It’s entirely possible that I’m learning Spanish.
A week or two ago, I was listening to the Good Life Project podcast and the episode focused on the idea of expertise. If you’ve read any book with the word “expertise” in it in the last few years, you have the now-common knowledge of being able to become an expert at anything with 10,000 hours of practice (or so the research has been portrayed.
The episode’s focus wasn’t on how you can rack up the 10,000 hours, but how you can get really good at something in 20 hours. You can listen for the details.
For me, the experience played out like this:
Brain: Hey, Zac, didn’t we want to learn another language?
Me: We sure did, Brain.
Brain: Maybe we should commit to 20 hours of learning another language and see how things go.
Me: That’s a good idea, Brain.
My formal training in ASOL (anything as a second language) consists of Spanish for two years in high school and three semester of Latin in college. Neither really stuck.
I started looking at Rosetta Stone because it’s omnipresent in any conversation I’ve heard around learning a new language without actually interacting with another human. I asked some friends, and they agreed it was worth a shot (though expensive). The price tag hadn’t escaped my gaze.
Abby also suggested I try out Duolingo. I told her I had, but was looking for something a little more robust. Then, that night, I returned to Duolingo. Before I was going to put a few hundred dollars in Rosetta, I wanted to make sure I’d covered my bases.
I’d interacted with Duolingo while they were in beta, and I liked the environment. I was also a grad student at the time, and taking on a self-directed, beta, online language program didn’t seem like the best of ideas.
Now, though, the site has gotten its act together. I’ve been logging in for almost a week now and my Spanish knowledge is re-awakening and strengthening. Plus, I’m having fun.
I’m not sure if, from a second language acquisition standpoint, I’m developing along what might be a traditional academic path, but that’s not really my interest.
I didn’t know Spanish and now I know a little more. Tomorrow, I’ll know a little more. It won’t be the complete cultural immersion I’ll likely head to eventually, but it’s a great primer so far that’s helping me navigate grammar, vocabulary and syntax.
The thing that’s funny to me is the worry about whether or not teachers would approve of what I’m doing. At the end of each level or set on Duolingo, it asks if I’d like to share my achievement on social networks. Thus far, I’ve declined. The thing is, it’s not because I don’t feel as though I’m learning in the course. Moreover, I worry that what I’m doing will appear as thought I’m doing the kiddy version of learning. To be sure, Duolingo is gamified, and I have to admit kind of liking it. A little green cartoon owl weeps when I have to begin a level again.
Because of my own skepticism of the gamification of learning, though, I’m assuming who sees on twitter or facebook that I’ve just earned a new level on Duolingo will also view my learning with skepticism. This worry exists side-by-side with my knowledge that I am actually learning, and the tension is alarming.
Perhaps the middle ground and safe space for me is the fact that I’ve chosen this game. I’m seeking out this learning and this platform. I’m here because I want to learn Spanish, not because I want to play the game, and it just happens to be trying to teach me Spanish.
This leaves open and complex for me the question of what happens in kids’ minds when we show them the game first and hope the learning will sneak in after.