Completing Duolingo and Beyond

If you’re familiar with some of my previous posts then you’ll be aware that I have been trying to learn Swedish for nearly eighteen months. I started after I fell in love with the country and started visiting every three or four weeks. After my first trip, I decided that my visits could only be improved by learning the language. With less than twelve million speakers Swedish isn’t the world’s most influential tongue. The lack of prevalence made my self teaching tricky, especially when there were so few sources to learn from. I settled upon Duolingo and have been plowing my way through their beginners course ever since.

Yesterday, I finally finished all the lessons the app provides. I was presented with an owl trophy and a mark that claimed I am now 57% fluent. I was very proud with my dedication to self improvement. Only attaining my degree has given me a similar level of pride. I searched the app for more tasks, expecting more advanced exercises to take my 57% fluency score up to 100. There were no more activities. All that remained was repeating the same tasks I have worked through over the last year. Just like every other skill repetition is an integral aspect of learning. I intend to repeat the course until I can recall every word with ease.

Duolingo has provided a solid foundation in my Swedish education but there is still a lot to build on. The question I am faced with is how to do further my development. I have tried searching for other apps but they only seem to teach the fundamentals of the language. I am going to search for more online courses, purchase children’s books and translate them with my Swedish dictionary, as well as consume more subtitled television programmes and radio broadcasts. I hope these efforts will further boost my abilities. However, I would prefer some form of structured lesson plan. A course along the lines of Duolingo that is aimed at the intermediate learner. If you have any advice regarding this then it is most welcome.

 

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Hearthstone: Tips for Beginners

I have been playing Hearthstone for about seven months. I first began the game about three years ago along with a neighbour. After I didn’t make much progress I gave up the title and moved onto other games. Now I’m back on the Blizzard card based game and bashing my way up the leader board. In the event that time travel ever becomes possible I’m leaving some hints to myself. Hopefully, they will encourage my past self to continue with the game instead of taking a hiatus.

Don’t Spend Money

The thing that put me off other Blizzard games like World of Warcraft was the heavy price tag. I couldn’t justify a monthly subscription on a student budget. Luckily, Hearthstone is free to play and you can progress within the game without having to spend a dragon’s hoard on gold or card packs.

I have spent some money on expansions. The cost has been under £20. I spent more on booster packs and recieved less in return. I would recommend saving your real life coins and grinding your way through the daily quests, staching away your crafting dust, and only spend real money on game expansions.

Learn from others

The main reason I originally gave up Hearthstone was the lack of progress. No matter how hard I tried or attempted to create original decks, I couldn’t get past rank 20 in competitive play. When I returned to the game I decided I needed advice. I scoured YouTube for tutorials, hunted the Web for deck builds and began to emulate the advice of others.

I settled on a cheap hunter deck and began to slowly climb the ranks. As my collection grew larger, I began deferring from the premade deck and suplimented some of the less useful cards with the better ones I was acquiring. Two months later I improved my rank by seven places. The game claimed I was in the top 20% of players. Now I have the resources I can start moving onto more intricate styles of play, which will give me a more competitive deck.

Progress from Persistent Play

As with everything else in life, you can only get better if you practice. You can’t expect to be top ten after two days of play. Winning will be a long journey and even the best players don’t have a 100% win rate. It’s impossible to never lose. Just keep trying. If you do win though, don’t be the guy who continues to play cards when you have kill on the board. It’s rude to the other player.

London, Hot Leaf Juice and Twinings Tea Shop

My love for tea is unparalleled. As much as I enjoy a bottle of good red wine or a strong morning coffee, it is tea that I turn to throughout the day. On average, I will consume eight to ten cups during a twenty four hour period. This is probably because I am British, and our affection for the beverage is renowned world wide. However, unlike the majority  of my country folk, my preference is always for green tea. Some people find the choice a little odd. They’re more accustomed to a stronger brew, often diluted with milk and sugar. Occasionally, I’ll join in a cup the country’s favourite but I know the best cup is always green. That being said, in tea, as with most things in life,  if it makes you happy then you’ll hear no objection from me.

This weekend I journeyed to London. I realised it was unusual I have visited five other capital cities but not my own. It’s difficult to pin point what it is about London that has always deterred me. Perhaps it is because I am already familiar with the tourist sites. The attractions are possibly so well assimilated into  our culture that there  appears to be no adventure in visiting them. Either way, it was my partner’s birthday and he chose to visit London to celebrate the event. I went to the capital regardless of my apprehension.

