366 Days with Duolingo

I am not the most disciplined person in the world. I tended to start off very excited about a new project and then lose interest about 75% of the way through.

I’ve just completed a year (a leap year even) of doing Duolingo every day. I started Duolingo two years ago, 10 January 2015, after trying a number of other online websites both Free and paid. I had a dream of learning French but wasn’t sure how to get there. Now I can kind of read French Newspapers and can often understand some French conversations. I do have a way to go. But I don’t think I would have come this far without Duolingo.

I have had a dream of learning French for years, but wasn’t sure how to get there. Now I can read and understand French Newspapers and can often understand some French conversations. I do have a way to go. But I don’t think I would have come this far without Duolingo.

Duolingo is Free so this is not a sponsored add. I also use other paid websites including Rocket French, however, it is Duolingo that I come to first every day.

I have written about Duolingo before. But this is the one year mark of a perfect streak so I have something to celebrate. To tell you the truth I did miss a few days from time to time. But Duolingo lets you use your acquired points, called Lingots, to get a one-day streak protection, so that your score doesn’t go back to zero. It is very disheartening to see your score go back to zero, but then I have to remind myself that I am here to learn French and not run up a score.

Interestingly enough it’s the score that keeps me coming back. I’m not overly competitive but I use to be a hardcore gamer back when “Doom” and “Duke Nukem” were new. So there is something about Duolingo’s ‘gamification’ that appeals to me on a deep level.

Steve Kaufman creator of the LingQ.com website.

I guess, by keeping score, it makes me feel like I’m making progress even when I find the language frustrating. But as the experts like Steve Kaufmann say, language learning is about spending time daily with the language. Duolingo has done that for me. It has made me sit down each day and just do a little bit. As you can see from my

As you can see from my screenshot at the top of the page, I am only doing Ten words a day right now. I was doing thirty, but then Duolingo ran out of French and I had to do Italian for a while.

Duolingo’s lessons expire from time to time, so you need to revisit them. So I am back to doing French. I’m doing only 10 again to pace myself. And by only doing 10 a day it gives more time for my completed lessons to expire. I’m doing my real language learning at Rock french these days.

If I were to list the things Duolingo has done for me. They would be, (in no particular order).

  • Made French Learning a habit. (Habits are very important)
  • Kept score – which made me protective of my score. Which made me come back.
  • Gave me a variety of different styles of lessons.
  • Slowly built up my vocabulary over the last two years.
  • Kept me learning during the times I was really over the whole thing. There are some weeks that I just go in a do the minimum. But if you can get through these times you will make progress.
  • Gave me a sense of completion. Last October I completed the last French modules, I felt like I had done something. Yesterday when I completed 365 days and today when I did the whole leap year I felt that way again. As silly as these little feelings of pride are, they are very important in the overall progression of learning French.

I don’t think Duolingo will teach you French, but it will build your vocabulary and your confidence and it’s a great place to start.



Rocket French

Learn French on-line with Rocket French. Click here for a free trial.



The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Road Testing French Lessons Online – Part I

In this segment, I will be testing different French learning systems. It is important to realize that what works for me may not work for others. The goal of my French learning is to speak and read French I want to be a “practical” French speaker that retains the language and not someone that passes a test on it to get a grade in school.

I’ve done a number of reviews on this page of different learning systems. You can find them in my past posts.

My two current systems that I use daily are;
duolingo-owlDuolingo French. (I have completed the Duolingo French system a few months ago, so currently I use it as a daily review.)

French Living Language calendar
I have a process where I review the French word and phrase of the day. This is a fun part of my day.

I will be starting my own French word of the day (Word du jour) mailing list very soon.

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

If you are interested in buying a Living Language calendar here is a link. Full disclosure I do make some money from affiliate links (in theory anyway) it does help me to keep this blog going. Thanks for your support.

Living Language: French 2017 Day-to-Day Calendar


This week we’re are going to look at Rocket French.

For the Rocket French website Click Here!


Rocket French

Today I’m looking at a new system called Rocket French. I found the Rocket French site online and they appear interesting.

The main presenter of the course is Paul who has a charming English accent. Paul introduces himself as having lived in France as a child. Paul claims to speak fluent French. (This is important. I’ll talk about French accents a little later.)

The other presenter is Claire. Claire is a native French speaker and she does most of the French speaking on the sight. Claire has a lovely and strong French accent when she speaks Engish and demostraight how to say things in both perfect French as well as in “street French” which can be a bit harder to understand.

So far so good. It’s important to learn from a native speaker, or at least someone who has known the language since they were a child. This course appears to have both.


Pardon me while I digress here for a moment.

Why is it that someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who have lived most of his life in the United States still has such a strong Austrian accent?

It’s because when we learn a language as a child we learn to listen for and make the little sounds that collectively create the language. I have lived in Australia for many years and yet still have an American accent.

I found out recently that the French have difficulty with the “Th” sound in “Thistle” although a French speaker can quickly learn to make the sound perfectly, it takes a bit longer for the sound to connect with the language center in their mind so that when they make the “th” sound it registers as important meaningful sound and now just a random noise.

