Two tongues

I am pretty sure that when you ride your bike abroad, the more languages you speak, the better off you are. During the ten years I rode in Japan, being able to make friends with local riders was the key to taking a great experience and making it unforgettable. Same for the year we lived in Bonn-Bad Godesberg. And it was thanks to German that, this past November, I was able to sniff out the hammer ride in Vienna, get hammered, and make a friend.

I am also pretty sure that almost everyone wants to learn another language. In the EU, 59% of students are learning two or more languages. This is sort of good news if you’re an American traveling in the EU, because 96% of those students are studying English. If they’re not already gone forever, they will be, those days when you could theoretically wind up somewhere in France and not be understood.

Still, everything in the first paragraph holds true. Bikers who speak the language in the country they’re in are going to have more fun than those who don’t. Show me someone who says they don’t want to be able to whip out a little Croatian when they order a sandwich and coffee en route to Crikvenica from Rijeka, and I’ll show you a liar.

But how? Learning languages is hard and takes time. Fake and overpriced programs abound. Charlatans and bad methodology are everywhere. Plus, you are soooo busy because, Facebook.

Here is a tip, if you haven’t heard it already: Try Duolingo. My friend Tara U. suggested it to me, but it took a couple of years for me to actually click on the link. Don’t let it take you that long.

Duolingo has lots of failings. So what? Welcome to life. They are:

  1. Computer AI pronunciation of the target language. Sorry, real German doesn’t sound like that when actual humans speak actual sentences.
  2. Passive learning. Duolingo can’t talk back. Yet …
  3. Sometimes questionable vocabulary. Do we need to learn how to say “The bears eat the potatoes?”
  4. Inordinate emphasis on rote repetition.

But guess what? Duolingo is also pretty awesome. Here’s why:

  1. Inordinate emphasis on rote repetition.
  2. Bite-sized lessons you can actually do day in, day out. I’m on a 29-day streak.
  3. Unimpeachable basic, useful vocabulary.
  4. No grammar clutter. If you have questions about a quiz, there are numerous explanations posted by users. All you do is click on the link.

The best think (letting that typo stand because it’s awesome) about Duolingo, aside from the fact that you will actually use it, is the quiz format. Everything is a problem to solve, and you solve the same problems over and over, which is precisely how you learn to respond to questions and formulate sentences without stumbling, saying “ah, um” or throwing your hands after the first attempt and reverting to English.

Ah, yes, and this one small, wholly insignificant, totally meaningless, completely irrelevant point: It is free.



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6 thoughts on “Two tongues”

  1. I’m glad you’re enjoying duolingo! As you know, I love it and have used it for years learning several languages. I’d also like to point out on the computer/tablet versions there are more features. They have “lessons” explaining things, more formal than the user interactive tips. Personally, I don’t care enough to look much. And there are paragraphs you can translate, from easy to Faust for extra “real life” practice.

    Super fun app (for those who love playing language games.)

    1. Rounding out the package: Skype lessons with professional teachers. No contracts. Competitive pricing. Schedule as it fits your daily calendar. Fantastic Vienna-based German language news and culture podcast. Live radio streams and podcasts from ARD. Radio streams and news podcasts from France. News podcasts from Tenerife covering current events in Spain. RFI with Spanish-language news shorts from around the world, and podcasts from Central/South America/Mexico Japanese news podcasts, seven times daily. RFI podcasts covering China and Taiwan, based in Taipei. … and in Slovak …

  2. I’ve been using Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish before surf trips to Mexico for several years now and found it a great way to start thinking about a language that you may not use very often.

    Last year, I branched out a little bit and started trying to learn Italian to help with our trip to see a couple stages of the Giro de Italia and found it an easy transition. It was possible to learn enough Italian to get around and communicate at a simple level which was perfect and very helpful.

    Learning a new language also helps keeping the grey matter active, which is a huge plus.

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