Today I learnt: more about other languages

I’ve definitely felt over the last year or so that the world is becoming a smaller place. More and more I find myself spending time with people from all over the globe, and it feels very normal. But as ever, I’m embarrassed by how little I know of other languages, in comparison to how incredibly well people from other countries can speak mine.


Whilst I was busy drinking wine with some friends of mine this evening, a german friend shared with everyone the term “Schnapsidee”. A word which ultimately means a plan one hatches whilst drunk. What an amazing word to have within your language?(Just think of all of the times you might have been able to use this word if you’d known about it!) Anyway, as discussions progressed about brilliant words and phrases that different languages have, I suddenly realised that the drive to learn and understand other languages is now finally coming to the forefront thanks to technology. It was only just earlier this week that I started using Duolingo, a free online language learning platform, which is beautifully designed and incredibly easy to use. I learnt Spanish at A-level, and wanted to test what I remembered, so I took one of their assessments. It was smooth, and the best thing about it was the slick logic which meant you didn’t have to give a word for word translation but that it would accept various reasonable versions as correct. It also, thankfully, doesn’t hold it against you if you forget to put accents in the right place, but instead gently nudges you to remember next time.

Duolingo now has 40 million users — which is no surprise considering that it only took me a few hours after I’d started using it to recommend it to over 5 other people (impressive viral cycle time!). And apparently in America more people are learning languages using Duolingo than there are learning languages through the US public school system. It’s astounding to think that so many people now have free access to learning new languages and I’m so excited to see a new age of people being able to better communicate with others from all over the world. What will also be fascinating is how this helps to develop our understanding of how to best teach and learn new languages based on the data that Duolingo can garner from it’s users.

Duolingo also gives users the opportunity to learn as little or as much as you want, with short exercises where you feel like you’ve achieved something even after just 15 minutes. So, to continue with my learning spree — and considering the fact that I was so delighted with the German word for a drunken plan — as of tomorrow I will be spending 30 minutes each day learning German in the hope that I might discover more words like this.

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