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

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.

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