Thoughts after 1,000 day streak (warning: long post)

I first came to Duo after spending quite a bit of time failing at language learning. I am an avid reader, and one thing I kept noticing is that in every book I read that was a translation, the translater would mention that there was no substitution for reading the book in it’s original language. This sparked something in me, so I decided that I would read Xenephon in ancient Greek.

Fun fact about ancient Greek: nouns have five cases, three genders, and three numbers (single, dual, and plural) each with a different ending. Verbs have four moods, three voices, three persons, and seven tenses, again with their own endings. I spent a lot of time memorizing charts, and each new word I learned had to make it’s way through all of the charts. It was exhausting, boring, and after a year I had enough of it.

I did the same with Latin. And French. And German. And... you get the idea. Too many charts and I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with it. The goal went on the backburner for a few years...

Enter me finally reluctantly getting an ipad and finding myself in the 21st century (after only 14 years of living in the century). I was looking at aps and remembered hearing about Duo, and I decided to give it a try. It was amazing! I was hearing the language and translating sentences almost immediately, and there were no charts to memorize! It was also incredibly hard, and after six months of being very confused by French I put it aside out of frustration for a few months.

But the bug had bit me, and I decided to start back up and nothing would stop me! I slogged my way through the tree, and 17 months after I started, I finished. I then read "The Petit Prince" and it was a very difficult read, but by the end of the book it was starting to get easier. Success!

At this point, I was ready to tackle German. The second tree came much easier, and I was having a great time. My wife, who had finished the French tree with me, was interested in Spanish, so we did that tree. We saw an episode of "Red Dwarf" that featured Esperanto, so there was another tree for us to do. It was fun working through them together. My wife then wanted to do Russian, but didn’t get too far before she was ready for retirement. I never wanted to started Russian, but once I did I was hooked (still am).

I have always been obsessive in my hobbies, so I kept going after trees: English from French, Irish (surprisingly hard), Italian, Portuguese, and Greek (came full circle, although this is modern Greek). I am now working on Chinese, which is a lot of fun but ridiculously hard. I’ll be taking a while to finish this one!

Ten trees later, and I am still having a blast. Can I read books in all of the languages? Absolutely not. Doing so many trees is fun, but without daily practice retention is low. I am still doing French on Memrise, as well as German and Russian, but the others I am letting go (they were fun, but I am running out of time to study. An hour a day is as much as I can spare).

What I have found: if you wan’t to get anywhere with a language, it is better to focus on one until you reach a comfortable level with reading easy books. Then, add another one if you wish, but keep up with the primary one. Get comfy with the second, then add another one while keeping up the first two. French is my first, then German, then Russian, and I have added Chinese. My French is decent after almost four years of study as far as reading, but speaking is nil and writing is iffy. German and Russian are still abysmal, but I will keep working on them.

I highly recommend using Memrise after completing the Duo tree. If you pay for it, you can access many short videos of actual speakers. It is interesting how some people I can hear and understand easily, but others are a garbled mess, just like in real life. Listening to only the computer robot voice is never enough, but is perfect for your first foray into a language.

My other recommendation is to make a habit of studying at the same time every day. I do it first thing with my morning coffee. On the rare occasion that I run out of time in the morning, I get hungry to complete it as soon as I can. It is addicting in a good way!

Anyway, here I am, still failing at language, but also at the point where I can read Facebook posts and books in French. It’s a great feeling. Keep up with your studies and you will see what I mean.

I have found that natural talent at things is overrated- all that is needed is a burning desire to succeed and lots of hard work to achieve it. Failure is also needed. Great heaping piles of it. Just keep getting back up every time you fall. Learn to relish failure because only by failing will you improve.

"The difference between the Master and the Beginner is that the Master has failed more times than the Beginner has even tried."

"Happiness is not mostly pleasure; it is mostly victory."

Best of luck, and never stop learning.

