I START MY MORNING WITH SPANISH

For the past two years, a daily online language class has opened my day. The practice began shortly after the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, where repeated happenstances with our guests from Cuba had me realizing how much of my high school Spanish I’d forgotten.

Well, a lot of my recall also got tangled up in my college French, but that’s another story.

A conversation with my elder daughter, the linguist, convinced me to try a free online refresher course via Duolingo, which some of you probably know of. The high school text I’d carried since 1964 soon went into the trash – it was terribly dated.

So I rise, usually before dawn, brew some full-bodied, fair-trade Cuban-style coffee beans we get at Costco (they’re like espresso but better), and head off to my laptop in the attic for a half-hour of language learning. Let’s say that at that hour, I make a number of stupid mistakes. I’m still groggy.

A few months ago, the powers-that-be behind the free course decided to alter a few things. It’s inevitable when it comes to anything computer, isn’t it? So instead of seeing something like “You are 67% proficient in Spanish” on the home page, they were taking a different tack. Most startling was that my Crown Level had decreased significantly. Look, that was something that would occur if I missed a few days of practice, but I had been faithful. I felt robbed.

That’s when I started thinking about some of the motivating factors the Duolingo brain trust applies.

The first is something they call Lingots – kind of like Monopoly game cash you can hoard, like me, or spend on things like commentary or idioms. If you do 10 uninterrupted days of study, you’re awarded Lingots – one point when you hit the first 10 days, two more at 20, three at 30, and so on. You can also wager some of yours for other accomplishments. Look, it’s stupid but highly addictive, especially when you reach 150 straight days. That’s 15 Lingots, hombre.

The Crowns, meanwhile, are part of a “learning tree” Duolingo has for advancing. When you start a language, you begin by clicking on a little button labeled “basics,” do the required number of lessons within it, and it soon turns color. You earn a Lingot or two and move on to the next, maybe “articles” or “vocabulary.” Eventually, all of them – 30 to 50, maybe? – change color and you go back to raise each of them to the next level.

Or from that point you can simply do a random set of practice questions. Oh, but that option doesn’t win you a lot of Lingots.

What I really want at the moment is to hit a thousand in my account. Hoard them, in fact. Es muy loco, verdad, but it keeps me going.

And then I move on to the latest manuscript in progress or check up here at WordPress. Both in American English.

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4 thoughts on “I START MY MORNING WITH SPANISH

  1. I love the way that the language learning tools show us our different learning styles! I am an oddity in terms of language learning. I almost failed HS French, in spite of tutoring. My teacher told me to drop foreign language after my Jr year. “Not everyone is cut out to learn languages.” Then, in the summer between Jr and Sr year, I did an exchange program to Tunisia, where I spoke French all day for three months. When I came home, that same teacher had to tell me to speak slowly, as she couldn’t keep up. I went on to major in Russian language and become in interpreter. But DuoLingo was NOT for me! In prep for a trip to Italy, my very linear, sequential son did so well with the program that he translated through most of our trip. I got almost nothing out of the same period of studying.

    • What sweet revenge on your high school teacher!
      DuoLingo has its pros and cons. I’ve added a bit of Greek to my routine, just to be able to learn the alphabet. But there’s nothing by way of grammar, and the lack of a Hellenic keyboard means there’s no way to type what I hear.

      • No Hellenic keyboard? I’m surprised. I have done the Russian (I used to be a Russian interpreter) for fun and there was a Cyrillic keyboard. I love languages…..

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