Language learning gets silly: Duolingo and a love of mayo

I’ve read on the internet that some people think the worst part of Duolingo is its silly sentences.

Really? Wirklich?

Silly sentences are my very favorite part!

Screen shot of DuoLingo lesson about love and mayoA recent example?

Ich liebe dich nicht, ich liebe nur Mayo.

If you guessed that this sentence means:

I don’t love you, I only love mayonnaise,”

you would be correct.

Now the question becomes, do you love this sentence, or do you hate it?

It’s okay by me if you love this sentence and you love mayonnaise. This is a place for Really Wonderful Things, not judgement, at least so far as condiment choices go. Just don’t expect me to join you in tasting spicy hot sauces.

Condiment bottles: ketchup, mayo, mustard, harissaAt least one language learning blog complains that nonsense sentences do budding polyglots great harm. No one needs this sentence! Why study this?

And yet, for me, the process of practicing vocabulary can get a little dull. By the third repetition of the same phrase, I start to act out, if only in my mind.

Okay: more often than not, I act out outside of my mind, and by proclaiming dull stuff in loud, silly voices from my desk. My kids just adore this behavior while undertaking distance learning, as you can imagine…

Music iPod headphonesI suppose that there are dutiful users of Pimsleur and other audio language study programs who slog cheerlessly through the spaced repetition of those early, monotonous phrases.

My name is X.

I am from Y.

What is your name?

Do you come from Y?

I speak Z.

Do you speak Z?

For me, this inevitably leads to acting out these phrases in the most extreme accents and postures I can manage whilst attempting to approximate the correct “target” foreign accent in a Monty-Python-esque masquerade.

When I’m laughing, I’m learning. Rote repetition turns into a bit of fun. If I’m internalizing the correct grammatical construct, does it matter if my sample sentence borders on insanity? I expect there are lunatic speakers of every living language.

Duolingo loves to talk about ducks and what they do. It’s quirky, but I think it is actually one of the better aspects of the program. The weirder the sentence, the more attention I end up paying to an otherwise predictable practice question. Contrary to what the critics suggest, I can see differences between how the platform presents unique languages that reflect each diverse culture.

I have less loving things to say about the evolving intrusiveness of ads in the ecosystem. Duolingo is far from perfect, but very much worth its price: free.

With a little sprinkle of silly spice, Duolingo has recently kept me committed to a 58 day streak where I’m practicing two to four languages every day. There are worse ways to season one’s studies!

My level varies between 1 and 3 between each of the languages I study on Duolingo, so I’ve seen more than just the most basic introductory lessons for at least German and Spanish.

I would advise, however, that beginning a completely new language on Duolingo seems unlikely to be satisfying or particularly effective, especially where a new alphabet is required. I’ve had classroom exposure to both Russian and Hebrew, but my alphabetic weakness renders the lessons too hard on the mobile platform where you get five strikes (lose 5 ♥) and you’re cut off for the rest of the day. I only study non-Roman-alphabetized languages on my desktop computer with Duolingo for that reason: you don’t run out of hearts on the desktop! Even French stymies me in writing; silent letters are my kryptonite. Sigh.

5 thoughts on “Language learning gets silly: Duolingo and a love of mayo

  1. I’ve been using Duolingo for Spanish of and on since April, and so far, the sentences haven’t been that silly. I’ve seen other friend’s screen shots of the weirdness Duolingo can present, and I’m a little jealous! Maybe I’ll unlock the silliness soon… 🤞

    • I think that’s true (that the silliness shows up later.)

      I started using Duolingo when it was quite new, and it would almost immediately begin giving the user sentences about activities a duck would undertake. (There were also no ads then, which I liked better!)

      After a hiatus of several years, coming back to Duolingo, I thought at first that those goofy sentences were completely gone. Now that I’ve been pretty active with it for about a month and am progressing to lots of level 2 and level 3 lessons, I’m seeing more oddities.

      Maybe that would be a good user setting for language software: Would you like to see silly sentences or only serious ones? 🙂

  2. Hey! I’m learning Deutsch too! I just started recently and am progressing reeaaaaally slowly, but I am doing a little each day! 😀 Might blog about it in the near future! Also, I love a mix of useful and silly sentence. I agree with you that stupid sentences makes learning fun and are much easier to remember 😀

    • Du sprichst viele Sprachen!

      Have you tried Duolingo? I do think it does a wonderful job reminding one to practice daily. It’s hardly a stand-alone way to learn a new language, but very good for motivation.

      • Danke! I am using Memrise right now, coupled with the YouTube series by Lingoni. I might very well start Duolingo too though! 😀 Thank you for the recommendation!

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