Learning Languages – One Month Follow-Up

It’s been one month since I started learning Spanish and Hebrew online. So how has the project been going?

Well, the first thing I can say is that I stuck to it! There were some days when I didn’t get to it until late in the evening or after a hard day at work when I was brain-dead, so I chose to do review instead of learning new words, but I did make quite a bit of progress. In Spanish, I went from Level 6 to Level 8 (and like most games, each level requires exponentially more experience than previous levels) and increased my fluency from 20% to 40%. I also completed 10 modules and kept all of my completed modules up-to-date.

Hebrew got off to a rockier start as I felt that I just couldn’t keep up with it on Duolingo; I felt I needed a remedial course to give me vowels. (When I checked back with Duolingo partway through, I did notice that did better with their vowel-less words because I was starting to develop a rhythm with words and I did better at guessing which vowels should be there.) On Memrise, I completed about 4.5 modules and learned 116 words.



Look at all that golden goodness.

I can certainly say that I’m more interested learning languages than I used to be. Duolingo’s golden modules are especially addictive because you can see yourself making progress. And the fact that they occasionally lapse and you have to review them makes sure that you’re not stuffing new material into one side of your brain and having old stuff fall out the other side.

Another benefit to Duolingo over traditional classroom learning (note: I took 3 years of Spanish in high school) is that it doesn’t make a big deal about verb conjugations. Yes, you have to use the correct conjugation, but it’s presented in such a natural way that it seems easy to grasp it. When I was in school, we were forever drawing conjugation trees so we had to conjugate every verb we learned into all of its possible formations. When irregular verbs came along, there was a big deal about how the spelling changed and how careful you had to be to spell it correctly, etc. Duolingo just throws a verb down and that’s it. If a verb is in the “we” that’s all you need to know; there’s no mental recitation of all the other permutations. If it’s spelled one way, it’s spelled that way. There’s no elaborate explanation for why it’s spelled that way and not some other way.


I drew hundreds of these things. In fact, classmates started to borrow my notes because I conjugated everything.

It adheres to what I’ve said before: if you want to learn to be a good writer, read; you learn grammar most by example, rather than by instruction. You will get to the point that something “sounds right” even if you can’t quote the grammatical rule that makes it right. The same thing is true here with Duolingo: when you have a pronoun, you automatically choose the correct verb conjugation because it sounds right.

Memrise isn’t as slick and game-like as Duolingo, and you can only learn words, not grammar, but it does have the advantage of allowing you to create a mnemonic with pictures and/or words, and I found that to be very helpful in getting words to stick in my mind.


876e1b8c8f540c2382df9e56b3fd11fe809b8f9d63cd04e9e3b02d9b7c701a5aScott Young had a post last week about not having too many projects. For the curious and the intellectual, especially, I think there’s a desire to learn all the things! which leads to learning something for a few weeks or maybe even a few months, then switching to something else, then switching again, ad nauseam. You never master (or even come close to mastering) anything because you switch to a new project too quickly. Or you try to take on too many projects all at once, split your focus, and give up on all of them, again, before you’ve mastered any of them.

I once heard a rabbi say that people in a relationship go through two stages: infatuation and love. Infatuation is the rush you feel when you first fall for someone and your whole world revolves around them and everything is great and there’s so much chemistry and it’s just one big high.

Then the chemistry becomes a background noise that you don’t feel so much and you start seeing the flaws in your partner. He farts. She throws her wet towels on the floor. He never shuts the freaking cabinet doors. Her friends act like mean girls in high school, but she insists on inviting them over once a week.

In other words, the new wears off. You’re then left with two options, you can either dump this person because you see now that it will never work, you can dump this person just because you want the high again, or you can actually love the person—the real person, not the newness or the chemistry or the high.

I think projects work the same way: you get excited about doing them, then they start to get hard, then you stop either because they really weren’t the right project for you anyway, or because you’re looking for the high, not the commitment.

When I started, I really wanted to learn Hebrew because I have a religious incentive to do so. But I chose to continue learning Spanish because, well, I had already started it and I kind of hated to see it go to waste. (Also, I probably kept it up because it was easier than the Hebrew, so it allowed me to feel accomplished.)

But even though the project is just “learn languages,” learning two languages at a time is still splitting my focus. In the Spanish course,  I am starting to get beyond what I learned in school and I’m feeling the need to go back and pick up the Memrise companion course so that I can use the “mems” to help me remember some of the harder, less familiar words. In other words, if I’m to continue with the Spanish, I need to put more effort into it.

Up Next?

I think I have to accept that two languages is one too many right now. I will progress faster if I can concentrate all my effort on just one. Hebrew is harder and will take longer to learn, so as much as I want to learn it, I think I’m going to kick it to the curb for the time being. Even though I can make more use of it than I can the Spanish at the moment, I have progressed so much farther in Spanish, I don’t want to give it up.

So my next goal is to get all the way through the Spanish tree on Duolingo (using Memrise as needed to help me learn more difficult words). There are still 43 modules to go (including harder ones, like different tenses), so at my current rate, I’m looking at least 4 months to finish it—probably more like 6+.

After that, it should be a matter of maintaining the Spanish—either by reading in Spanish, watching movies in Spanish, or by conversing with another Spanish speaker—or probably all three. (I might even practice by translating some of my posts into Spanish, but I won’t have any immediate feedback as to correctness.)

Then we’ll see about picking up the Hebrew again. Or maybe something else. In 6 months, who knows what project I’ll be interested in?





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