There are sounds in French that English speakers have difficulty making. I’ll see if I can find more on this later.

I saw an interview once where Arnold Schwarzenegger said that he had accent reduction classes for years. His accent has been somewhat diminished however it is still quite strong. It should be pointed out that Arnold hasn’t let his accent get in the way of his success, and neither should you.

I must confess that I use to be a little impatient with people who spoke English badly. But now that I’ve seen how difficult it can be to learn a new language I feel a bit of admiration and even kinship with someone that speaks broken English. I can only imagine what I sound like when I speak French.

The Challenge

Rocket French offers a  free seven-day sample of the course. So I’m am going to test it out for seven days and see what I think.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve already tried the Pimsleur French (which was presented with American accents) which I tried very early in my French learning undertaking.

Pimsleur was one of the first courses that I bought online, however it was just an audio CD, (I also have the Audible version) and there was no written version of what I was saying.

I found myself wanting to see what the words look like. I think that I would do better with Pimsleur now that I have done Duolingo French for almost two years.

Duolingo is my favorite learning system so far. I started on 10 January 2015. But I think Duolingo has taken me as far as it can go. I’m out of vocabulary and am searching for a new system to take me to the next level.

Targets are important

I graduated high school hating the word “Goals” as I had a teacher that overused the word way too much. So we can replace it with “Targets”.

My Targets French Learning Target

(I stole this from TED talks. I am grateful. I think this ia great way of measuring personal improvement.)

In a hypothetical French Restaurant

  1. Be able to read the menu (in French).
  2. Be able to order from the menu in French.
  3. Be able to understand the waiter when he/she speaks to me in French.
  4. Be able to answer the waiter in return in French.
  5. Be able to listen to French conversation of the people around me.
  6. To be able to join in on the French conversations.

(My own targets)

  1. To be able to read Tintin in French
  2. To be able to read French Newspapers (online) in French.
  3. To be able to read a French book.
  4. To be able to watch French news and movies and understand them.
  5. To be able to hold a conversation in French with native French speakers.

I am starting this seven-day test and will report back on this post with my results.

This is the first language course road test I will have started (I plan to do more in the future) so I am not really sure on what criteria I will be judging the course on.

The real test will be if I like the course or not.

  • Will it work for me?
  • Is it something I can do daily and not get bored or frustrated with?
  • I hope that it’s something that I will look forward to, or at least not dread.

So there will be a Scale of “Dread” to “look forward to”.

  • Dread” being  Zero.
  • Look forward to” being Ten.

Day one – 21 November 2016

  • I like the sound of both Paul’s and Claire’s voices. There is a written thing version of everything they say so it is possible to follow them.
  • There is a written thing version of everything they say so it is possible to follow them.
  • Paul who is the narrator tries to keep the feeling of the lesson light and positive. (I know this may put some people off, but his he was cynical and uncaring no one would listen to him.)
  • I’m listening to the first lesson a few times and I’m saying the words with them. (I was listening on my laptop in a public place – down at the gym- so I’m pretending that I having a Skype conversation.) Not that I care what people think of me. I just think people will tune me out and leave me alone if they think I’m on a call. So I am repeating most of the dialog to myself in a mumble. The lady next to me is chatting away in her loudest tone of voice.

I’m looking forward to my next lesson.

Day Two – 22 November 2016

Learning the French alphabet.
Learning the French alphabet.

Today I looked at Rocket Lingo’s lesson dealt mainly with the Alphabet. This is something that I’ve been working on for some time. It’s not really covered in Duolingo. Knowing the French Alphabet is extremely important. The inner snob in me scoffs when thinking that I have to learn the alphabet again. However learning the alphabet teaches you all sounds that you need to make in learning French. It’s a good facial exercise as it helps you to develop the different facial muscles that you need to speak French. It also helps you develop an ear for the language.

The inner snob in me scoffs when thinking that I have to learn the alphabet again. However learning the alphabet teaches you all sounds that you need to make in learning French. It’s a good facial exercise as it helps you to develop the different facial muscles that you need to speak French. It also helps you develop an ear for the language.

Tip: The French use the same Roman Latin Alphabet that the English do. Most of the French letters are pronounce the same as they are in English. There are a handful of exceptions. The Vowels “e”, “i” have exchanged names in French for some reason. Also “g” and “j” have also exchanged names.

As a child I always thought that the “w” looked more like two “v’s” than two “u’s”. The French seem to agree with this and the “w” is called = “dooble vay”.

The last few letters of the French Alphabet.
The last few letters of the French Alphabet.

I didn’t know this before put the letter “y” was borrowed from the Greek alphabet. The French call it “ee-grayk” meaning the “i of the Greeks”.

The French an the British both call the letter “z” = zed.

Day four – 24 November 2016
I’m sorry I have been busy. I have kept up the language learning. I am quite enjoying Rocket French.

