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.

 

 

 

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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)

Misanthropic Guide to Autumn

As the nights start to stretch longer and summer slinks under the sunset, my social media is starting to sneak in posts about Autumn. People are eager for the ‘Fall’. The Americans are awaiting Thanksgiving and sickly Pumpkin spiced lattes. Their anticipation for the season is starting the clog my Instagram; their optimism is starting to grind my teeth. I am by no means immune to Autumn’s charms, I cannot scroll past a wooded scene with burning carpet of leaves without leaving a like. In truth, I believe that Autumn is the most picturesque of the earth’s cycles. I think that the focus on the ghastly holiday Halloween and what hot milk a shop is passing as coffee detract from some of the more subtle beauties of the season.

The Weather

For three months it has been either too hot or devastating thunderstorms. Every weekend somebody wanted to make “the most of the weather”. By the end of summer day drinking, obligatory barbecues and cramming yourself around overcrowded public places has become boring. Autumn saves us from these torments. Your weekends are your own again. There is always a cloud in the sky: potential rain. So, if you don’t want to be social you’ve got “it looks like it’s going to pour down” as a template text. The summer guilt of no longer effectively using your weekends can be washed away with the first Autumn rain.

Clothes

The weather is great again and so are the wardrobe. You can begin the slow drift into hibernation shape. No more beach wear or tight tees you have to skip meals to look appealing in. Under two or three layers you’re snug and secure. Am I chunky or is the jumper? They’ll never know because it’s the season to wrap up and it’s too cold to be taking off your clothes.

Bonfire/Guy Fawkes Night

Halloween is dreadful. Who agreed that strangers and their children can knock on your door, demanding you’ve spent money on candy? If you wanted to see eight Spidermans in one evening you’d probably book tickets for comic con. Even if you choose not to participate the horde doesn’t stop knocking. Yes, you’ve turned off all the lights but you didn’t go out on any other Tuesday this year and they can see your television glow through the curtains.

November the Fifth has nothing but social benefits: Firstly,  firework displays ensure people keep their dogs at home, so you can frequent the public park without the usual fear of having your genitals smelt by a stranger’s Alsatian. Secondly, there’s the huge bonfires, which provide warmth and a purpose for unwanted flammable waste. Occasionally, a homeless person makes camp within them, reducing a social problem. Finally, the holiday glorifies the destruction of government. It’s not about peace or Jesus but about scaring people in power. If a small group of men can conspire to blow up parliament then how much destruction can all these people do with their giant fire festivals do? Remember, Remember, you can end up in the embers.

School Has Started

It’s quiet. So much quiet. Mothers look peaceful. During the day the public places are nice and quiet.