Duolingo Challenge | Learning Polish in 90 Days

If you have been a long-time reader of my posts, you may have seen a post a while back that talks about a free language-learning app called Duolingo. I have always loved using Duolingo as a supplement to my language-learning. Never have I used it to learn a language on its own. That’s why I decided to challenge myself to learn a language from scratch ONLY using Duolingo. That means no help from others, no using forvo for pronunciation, no YouTube videos on Polish lessons, absolutely nothing except the Duolingo Polish course itself.

I have completed two trees on Duolingo so far: French and Portuguese. I was taking classes in conjunction with using the app on my own, so by the time I finished both trees, the lessons were more of a review. What I learned in class was more advanced than what I had learned with the app. Even so, I thought it was great for reinforcing some of the content that I learned in class.

The reason why I decided to do this challenge is because I’m genuinely curious as to how much of a language I can learn with only using Duolingo. I don’t expect to be conversational by the end of the challenge, maybe just have basic knowledge. Since the Polish tree is large, I don’t expect to finish all the lessons in 90 days, if I’m properly pacing myself and making sure that I understand what I am learning.

WHY POLISH?

I probably should have done this challenge with a language that is closer to the languages I speak, but I wouldn’t have had enough motivation to push me to keep learning the language after a while. I’ve been wanting to study Polish for a long time for a few reasons, but one of the most compelling reasons is because of my grandma. She was born in the U.S. but I was told that she spoke Polish at home as a kid. It has been a while since she has used it, I only hear her use some words here and there, but I would like to surprise her by speaking some Polish to her. Like I said, I don’t expect to have an entire conversation with her beyond something very basic. I’m just looking to surprise her!

If you want to follow my Polish language journey, you can check out the first video of my challenge here:

I would also be thrilled if you would join me in my challenge! You don’t have to study Polish, but any language you would like to from scratch. I would love to see how far you could get in 90 days from just using Duolingo. It would be especially interesting to see the comparison at the end if others are studying other languages! If you’re interested in joining me, please leave a comment letting me know either below or on this forum!

Use Simple Language

Many years ago, I was talking to somebody that I had just met, and they asked me if I was from Scranton. This was the first time I was asked a question so specific to where I lived that I was caught off guard. I told the woman that I was from the area and asked how she knew. You have an accent, she told me.

What? I thought I spoke standard English just like anyone else in the area! There wasn’t anything in my speech that made me think that I sounded like I was from a specific area. When people think of American accents, they usually refer to the South, New York, or New England. Who knew that even in the little region where you grew up, your accent could be seen as different? There is much diversity within American English, but that doesn’t just apply to how we sound when we speak.

I have interacted with a variety of language exchange partners from many different places. Not all language exchanges give you the same experience, and not all language exchanges will go smoothly. However, if you are looking to make the experience less stressful for both parties, I would suggest using simple language.

I naturally don’t use complicated language and I don’t see why it needs to be used in everyday situations, like some people use it. If I can get my point across concisely without having to repeat myself or clarify what I was saying, then I can continue to say even more things. I have found this to be very helpful as a language exchange partner, because most of the time, my partners will understand what I am saying, even if they don’t consider themselves “fluent” in English. Being able to understand the conversation will make them more motivated to continue speaking to you and you will be able to have more fluid conversations.

I have been told that I enunciate in English. That can contribute to a better and easier language exchange, but I would highly suggest trying to use language that is simpler and more natural, rather than what you are reading in your textbook. However, I would not use language that is so simple that it is insulting. So try it out! See what happens when you speak to somebody using most of the vocabulary that they’ll probably know!

Language Event Planning

Have you ever held yourself back from a great opportunity because of fear? Have you ever thought about how your life would be different if you had taken that leap of faith? Do your dreams tend to stay inside your head?

I have wanted to try out every career at some point in my life, ranging from singing to being a chemist to being an archaeologist. Coming into college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my future. I knew that Spanish would be one of my majors, but I was unsure of what I would combine it with. Business had crossed my mind, but after taking a look at the list of classes that were required, I shied away from it. The same thing happened my freshman year with Computer Science. I had taken a class that I really enjoyed and did well in. It made me consider majoring in the subject, but when I took a look at the list of required courses and saw that a lot of math was involved, I became intimidated and backed down. Life today could have been different if I had taken a step forward in faith.

What happens when you do take that step? 

