https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

One year on Duolingo - progress report

Bonjour à tous,

I've been on Duolingo nearly a year now and I thought I would share with how I've been progressing. Learning a language independently can be a bit lonely sometimes so I really enjoy reading personal stories on here about how people are getting on with their language journey - whether they're just starting out or on the road to becoming fluent.

I started using Duolingo almost by accident. I was wasting time on Twitter one day and an account I enjoy following - @hrtbps - posed a screenshot of his XPs. He encouraged people to post theirs and lots of people responded with their own screenshots of various languages they were learning. I'd never even heard of Duolingo before this because I'd never set out to learn a new language.

I'm from the UK which is notoriously monolingual and lazy when it comes to languages, especially in comparison to the rest of Europe. We learn languages at school but no one comes out of that with the ability to put sentences together. I grew up believing the line "you don't really need to learn a language because everybody speaks English". I'd always admired people who could speak other languages but I assumed that it was way beyond my capabilities, not necessary, and would require resources I don't really have.

It took a few attempts to get going but I started working through the French tree and found myself really enjoying it. I picked French because I love French films and also because I'd heard it's the easiest language to learn from English. Once my streak reached seven days, that was it - I was officially learning French.

There was a real sense of achievement in finishing the tree and building a streak and climbing the levels. However, after four or five months, my enthusiasm started to wane a bit. It felt like I was putting in a lot of work but I was still no closer to understanding even basic spoken French and attempting to speak it was completely out of the question. I knew lots of bits of French in the context of Duolingo but it was scattered knowledge that needed pulling together somehow. Keeping my streak going started to feel like a massive chore at this stage but I'd invested too much to let it go. And besides, I'd told people I was learning French and didn't want to have to say I'd given up because it was too hard.

The thing that really pulled me back into Duolingo was the stories that were introduced about six months ago. It was really motivating to engage with a more realistic representation of the language. Not only was it fun, with a bit of help, I could understand what was going on and pick up lots of new words. I even used my new found enthusiasm to make all my skills gold for a while.

After this, I stumbled upon the Michel Thomas course and for me, this changed everything. For the first time, I felt like I was starting to internalise the language rather than grasping at something external in the hope of eventually understanding it. Knowing how verbs work and being able to instantly call upon verb constructs such as "I went", "she should have done it", "the house will be sold", "I wouldn't have given it to him" etc, provides your language learning with really powerful building blocks. I've done the advanced course about four times now and still go back to it occasionally. (I just used the foundation and advanced courses - I thought the Michel Thomas method courses sans Michel Thomas were a bit boring.)

After Michel Thomas, the language just felt much more attainable. Duolingo itself made much more sense because I had context for what I was learning - something to pin it on to. I understand now why it's often said that it's much easier to learn a third language than a second one. I understood what verbs, nouns, and adjectives etc, are, and how to use them, but never given much thought to the rules that form the basis of language itself. It's difficult to see outside of it when it's the only one you know.

As well as Duolingo, I tried out lots of different paid and free sites. I took out a few subscriptions but none of them lasted longer than a month. The thing I used most, and still use, is YouTube. I've probably watched more Peppa Pig over the last year than your average toddler. My favourite go-to channel at the moment is Francais avec Pierre. I also use a VPN to access French public TV.

About two months' ago, I realised that I needed to start speaking French if I was going to keep progressing, so I signed up to Italki. This has probably been one of the best moves I've made in learning French besides signing up to Duolingo in the first place. I was terrified at the prospect of speaking and probably built it up to be a bigger deal than it needed to be. I spent my first month on Italki just browsing through the tutors' videos and imagining it all going horribly wrong. But knowing I was going to do it eventually, I started making myself think in French and would have imaginary conversations in my head in preparation.

It turns out I was worried about nothing. Well, actually... to be honest, the first few sessions were really hard because they were 95% in French and flailing around for an hour trying to find words can be exhausting. However, after that, it was like something just clicked and I suddenly found myself conversing in French without stress and panic. Like, the tutor would say something in French (albeit easy and slow) and I would understand and respond IN FRENCH! It just blows my mind that this is happening. Sometimes I find myself saying things I'd forgotten I even knew.

I've found a couple of tutors I really like so I'm going to take part in the Italki language challenge and do four to five hours a week in July. They both insist on no English which is tough but the best way to improve. My vocabulary needs work so I'm currently working on mastering an Anki deck of the 3,000 most commonly used French words. My aim is to have all of them burned into my long-term memory within two months so I can instantly recall and recognise them. Gabe Wyner of Fluent Forever reckons Anki decks are the closest thing we have to the "I know Kung Fu" scene in the Matrix.

My goal on Duolingo is to gold the tree, reach level 25, and get a 1,000-day streak. I don't want to get controversial but I really love the new crown system over the old system and I don't intend to leave Duolingo any time soon. It's given me invaluable building blocks in the language itself but it's also provided me with a kind of language learning home. It kept me being a French learner even when I didn't feel like one. All those minimum 10XPs that were done so begrudgingly when I was really demotivated still connected me to learning French every day.

