Which Type of (Spanish) Language Student are You?

Brian Steel

Copyright © 2003 Brian Steel

Whatever the teaching method used, it is a (sometimes annoying) fact that some people seem to learn foreign languages much more quickly and more efficiently than others: "Type A" students and "Type B" students. Here is a brief presentation of the two types.
(If, after reading this introductory article, you wish to access many Samples of useful information about contemporary Spanish, a further visit to my Spanish website might be interesting and beneficial. You will find it Here.)

"Type A" language students are endowed with the following basic characteristics or abilities:
interest in the target language;
good hearing;
good verbal memory;
acute powers of observation;
an ability to mimic (and a lack of fear of ridicule);
a willingness to make intelligent guesses;
a flexible mental attitude to language.

"Type A" students are quick to identify and register the 'facts' of a foreign language (not only its bare vocabulary, syntax and idioms but its idiosyncratic features, semantics, syntax, and patterns). Such students derive benefit from any oral, aural or visual sources of the target language. They can usually also distinguish between authoritative and up-to-date bilingual and monolingual dictionaries and specialist dictionaries (for example, of synonyms, and, particularly in the case of Spanish, of national regional usage) and other less accurate and up-to-date dictionaries, even if the latter are published and publicised by prominent publishers.

Type A students are quick to observe and note real correspondences between the foreign and the native languages in speech, books, magazines, films, and videos and they quickly become good and accurate translators of meanings rather than just words.

Type B students (who appear to be more numerous) lack some of the above characteristics. They tend to show an inflexible attitude to the target language, expecting it to conform more or less to the syntactical patterns and semantic fields of their native language/mother tongue - in this case, English. They are usually uncomfortable when these patterns do NOT conform to those of English and they frequently misdirect a lot of time and energy wondering or asking themselves or their teachers why a word, idiom or pattern is different from the expected (English) one. Type A students simply note that the difference EXISTS and move on.

Type B students not only suffer from weak linguistic observation but they also tend to be literal in their interpretation of the foreign language and undiscriminating in their use of dictionaries. If for example the dictionary suggests as a translation for "He kept on (doing something)": "Continuaba + gerundio", they are capable of accepting this advice uncritically and producing totally incorrect (but to them logical) sentences like "*Continuaba gerundio estudiando" [* denotes an incorrect version] They may even compound the waste of time by blaming the dictionary when told their version is wrong, instead of listening to (and internalising) the correct versions: "Continuaba estudiando" and even "Siguió estudiando". Or, if "the lowlands" is translated by the same (European?) dictionary as "las tierras bajas de Escocia", then some Type B beginners may mechanically translate "the lowlands of the Amazon Basin" as "*las tierras bajas de Escocia de la cuenca *Amazón".

The difficulty in understanding what is wrong with such usage, even when told, may persist with such students. In fact, whereas Type A students usually grasp a correction the first time, Type B students tend to contribute to their own demoralisation and to prejudice their linguistic progress by sticking to their errors through thick and thin, especially if these are the result of translating or transposing literally from their mother tongue rather than OBSERVING what native speakers do, or checking (carefully) in a reputable dictionary. These common sorts of 'errors by analogy' in translating from or into Spanish are usually termed 'false friends' (to be dealt with in a later article), e.g. 'actually' for 'actualmente' instead of 'currently' (or, in the opposite language direction: 'actualmente' for 'actually', instead of 'en verdad' or 'es que'); 'depender *en algo' instead of 'depender de algo', etc.


Before I lose my linguistically Type B readers, let me hasten to add that, once you can recognise the extra difficulties you are creating for yourself, it is up to YOU to imitate what these lucky Type A students are doing in order to narrow the unfair gap between you and them and to improve your accuracy in Spanish - as well as having MUCH more fun and satisfaction, and fewer hassles learning Spanish - or any other language. No guarantees, but please TRY IT!

An example. By observing real Spanish on videos, films, or in real life situations, Type A students will soon discover that a strong agreement pattern in colloquial Spanish is the machine-gun repetition of "Sí, sí, sí, sí, sí", (note also the negative counterpart "No, no, no, no, no!"), whereas, for the same type of emphasis, Type Bs will tend to say "Ah, sí", with strong unSpanish stress on the "sí", thus transferring a familiar English stress habit into what they think is Spanish. And such habits can quickly become firmly fixed if the speaker does not take on board a teacher's correction. The whole question of stress in Spanish is quite complex yet easy enough when you have OBSERVED what native speakers (and writers) really do. More on a later occasion, maybe.

OK! It's Decision Time! To see if you are basically a linguistic Type A or Type B, complete the following elementary exercise, orally or in writing, in the presence of a Spanish-speaking friend or a teacher. It may be the shortest test you have ever done.

1. Pronounce the following names:
Plácido Domingo. Miguel Induráin. Gabriel García Márquez. Andrés. Vicente.

2. As two Spanish speaker pass in the street, you hear them say to each other:
-Adiós, Juan.  -Adiós, María.
Just that. What have you learnt about Spanish if you have noticed that?

3. Someone knocks at the door: ¡Toc, toc!
-¿Quién es? -Soy yo. -Voy.
What have you learnt from this exchange?

4. -Buenos días, señor. -Buenos días, señora.
This is very basic Spanish usage, but uncommon in everyday English. Explain.

5. Put the following telephone numbers into the Spanish sentence:
Mi número es el ....
2376776; 2543674; 7992626; 4315278; 4792135; 9203581.

How did you divide the number up? What exactly did you say?
Yes, trick question! You have to have heard a Spanish speaker say a telephone number and to have registered and remembered the fact that they tend to break up the long number into pairs of digits, often with an initial SINGLE digit, thus:
Mi número es el dos-treinta y siete- sesenta y siete- setenta y seis (2-37-67-76); ... el dos-cincuenta y cuatro- treinta y seis- setenta y cuatro (2-54-36-74), ... etc.)

6. In what ways are the following different from English sentence patterns and words?
a) Me gusta este libro.  Me duele la cabeza.   No nos conviene su oferta.   Me hace falta dinero.   Me hacen falta 200 pesetas.

b) el coronel; el cocodrilo; Gerardo; Federico; la propiedad; Catalina; el peligro; la escolta; Argelia; temblar; el tesoro.

Now you should know whether you are basically Type A, Type B, or somewhere in between. But there is still a LOT to learn, so I’ll leave you to it! ¡Suerte!

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