In Which I Discover that Yes, You Can Duolingo Too Hard

Back at the beginning of the year, I started doing Duolingo in Czech, mainly because it was a small thing I could do improve myself in a small way. It’s a low commitment threshold, and I’ve stuck with it every day since. My streak is around 115 now, give or take. I’ve actually branched out into other languages. I started Chinese because I’d never had any experience with a tonal language, and I also wanted to see what a non-European writing system was like. Then I added Swedish, because if I’m going to be in Europe in the future at some point, I might as well have another language under my belt. (Plus, I’m an eighth Swedish!)

I’ve discovered a few things in the process. First off, learning another Germanic language is a lot easier than learning a Slavic one. Second, learning a non-Indo-European language is suuuuper difficult. With Swedish, there are a lot of words that I understand already through German or English. Duolingo does a bad job of explaining the underlying rules behind a language (or rather, it doesn’t explain them at all. It’s all conversational-based), so I’m a bit at sea when it comes to the grammar and conjugation of words, but the rest isn’t that bad so far. But with Chinese, I realized just how big of a head start all my Slovak had given me with Czech. Most of what I learn in Czech is at least somewhat familiar to me. I have no starting point in Chinese.

The tones all sound super similar, and the writing system? I’m lost. Each word has a different sign, so you’re basically memorizing not just the sound it makes, but the way to write it. It’s been tough, but tough in a fun way, because I’m a language nerd.

That’s all prelude to the ultimate reason I’m writing today: all that Duolingo’ing has given my thumb tendonitis. Now, much of that is my own fault. I’m competitive by nature, and Duolingo lets you compete against other players and rank up. I discovered if I did exercises faster, I earned more points. So I did many exercises, and I did them fast. Over. And over. Until I basically gave myself a repetitive stress injury.

I’ve toned it down a few notches now (and I’m using my forefinger to type instead of my thumb), but I’m also going to physical therapy to get my thumb feeling better. (A constant reminder that yes, I’m getting older. You know things are grim when you can’t even type on your phone without hurting yourself, and then it takes weeks of exercises to get back to normal.)

We’ll see if I can avoid adding a fourth language. It’s tempting, but I need to be careful about my left thumb. I don’t think I could handle getting both of them out of commission . . .


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