The Chaotic Way To Learn Languages: My Experience

Tuesday, April 28

By Sophie Byrne

Do you ever wake up one day thinking: wow! It sure would be cool to speak another language!

No? Just me?

Well, coming from a home with little change to spare but motivation a-plenty, I decided to learn - not just one - but several languages. 

I knew what I was getting into with Duolingo from online posts about its 'pushy' notifications. However, it certainly delivered results. My motivation was fueled by streaks, XP rankings, a green owl who'd guilt trip me into doing my daily lessons. The content wouldn't plunge you into the deep end, wish you luck and leave you. At best it would plunge you in the deep end with a pool noodle and, if you're lucky, some swimming goggles. Even so, I survived the wrath of the owl long enough to be able to say I could visit Japan and confidently tell people 'excuse me, I am an apple'. 

While there is something strangely intimidating and threatening about the Duolingo owl, despite its delightful design, most of the content it feeds you are essential little nuggets of language. Other times, the content is unexplainable. It's been three weeks and I'm still trying to figure out the situation in which 'I am an apple' would become useful. The app is a staple for any independent language learner when learning basic vocabulary. Though, it would be in your best interest to find a different source to teach you foreign grammar. The owl can only do so much; he doesn't play around. 

Memrise will certainly stay in my memory. It adopts a much more wholesome, immersive take on language learning. This app takes you by the hand, sits you down and goes through each sentence slowly. "Bu...on...gior...no". Each lesson is interspersed with clips of native speakers to exercise your listening skills. If you're not completely intimidated by their flawless and seemingly effortless pronunciation, good job! You're already doing better than me!

If you're learning a language which uses letters outside the english lexicon - such as Japanese - do not worry. Memrise has you covered with its very own writing practice! Sure, it may be messy and close to impossible to draw, but it's better than having the eyes of the judgemental owl watching your every move. 

I used Linguitive when on my journey to learn a wider range of Italian. I saw hope for this app; I saw something new; I saw something unique. When I opened it, I saw a glorified dictionary. However, they say you shouldn't judge books - well, online books - by their cover. This online dictionary could speak. While it helped with pronunciation, accent and listening, it was almost as if they had closed their eyes and picked up an Italian dictionary and hoped for the best. So, if you like reading dictionaries, I believe Linguitive is your 'risposta'

Overall my advice to you independent language learners out there is: it's not easy. Doable? Sure. Easy? No. No language is easy. There will be times when your parents walk into your room and you're rocking back and forth whispering 'una mela' under your breath repeatedly as if possessed by a hungry Italian. I cannot tell you about the sense of accomplishment and pride you feel when you progress, though. No amount of description can encapsulate such a sense of euphoria. With that in mind, I wish you all the best on your linguistic adventure. Good luck and ciao!

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