P.S. it says a 999 streak, but my phone says 1,000. The little green owl is being lazy this morning and hasn’t updated my streak. Get off your butt and get to work, Duo! :)

December 13, 2017


Thanks for sharing - I read it with interest. Great commitment! Do you ever think you would have been better off focusing on just 2-3 languages, with the aim of attaining a conversational fluency in them?

I'm asking because it seems that here in DL, there are lots of people who prefer to do multiple trees, while probably not gaining fluency in the language. I have thought about it, and have decided to stick to the ones where I can approach at least intermediate level (despite being tempted by new languages all the time!).

December 13, 2017

Have you read the blog article about the "two student's race" from Luca?:

December 13, 2017

Now I have! Good points there. For me, the draw of higher fluency always seems to be dominating. So I rather take an existing language from A1 to A2 or from A2 to B1, than grab a new A1.

Doing a Duolingo tree seems to take one to about A1. If one really drills the tree well, and gets some extra materials with writing & speaking exercises, one gets to about A2. But beyond the A2/B1, one needs to really leave Duolingo behind. But it's great for keeping the basics in shape.

December 13, 2017

I have thought that, many times. One of the other reasons I decided to learn languages was that a lot of the books I read have quotes in other languages, and I always hated having to try and figure them out but having no clue where to start. Having a cursory knowledge of so many languages, I am at least at this point able to translate them, at least with a dictionary. I suppose that with Google translate it is not really necessary, but since I read so many actual physical books it may be that I am a bit old-fashioned. That being said, I don’t tell people about the languages I am studying because my fluency is so low for many of them. After all, a tree in Duo is the equivalent of one semester in college.

In short, for me personally, knowing a bit about many languages is helpful for what I am trying to do- read them, or be able to translate them. However, I can definitely see the allure of being able to speak well in one or two of them. It all depends what the end goal is. For some people on Duo, the goal might be simply to play a game and conquer trees, which is a much better way of spending time than Candy Crush, after all.

December 14, 2017

Keep it up! I agree about the mastery part :)

December 13, 2017

Congrats on your milestone!

You and I share many traits as language learners and Duolingo users :-) I too can (and do) now read books in French, have become obsessed by Russian, and learn mostly to be able to read. (In contrast, it seems many spring chickens think that there's no point in learning a language unless you start talking in it straight away.)

I study 3 to 4 languages every day, and I know I couldn't possibly spend those 1 to 2 hours a day on just one language -- I'd be bored out of my mind and at the same time stress about spending that time wisely and getting ahead. As it is, each language is a nice change from the others.

In addition to Duolingo and Memrise, I can really recommend Lingvist. It's a slick, free (there will soon be a payable option, but still a free version as well) website/app, that greatly improved my French reading ability a couple of years ago. I'm now slogging through their Russian and Spanish courses, and it's hard but very rewarding.

Hals- und Beinbruch with your learning! :-)

December 14, 2017

Annika_a, nice to see that someone else feels the same way. I guess it’s the difference between specializing on one thing or sampling many. I would rather sample and be familiar with a lot of different things than be really good at one thing. I love following whatever seems really interesting or fun at the moment. My hobbies change over time, and sometimes I’ll put something aside only to come back to it later (I took 20 years off from playing Mandolin, but I took it up again this year and am going strong).

As for speaking the languages, if I don’t want to talk about the weather in English, why would I want to talk about it in other languages? I will probably join of of the sites where you can take lessons from natives once I get a level of vocab where we can have an interesting conversation. I do have a long term goal of speaking French, but not just yet.

Thanks, and congrats on your streak. I’ll have to check out Lingvist.

December 14, 2017

congratulations! well done!

December 13, 2017

Great job!

December 13, 2017

1000 day streak...I can't even picture it. Incredible! Keep going :D

December 13, 2017


congrats to your success!