I still have a long, long way to go but I'm more motivated to learn French now than I've ever been. The more I learn, the more I want to learn - it's addictive! My ultimate goal is to one day become fluent which will involve actually going to France at some point.

If anyone is at that stage where they're progressing with Duolingo but frustrated because real French still makes no sense and so are wondering if it's all worth it, my advice would be that it will start to come together if you keep putting the work in. However, try to use resources that are at an appropriate level. I wasted too much time trying to understand things like French radio news and culture podcasts where I could only catch about two words in ten. Things like that are useful for knowing where you need to get to but not as a learning tool, imo.

This post ended up being a lot longer than I intended so thanks for reading if you got this far! I think if someone like me - with limited resources and no actual real reason for learning French in the first place - can acquire a decent grasp of the language, then there's hope for everyone.

June 24, 2018

37 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/LorettaPresley

Thank you so much for this awesome LONG post! I'm at the phase where I understand SO MUCH already, but I cannot form a sentence without saying something really stupid I later realizing just how embarrassing what I said or wrote is. I know what I want to say...but then I cannot think of all the conjuctions I need to glue that sentence together. So I look 'em up again, stick 'em in there and...wait, should I use connais instead of sais? Mal or mauvais? Is it d'eau or l'eau here? C'est or il est? Je besoin l'aide haha.

I'm so looking into Michel Thomas now.

June 24, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/wcjerky

The embarrassment is completely normal. As a Canadian who learned some French as a child, I consistently fumble French sentences and tenses, as well as the proper placement of 'que.' When I lived in Italy for two months, it took about six weeks to make a sentence naturally, despite completing the Italian module here on Duo a year prior. Different mental pathways for different actions.

'Tra dire e fare c'è il mezzo del mare.' 'Easier said than done.'

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/saksham527509

Oh my god, i'm sure you get this a lot but looking at your language list is impressive. Good on you sir, have a lingot.

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/BlueCookies13

Yeah, I had the same problem. But I moved to Germany about a year ago and took a French course with an actual French teacher - this improved both my German and my French! I am half German though, so it might be cheating... :P Anyways, I know the differences - just a little practice and you will too!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/LorettaPresley

I'm also half German (the other half is American). I grew up literally all over the world so I should be a polygot already, but nope. My German is really good other than the accent, which needs work. I don't do well in classes, though. I hated school with such a burning passion, I'd never go back to a classroom setting unless I absolutely had to. Sessions with a private teacher might be an option in the future, though. I'm not counting that out yet, but for now,I'll exhaust some other options, such as audio programs.

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/waitingforgoddot

It took me two years to get over being embarrassed about making mistakes. After a while you just get over it and realize that you need to make mistakes in order to learn. Plus no one really cares anyway if you used the wrong word. A lot of French people tell me that the French are terrible with their own grammar lol.

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/RhinoBug

What an inspiring post! Thank you for taking time to share your study journey! I started learning French without any strong reason but I just like the language. I can tell I'm still in the 'scattered knowledge' stage but you gave me a hope. I don't know anything about Michel Thomas method but I'm going to check it out!

Votre histoire m'a beaucoup encouragé. Merci beaucoup!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

I'm so pleased it's helped you! I posted it in the hope of encouraging anyone who might be feeling like it's never going to make sense. I've seen a couple of "is Duolingo worth it?" recently and I wanted to shout "yes, it's absolutely 100% worth it!" (if you use other resources as well).

The key, imo, is to make it not feel like work. That way you can spend hours a day 'learning French' without being put off at the thought of doing it. Duolingo is really fun, especially when you start out. Michel Thomas got me really excited about French and it never felt like hard work. The time I used to spend on social media, Netflix or Reddit or whatever has been replaced by learning French - but I'm just being entertained by French media instead now. French twitter is useful for writing practice and I've also discovered some bangin' French electronic music that I've fallen in love with. Sometimes I can't believe how amazing the internet is, that all this is possible from a computer!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/RhinoBug

L'ordinateur fait les choses possibles! J'ai décidé de vérifier plus sur You-tube ou Netflix.

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/opheliawaspushed

One of my favorite things about the language learning community is reading success stories like this one. ♡ Keep up the good work!

June 24, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Thank you!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/ppelk

An absolutely great post, thanks! A number of good tips for the different phases of learning a language, and the post also demonstrates that you need to stick to it and keep reaching higher. I think you deserve the trip to France now :-)

June 24, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Thank you! I can't wait to go to France one day and be surrounded by French. I'm so excited about it!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AngelGee4

Thank you for the information, and for your story.

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

You're welcome!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/BiggieCheese25

cool :)

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Olaf.Rabbachin

Thanks for so elaborately sharing your story, I enjoyed it quite much! If you feel like it, I'd very much appreciate more insight into how you watch French TV. I enjoy watching French TV via Satellite, but, as a German, I'm currently limited to a tiny number of (unencrypted) channels. Thanks to DVB though, these usually come with subtitles which helps quite a bit!

