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What 100 days of Duolingo taught me…and what it couldn’t

So, as the title suggests, 100 days ago I decided that I want to watch Narcos without subtitles. For those who lived under the worst rock in the universe, it is a show about Columbian drug lord named Pablo Escobar and it is in Spanish. It is a pretty amazing show and makes it perfect for binge watching but that’s a story for another day. This is about my desire to watch Narcos without subtitles and what I did for that.

And I googled my problem and it threw a well lit advertisement of Duolingo which is a free app that promises you that you can speak a foreign language if you follow their program. It is not the only good app there and there are other solutions outside apps which can and possibly are better than Duolingo but the post is not about the app but like everything in the world…is about me and what I did and did not learn from Duolingo.

Discipline is a bitch.

100 days isn’t a big deal and people do a hobby or habit for much much longer duration and I would spend only 15 to 30 minutes on the app. So it should not be ideally hard but it was. Imagine doing a chore, anything simple but not entertainment and now dedicate 15 minutes to it. Now imagine spending those 15 minutes every day. For 100 days. It might still be easy for you but we are all built different and it wasn’t easy for me. So the first thing #100DoD( cool way of calling 100 days of Duolingo ) taught me is that discipline is difficult. Your target can be small and simple but if you attach discipline to do it. It becomes real difficult.

21 days doesn’t maketh a habit.

My first self help book was Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and he mentions it somewhere that it takes 21 days of continuous effort to make something a habit. Utter garbage. It doesn’t take 21, 30, 60 or even 100 days to make a habit. I still find it a chore to do my measly 15 minutes on Duolingo and I groan in pain when I fail a quiz as it means I got to spend more time till I clear it. It is still not in my unconcious mind to do this exercise. To compare, I look at my social media and email even without realisng that I am doing so but that’s not the case here. I have kept a target and I am dragging myself to do this and it is far from a habit.

Quantification. Quantification. Quantification.

We all need validation. We seek it out in our own way which could just be a nod or smile from a loved one or a Facebook like by a stranger but the core remains that we need something to measure ourselves. Duolingo gave me that by a streak count. Every day I met my goal was rewarded by an increase in my daily streak counter. I targeted a week and then continued to a month and then to 100 days and again, 100 days isn’t really that big a deal but for someone like me who has a history of leaving all my personal projects midway, it means a lot. And that was possible because I could push myself to a target which was measured. It was quantified, reachable and I knew what I needed to do. I think that this as might be a good philosophy to do anything in your life. I am trying to implement it elsewhere, I have a counter for the days I read, call my father and other stuff. It helps.

And here is what I didn’t learn from 100 days on Duolingo.

You don’t learn Spanish in 100 days.

I won’t in 200 or 300 days either

Duolingo is a giant. There are 160 chapters to complete in Duolingo, each chapter has 3–5 lessons and every chapter has 5 levels. It would take enormous amount of effort and patience to complete the entire Duolingo course for Spanish and it isn’t different for other popular courses. There are many people who have done it and they agree on one thing; even that ain’t enough.

To be fair, Duolingo never claimed it to be. So completing a course would make it to the first 2 levels of the language but to be better than that involves many other tools. You have to read books, watch Spanish media and all that bling. I am nowhere near that and I really need to broaden my horizon. So yeah, Duolingo didn’t teach me that..other bloggers did.

Duolingo did it well by making a free, engaging and easy interface to learn a language and the whole gamification of it keeps you motivated but it also has its flaws. At some point, you might be losing focus on learning language to winning the streak and that is unhealthy. The feeble vanity of doing 100 days on an app and yet failing to understand some basic Spanish sentences (which I should by now did) taught me how far I am to my actual goal than Duolingo.

In totality, while Duolingo did teach me to have a greater appreciation of the Spanish language and some vocabulary, its major contribution has been to give me an example that even a lazy idiot like me can feel better about himself if he follows little disciple and persistence.

But, most importantly, I still can’t watch Narcos without subtitles.

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