Last year my new year resolution was to learn Spanish. It didn’t work out. I signed up for 10 private lessons in a local language school, doing one or two one hour lessons a week. Although I got on well with the teacher the course was not for me. It was based on Spanish grammar with weekly progression, regardless of whether or not I had understood the previous weeks lesson. The vocabulary to learn seemed to be an outcome of the grammar lesson to be tackled. I gave up after six lessons.
This year’s new year resolution is to learn Spanish. I am well motivated, given that I live most of the time in Spain. My goals are to be able to have a conversation with people I meet in the street and to be able to read the local newspaper. This time I have signed up on DuoLingo. And I love it.
DuoLingo introduces small chicks of grammar and new words at a time. And then you have to practice it endlessly, with short ‘units’ taking around two or three minutes to complete. If you make a mistake you repeat the exercise until you get it right.
One of the criticisms of DuoLingo is it provides little formal help or explanation of grammar. But I find myself more engaged in trying to work out the grammar rather than just reading about it. DuoLingo provides some gamification. XP points which are collected from the completion of each exercise can be exchanged in the ‘store’. This doesn’t greatly interest me, although I will have a go at the ‘flirting in Spanish’ unit that can be unlocked for 30 ‘lingots’ (the DuoLingo ‘currency’). The second gamification feature is ‘sprints’ – the number of days in a row you achieve your personally set target for learning. This is strangely compelling and certainly supports the idea that learning at least a little every day is central to language learning. The third feature is a leader board. There are five levels of leader boards with 50 leaners on each board and a competition lasting a week with relegation for the bottom ten and promotion for the top ten. It is not so much the competition which interest me (although I am surprised how competitive I am) but the visible presence of other people which is most valuable. We know learning is a social activity. We know the advantages of online learning – particularly for me the ability to go at your own pace, to go back to practice and probably most of all the flexibility in when you learn. But learning on your own can be a lonely and dispiriting experience. Just seeing my 50 co-leaners on the leader board and watching their progression breaks that isolation.
I will keep you updated on my progress. But now back to my language learning – I am doing a ‘module’ called school at the moment. Yo quiero estudiar espanol.