I promise: I will read your longer story (Ich geb's zu, genau deswegen habe ich den Thread vor allem angeklickt! :-)) a little bit later, but I want to compliment on your nice formatting / layout NOW:

So somebody can actually enjoy reading your article / story, where others threads fail so miserable because their longer text is written in a single paragraph (Fließtext) with not any new lines or empty lines ;)

You put so much work into it!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Eine Bitte habe ich aber:

Mach lieber ein Offline .TXT Backup auf 2-3 Rechnern (incl. RAID5++ NAS) davon!!!
USB-Sticks kannst vergessen, die gehen plötzlich einfach so defekt!

Wäre nicht das erste Mal, das plötzlich ganze Threads vom Server verschwinden (z.B Error 404) warum auch immer.

Machen die DuoLingo Admins überhaupt DB / Foren Backups?

Und was passiert wenn ein RAID5 Backup System (z.B 2 HDDs) gleichzeitig kaputt gehen?
Gibts dann noch weitere Offline (z.B FTP Daten ZIP) Backups?

December 13, 2017

Thanks! I found this format worked well on a bulletin board at work, and I have used it ever since.

Oh, and I made a backup copy just in case. Thanks for the tip!

December 14, 2017

Congrats! How would you compare the difficulty of Greek, Irish, and Russian? I'm intrigued by your comment that the second was "surprisingly hard."

December 14, 2017

I think it has a lot to do with how close they are on the branches of Indo-European languages, but it can seem easier/harder also based on your language learning history. Greek was tough but with my background in ancient Greek it wasn’t too bad. For a new learner, the alphabet might seem difficult at the start but it doesn’t take too long to get familiar with it.

Russian I found more difficult. Again, the alphabet is only an initial barrier (there are plenty of flashcard sets for alphabets out there to help). Some of the words are very similar to the romance languages, but plenty of them are not. It is also a highly inflected language (as is Greek) so there is a steep learning curve there. I think Russian was harder since there are more vowels to deal with, and some of them are still hard for me to differentiate (let along the whole soft/hard sign modifiers).

Irish is also inflected, but not as much. The real difficulty I think is that the language evolved in isolation for so long that there are fewer familiar words. With Russian and Greek, my familiarity with Romance languages helped because there are a lot of similar words, so they are easier to learn and remember. With Irish, the similarities are fewer. It felt like there was a lot more language drift.

In short, it seems that ease of learning a language really depends on your language background and how closely related the new language is to ones you know. Irish just felt like it was way off in left field compared to Greek or Russian. When I did Italian and Portugeuse, I was able to fly through the trees because there was so much carry over from French and Spanish.

That being said, Irish is really beautiful and unique and I really enjoyed working on it. In fact, talking about it here I think I will revisit the tree after I re-gild Russian. That’s the beauty of being a jack-of-all-trades in that I can jump around any study whatever piques my interest. It’s fun that way.

December 14, 2017

Interesting, thanks! Props to Peter the Great, I guess, eh?

December 15, 2017

Félicitations! Vous avez travaillé dur !

Interesting how everybody has different goals... You are happy to be able to read books in the target language and that's great!

Bonne continuation!

December 13, 2017

Awesome! That's really impressive!

December 13, 2017

nice post, I enjoyed reading it!

December 13, 2017

This was a wonderful read! Congratulations on your streak, which is something I hope to achieve myself one day.

Like you, I’ve started on a lot of trees, but I do find myself focusing on one at a time. I’m also looking at ways to keep up my retention of the languages I’ve learned.

December 14, 2017

Wow, congrats! Maybe I should get back to Greek and/or Irish some day to finish those trees, but they're pretty hard!

December 14, 2017

Maybe you want to check out some French vendor Kitesurfing websites.....
or maybe surfing...

This will probably be a pleasure for you to read!

Are you into those sports?

December 13, 2017
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Well, In my case I am studying English as my primary language, and other 13 aditional languages.

Good luck with your language study.

December 15, 2017
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