Learning Languages

On New Year’s Eve, one of my friends got a message on his watch. He glanced at it and then said, “Oh! Hold on a sec. I’ve gotta go do my French for the day.” A few minutes later, he was back. “I’ve got a Duolingo streak of over 400 days. Don’t want to break it.”

That got me thinking. My friend has no real connection to French (that I know of). He just wants to learn the language. And here I am, 21 years into being married to a Slovak, and I still just speak caveman Slovak. If he can devote 5 minutes a day to French, couldn’t I do the same for Slovak?

Well, not exactly, it turns out. Duolingo doesn’t have Slovak as an option. However, it does have Czech, and another platform (Mondly) has Slovak. Starting January 1st, I started up with both languages, one per platform. I hit a 51 day streak today.

Am I suddenly fluent in both languages? Not hardly, and I’m not entirely sure how much the apps will really help me master either of them. However, do I know more of each language than I did before? Definitely. Doing it every day helps me to be more aware of the language, and the times I’ve heard Denisa talking to her mom or the kids in Slovak have felt noticeably different, as if I’m understanding more of the individual words, instead of just the general meaning.

I don’t feel like either app does a good job (at all) of helping you learn how to speak the language, but they do a passable job of gradually helping you understand it. It’s also a very easy way to make slow but steady progress with something. If I’d been doing this for 21 years, I’m fairly certain my language skills would be in a much better place.

Of course, there’s also a part of me that wonders if this is just a really weak way of feeling like I’m doing something meaningful. That if I really wanted to be serious about the language, then I’d devote a half hour a day to it, or something like that. I do my best not to listen to that part of me, though. Because I already know exactly what happens when I try to follow its advice: I end up doing nothing. And in my experience, something is infinitely better than nothing.

Go figure.

Any of you on Duolingo? Wanna be friends?


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