What Happens After 200 Days On Duolingo
Can You Learn a Language with the Popular App?
Duolingo is the free science-based language education platform that has organically become the most popular way to learn languages online — official website
The app offers a wide range of lessons packed in fun games, competitions, and challenges.
Gamification of learning is perfect for our ADHD minds. You’re exposed to so much information daily; the idea of education becomes obscure. Tackling one task at the time is already challenging enough. It’s easy to fall down the spiral of wrong decitions and exhaust your wits before lunchtime. You might have zero will to learn a new skill. It might be even more true when that skill doesn’t bring monetary benefit.
Learning a new language demands a great deal of work and time. The whole culture of specific customs and behaviors is strung through unique words and syntax.
I started my experiment 200 days ago. My goal was to practice a new language every day, using the most popular language-learning app.
The language; Chinese.
I’m still questioning my decision. Maybe it was a mistake. The language I’ve chosen is not a walk in the park. I should’ve picked something with more flow, like Portuguese.
I moved to China recently and Chinese made sense. I’m there, and I might as well learn the language. Right?
Chinese is difficult for European learners, even though we’ve all been language students our whole lives.
The app boasts about the possibility of learning the language with least effort.
“15 minute a day can teach you a language. What can 15 minute of Instagram do?”
I decided to test the offer.
I’m fluent in three languages, and I can understand the basics of most European languages. (Not counting Finish and Hungarian. You guys are a different story). Part of this rose from my constant travels. I’ve been to most EU countries before turning 25. And I love coming back to certain places. I’ve visited Berlin, London, and Amsterdam more times than I can count. I’ve lived in Spain. Ordering a Kebab in German or small-talks in Spanish become a fun way to stroll the streets.
“Ein Kebab bitte, mit Käse und alles.”
This is as far as my German goes. Now, I can’t say I’m good at learning new languages. Some people get syntax and semantics in a hearth beat, and they excel with their accents. I’m more of a vocabulary guy. I can tell you 20 different synonyms for the adjective ‘most’. And I can confuse the native speakers with their own language using the wrong accent.
“What, you want an apple?”
When it come to language, I’m a slow learner. And I always try to hack the grammar by using my ear.
Does it sound right? It doesn’t, does it?
I wouldn’t recommend this approach to anyone.
I moved to China odd eight months ago. I’ve seen this as a perfect opportunity to learn the language. Chinese is one of the hardest in the world. China is enjoying staggering economic development and the population that’s oblivious to English. I concluded that knowing Chinese will come in handy one day.
I’m also a fan of daily habits, and I figured that I have plenty of time to learn.
I started a daily DuoLingo challenge. I aimed at the highest goal in the app — 50exp each day. That roughly translates to four in-game lessons. Each one can be anywhere from 3 to 10minutes.
I choose to listen to the app’s advice to say out loud every phrase in the lesson.
The other part of the challenge was to try to use new words whenever possible. I started boasting new phrases in the office and replying in Chinese to taxi drivers.
Most times, I’d get a confused face and an I-hope-it’s-not’-a-question laugh.
My biggest problem with Chinese is that it’s a tone language. This means that it has one word for many different objects, feelings, and places. My vocabulary skills were out of the window.
Chinese writer Yuen Ren Chao compiled a whole essay using only one syllable — shi. The story hints at the distinct complexity of the language. The premise speaks about a Lion eating poet that lived in the stone house. One day he decided to go out and hunt. He managed to slay 10 lions and bring them him back. When he tried to eat the lions, he realized they’re made of stone.
Only one syllable. Crazy.
Tone skills are not exactly what you might learn on Duo lingo. Most times, it’s hard to hear yourself and position the tongue according to the tone rules. Simplified Chinese has 4 different tones.
My goal was to learn how to communicate in Chinese. I wasn’t aiming at deep conversations about feelings and the universe. I knew that mastering a language needs years of practice. The thing I wanted to do is communicate about the weather and understand when someone asks me where am I going.
