If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, why not try learning a new language? Since late 2014, I’ve been using Duolingo to teach myself new languages. Learning a new language not only helps when you’re travelling, but it unlocks different ways of forming thoughts in your brain, helping cognitive development (I may have made up that last part with absolutely no basis except my own speculation.)
The first language I tried to study using Duolingo was Spanish, mainly because back then we had an upcoming trip to Europe (including Barcelona) planned in 2015 so the Spanish would have helped. The Philippines also has a lot of history with the Spanish, so there’s a lot of words I could pick up easily. I figured there’s no reason to make things too difficult right?
I didn’t finish the course before our trip, there was far too much content! At some point during the following year (2016), I did manage to complete all of the available Spanish courses though, so yay! The most challenging part was understanding the use of reflexive pronouns like
me, since using them changed the structure of sentences. I also had to adjust to male/female words, and the vast number of verb tenses. But otherwise, Spanish wasn’t too tough. At some point, Duolingo claimed that I was “50% fluent” in Spanish, but that seems ridiculous lol. This statistic no longer appears after a recent revamp, so they probably realised that too. I don’t consider myself anywhere near fluent, but I know enough Spanish to recognize a few words here and there when watching the Spanish scenes in Better Call Saul, so that’s a thing. Listening to spoken Spanish is much tougher than reading words off a screen. I suppose if I want to further my mastery of the language, I would need to listen to more Spanish convos or read more Spanish prose or such, but for now I’m happy with continuing the Duolingo lessons. They have since revamped the course and introduced more exercises, so there’s still quite a bit to learn.
Sometime in 2017, I also decided to add a second language to my daily Duolingo exercises. Hard mode this time, I chose Japanese. The main reason being I’m a bit of a weeb lol. Japanese is a lot more challenging than Spanish because in addition to learning a whole new vocabulary and sentence structure, I have to learn new characters as well! I actually gave studying hiragana/katakana a go back in high school, when a friend and I tried learning Japanese to decipher some Japanese RPGs (maybe I’ll write about that someday). Whatever I learned there has largely faded though, but I did retain some minimum vocabulary from all those years of exposure to anime. It’s still very challenging - even up to now I’m still in the introductory sections learning hiragana and simple sentences, I find myself having to repeat lessons and exercises often and even up to now I’m still not super familiar with many of the hiragana characters. I should probably be doing some writing exercises as well (which Duolingo doesn’t provide) - the mechanical act of drawing the characters should help with recall - but I’ve been too lazy to get into that.
Duolingo is free to use. That of course means there’s stuff like ads and in-app purchases, which might annoy you if you dislike that kind of thing. I dislike them too, but I can kind of tolerate them I guess. The in-app purchases don’t really have any effect on what I want to be doing with the app anyway. Completing the lessons also earns you some in-game currency which you can use to unlock some extra lessons/exercises. I’ve never had to use them though, so I still have a ton of the in-app currency.
Duolingo has that nice feature where it tracks when you’re doing the exercises on a regular daily basis and tracks your “streak”, which is psychologically very effective on me. I often hold the streaks for months and then I accidentally break the streak for some silly reason like being too busy with work, then I’m sad and annoyed and I leave Duolingo alone for a couple of weeks so I can move on. Then I start over. I’m currently at an 86-day streak again. Duolingo is a rare example of a new thing I’ve managed to stick with for a long time.
One weird thing about Duolingo is that although it offers lessons/exercises on different platforms - web, mobile, tablet - the method of delivery is not consistent across all platforms. Web is more limited obviously, since they often won’t have access to a microphone. But I don’t understand why their mobile and tablet (IPad) versions aren’t consistent. The main inconsistency is the way they track in-app “experience”. The mobile version gives a “streak bonus” for maintaining a streak, while the IPad and web versions do not, so you can earn more experience when using the mobile version. It doesn’t really matter to me - my daily targets are set such that I always need to do two sets per day (one Spanish and one Japanese), but I find it mildly annoying.
All in all Duolingo provides a positive experience, and I’ll probably be using it for yearrs to come. I don’t really have any specific goals for why I’m learning Spanish and Japanese, both just seem like really good languages to know, or at least be able to partially understand. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try to add a third language some day lol.