Oh, and BTW: if you want to improve your vocabulary, take a look at 5000 Most Common French Words on Memrise. It comes with audio too. It probably does contain lots of words you already know, but repetition never hurts! :-)

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/LorettaPresley

A VPN is kind of like a proxy. It encrypts his UK IP and therefore allows him to gain access to French TV. It's not exactly legal to use a VPN that way, so I'm not sure if he'd be allowed to say on Duo. If you have netflix, sometimes they have movies and shows available in French if that was the original language. So if you have it, check that out.

Personally, I don't have satellite or cable because my weird viewing preferences make it not worth the cost. I use youtube and my local library and used to have netflix.

Youtube has soo much stuff available and you can play it on your TV. Now they don't have full episodes of brand new drama shows or new movies, but a lot of news, reality TV, documentaries and older content. I'm guilty of watching countless of French wife swap on youtube, including recent 2017 episodes. Ouch.

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

I don't think it's illegal to use a VPN (unless you live in China). I think the onus is on the broadcaster to block VPN connections if they object to them - they're easily identified and it's easy to do. The BBC does it and Netflix started doing it a couple of years ago. For some reason, French public broadcasters are still allowing them. I'm going to take advantage while they are!

*She :-)

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Olaf.Rabbachin

Cheers for the heads up! I know that there's YT et al, but I'm a simple person - I prefer the regular TV at times. :-) Particularly as there's documentaries, news and movies I'd never have thought to consider. But yes, I do have both Netflix and Amazon Prime. However, in Germany there's next to no content in French. Also, out of the few that I picked, I haven't seen a single one with subtitles.

RE French wife swap: I just took a glimpse at this episode. Gee, I only lasted 39 seconds! :-)

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/LorettaPresley

I cannot believe that I forgot about Prime! I have that as well (not just for movies and such, as that wouldn't be worth it for me) and am very pleased with it in general, though there is very very little French content if you aren't in a French speaking country.

Now I'm exactly the opposite, I prefer Netflix, Prime, youtube and even DVDs over live TV. After years of having only the public channels I barely watch, I've gotten used to picking and choosing exactly when I watch what without having to plan around it or even remember to record it. Watching anything on a non public channel that wasn't prerecorded so commercials are skip-able is pure torture now. I am an odd individual. Sometimes I make playlists of stuff on yt and play them on the TV when the mood strikes me. That way, I don't have to go and find anything when I DO want to watch stuff.

Oh gosh, that accent!! Now I'm female and guilty of having watched trash TV like that in my native language back in the day. At least when it's French I have an excuse. I understand about half most of the time. Up to 80% in kids' programs though.

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Hi Olaf, thanks for this - it looks really good!

Here's an article that explains how you can access French TV online. I hope you find it useful!

https://frenchtogether.com/watch-french-tv/

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Olaf.Rabbachin

Thanks, Alex, very much appreciated indeed!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Aussie-Matt

I am following you and as if by chance arrived on this. honest, insightful and an almost epic journey. i would love to pick your brain online one day to help me take the next step. Well done. Matt

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Thanks Matt, I really like your enthusiastic posts about your own language journey!

June 25, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/waitingforgoddot

Bien joué Alex, j'adore ton histoire. On dirait que tu connais déjà pas mal de Français. Merci pour tes petits conseils. Je ne connaissais pas "Italki." Je pense que je vais l'utiliser pour allemand et italien. Si t'es jamais à Paris, tu as une amie ici avec laquelle tu peux boire un café!

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Merci beaucoup, waitingforgoddot, tu es très gentile!

Je recommande vraiment Italki pour améliorer ton allemand et italien. C'est fantastique!

June 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Nonenara

Thank you so much for your kind post. To be honest, I actually a newbie for Duolingo by today and I hope I can explore more through this site. Looking forward to sharing my progress with you all. Cheers!

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AnnaBibiko1

Wow! Thanks for your post. Your story is very similar to how I've learned English. I started occasionally without even knowing why do I need it and then I just got addicted. Sometimes it feels that I have no progress at all, but I reached fluency just in one year and half. Which is quite fast actually. I wish you all the best with your French journey!

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/waikong

Thanks for your story, very inspirational. Gave you an lingot and am following your progress.

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Merci!

June 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/CommeuneTexane

Thanks for sharing your language journey! I agree that one of the best things you can do is talk to native speakers in addition to the work you've already done with Duolingo and with Michel Thomas. I encourage you to continue that!

You are at the stage where things are starting to click together and it becomes fun! You can read a bit, understand some spoken French and start to play with the language a bit.

Best wishes to you in your journey ahead!

June 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

Thank you! This never would have happened without Duolingo and I'll be forever grateful to this site for helping me discover the joy of learning a new language!

June 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/hwbrent

well done mate

June 27, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Geoff928089

Great post, thanks. I am 1 year into French and this helps a lot. I finished the old tree but I am now working on the new tree which I find much better and more challenging.

June 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDisko

I'm so glad it helped you. I really hope it goes well!

June 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/CristineEc

This is so helpful! I'm at the demoralized stage... started a few months ago, keep making basic mistakes and want to be farther along than I am at this point. I really really appreciate you listing other resources to add to Duolingo- I've known I need to add in something else, but there are so many options, hard to know where to start. Thanks!

June 30, 2018
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