.)  That’s ok though.  Some of my favorite movies are considered to be children’s programs.  One classic movie that I have always loved is Mary Poppins.  She is the original Nanny Mcphee (I love that movie too).  Despite Dick Van Dyke’s weird English accent in the movie, her messages stick out today as important for all of us to learn.

The one lesson that Mary Poppins teaches that sticks out to me most is that, “… a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  The point being that even undesirable things, when made to be fun, can become much easier to complete.  Mark Twain’s classic book, Tom Sawyer, Tom learns a very similar concept when he “tricks” the neighbor hood boys to whitewashing the fence for him.  He tricked them into thinking it was a fun desirable thing to do and they happily paid him in childhood trinkets to do it.

Tom made one other observation that has stuck with me since I read it.  He noticed that as soon as something becomes “work” or something you “have to do” it is no longer desirable.  He noted that people would pay good money to get their own team of horses to drive, but hate having to get paid to drive a team horses for work.

So how does this relate to you learning spanish?

Learning anything new, especially another language, needs to be enjoyable.  As soon as the joy is gone, then you might as well schedule the date that you are going to give up, because it is not far away.  If you ever notice that you are turning on that spanish podcast or language course only because you “have” to do it, then you have now set yourself up for failure.

This is where I found myself recently.   I have enjoyed many of my courses and I enjoy feeling more confident in my ability to express myself in Spanish.  Yes, I still make heaps of mistakes and I will probably continue to do so, but I normally wake up excited to see how much I can learn about spanish.  That said,  FSI Spanish started to make me feel like I was in a rut.

To most people FSI Spanish can be dull.  It starts with a conversation by actors who are obviously just reading out their lines.  Then it is followed up by several drills.  I can see how that would be boring for many people.  However, for me it has been great.  I don’t care if they are inflecting their voices, in fact it makes imitating them easier.  FSI, for me, has always been an Output based activity.  Maybe drills can be boring for some, but the challenge of having a barrage of phrases thrown out at me and I have to respond accordingly is fun for me.  That was up untill recently.

Being that I already had a bit of Spanish under my belt, when I started FSI the first few units were not that difficult. I mastered them within a two or three days.  Recently, however, the lessons have become much more difficult and the most recent unit that I started is still not mastered after a little more than two weeks of practicing.

So what did you do?

The result has actually turned into a positive thing.  I mentioned in my post on PspanishX, if you ever feel unmotivated, take a day off and change your routine.  So I did.  I often read the web about Spanish related things, and I recently found a review about a set of language courses by Paul Nobel.

Paul Nobel has one of those “unique” experiences of never being able to learn a language and then suddenly finding the “secret” to all language learning.  Blah blah blah and  yadda yadda yadda now he has this special course that makes all other courses irrelevant.  Anyway, I recently had got a hold of a copy of his spanish program (his home based courses are only offered in Spanish, French and Italian, for now at least) and decided that this was as good as time as any to see what this course was like.

After going through the normal introduction and expectations, Paul’s course started off by asking, do you know how to say “I have” in spanish.  This made me relieved.  The good output based courses emphasize speaking first and then playing the correct audio of a native speaker afterwards to judge yourself against them.  If they do not emphasize speaking first, then the course is not a good output based program and will either be better classified as an input style course, or will just be plan useless.

The shocking thing occurred after I spoke what I thought the answer should be:  tengo.  To my surprise the spanish speaker recited back “he!”  What?  I don’t know that word.  It quickly became clear that Paul’s course starts where no other spanish course starts, the past perfect(or present perfect I am not good with grammar names).  I double checked and yes I was still on CD 1 and this really was the first lesson. Paul Nobel’s program, interestingly enough, does not start in the present tense like every other program out there.   How strange, yet this is exactly what I needed!  I had learned the present tense so much, I think I was getting ready to throw up!

So does Paul Nobel’s Spanish course make the grade?

Yes, it most definitely does.  After one lesson, I officially put it in my system.  As I already said, it is a speak first, listen second program.  It does not make you speak beyond what is already taught so it is a structured program.  Therefore I classify it has an Output/Yin style program.

There is also one other change I have made to my system in regards to FSI.  No I haven’t gotten rid of it.  I still like it, but in hind sight I have not been using it in a way that, I feel, is effective.  Like I mentioned earlier, each unit can be subdivided into two parts: The Conversation and the drills.  Together, they cause the unit feel really long, which makes it difficult to get through.  From now on I will be separating the conversation part from the rest of the drills.  I will essentially be treating the Conversation as a separate activity from the drills.  This breaks up the unit and keeps me from feeling I am in a rut.

Changes are inevitable, but that’s ok.  I used to use Anki, a spaced repetition program.  Why?  Because every other language learning blog out there advocates its use.  After a month, I soon realized that I didn’t enjoy it and have stopped using it.  Maybe I might try it again, but for now I don’t use it.  The important thing is that you keep your focus on what you are really trying to do.  Don’t become married to one language technique over another.  Above all, if you ever notice that language learning is no longer fun, then that is your fault and you need to do something about it now. If you make those changes as you need them, then you are setting yourself up for success.


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Filed under Motivation, spanish, Ways to learn

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