We’re constantly being exhorted to exercise our minds as well as our bodies, so when a friend told me a few months ago about Duolingo, “The World’s Best Way to Learn a Language” (according to Duolingo’s website), it sounded like an idea that was perfect for the times. Certainly a much better idea than exercising my body which wasn’t ready for anything as dangerous as say, walking.
So I promptly enrolled in their French course, a language I had once haltingly stammered over 50 years ago, and found myself ensnared in a juggernaut of relentless encouragement.
#110 Relearn a Language
The Duo part of Duolingo, as well as meaning two, is also the website’s green owl, a mascot who keeps urging you on in that intermittent re-inforcement fashion that psychologists have shown to be most effective at keeping people trapped in their addictions.
When you least expect it, he pops up to your right
or to your left,
It’s much more interactive and engaging than the classes I remember at school in the ’60s taught by the rather quiet nun who’d never been within cooee of France, and the rewards (points to amass, promotion to a higher grade, or just flattering encouragement) are frequent enough to satisfy, but inconsistent enough to keep you returning.
Peer pressure works well, too. Other students will often follow you in the hope of being followed back, so you can send and receive congratulations when you both achieve your goals.
But after six months, and having successfully graduated from beginner’s to intermediate classes, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t enjoying it so much any more.
Each day became filled with too many messages urging me to do even better, work even harder, amass more points, and maintain my position. And if I slipped behind, or was about to be overtaken, the messages arrived as relentlessly as those in the opening scenes of Harry Potter, impossible to ignore.
But still they kept coming, reminding me what I’d achieved that week and what I could do the next:
Finally the shaming began. I was going backwards:
Things had to change.
I realised that something I was doing for pleasure, purely to keep my mind active—and to prove that I could almost recognise every fifth word spoken during an SBS French film—was turning into a nightmare. I had no time to sleep, no time to eat, no other enjoyments in life. And as I was never going to stroll along the Seine again on a warm Parisian afternoon, would I ever need to ask directions or enquire as to the cost of croissants?
Enough, I decided!
So I’m back to an enjoyable ten to fifteen minutes revision every day.
Who cares about points and promotions?
Anyway, I have a new love now. A friend introduced me to Quordle, and I think I’m hooked.