Thursday, 9 January 2014

Monthly Challenges: October 2013

As you may suspect from my monthly challenges I'm a learning obsessive.  Recently I've over indulged in Coursera courses and I have to admit I did drop out of the Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society (University of Pennsylvania) as I double booked myself with the Introduction to Marketing (Wharton University).  I've always wanted to get to grips with Marketing for work purposes and I really liked how Wharton University delivered it.

However this month's challenge wasn't Coursera, but I free little iPhone app called Duolingo that teaches you different languages.  I am notoriously bad at foreign languages and I swear my brain is made of Teflon where they are concerned.  So I wasn't sure this would work for me.  However I was pleasantly surprised as the developers had turned language learning into a game.  This seems to work for a games obsessive such as myself. 

I chose to learn Italian in part as I had already failed to learn French and Spanish.  I needed to learn a language I didn't have any real experience of and had no negative associations with.  Also, when I was little I lived next door to a lovely Italian lady called Angelina who looked like the Queen and had a corgi called Sheba.  She used to make the most fabulous Italian food and I've never tasted anything as good in a restaurant ever.  So I thought it would be good to learn the language as a tribute to her, especially as I  learnt my first Italian word from her -  'Ciao'. 

So how have I got on?  Not bad really.  The early levels I sprinted through, however as it gets harder I hit some brick walls like possessions and questions.  Thankfully as it's designed as a game I get very tenacious and I have to break through.  If you have seen me power through Candy Crush (now at level 421) you would understand how learning a language this way is a really good method for me. 

I like the way Duolingo breaks down each lesson thematically and asks 20 questions per lesson in a variety of ways - translate either into English or Italian by reading or listening; also repeating Italian phrases spoken to you; and using pictures.  This app covers most learning styles.

You also have the opportunity to go back and practice weak skills, which actually helps to consolidate your language skills.  Often by going back you see how far you have moved on.  Weirdly I think it has also helped my English skills, as I'm more aware about how I use language.

I have to confess I do a little cheat.  Sometimes when I'm not sure of something I go on Google Translate to double check.  Although this isn't always a great help as it sometimes gives completely different words than what the app is looking for.

It's now January (Happy New Year by the way) and I'm still using the app.  I do go through phases of not using it, but then again I remind myself it's far more practical than playing Candy Crush any day of the week.  Duolingo uses the games concept for learning and for someone who really struggles to learn languages I have never this spent lenght of time (over 3 months) trying to do so.  Thanks Duolingo for making my October challenge worthwhile - I may learn a language after all!



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