We did some of the typical tourist activities: strolled the national gallery; marveled at the British Museum’s stolen Elgin Marbles; and took in an afternoon West End Show. By the final day, as we wandered through Hyde Park, I found I had warmed to the city. Eventually, we reached the Albert Memorial- an effigy to the Victorian Empire. The subject of the structure made me uncomfortable but the monument was none the less awe inspiring. Looking at the corner that represented India I remembered I was in a pivotal tea drinking city and hadn’t thought to look for a tea shop. A quick online search revealed that the Twinings Flagship store was located on The Strand. With just over an hour before we had to catch the train home we headed for the subway and the tea haven.

The shop is approximately three hundred years old and a testament to the variety and development of tea. Walking the narrow aisle you’re greeted by a hoard of boxes all filled with different leaves. It’s difficult to know which to choose when all the smell samples are strange perfumes enticing you to purchase. Towards the back of the shop is a small exhibit exploring some of the history of tea drinking. Across from the lesson was a lady brewing three pots, each vessel with a different potion to sample. In the end, I settled on a charming wooden box and filled it with new and my favourite teas.

If you appreciate tea then I would recommend a browse of the shop. If you aren’t then there are tea pots and cups available for purchase. I’m sure the staff can direct you towards an exciting taste test. Just don’t make the mistake of purchasing loose leaves because they don’t sell tea strainers. In honour of the shop and the great beverage I shall leave you with a poem and implore you to visit the store if you’re ever in London.

Green Tea

When it’s too cool to be tepid

or to warm to drink with ease,

the honey has sucked the side

to form a gel altogether sweet,

If you can drive your digit to

the center, flail and feel no pain,

It’s time to throw the cup away

and braise the leaves again.

 

Happy Ending

Occasionally, I have an insatiable craving for orange flavour chocolate. Last Friday night,  as the sun began to sleep, I went tracking the citrus tasting confectionery. Two minutes into my trek I realised I had forgotten my headphones. The journey to the supermarket is nearly thirty minuets- far too long to wander without music. I had no choice but to double back.

Eager to make up the lost time I stampeded through the streets, left my gate wide open and slipped. Regaining my balance I looked down to see what had tripped me. A small, green frog was stretched across the flags. Bending down I accessed the injuries I inflicted on the amphibian. It’s eyes still blinked, chest heaved with future croaks, but one leg stretched out at an acute angle. The limb had been crushed in my haste. It pulsed with pain as if the attack relocated its heart.

Without the ability to jump I knew the frog wouldn’t survive long. I went inside to retrieve my headphones and a cardboard box. The frog was going to be taken to a calm corner of the garden to live out its last days in peace. When I returned the creature had gone. I searched in the garden light for the wounded animal and found it squatting several meters away. I laughed as it jumped, both legs simultaneously propelling it forward and symmetrically supporting it on landing.

With a few more leaps the frog was taken away by the grass and darkness. The little fellow lived on. I smiled all the way to the supermarket. When I returned I left a square of chocolate for the survivor and made sure to watch my step on my way inside.

WordPress Anniversary

Today I logged onto WordPress ready to write a post about the development of the Pokemon game franchise. I’m anxiously anticipating the November release of Ultra Sun/ Ultra Moon and intended to honour the games’ development throughout the series. However, a notification has altered my plans. The alarm bell icon informed me that I have been writing this blog for just over one year.

Originally, I began blogging to demonstrate my writing abilities to employers. My first posts were reviews of theater productions my friends organised. After after a few months I realised, that despite their work being great, there wasn’t enough material to maintain a weekly update. This forced me to change direction. I had to stop observing what others were doing and focus on things that interested me.

Since my switch to an internal focus I’ve been allowed to explore a lot more topics and reach a much broader audience. Now, I comment on and review my favourite video games and books; political issues that engage and disappoint me;  as well as my travels and other developments that challenge my horizons. The change has only been positive. New subjects strengthen my writing skills by encouraging me to adapt my style. I can hear how my sentences sound less like a piano plummeting down the stairs. Overall, I’ve been allowed to grow within a supportive website of creators.

