Learning languages – 4

I’ve previously posted, under the tag ‘language’, about my latest adventure in attempting to learn a new language. My main tool is the free online application Duolingo which is similar to other online tools, but a bit more oriented to “fun” to try to keep you motivated. So now I want to report some progress.

I’ve now managed to do 213 consecutive days of meeting my daily goal (three lessons). I’ve usually gone far beyond that (that goal would take about 15 minutes) and have averaged more like 14 lessons in my main language (Spanish) and then playing around a bit in other languages. Altogether I am probably spending at least an hour a day on Spanish and a half hour on the for-fun stuff.

So all that has given me 837 crowns (a Duolingo award for advancing through a level in a particular set of drills, known as ‘skills’ (there are 150 of these in the Spanish course). Of these only 270 are for Spanish so all the rest come from “playing”. That said, I decided to go ahead and start the so-called “reverse tree”, that is learning English from Spanish which actually puts some pressure on how well I’ve learning Spanish from my native English. Interestingly the English from Spanish is much easier than the Spanish from English.

But also strangely I finally have my first “golden owl”, that is the award for “completing” an entire course (AKA tree). I’ve done that in my worst language, i.e. German. But with German, a language I don’t particularly like, I have really done the minimum. The first level of each skill (which you must reach, at minimum, in order to “complete” a tree) is actually just introducing you to new material so those questions are both easy and “cheats” (hints, i.e. hover over a word and you get the translation). I always thought Level 1 was too easy so initially I was trying to reach Level 3, at minimum (in Spanish I go through all five levels, plus a lot of repeated drills, since I’m serious about learning that). After a while it got hard to reach Level 3, in German, since I really hadn’t done enough serious study on earlier lessons and therefore wasn’t retaining much, so I just decided to blast through at Level 1 and finish the tree (all the “gamification” Duolingo does to create incentive to keep going does work on me a bit).

Anyway on one hand my record is a big success at this. I’ve stuck with it, I’ve definitely learned a lot (including some just casual learning in French and Portuguese, as interesting contrast to Spanish, given a historical common origin). So Duolingo’s approach has worked for me.

But at the same time I’m disappointed. I’ve found some sample tests online for the levels of CERF, a standard for European language learning level. I’d hoped I was beyond the lowest level A1-1 and well into A1-2 and headed to A2-1 but doing the sample tests it’s unlikely I could pass A1-1 (yet). That’s pretty basic beginner. So one hand I’d failed at learning any Spanish in several previous tries so I’m pleased I now know some but then it also seems like I have such a long way to go.

I’m keeping my own detailed records in an application I wrote for myself to plan how (and which and when) to repeat drills. If you don’t go back and repeat old stuff you’re just going to forget things. In that app, now that I have 83 days of actual data in it, I also coded a simulation. That showed me at my current pace I’ll finish the Duolingo Spanish tree sometime in 2021! Ugh, too slow. And that would only, at most, put me at the A2-2 level (and that’s unlikely). So over another year and I’m still just a beginner.

And to top that off, while I get some practice at hearing Spanish (still very hard for me, but better than it was when I started) I’m essentially getting zero practice speaking. So a conversation would be a long way off for me and that’s actually my goal – to go to Spain (or possibly Ecuador) and get outside the tourist areas where I could get by with English and actually manage my travel needs in Spanish (ordering food, lodging, transportation, getting information).

So despite a sense of progress I also have this nagging notion that I’m advancing way too slowly. There is a known effect in learning a language of “fatigue” with too much study so just increasing my hours per day (I have the time but it would be hard to do more) isn’t the answer. I am working on trying to read simple stories which is quite different than the Duolingo exercises but I think I still need more. Thus far the code I’ve written for “drill” applications (glorified flashcards) hasn’t really worked.

So in short, I’ll keep doing what I have been doing but I need more.

btw: I have also investigated real F2F courses, not just online stuff. Some, with the immersion approach, but also in a Spanish speaking country make a lot of sense but it’s unlikely I’d be able to do these (for reasons more complicated than I want to share here). But I do believe that as helpful as online learning is (any course, including the more expensive paid ones) it’s just not enough.

About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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