Have you ever wanted to learn a new language? I was fascinated at the fact that I could just download an app and start learning. In high school, I took French my freshman and junior year. My foreign language choices were French, Spanish, and German. I’m not sure why French sounded appealing to me at the time – maybe it was how it sounds? I think I also thought that nearly everyone was taking Spanish, so I wanted to be different. So, 642 days ago, I began to use Duolingo since the wife and kids were using it for Spanish.

It’s been a while since having done the beginning lessons. Off the top of my head, I can remember greetings, eating pizza, croissants, bread, learning about restaurants, bakeries, houses, and cats, dogs, and horses. I remembered some of those things from high school; my memory holds on to some strange things. Some beginning verbs include forms of “to be”, “to go”, “to eat”, “to speak”. Things really started to pick up when learning different tenses – conjugation! A weird thing happened around my one year streak, and I thought I had broken it. I guess Duolingo got confused, and I was able to continue my streak.

I wanted to explore other language learning apps to see if I could benefit from different types of teaching styles. One other that I tried was called Speechling. It was similar to learning with flash cards, but it helped train listening, also. The phrase would be presented on the screen along with audio from a real speaker – which is very different than Duolingo, which sounds more computer generated. I only used the free version of the app, and you could have a fluent speaker grade your pronunciation. Perhaps I just didn’t take the course too far along, but I felt Duolingo was more structured – not structured like an American English course, but you would at least learn how to conjugate the verbs as you progress, and it is focused heavily on conversation in everyday scenarios. The second app I tried, and still continue to use, is Tandem. This is perhaps the closest thing to living and learning to speak in that respective country; you view profiles of fluent speakers and can choose who to begin a conversation with. Everyone is there to exchange learning, which makes it a welcoming environment. You can exchange written messages, audio messages, share photos, and even have an internet phone call. I’ve never done a call simply because I don’t feel competent enough to do so, yet. I have done the rest; however. It’s always great when you can learn about other cultures from real folks. Tandem also features “parties”, which are large group conversations. Parties are labeled by the languages that are being spoken. For example, you could join a party where people are speaking French and English. Sometimes, there are more than two languages, and you can choose to just listen or you can speak, and you can come and go as you please. This is another great app to train your ear, since you’re listening to real people.

More on listening – podcasts! I enjoy listening to these while I work. Listening really helps me with pronunciation and comprehension through context. A few podcasts I’ve discovered are: Learn French with Alexa, Fran├žais Authentique, and the Duolingo French Podcast. Alexa’s channel reviews everyday situations and is nearly 100% spoken in French. Her pronunciation is crystal clear, explanations are thorough, and her teaching style really grabs your attention. Fran├žais Authentique is strictly French, so I don’t actually always know what he’s talking about, but it’s still useful ear training and encourages comprehension through context. Lastly, the Duolingo podcast alternates between French and English – not direct translations. The English simply gives context for the French portion. It also doubles as a history lesson, since the topics are often about real French people and their contributions to the country (or to the world), and sometimes the topics are related to current events.

So, I don’t have games on my phone, except for one coloring game for my daughters. But, I do have a few language learning apps. Besides Duolingo and Tandem, I have Reverso Context (extremely useful translator and conjugator), Bunpo, and Write It: Japanese. Wait, when did we start talking about Japanese? Ok, I guess midway through my French learning, I decided to learn something complete different. I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture; discipline is a major part of their culture. I love their food and the sound of the language. The biggest challenge for me is learning a new character set…a very comprehensive character set. I’ve barely scratched the surface. I spend a lot of time with Write It: Japanese, because it teaches stroke order (very important), and it teaches both hiragana and katana; each has its own purpose. There’s still kanji, but that is much further down the line for me. Bunpo teaches basic words and phrases along with grammar, and the voices sound more realistic.

I’ve used Tandem to speak with Japanese people, but I’ve only helped them with their English and have exchanged cultural tid bits. It’s difficult to learn other languages with just some spare time, but persistence goes a long way! I’m not in a hurry, but I have made tremendous progress (at least, from my perspective) in the past year and a half. Italian is another that I started in Duolingo, because…well, it’s Italian! It’s such a beautiful language.

I apologize for the day delay in publishing the weekly post, but I hope you find this helpful if language learning is one of your endeavors!

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