First 200 days
Chinese business culture is notorious for preposterously long meetings. They love to have a meeting after a meeting and conclude the day with another jolly gathering. Sometimes they last three to four hours. My company mandates my presence at every single one. Spoken language; Chinese. Even when they’re having online talks, they want me to be present. It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the single word said.
I try to focus on the positives. I had plenty of time to absorb how they speak and formulate the sentences. Maybe after a while, like in the movie The 13th Warrior, I’ll comment with a sophisticated point. My comment will throw everyone in awe. That moment is yet to arrive. Most people speak in their own accent, and It’s hard to pick up on what’s being said. Sometimes I have a translator. It helps to pick up on the basics of the meetings, but it doesn’t
I hope daily use of Duolingo might produce a Chinese speaker sooner than later. I’d also interact with natives on every occasion.
I gave myself one year. In this period I should be able to learn the basics.
I still follow the same regime. I practice and play word games for 15–30 minutes a day and then step out in the world of monoglots.
What can I say in understandable Chinese after more than 6 months?
I can thank the check-out lady and greet my colleagues with a good morning. I can also ask about the price of stuff. “Duo Shao?” Everything else, it’s a slippery slope. I know the phrases, but most locals don’t seem to understand when I speak due to messy intonation.
Can DuoLingo teach you a language?
“You can learn as much in 34 hours of DuoLingo as in one semester of university language classes. — Duolingo.“
With specific languages, it might hold true. But when it comes to Chinese, I beg to differ. I love the idea. DuoLingo is a fun app to practice and develop daily habits. Gamification of learning works. I love the idea of ‘15minutes-a-day’ challenge. This timeframe doesn’t take much of your day. You don’t have to plan in advance. You can do it first thing in the morning, during the toilet break, or before falling asleep. It’s available anytime, anywhere.
However, the app lacks writing and oral practice. Chinese uses a unique character system. No one is exactly sure how many characters are out there. The largest Chinese dictionary Zhonghuai Zihai contains 85 568 unique characteristics. The good news is that if you know 2000 relevant characters, you’ve got most of your Chinese covered. Even 1000 characters can give you a fair understanding of the Chinese world.
Somehow, it’s easier to read Chinese than speak or listen. The characters can give you a hint in what direction you should think. Some are easily understandable, like the ones below.
To make things official, you shoul have a language certificate. The most recognized proficiency test is HSK. You should aim at HSK4 or above to test your everyday Chinese. The test should verify your ability to hold conversations in a range of subjects. It’s like IELTS and TOEFEL for the English language. HSK4 should be the first step to proving fluency. There is a total of 1,200 words from HSK1 to HSK4 and 1,064 different characters. There is a total of 6 HSK levels.
Can you achieve this level of this proficiency by using Duolingo?
Duolingo doesn’t offer writing practice for any of the 1,064 characters. It doesn’t even explain the rules of Chinese calligraphy. Also, the app doesn’t let you practice interactions and dialogs. It offers a set of different games that come down to repeating words and phrases.
The positive side. Duolingo is excellent for building vocabulary. Unfortunately, vocabulary won’t help you that much with learning tone languages. vocabulary might come in handy with Spanish, English and French.
With everything said, I love Duolingo, and I’m not planning to stop using the app any time soon. Maybe never. I love the simplicity of its design. The best things in life are simple.
But I can’t bank on the app to teach me whole languages. It’s more of a daily reminder of the bigger picture. Eventually, somewhere down the road I’ll learn Chinese.
Can you learn a language with Duolingo? Absolutely not.
Should you try regardless? Yes, yes, and yes.
To truly master a language, you’ll need a set of specific circumstances. It’s impossible to understand any language without reading, watching, and interacting with the culture. The language doesn’t come to life from school benches. You’ll need to immerse yourself in the movies, series, books, and engage people. This is something the app can’t offer right now.