Strange vocabulary in beginner levels
I'm just starting to do a beginner level of Spanish, and Duolingo has me learning words like penguin and elephant. I find that silly. I have no use for obscure words like this. As a beginner, don't foresee myself talking about penguins in spanish anytime soon, do you? I wish instead, we were learning nouns that will actually come in handy, like bathroom, airport, ect... Why not teach most used words first?
I think that Duo wants us to pay attention to how to make plurals and use articles in the beginning. Penguin shows that not all vowel combos are pronounce the same way. They have their reasons, I imagine, since they claim to have put a great deal of research, time, and money into this project.
There are a few things in play here
Penguins and elephants are large, unusual and MEMORABLE. That means that the sentences within them are likely to be memorable. "Yo soy un pingüino" is more memorable than "Yo soy un hombre"; therefore it's likely to help your brain hang on to the "Yo soy un-" part more than the "hombre" sentence.
They teach a couple of important points - familiarising learners with the "gü" spelling which they should know but appears in only a few words ("bilingüe", "paragüismo"), and with words ending with -e (of which it's important to meet masculine and feminine examples to set up the idea that these -e words have various genders and must be learnt)
DuoLingo currently produces a 'one size fits all' course rather than customised courses for different groups of users. I have no complaints with this approach, but it means that the course has to appeal to a huge range of users from teenagers to travellers to businessmen to people living in a foreign country. That means that the vocabulary choice will never suit any one particular learner's exact needs but will be necessarily be quite broad.
These words are so similar to the English, it takes virtually no effort to learn them, allowing you to concentrate on developing your skills with the other words and grammar of the sentence.
I always wondered that too. I think a lot of language programs get you started with animals, colors, numbers and other "kindergarten" vocabulary. Don't worry, though! Once you get through these basic lessons and get comfortable with sentence structure and gender, the vocabulary gets more interesting and relevant.
You get to the more important nouns in the corresponding sections. I imagine bathroom as a noun would be in the household section. I haven't completed that section yet, but I am coming across things such as bed, mirror, table etc.
Knowing what animals are in Spanish can be important too. Imagine you're at a safari/zoo in Spain and you wish to know where the elephants or penguins are - knowing these nouns would be helpful then, I imagine.
I am guessing it's based on something, as the animals you learn in the other courses are different.