student life

4 Lessons from a 400-Day Streak on a Language Learning App

Me gusta aprender y siempre estoy tratando.

Duolingo is an app for learning new languages. I recently hit a 400-day streak milestone and spent much of that time studying Spanish.

I took some Spanish in high school, and have listened to some formal lectures since then, so Duolingo started as a practice platform for me rather than a brand-new-introduction. I’ve found it to be an easy & accessible way to learn, so I wanted to showcase it here. Not all reflections concern language learning specifically, so prepare for some self-aggrandizing pontification about grand themes of life.

1. It is possible to create positive new habits.

I am a busy person. I’m sure you are too. And I’ve seen so much stuff on the internet encouraging me to add even more on my schedule – meditate each morning! start a morning routine! go for a jog every day! build your own buddha bowls to save money & calories!

And maybe I add one to my list. Or all of them. And that lasts about 4.8 seconds.

So when I started out with Duolingo’s daily-practice challenge, I set myself a low bar and established a 5-minute/day goal. Even that had a rocky start, but eventually, Duo became one of the first things I grab my phone for in the morning and a new daily habit had been established.

So, it provided some encouragement. If I am looking to add a few habits to my life – whether they’re focused on financial, health, or lifelong-learning goals – it’s ok to start small. And messing up along the way isn’t the end of the world.

2. I have to engage if I want results.

That said, a mindless morning habit isn’t going to teach me anything. After the daily habit has been established, I have to actually engage if I expect to learn anything.

So I’ve tried playing with the story feature, or listening to podcasts. I tried picking up a book in the language. Didn’t last long. But I tried. Maybe I should try it again, now that I’m working my way towards that “level 2 on all levels” badge . . . Honestly, the most everyday Spanish I have in my life right now comes in the form of Shakira, Demi Lovato, and the Bieberless Despacito version (there’s also a salsa version!!).

Learning isn’t a passive activity. I have to find something to push myself if I want it to stick.

3. I need structure. Even just the appearance of it.

I wasn’t far in Duolingo’s lessons before realizing I was grateful for some formal training beforehand. After a brief stint with Duo’s French course, I realized picking up that language would probably require a formal introduction to (at the very least) the French use of vowels.

Even in the midst of uncertainty, having some sort of background – some sort of structure to work with – provides context. It feels like a roadmap in the wilderness. Maybe I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I am in relation to this uniquely-shaped tree.

4. Languages are windows into other cultures and it has never been easier to catch a glimpse of that.

Learning a new language opens up entire worlds, provides a window into other cultures, and has the potential to connect me to new people and relationships. And thanks to technology, it has never been easier to get access to learning. I may never become fluent in Spanish, but I just may learn enough to better appreciate the language’s appearance in art, music, and literature. And possibly, learn enough to wish you a good day.

2 comments

  1. Yes to number four! I have a unique situation where I’m half Chinese but I have no idea how to read it. Once I’d begun learning the language however, I realise I’ve begun seeing where my friends are coming from, with their specific nuances and figures of speech. Loved this. Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your new language!

    Liked by 2 people

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