Tag Archives: Duolingo

An unnecessary fight to the end

Bear with me—this is a Duolingo blog this week.

Before properly semi-quitting Duolingo after finishing the Chinese course, I wanted to get the one trophy that was eluding me: Legendary—Finish #1 in the Diamond League.

I know it doesn't matter. I really do. But. It's been bothering me in an annoying, low-key way. I've finished second maybe five or six times, including the last two weeks. I've been ahead on the last day, and then put the phone down—as a good human should—only to come back and discover I got bumped out of the top spot when the weekly tournament ended. It doesn't matter. But.

Not gonna happen this week. This week I'm going to stick it out.

It's just that I happened to find another player in my league this week who is committed to the top spot, and the points are spiraling out of control.

I've had a Duolingo account for eight years, using it solidly for two of them and sparingly for two more, and I've earned 6.5% of my total points—ever—today trying to stay on top. It's madness. It's an unjustifiable use of time. But I... want to stop thinking about it. I just want to win the damned thing and be done with it. So I keep hitting the feeder bar, trying to get a few more pellets—working through some Chinese study, working through some Hindi study. (My Hindi language skills, meager as they were, have come back somewhat during this points blitz, so there's that.)

Only twenty more hours to hold on...

A tangent: sometimes I think that it would be interesting to turn work into a kind of game—points for this, points for that, have a leaderboard, crown winners, etc. I've got my doubts, though. Something that gets your team to work hard and finish things—that's good. But when I think of how my brain works in cases like this, where it locks onto this stupid need to have more points, then I know that gamification could go very wrong. I don't think I have an obsessive personality—see the other eight years of not caring so much about this one thing—but the potential is there, apparently. And I think that you might be able to mess people up with work-like-a-game if they were obsessive about games. Getting good performance from your people is good, but driving them nuts is not.

Nicole Lewis. "Be Careful: Gamification at Work Can Go Very Wrong". Society for Human Resource Management (2019-02-28).

Also worth a look: the references section of the Gamification page on Wikipedia: Gamification#References.

Another thing: how effective is the learning when I'm focused more on earning points? I have to answer questions correctly—identifying Chinese characters or Hindi letters, being able to write what I've heard, being able to translate simple sentences to and from the target language—but, like any game, the idea is to score, not to absorb the most learning. What that might mean anyway.

Finished with Duolingo Chinese course

Back in July, I made it to the Diamond League in Duolingo, and it was only semi-ironically that I declared it my major accomplishment for the year. 2020: take your wins where you could get them, I say.

Many days later—308 "consecutive" days, although there are a few streak freeze days in there—I finished the Chinese course:

Please clap.

OK, simmer down.

When I started using Duolingo in 2013, there wasn't even a Chinese course. I mostly did the Spanish course (to better understand the local language in California) with a little bit of Portuguese (since our main customer at Mason was Embraer down in Brazil).

Duolingo works well for me because it is a game—it reaches right into that part of my brain that counts points and acknowledges streaks even though they're meaningless. You don't win anything, but you have many of the ceremonies of advancing in tournaments and winning. Even much of the content itself has limited educational value—but it has some value, so if you keep going, you get something out of it. The language content isn't optimal—whatever "optimal" might mean here, I'm not very concerned about defining—but your knowledge will follow an upward trend.

Duolingo is dessert. You can't (shouldn't) live off it, but it is nice and good and has its place in the world and I'm not going to stop eating it.

I've been thinking of bailing out of the Duolingo Chinese course for ages now, but more than wanting to finish the course for its content, I believed in the value of sticking to something to the end because my self-education history is a scrapyard of partially-finished projects. It's a weakness of mine to have some other plan catch my attention before the finish line, and then run after that; then another one, then run there; then another and run; and so on and so on. (Bokonon: "Round and round and round we spin, / With feet of lead and wings of tin".)

So: I stuck this one out. Now what?

On Duolingo? I don't know. I think it could come in handy to study the language for places where I'm planning to travel, if the language is available. I think the app is good for languages you don't plan to master, but just want to learn a bit about. The other languages aren't my focus, though.

Chinese? See, this one I want to master, so I have to figure out the next path. A simple, discrete goal for this year is to get up to HSK Level 4. A certification like that is a lot of vocabulary and grammar patterns—useful stuff, but in and of itself not very interesting. I don't care about a certification, but it is a landmark off in the distance that I can walk toward. Not not-moving is key.

It would be more interesting to be able to read good literature in Chinese. It would be more interesting to understand what the crosstalk performers are joking about. It would be more interesting to be able to both understand what people are saying to me and say something back to them—not just something but something witty and hilarious. (The people of the Chinese-speaking world deserve this Content and I must not deprive them of it.)

So I'll make a new path. I don't know what it is yet, but I'll head off in some direction, then adapt and adapt and adapt. It's a little bit like hiking. Sometimes it's best to know exactly where you want to go and how to get there. Sometimes it's even better to have a rough idea of where to go, no idea how to get there, and then have an open-ended adventure as you find or don't find a destination. I've found some places in India and Inyo County and Ingersoll Scout Reservation that have stuck in my memories all these years, and I don't know where they are, what they are, or how I got there. It's a matter of taste to decide which type of trip to take when it's time to set out, and then again when you're out there, and then again when you've returned.

Diamond League

I have achieved my [checks notes] only stay-at-home accomplishment so far: made it to the top league in the weekly leaderboard on Duolingo (kirkkittell).

As I've mentioned somewhere around here, it hasn't been easy to focus the last few months. That's hardly a controversial thing to say—is anyone focusing? Send detailed instructions if you are. I don't know how people with kids are managing it. Running through a few lessons on Duolingo in the morning is one of the few things I've been consistent about—I'm on a 102-day streak now. I've been slowly walking up weekly running distance to 30 km/week and pushups to 220/day—bumping them up every week (recently) by 5 km/week and 10 pushups/day. The increase will eventually collapse under its own weight, but in the meantime I'm trying to grab onto the things that I can and fix them in place, then build something around them.

There is a feeling of the days being lost to routines like this—do this in the morning, do that after work, do this before bed, repeat repeat repeat repeat, where did the month go? However. I've lost plenty of days to irredeemable low spots, so if Chinese lessons and running and pushups keeps the world on track, I'll go with it.