Summer is here at Stanford, which means a break from the toil of classes and a new routine of regular work hours. (Of course, by “work”, I mean “research”. And by “regular”, I mean “set-by-me”) This gives me the time to pick up all those things I barely had time for during the school year – playing the piano and flute, knitting and needlepoint, reading, and language study.
I’m still cranking away at my faithful Chinese Anki deck, which requires about 5 minutes daily to refresh my vocabulary of ~2000 characters. And some friends and I recently reinstated Viernes Español, a tradition of [trying to] speak only in Spanish on Fridays. (My lab mate, Adrian, is a real stickler, making me use Spanish even when discussing research. Sometimes when we’re talking about continuum mechanics in Spanish, I don’t even understand what I don’t understand!)
But then I overheard Adrian, who is Mexican, talking to another of my labmates, Manuel (from Germany). They were discussing Spanish and German vocabulary and grammar – and points! They had just started using a program called duolingo to learn each other’s languages. Duolingo’s gimmick is that it has you “translate the web”, but in my opinion that feature needs a lot of development. The real draw of duolingo for me is that it awards you points for learning and reviewing, giving you a concrete way to track your progress . . . and compare it to others’ : )
So I convinced another friend of mine, Martin, to start learning German with me. Apparently competition is a very good stick (or carrot?) because we have definitely been pushing each other along in the pursuit of knowledge. Martin, who I am convinced does not ever do work, has 1968 points to my 1162, but I do pretty well in second place keeping him on his toes.
It’s been fun learning a new language from [almost] nothing. I’m back in that heady era of high returns, when the words you learn immediately get used in every sentence you speak (“I”, “you”, “to be”, etc.). When exceptions and, for that matter, all tenses but the present are a far-off threat. When your mistakes are adorable because you clearly don’t have the skills to be malicious (Adrian recently told our summer student that he ate her instead of that he saw her).
Also, it’s fun to learn a Germanic language! It’s fun to struggle with grammar instead of vocabulary (as Chinese is totally the opposite). Cognates are super fun – oh my goodness, after 3+ years of Chinese I had forgotten how wonderful cognates were!!
I don’t know exactly how far I’ll go with this program or with this language, but I do know that I will not likely have another time in my life more conducive for learning German. I have a large circle of German and Swiss friends, including three people I see every day in the lab, and I’m going to Austria for a week in September. Might as well take advantage of the opportunities and incentives!