Lingua franca et japonica

Being of the luddite bent, I use my phone for talking, sms-ing, and listening to a few podcasts. That’s it. I am not interested in “smart” phones. They are usually much more breakable than the old ones, and I also have a tendency to drop things. A while ago I managed to create a very artistic spiderweb pattern on the glass. While beautiful, it made that phone unusable. My daughter had an archived old iPhone 4S that works, so a nice budget solution for me. Thank you! 🙂 Not fond of that fruity ecosystem, but then I do not use the ecosystem much as I mostly make phone calls and sms. I miss AntennaPod. Phones are expensive, I do not want to spend more than necessary on them.

However, I have installed an app that I really enjoy very much: DuoLingo. It teaches language with a bit of gamification. Learning and practicing by reading, listening and a bit of occasional “writing”. It has quite many languages to start from, but not Swedish (too small customer base, I guess), so I use English as the “base” language. It might make learning slightly slower, but I am not sure about that. If you do not have a reasonable grasp of one of the starting languages, then DuoLingo is not usable, obviously. It keeps track of progress and also indicates that one might need to practice some earlier stage again. It is very well done in my opinion. It does remind me of self-study courses of old where you had books and tapes, but DuoLingo is much more convenient and fun, and probably more efficient. What is lacking is serious speaking and writing practice. I guess it is also a good way to get a taste of languages one might know very little of. I am not going to explain in detail how it works, as it is free (“freemium”) to try and use.

I use DuoLingo to wake up two for me very rusty languages; French and Japanese. My learning of them was rather different from each other, but for both it is many years back, and I have never been fluent in any of them. It is not languages one is exposed to every day, compared to English, so they lay fallow in some far corners of the brain. When I started a few weeks ago, it felt like I had forgotten everything. But the brain is like a gigantic system of roads, some are kept in nice shape (well…), others are not used and start to get potholes, overgrown or eroded. In some cases they are lost to entropy, or being rerouted, or replaced by newer, faster tracks. It first felt like those old roads were too fragmented, but after practicing a little most days, I am surprised how things occasionally just come out “automatically”, as if I unconciously made an archeological find of my old connections. But exercises need to be repeated. Repetition cleans the roads, makes them better and stronger. DuoLingo really taps into brain plasticity. It just feels good to do this often. It is even a bit confidence-elevating, as, while I’ll never be back to old capacity, it shows my brain is still capable of some resurrecting. Anyway, DuoLingo is a start, it’s not a complete language program (in the analogue sense). I read a tip from a user that once one has mastered the exercises of say English to German, one can start with trying to go from German to English. Quite nifty, I’d say.

Speaking of brain plasticity, I do recommend the book Soft-wired by Michael Merzenich. I read it last year, been thinking of writing a review of it, but that is probably not going to happen. It is aimed at a lay audience, so it is readable. It’s message is positive.

One more thing: It is quite surprising that I can do a few exercises in French and then switch to Japanese, or vice versa, and it is not confusing at all. Granted, the two languages are completely different, so totally different road networks are activated. Entering a language is a bit like entering a world, maybe especially when the writing system is totally different.

DuoLingo is not free software, and unless you pay a subscription, there are ads. Connection to server is needed. But there is really no personal info gathered, afaik. I do not have much info on my phone anyway.

ps. The title is language mix and dad joke quality, I know :p


  1. That is a very cool app, I have noticed it from time to time 🙂

    Thank you for the review, I might just go get it myself, then!

    My Samsung is a very sturdy phone; it can survive being thrown into a washing machine and a concrete mixer thing too (seriously). I really like it 🙂

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