I have spent more time trying to learn a language than just about anything else in life. And I still suck! But that’s precisely why I’ve always wanted to talk about this. My friends will probably be laughing, the thought of me dishing advice on how to learn a language. Son français est comme un bébé dont les premiers mots ont été “Une bière s’il vous plaît” I find language learning so hard, if we took a list of all the things that I can do, it’s right at the bottom.
Below manners! As anyone who follows me on twitter will know. @SailingOnSound… I have some serious problems with spelling and grammar. On top of that I often say words wrong, and I like, mash up names all the time. My handwriting is unreadable. This brain is just not made for language acquisition, at all. Then additionally I grew up in a very monolingual country, Australia.  So had to do this all as an elderly millennial statesman.
When I first came to Montreal someone said “Bienvenue” to me and I literally said “be a what?”. I still think about that sometimes when I’m trying to fall asleep… and I have to get up… and eat a bunch of toast. Canadians don’t realize that all those classes in schools The way that most packaging is actually a flash card The ridiculously long safety briefings on Air Canada All of this stuff, it really does seep into your head over the decades.
Friends from Ontario are always like “Oh, I don’t know French” but I’ll tell you what “don’t know” really means. Five years ago I didn’t know what S. V. P. meant when it was written on a note. It never occurred to me that “please” would be a phrase. I bought “pamplemousse” once and when I drank it told my friend “Pamplemousse tastes like grapefruit” I didn’t know why someone had written “jambon” on this sign of a man called “Denis”. People would say, well you know the hard thing with French is all those conjugations.
And I would say “What’s a con-juga-tion?” And then they explained it, and I still didn’t know what they meant. So here are my recommendations as someone who started learning a second language in my late twenties from absolutely nothing and have found every single step of this, insanely hard. Options You have about a million ways to start learning a language, but why not start off with the most common beginner mistake. Riding the easy learning train and then, never really getting off it.
I realized the other day. This app in particular, kind of sucks. Dancing characters and exploding coins and follow-up notifications from a sad owls that misses you. Come back. Play with me. Play with me forever. Remember, you gave me audio permissions! I’ve been listening to you. Fun and gamefied and addictive. Which is part of the plan and what they admit to doing, the CEO is quoted in an interview saying. “We prefer to be more on the addictive side than the fast-learning side.
If someone drops out, their rate of learning is zero. ” And that’s totally valid. I mean something is better than nothing “le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. ” Voltaire But, this “active users” philosophy happens to align perfectly with the “active users” goal of this billion dollar unicorn. Back in 2016 a study found that “the majority of apps tend to teach vocabulary units in isolated chunks rather than in relevant contexts” and that only 6% provided corrective feedback for example.
Having used a ton of language apps, this is still a huge issue. But it’s not really Duolingo’s problem. I mean they’ve added resources and things to explain this stuff after that study came out. I mean they’re actually one of the better ones that has a ridgid course structure. But Duolingo’s problem is with their fundamental volume over quality philosophy. How do I say this? Duolingo doesn’t want to be hard. Because people don’t keep doing something everyday if it’s really hard, and if they drop out, they won’t feel like getting back into it if they know that it’s going to be half an hour of really difficult stuff.
Just minutes a day! It’s so easy! You too can speak French With just 15 minutes a day! The linguistic equivalent of this, ripped bod Is not going to come from talking to this green owl for 15 minutes a day about apples. The same study found “many apps tend not to adapt to suit the skill sets of individual learners” And duolingo has this problem, but I think it’s somewhat intentional. Because when you only practice what you don’t know, it’s so much harder.
That’s why you spend so much time on duolingo repeating things that you’ve already done hundreds of times. Most of it is multiple-choice with very obvious answers. You hardly ever see 2 words that could easily be confused with each other, which is exactly the sort of confusion that real life throws at you. So you spend a lot of time kind of mindlessly hitting very obvious answers that you already know. They have an apple She has a dog I have a Hard time believing the research that duolingo has funded, on duolingo.
To top it off, the language course it has, usually isn’t even going to line up with the dialect and accent you actually want to learn. Like the French on here is like “la baguette” French, not “le Pop-tart”. And when I started out learning French I thought, oh bid deal, it’s still French. It’s really not! I am sure other diverse global languages like Spanish and Arabic have the same problem. And it all results in a lot of people arriving at airports having learnt this “Calculated vulgarity of the antics” and then they find out realistically, most of their conversations in life are going to be with people who sound more like this But it’s there, it’s there, but the… fuck guys I’m writing out the subtitles and I have no idea what they’re saying you did So it actually takes, I don’t know, 20% off the top. Which adds up. And even if the dialect is correct. What they prioritize, which seems to be apples, isn’t necessarily what you would prioritize. Une Pomme. Une Pomme. Jesus Christ! Well Duolingo, Comment tu aimes ces pommes là? If you do use it I recommend starting out each session by trying to test out of the level, that will immediately push the difficulty up to as hard as you can make it.
And on the whole “well, it makes you keep at it” thing. The truth is that, over 300 million people have downloaded Duolingo, but they only has about 30 million active users a month. Despite all the fucken bings, “good for you” and dancing jerk-offs most of us can still only tolerate it for a few weeks or so before we stop using it. So let’s have a look at the next level, it’s what I’d call “Hard Learning”. Because for me, when I’m feeling motivated enough to like give something a go, I want to make as much progress as possible.
Now, courses come with their own problems of course. You can drop out, coast, zone out, or get kicked out. They also cost money usually, but not always. If you’re in Montreal for example, they’re effectively free and if you’re born overseas you can even get paid. Some guys I know made this about those so check it out,they’re not crazy. They’re not crazy I don’t know why I said that. Most courses will drive you like sheep through a curriculum that isn’t remotely tailored to you.
Which is b-a-a-a-a-a-d. Like a lot of institutions in education, the techniques and the subject matter are pretty dated. He reads the newspaper She reads the newspaper They read the newspaper. Correct answer? No one reads the newspaper! Update your fucking course material. In one of my French courses I zoned out so many times that I started wondering if I had ADHD, and actually went to a psychologist to check. Diagnosis? Just really bored. This was also the first moment that I noticed one of those advantages that the local Canadians had.
A worksheets would arrive with these conjugation pairings, and the Canadiens would just diligently go in filling in each, like, blank. ils vont elle va il va nous allons And I was like, what the f***? How does everyone… how does everyone know this? The class goes at the speed of the lowest common denominator, which if you’re in my class, c’est moi. Having said that, I think most courses are better than most apps. Because courses like this have one massive advantage.
In Montreal these programs are often 16 hours a week after work. .