Language Learning

I’m an English teacher. The main reason I became an English teacher is because of my love for language. I loved reading books as a child, and English was a large gateway hidden deep in the forest that allowed me to read far more stories than I could ever consume. Not to mention, Dutch isn’t a particularly poetic language. I’ve been sent the meme where people translate

Choose my most beautiful side


Kies mijn mooiste kant

And then play the audio to hilarious effects, many times. I get it, we’re farmers at heart, we have cheese and tulips (and weed) as our heritage and although our language has similar roots to English, it took a nosedive somewhere. English also isn’t the most beautiful language out there – have you ever heard someone from Liverpool speak? – but it’s at least a large step up from Dutch. But my love for language got me to this point in life and when I was bored one afternoon last year I decided on a whim to start picking up another language. And like any good weeb, I decided this language would be Japanese.

Now, if I may defend myself a little bit, I was curious if I could pick up a completely foreign script. Learning a language is a challenge on its own, but if it’s accompanied by a script you don’t use that makes it even more difficult. It seemed like a fun challenge. Not to mention that Japanese has three alphabets in Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji. I’m about four months into learning the language and for those familiar with Duolingo, I’ve done about 12 units. That’s not a ton, but it’s a good base. I’m currently working on my Hiragana knowledge, so that I can hopefully start reading things in Japanese without needing the Romaji subtitles. Romaji are Japanese words written with our alphabet. 

As a teacher, there’s one thing I learned very quickly. If you want your students to learn something, gamify it. It won’t work for everyone, and the games need to be fun, but if you challenge your students in a competition of sorts, they’ll immediately be much more motivated and work a lot harder. I did a bingo assignment in my class the other day where they had to find certain phrases on song lyrics. In a group they’d go on their tablets and phones and find the songs and write them down until they had five in a line or column. Even the least motivated students were participating because almost everyone likes music and I did bribe them with a prize .Duolingo is not giving me any prizes, but there is a leaderboard.

And for people like me, who are completely brainbroken through the internet, that’s all it takes. If it’s late in the week and I get a pop-up that I’m in the demotion zone I immediately find the motivation to work on some units to get back into the safe zone. The same thing happens with your streak. Duolingo keeps track of how many days in a row you practice and that’s your streak. There’s an item that’ll freeze your streak if you don’t practice for a day, but once you run out of these items your streak gets set back to zero. For a lot of people, myself included, this is a brilliant way to get motivated learners. I’m pretty confident that without those game elements I wouldn’t have practiced Japanese for much more than a week or two at best. But now I’m well over a hundred days and a lot of phrases are becoming clear to me. I’m even noticing that I understand many more phrases in the anime I’m watching because my understanding of Japanese sentence structure is improving. 

Now I’m no fool. Well, I am, but let’s discount that for a moment. I understand that learning a language through an app that’s basically a glorified game is not enough to fully replace actual lessons. But my thought process is that if I can build up a solid base, learn the alphabet and be able to communicate basic things, then more advanced lessons will become a lot more accessible. My favorite thing about learning a language is becoming fluent in it. That made learning English so enjoyable for me back in the day and I hope that is what’ll keep me motivated to learn Japanese and become better at it. And worst case scenario it’ll just be a neat party trick that I can eventually read and write Hiragana with ease. If you’re looking to learn a language then I think this is a good starting point. If someone from Duolingo reads this please consider sponsoring me, I reach at least a handful of people every day, that’s a wide audience right? Maybe I should do a course on numbers next. Thanks for reading.

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