My one year Duolingo streak (and mobile blogging)

As I’ve been reviving this blog, I’ve been thinking of topics I want to write about. And one of those topics is my one year streak on Duolingo. I even opened my web browser on my mobile device the other day and went to my WordPress user panel. Then I got distracted.

Which is why I didn’t realise how awful the experience for writing a WordPress post on the mobile web was until today when I tried starting this post there! It said NOPE and wouldn’t scroll. So I download the app which works fine.

ANYWAY.

Earlier today, my pal Katy messaged me about her own Duolingo streak. Now that’s a very obvious sign that it’s time to tell my Duolingo story!

I guess it starts with our yearly trip to our favourite resort in Tenerife. Once we went more than once, it seemed obvious that we’d be back and made sense to pick up some of the language. So I decided to try Spanish.

I had used Duolingo in the past, but mostly to see how many levels of French it would let me skip. I used to be bilingual, it’s a whole thing. Anyway.

After our second trip I started playing around on Duolingo. And then, somewhat surprisingly, I started a streak, the day before my 35th birthday.

This streak would go on for one whole year, and end with me purposefully breaking it, and deleting the app.

The year from when I turned 35 until my recent 36th birthday was a wild ride. I got my AuDHD diagnosis. Things were starting to come together in my brain and click into place. I realised that I’d never done anything every day for a year. I didn’t think it was possible for all the blockers I had in my brain, which all turned out to be symptoms of ADHD.

So once the streak started to build and feel noteworthy it was a no brainer to keep seeing if I could do it.

Now I’m going to put my own product and UX design hay on right now and talk about the real MVP of this whole thing: their iPhone widget.

Initially it came with a few versions of the Duolingo owl becoming gradually more worried as it gets closer to midnight, until you complete a puzzle that takes roughly 2 minutes to do. Then they expanded upon this to create a whole absurdist journey the owl goes on.

It worked for me. Maybe it was the novelty. Maybe it was the fear. Maybe it was when I realised how often I’d get a reaction in the app saying I’d completed the activity in 2 minutes. As I work on my time blindness, these kinds of markers were especially interesting to me.

Did I learn any Spanish? Errr, maybe a little. Sometimes it can be hard with this kind of gamification to find out if people are actually learning the language or simply learning to play the Duolingo games. Do they recognise words or just patterns, and honestly where is the line between words and patterns anyway?

Since I’m already familiar with French I had a basic idea of the syntax. I recognise words either from similarity to French or even just from cultural references.

I did learn how to properly conjugate some common verbs, so I could use them more correctly rather than making a mishmash of subjects and tenses in my awful Spanish accent.

I recognised a few more words. I spoke short responses in Spanish (thank you, hello, sangria please). But I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking more than a few words to somebody.

So in terms of language abilities, I’m not sure. In terms of ADHD understanding and time blindness, I think there were some breakthroughs there. It showed me the level of consistency that is possible — that I know is possible because there’s proof I’ve done it!

Once I had decided I was going to finish at the one year mark, it actually became so hard to continue. I had a few close calls where I almost forgot. My heart wasn’t in it, and I was just trying to prove something that ultimately was arbitrary. I almost quit because who would even know? I hadn’t even really mentioned it to anyone apart from Kate and I guess anyone who followed me on Duolingo.

But I did it. And I’m happy and proud that I did. It really does signify something a lot greater than I’d initially expected. I thought it would be more polite if I could speak directly to the resort crew, order my silly little drinks and write a note to the cleaning lady. And instead it helped me understand my brain a lot better.

I did consider continuing to play Duolingo (which I think is a more accurate way to describe it than “learning Spanish”) but I decided it wasn’t something I enjoyed enough to keep on the rota.

Anyway that’s basically the whole story, and it was quite easily written by using the WordPress mobile app. Publishing, on the other hand was a bit of a nightmare because the app didn’t want to connect and then ended up publishing itself without me realising. But what can you do!