COLM O'REGAN: I told Duolingo I wanted to do the 'Insane' level of Spanish per day

My vital signs are showing good numbers, says Colm O’Regan

My vital signs are showing good numbers. Health is at 609. I’m on a “one day streak” and I’ve “met my goals” so far. I feel good but I know in a little while the anxiety will increase. I’ll need to get back to my phone to continue or I may start getting warnings and inquiries after my health. Two hours in and I’m already hooked on Duolingo.

Duolingo is not a sporty version of the Citroen van that stores things that don’t fit in the house. It’s a language-learning app.

You may be aware of it already. It’s one of those words that nudged its way into my consciousness over the last few months. Have you ever found that? You vaguely heard of a concept, then you heard it some more and eventually you couldn’t ignore it. Eventually you found yourself leaning on a gate and saying by way of smalltalk, ‘Tis all bitcoins nowadays’? So it is with Duolingo. It is, apparently, revolutionising the way people learn languages.

And if you haven’t heard of it before, there’s a strong chance you inadvertently worked for the man who invented it. Luis van Ahn also created reCAPTCHA.

Do you remember filling out a form on the internet and then they’d get you to prove you weren’t a robot by telling them what the blurry word was in the picture? You weren’t doing it for the giggle. You were actually helping to digitise bits of millions of books that computers couldn’t do automatically.

So next time you see Luis van Ahn, ask him for back pay. But back to Duolingo, It’s addictive. I’m talking Angry Birds addictive. You progress through some stages and the next stage is all lit up, just waiting for you to try.

I’m doing Spanish because I did some Spanish lessons years ago when loads of lads were trying a bit of Spanish in the hope of meeting a Spanish girl who’d understand them “better than yer wan in the nightclub anyway”. And we could live in Spain half the year where I would be eating olives, drinking wine out of mugs and writing a novel about an Irish fella who told everyone to go and shite and went off to live in Spain.

My current motivation is to get back to the level of Spanish that I am convinced I should be at.

I told Duolingo I wanted to do the “Insane” level of Spanish per day. Duolingo said “Great Colm. Delighted you’re so enthusiastic but if we could just go through the formality of a little test, if you don’t mind.”

It was a test I failed miserably. Duolingo was gutted. A tearful owl appeared on the screen and said “you didn’t test out of any skills” whatever that means. But it looks like the whole staff of Duolingo were disappointed.

So now I’ve got to go back to Junior Infants, sitting there with my beard and great pronunciation shouting THE WOMAN DRINKS WATER FOR FECK SAKE. But hopefully I’ll be back to the insane level soon.

I’m getting there. According to Duolingo I’m now 15% fluent. I don’t know whether that is of any use. It’s a bit like saying the airplane works 15% of the time.

While on the journey to insanity, I’m struck by the voices they use. There’s something about Spanish men telling you basic facts that makes you think a far more serious event has taken place.

“Yes they eat apples” says one man, as if confirming to the detective that his suspicions were correct.

“We eat rice” says another deep voiced male, encouraging the rice farmers to increase their productivity for the glory of the Cuban Revolution and feed the hungry rice-consuming proletariat.

“No Virginia no come pollo.”

‘No Virginia doesn’t eat chicken’ says a disappointed woman. Typical Virginia.

But Virginia can do what she wants. I have correctly confirmed that I drink water and now I am ready to read a letter. 20% fluency is just within my grasp.


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