Since my four years in college, I have studied abroad in two different countries, traveled around Europe, learned how to speak three romance languages, and most recently, I planned a language-learning event at my school.

I work at the Language Resource Center and wanted to do something to get our name out there, as well as engage the campus in language-learning and community-building outside of the classroom. That was when I came up with the idea of Mini Language Workshops, by students, for students. Each week, students at the college had the opportunity to learn the basics in a different language for an hour. The workshops were ran by 11 different students who either spoke that language natively or were advanced speakers of the language. Below, you can see the product of the language workshops:

For English subtitles, click the “CC” button.

You too can help plan events to help make your school a more multilingual place. Just take that leap of faith and start a meetup group or your own language workshops. Who knows, maybe you will start a new tradition!

Direct Objects in Spanish

Hello everyone! If you have been keeping up with my YouTube channel, you would have seen that I’ve been making more videos about the Spanish language. This video series stems from questions that I get frequently asked by students that I have tutored. Direct and indirect objects can be tricky in Spanish, considering they are formed differently than they are in English. For those of you who aren’t familiar with grammatical concepts, you may not know what a direct and indirect object are.

direct object can roughly be translated to “it” in an English sentence, making the sentence shorter.

Ex. I bought it.

The direct object is the thing that you bought. What was it? Was it a ball? A dog? A plane ticket?

In Spanish, nouns have gender. Therefore, for the equivalent to “it” in Spanish, you will have four options: lo, la, los, las. Depending on what your object is, you will choose the direct object that agrees with the gender and number. For example, “flowers” in Spanish is “las flores.” Since the noun is plural and has a feminine article, you will use las as your direct object.

Direct objects are typically placed before a conjugated verb or after an infinitive. However, there are instances where it gets or can get placed after a conjugated verb (if it is in the -ing form or if it’s a command).

Ex. Los quiero. I want them.

Quiero comprarla. I want to buy it.

Tómalo. Take it.

That’s pretty much it! There is a little more I can say on where to put them, as well as using me and te as direct objects, but what you see here are the basics. Once you get the pattern down of which direct object to use and where to put it, you will be able to easily form shorter sentences!

Fluency: Do You Need to Go Abroad?

Interpreting the meaning of the word fluent is like trying to interpret art. Everyone has their own definition of what they think being fluent in a language is. You may look at a painting and think one thing, but the person next to you may see something else. The same thing goes for people’s expectations of your “fluency” in a language. When people ask me if I’m fluent in a language, I usually ask them what their definition is first. Two responses I have gotten are: “If you don’t make any mistakes and speak like a native” and “If you can say whatever you want to without having to think much”.

Unfortunately, a lot of people fall under the first category. In my experience, those are the people who usually say that a person isn’t fluent in a language until they go abroad; that going abroad will automatically make them fluent. Sometimes, going abroad isn’t even enough. I still encounter people who say that I am almost fluent in a language, whatever that means! Although I usually answer people based on their definition of fluency, there are two ways I determine if I am fluent in a language: 1. I ask a trusted native speaker that I know will not say that I’m fluent just to be nice. 2. My goal is to be conversational (talking about a wide range of topics that I’d normally talk about), so if I can talk about subjects that come up in daily life that aren’t super complicated or that I’m not interested in (ex. politics), I am happy with where I am. This means that you don’t have to speak perfectly nor do you need to sound like a native, although you should work on your accent as much as possible.

Not everyone shares my definition of fluency or goal in learning a foreign language, but for those who do, there are people out there who have become fluent in a foreign language without studying in the country where that language is spoken.

Benny Lewis is known as the Irish polyglot. He is the mastermind behind the website Fluent in 3 Months, which I have been following for years. He claims to be able to speak a language fluently after studying it for three months. While there is a lot of controversy that I have seen because of this, he can still seem to hold a conversation with someone after just a short amount of time. He has been an inspiration to many and has shown that you can study a language outside of the country where it is spoken and become fluent.

Grace, known as Ryuzaki1311 on YouTube, does not claim to be fluent in Japanese. However, she has gained a lot of attention for her high level in Japanese at a young age, which she attained by self-study. Now she is studying abroad in Japan, but you can see from her videos that she spoke well before leaving England.

