Duo Lingo

I took French all through high school and college, but somewhere along the way I stopped practicing and life took over. It's hard to keep speaking another language when you live in a country that doesn't require you know anything but English. Spanish is your next best bet as far as practical application, but French? Hardly anyone speaks French here. (At least, not in North Carolina or Oregon.) So it's difficult to get any decent practice in.

That being said, I completely forgot about the language until my trip to hike around Mont Blanc last summer. I spent two weeks immersed in French, Swiss, and Italian culture, and it was glorious. It's amazing to visit a place where English is not the primary language, for it knocks some reality into you. Everyone I met spoke two, three, four languages with perfect ease and beauty, the syllables like music to my ears. I wanted every part of it. I wanted to understand these languages, to turn the words over in my mind and savor them. I wanted to taste them on my tongue like cinnamon.

I latched on to every word my guides said. Though they spoke perfect English, I was fascinated by their beautiful French accents, and as they taught us more and more about the culture, the landscape, and the history of the area, I tried to commit it all to memory. I listened to them as they spoke French, delighted when verbs, conjugations, and phrases resurfaced in my memory, like interlocking puzzle pieces.

I was told my accent was good, that I remembered the language well. When my guide quizzed us about the names of the ranges and glaciers around us, I repeated back the beautiful names:
"Col des Grandes Jorasses." 
"Mer de Glace" 
"Aiguille du Midi."

And with each new thing I discovered, I wanted to learn French even more. I came home with a renewed desire to speak the language. I looked for classes and books and materials. I looked for simple ways to practice that would fit into my every day life.

What I found was a cute, free iPhone app called DuoLingo. It reminds me of a simpler, cheaper Rosetta Stone, by throwing you directly into the language and helping you to learn it piece by piece. You are given prompts to translate phrases to English, to speak them in French, to type English phrases in French, and to match English words to French words. You answer questions in a series of lessons, building on what you've already learned. It also makes it a game, so you lose "hearts" every time you get an answer wrong, and if you lose all your hearts, you have to do the lesson again. You gain "points" as you go, and you can connect with friends through the app or battle against a "bot" to see how you are progressing in comparison to them.

Of course, there are a variety of languages offered, not just French. And if you are already well versed in a language, you can test out of the easier lessons and jump into the more advanced ones. It's fun and oddly addicting to "play" at learning a language.

So if you have been thinking about brushing up on a language (or learning a new one! Portuguese, anyone?) check out DuoLingo. It's not without it's faults (sometimes its lack of explanation of grammar rules can be frustrating) but it's certainly a fun way to spend some down time on your phone - and you'll learn more than by hanging out on Facebook all day. Win win!