Duolingo Strategy

Some time between the time Arlene & I went to Costa Rica (on a Caravan tour, in 2010) and to Guatemala (another Caravan tour, in 2015) I started studying Spanish on a website called Duolingo. Actually, Duolingo kept track of me; it says I started in September, 2014. I got surprisingly far by the Guatemala trip.

Example Spanish Duolingo exercise. “Would you like chocolate or strawberry ice cream?” “Chocolate. Nobody likes strawberry ice cream.”

As soon as Duolingo came out with a Chinese course, I started that; I had studied Chinese at work at Dragon, but forgot most of it. I’ve gone through the Chinese course on four times, and still can’t read very many characters, but they don’t look like chicken tracks.

Duolingo has silly sentences on purpose!

By now I am doing eight languages: besides Spanish and Chinese, there are Japanese, Russian, French, German, Dutch, and Swedish. Here for the record are the stories: I studied French for four years in high school and was able to read real French literature by the time I graduated. I was badly in need of a review when I started the Duolingo course. I studied German for one year in college and read lots of math papers and a book or two in German when I was in graduate school, but needed a review, even more than French. I studied Dutch by myself for a couple of weeks before my bicycle trip in Europe after my sophomore year of college, just because the trip was going to end in Holland, and got to the point that I could walk into a store and ask for 200 grams of Gouda cheese in Dutch — but the shopkeeper loved that I tried. Before our trip to South Africa in 2017 I thought that Afrikaans is a lot like Dutch, and it might be worthwhile to try to learn a little more, so I worked on the Duolingo course (which is a lot of fun, I think because the people who developed the course just didn’t take themselves so seriously as some of the other developers. It has lots of sentences like “Don’t pull the rhinoceros’s tail!). Also, the Dutch word for ‘shopping cart’ is ‘winkelwagen’ How can you not enjoy a course where you learn that? I didn’t use the Dutch one bit in South Africa, but did read signs in Dutch in the museums in Amsterdam on the way home. Where was I now? Russian — Arlene and I spent a week in Moscow and some time in Saint Petersburg in 1998, while Anne was living in Moscow, and then I went to Armenia the next year (where Russian is the second language, because it was part of the Soviet Union before 1989). I had tried to learn Russian in graduate school, when a Russian professor gave an informal class for math grad students, and didn’t get very far at all, but remembered some phrases, and had learned the alphabet. When we were in Moscow I got good at saying “good morning” and “good evening” appropriately, and heard the “Caution! The doors are closing!” warning on the metro at every station. I could just about read the names of the stations on the metro while going down the escalator (so as to know whether to turn right or left for the platform going the direction we needed to go) but it was an effort. When I was in Armenia the next year, all the signs were in the Armenian alphabet and also Cyrillic, and I forgot that I didn’t know Cyrillic that well and just read it effortlessly. Also, Anne was talking Russian to our drivers and I was listening and I got so I could understand a little. But mostly, there are a lot of Russian immigrants in Newton, so it’s a little useful here.

Russian example. On the iPad it automatically switches keyboards so you type the Russian answer on a cyrillic keyboard.

That leaves Japanese and Swedish. The electronics company I worked for in the ’80s sent me to Germany for a week on about four days notice, and I was glad I knew some German; but when I got back I thought, this company does a lot of business with Japan, so it would be a good idea to learn some Japanese. I didn’t really do anything about it, and they did send me to Japan, and I was completely at a loss; so I took a Japanese class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education after I came back, and learned enough that I was able to navigate a department store, read station signs on the Tokyo subway, and ask for directions; but I wanted to learn more of it, so, Japanese on Duolingo. Swedish was just because Arlene wanted to watch “Beartown” on HBO, and I thought a little work on Swedish in Duo would be a plus. I didn’t get beyond recognizing three or four words in the dialog, but that’s OK.

Oh, we did go walking at Nahanton Park again today, and saw our first-of-year tree swallows.

Published by deanb

male born 1944 mathematician by training, software engineer by profession; retired since Labor Day 2013 birder, cyclist, unicyclist, eraser carver, knitter when possible

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  1. Your ability to hold all those in your head is what amazes me. I took French in high school and had picked up some Spanish where I worked so long with a majority Hispanic student body. I’m doing well refreshing and adding to those. I recently added Irish and I’m finding that tough. And holding it in my head is a challenge.

  2. I have always been amazed at the way bilingual people can switch languages instantly. I’ve watched myself as I switch in Duolingo, and it takes me a bit of time but I’ve gotten better at it. I can get confused between German, Dutch, and Swedish, which have a lot in common, but most of the time I can keep ’em straight. My daughter recommended going through all the levels of each lesson in a row rather than going through a course on level 1 all the way to the end. I think that’s better for me in Russian and Japanese, which I find much harder than the others (yes, even than Chinese — don’t know why that should be)

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