Moses McCormick, also known as laoshu505000, is a well-known polyglot, who has learned languages as difficult as Polish in three months! People have taken notice to this and have even interviewed him about it. A lot of his videos are of him “leveling up” or practicing languages that he is learning or can speak with native speakers that he encounters when he goes out. Many, if not all, of these videos have taken place in the United States.

With today’s technology and language exchange websites, it is possible to become conversationally fluent in a language without leaving your home country. Before going abroad, I felt confident in my Spanish and French language skills, which actually worked in my favor. Going abroad will not automatically make you fluent in a language, especially if you are in a program where everyone shares your native language. Becoming fluent takes a lot of work and discipline, whether you immerse yourself at home or in the country where the language is spoken.

What is your definition of fluency in a language? Have you been able to attain that goal without studying abroad?

Being a Good Language Partner

What do you look for in a significant other? A business partner? An employee? Are you looking for someone much like yourself? More organized? More energetic? More spontaneous and romantic? Someone very appealing to the eyes? When looking someone to fill some kind of important role in our lives, we tend to have standards. Businesses make lists of qualities they are looking for in a future employee. We make mental lists in our heads when we go out with someone, whether we realize it or not. The same thing can happen when looking for a language exchange partner. We are looking for that person that we can hold a conversation with for more than five minutes, who is willing to help us, and speak (for half of the time or more) the language we are learning.

Have you ever gone into a language exchange thinking that people might be doing the same thing when they talk to you? Although it is important to find a good language partner. It is equally as important to be a good language partner. If we all were to work on being the language partner that we would want to have, and were not concerned about what we can get out of the exchange, maybe we would start to find the language partner we were looking for in the first place.

To be a good language partner, or conversationalist in general, I would suggest keeping the conversation about them. Talk about topics that your partner is interested in. Ask about their lives and their dreams. If you both have traveled to the same country or have the same hobby, then talk about it! However, I would suggest doing this when it’s their turn to practice your native language so that they can do most of the talking.

Sometimes you will run into a partner who is too shy to speak your native language if you speak their language very well. Don’t only practice the language you want to learn, even if they’re nervous or don’t speak well. Just like you came in hoping to get something out of the exchange, so did they. You want to encourage your partner to speak, multiple times if you have to. I have been in situations where I have done this. If they still insist on only speaking their native language, even after you encourage them a few times, then you can spend the rest of the conversation speaking their language, or find a way to incorporate your language into the exchange by asking what they need help with.

Not everyone is looking to better themselves as a language partner. Sometimes you will need to find a new partner. If your partner only wants to speak your native language even though you try speaking their’s several times, it may be time to find someone else. Sometimes you just don’t click with someone and can’t hold a conversation. That’s okay; it happens. Not everyone will be a good language partner or the right fit.

What do you as a language exchange partner? Do you make a list of conversation topics? Do you come with questions about their language? Let me know your language exchange tips in the comments below so we can all better ourselves!

Loving Through Language

It started with a love of languages.

After winter break of my freshman year of college, I was at a dinner, talking about what I had done over the break. I sheepishly explained that I had spoken Spanish with my mother and spent much of my time studying French. The boy next to me said that he didn’t think that was nerdy at all and that he would have done the same if he had a relative to speak another language with. That’s when I casually gave the invitation to practice Spanish with me whenever he wanted. It was an invitation I gave out often but never got a response. I wanted a way of being able to keep up with my Spanish while I was away from home.

When I gave the invitation out this time, the results were different. A few nights later, the two of us walked home from watching a movie in a friend’s apartment and that’s when he started conversing in Spanish with me. This lead to a friendship based on speaking the Spanish language. We would share music with each other, talk about what was going on in our lives, and more! Spanish was something special that connected the two of us. There were many people who would wonder what we were saying and get frustrated that they didn’t understand. It was our little secret.

As time went on, we started studying together and became swing dance partners. We grew close and got to know each other well, becoming good friends. We really enjoyed each other’s company. Our sophomore year, we started to date.

Almost two and a half years later, we are still together. We’ve had to endure challenges such as being long distance for a length of time but have made it through. We still speak Spanish frequently, although not as frequently as before. Recently he has started learning Russian and I have started learning Korean. We share what we learn with each other and continue to love through language.

I have read many stories online about couples who have met through language exchange/penpal websites and was always amazed by the connection two people could make through a common interest in a language. I never thought that I would be one of those people, and that I would meet someone on my campus. Have you ever had an experience where you really connected with someone based on a love for languages? Tell your story in the comments below!