When I started the blog was a means to acquiring a better job. Even if I find my dream employment I couldn’t give up WordPress. There’s a feeling of accomplishment with every post. No matter how bad your week has been if you can type out a few paragraphs then you have achieved. The only struggle I would change would be my D key. It has been stuck for about six months and using the letter feels like I’m shattering phalanges. For our next anniversary, I shall treat us to a bottle of Champagne, a weekend in southern France and a fully functioning keyboard.

Duolingo Milestones

When started my blog, nearly a year ago, one of the first posts I wrote expressed my difficulties learning Swedish. After many months of toiling my way through the Duolingo lessons I recently hit a fifty percent fluency grade. There’s still a long way to go. I need to fully internalise the lessons; practice with strangers more frequently; and dedicate more time to my second language. Naturally,  my development will flourish with the more I learn but I’d like to highlight some of my favourite aspects of Duolingo so far.

Firstly, you can learn at your own speed. The amount of time you want to dedicate towards your language is set by you. There’s five levels to choose from, which require you to achieve a set amount of daily experience in order to reach your desired goal. Experience is earned through completing lessons and the better you score the more experience you’re rewarded. Initially, I set myself on the second highest tier (serious) but after a while I felt more motivated and increased my aim to INSANE. I pursued this difficulty for about three months until I faced some personal problems and began to feel my ambition dwindle. Everyday the app bleeped a reminder to acheive my daily goal. After a while the cute owl mascot felt less of a coach and more of a reminder of my failings. I probably shouldn’t have had such an emotional response to a bird cartoon in gym clothes. I should have just knocked my difficulty setting down to something more manageable and start climbing the mountain again.

Another benefit to Duolingo is how the lessons are structured. I recall German, French, Russian, Polish, Welsh and Chinese lessons from school. They all started with learning the alphabet, basic numbers and explaining how many siblings you have. Duolingo on the other hand throws you straight into conversation, giving you vocabulary and slowly building the phrases of previous lessons into fleshed out sentences. Grammar is no longer my German teacher scratching on her ancient chalk board and screeching when the computer set on fire. Instead, it becomes second nature and the rules are immediately applicable to new scenarios. I find this particularly useful because I visit Sweden every fourth weekend. From school I learned how to describe all the subjects an educational establishment can impart, now I can actually ask for the bathroom in a restaurant.

One of the best things about Duolingo’s approach to teaching is that it keeps the lessons interesting. Admittedly, not every aspect of Verbs4 is a thrill but they do sneak in choice phrases that keep you engaged, such as:

“Det finns en man med en kniv bakom gardinen!”

There is a man with a knife behind the curtain!

or the Weather Girls classic song

“Det Regnar Män”- It’s Raining Men

As a result of my efforts with Duolingo learning Swedish is no longer as intimidating as it was a year ago. I have become more eager to both strange Swedes and find myself translating the information on packets of crisps. It’s a development I hope to maintain in my aim for native fluency.

 

 

 

Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

At the start of 2017 I set myself a challenge, through Goodreads, to read a total of forty books. Nine months into the year I have completed the task. I should have probably set the target a little higher but I wanted a goal that would encourage consistent reading as well as open my horizons to fresh authors and ideas. The following list is what I have read since January. Some of these texts were incredibly short (such as the Penguin black classics and books of poetry) which may be why I finished the challenge so early. Other books, like the denser Philosophical texts and anthologies, took weeks to finish. On balance I think my reading list contains a little something for everyone. Hopefully you find a title for you, one of your favourites or are able to leave me a suggestion or two.

Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (3/5)

The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro (5/5)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (3/5)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (5/5)

Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (3/5)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (3/5)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (5.5/5)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (4/5)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (4/5)

A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (3/5)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr (5/5)

Maurice by E.M Forster (4/5)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3/5)

The Plague by Albert Camus (4/5)

Candide by Voltaire (5/5)

The History Boys by Alan Bennett (5/5)

Demian by Hermann Hesse (4/5)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (5/5)

Poetry

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (4/5)

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous (4/5)

The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (5/5)

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (3/5)

Complete Poems by Karen Boye (4/5)

Making Cocoa for Kinsley Amis by Wendy Cope (5/5)

Selected Poems and Letters by Arthur Rimbaud (3/5)

Nonfiction

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang (4/5)

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (4/5)

A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift (4/5)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2/5)

The Republic by Plato (5/5)

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky (4/5)

Five Dialogues by Plato (4/5)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud (3/5)

The Symposium by Plato (4/5)

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Ardono (3/5)

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (4/5)