Getting to 500 Days

DuoLingo 500

Starting a story with today’s date, well, it’s by definition going to date it.  No, no-one is going to guess is this 5 years old on a dead website, or something that you read many moons ago.  You’ll know.  Straight away.  I am sitting here in my office, writing this little missive, on 21st March 2020.  My little boy actually went to bed vaguely on time, falling asleep to my dulcet tones as I read The Gruffalo for the 100th time this week, his Mum slowly drifting off next to him as I kissed them both goodnight.  Spoiler alert, it was Gruffalo Crumble.

But also, today’s date is a bit of a landmark for me.  It’s not frantically exciting, I’m not going to get a medal for it, but I’ve managed to get to a 500-day streak on DuoLingo.  That means that for 500 days straight, without stopping, I’ve been learning a language.  Four actually – Indonesian, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish.  This is where they all are at the moment.

DuoLingo 4 languages

DuoLingo has rings that you have to complete, like a lot of sports apps or anything else like that.  Each ring is a group of lessons, such as History, Verbs, Stories or People, and you can only proceed to the next group of lessons once you’ve completed each ring to level 1.  

I’ve mainly been doing Mandarin Chinese with DuoLingo, as a lot of my websites have suppliers based in China, and I film a lot of Chinese events that happen in Australia, plus there’s a huge Chinese population here, making Mandarin a useful choice.

A few things have helped with learning Mandarin:

– I lived there for 7 months and have a solid grounding in the basics

– I can do tones (yes, some people just can’t seem to be able to get it)

– I speak, read and write Japanese and they share a lot of characters

So.  Imagine a Japanese person learning Chinese, it’s maybe a bit more like that.  I know 2000 Japanese characters, and there’s a lot of overlap with the two languages when it comes to the character side.  Some are totally different – think sidewalk or pavement in US and British English, and some words are quite similar – dien hua is a telephone in Mandarin, and in Japanese it’s denwa.  Things like that are a significant step up, meaning I’m at least not starting from zero.

Indonesian I chiefly learnt in Bali, and I focussed on the rings that would be most useful for my stay there – so ‘clothing’ I ignored, but ‘questions’ and ‘ber-verbs’ got a significant priority.  By the end of my 6 weeks in Indonesia I was able to communicate pretty clearly with taxi drivers and get food orders correct, but as soon as it veered from there I was totally lost.  Basically I could talk for about ten minutes and then started to judder and stop like our old Fort Cortina, and vaguely hope that the person I was talking to could move into English.  Arabic was helpful when filming in Saudi, and I have Spanish family so if I need a day off I switch it to Spanish, which is always helpful to learn.

I do love DuoLingo and will stick to it, and hopefully in 500 days when viruses have gone and we’re a happier world, on 3rd August 2021, I’ll be able to write another blog to say I’ve done 1000 days and I’m much more fluent in all of them.  I’ll English speak good too.

I would say that DuoLingo is useful for vocabulary and reading and writing, but you do need something else to do the speaking and listening.  In my case for Mandarin I’ve been using Pimsleur, and have found it interesting that when it actually comes to talking to someone Chinese, it’s only the stuff from Pimsleur that immediately comes into my head.  I find myself blurting out stuff about Mr Wu very quickly, whereas the DuoLingo stuff is quite archived and comes out about an hour later.  I’d say a combination of the two is the best way to go.

So, I’ll keep going.  Day 501 tomorrow.

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction, than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backwards” – old Chinese proverb