Credit: GG Photographer Jenny Dimitrialdi

It takes two to Duolingo

By Holly Jennings

Can you actually learn a language from the mean green owl machine?

Just like Gatsby, I am haunted by the green glow; hopes, dreams, a future. Except the green glow is more defined to me – characterised by a sharp beak, luminescent feathers, and an aggressive desire to get me to learn German. My green light is Duo from Duolingo.

I’ve been learning German for more of my life than not, roughly 11 years. I’ve studied it every year at school for seven years and in my first year at University. Despite this, I still can’t speak German fluently. On the new-year-new-me buzz this year, I finally decided to get my arse in gear and become fluent. Here’s how it went.

Week one:

In a single day, I racked up 1,700+ XP on Duolingo. That week, I would dedicate almost 30 minutes a day to my German learning. I am the leader of the Bronze League and my XP total makes up most of the fools lingering behind scores’ combined. Nothing can stop me.

By day four, I was getting sick of my lives running out – the crux of my inability to become fluent in German is understanding the grammar, so a lot of mistakes were made trying to say something like My dog and cat eat, and actually saying something more along the lines of My dog eats my cat. So I did what any reasonable person would and spent an embarrassingly large portion of their SAAS on buying the year-long subscription which gave me unlimited lives.

I worked so hard that I managed to accumulate enough gems to buy an exclusive module: flirting. I can now tell someone that they look like my next boyfriend (although I’m not sure how many men I know that would react well to that sort of factor 50 approach to flirting, but when in Germany…). 

Week three:
Sadly as other pieces of coursework flew in and the sun returned, my dedication to German dropped. Despite my intensive training programme, which truthfully rivalled the intensity of the SAS, I had completely forgotten how to tell someone that their eyes are like the stars: I am furious to have spent my hard-earned gems so naively. Yes, Duolingo was fun, but if I couldn’t remember what I was learning what was the point? Losing faith and getting busy, I lost my streak and German was put on the back burner.

Week six: 

In a whimsical decision spurred on by my overwhelming fear of the post-graduation job market, I considered moving to Berlin next year. This reignited my German fire. I’ve learned that with Duolingo, it’s a great system – I’m slowly learning vocabulary through repetition, but honestly, a lot of the time it’s too easy. When the answers are there for you, only rearranged slightly, it works my problem-solving skills harder than my German.

So the game then became guessing what the sentences mean or guessing how to say the sentences without relying on the word cards Duolingo offers – aka blocking out half the screen till I had formulated my own attempt. 

Bottom line:If you can get past the vaguely threatening owl, Duolingo is great for beginning to learn a language and acting as a refresh for what you might already know. It might not make you fluent but very little can without spending time in the country. I am climbing the leagues, my Duo wears a Champagne Tracksuit (finally, some gems well spent), and Duolingo is actually kind of working. After all, I can now confidently say, Deine Augen sind wie Sterne.


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