The creators of Rocket French seem to have thought of a number of things that have frustrated me with other courses in the past.

The conversation is broken down into parts.
(Screen Cap) The conversation is broken down into parts.

Often I get long conversations and then they are broken down. Rocket French does this as well. But then it has each part of the conversation on a separate line, where you are able to listen to the parts that you choose and play them separately without having to replay the whole conversation.

This is handy as often I find it’s only a few parts of a sentence that I need to work on.







My Personal Journal of Language Learning – Part 1

A look at different language learning systems.

I’m looking at a number of different ways to Lean French and Improve what I already know.

The systems that are am currently using for language learning are;

youtubeYouTube: there were a number of Youtube videos that I looked at before I started serious language learning. https://www.youtube.com/user/lingosteve

Steve Kaufman creator of the LingQ.com website.
Steve Kaufmann creator of the LingQ.com website.

I found Steve Kaufmann’s approach to language learning very refreshing. He knows around 15 languages and he his always learning more. From time to time he has 90 day challenges. Where he focuses on one language for 90 days to see if he can crack it. He encourages other people to join him on his 90 challengers. My favorite part about Mr. Steve Kaufmann is how it does not like traditional academic language teaching techniques. He (like myself) found that he learned little in his high school language classes. Steven Kaufmann is very much for the idea that we should all design our own language learning program to fit our needs. He interviews other polyglots from time to time and they discuss their personal styles. Most importantly Steve Kaufmann taught me that it might be possible for me to learn French even though I was over 50. He also has a language learning page called https://www.lingq.com. There is a free version a subscription version to www.lingq.com. I am a member. It’s a very useful sight once you get to use it.

My daily dose of French.
My daily dose of French.

Living Language French (Calendar): I bought my first Living Language French (calendar) in 2014. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Each day it has a new French word and uses that word in a sentence. In the early days I found this difficult as the sentence often contained words that I did not understand. So I came up with a system. (I have written a lot more about my Living Language French calendar but this post is getting a bit long so I will post it separately.)

duolingo-owlDuolingo.com: There is no cost for using Duolingo. I started Duolingo 10 January 2016. I think it’s a very effective system. I have written a review of it a few days ago. I’m very glad Duolingo exists. I now have a vocabulary in French of roughly 2600+ words. Duolingo tells me I have about 56% fluency level. (Which would go up if I liked doing flashcards)

I have reached my limit on Duolingo French. And because Duolingo is so addictive as a daily dose of language I have started Italian* so I can maintain my score.

Habits are important

Duolingo is very good for helping one to develop the habit of daily language learning. Habits are important. If you get into a daily habit of language learning you will progress.

[*On a side note I was thinking that if I started to learn Italian as a French speaker, instead of as an English speaker, that I could get a dose of both languages every day. But I haven’t had time to look into this.]

Private Tutor: This is a good idea. I started taking lessons a few months ago. Duolingo and LingQ are very good ways of learning vocabulary but if you want to speak the language you will need lessons hopefully from a native speaker. LingQ does offer an exchange where you can find a tutor on line, and then arrange an time to practice with them.

italki_logo_2016_200pxiTalki: iTalki is a website where you can find a tutor. https://www.italki.com/. The tutor’s charge. Some a little and some a lot. It is a very simple system to use. I took several lessons on iTalki but as I wasn’t very good at using Skype, (which is very simple to use) I had a number of problems in the early days.

How iTalki works:

1. Create an account with iTalki.

2. Add money into iTalki system. You will be given a number of iTalki Credits (ITC). The reason of the ITC is you might be dealing with a person from another culture who has a different currency. The ITC takes into account the fluctuation of the different currencies. Make sure you make a note of the conversion rate with your local currency so that you know how much you will be paying for lessons.

2. Search for a Teacher on the iTalki website.Find a teacher who is available at a time that you are available. Different teachers charge different amounts for their time.

3. You can contact the teacher through iTalki. The teacher then has to accept you (sometimes they are busy with other clients). If and when the teacher accepts you they will email you through iTalki.

4. For those unfamiliar with Skype you will need to set it up on your computer. It is a simple system. You will need to send your Skype number to your teacher.
[You will most likely need headphones. My Dell computer doesn’t give me an option to plug in a microphone. (Thanks Dell). Dell has hidden a mic in my keyboard somewhere and hasn’t bothered to tell me where. It works, so don’t stress out if you have a computer created by the Dell.]
Video Camera. Skype uses a video camera so you can see your teacher and they can see you. Most computers these days have video cameras. [until the people at Dell decide not to put them on any more.]

5. Before the scheduled time of your call your teacher will send you their Skype number through Skype’s email, (yes Skype has it’s on texting email system) for you to accept. You need to accept their number in order to receive a call from them.

6. At your scheduled time your teacher will call you. Accept your Skype call.
You will be able to see teacher and they will be able to see you, unless you are shy. They can show you flash cards on the screen and they can text you the spelling of words as you talk.

7. When you are done you can save all the Texts and uses this as your learning notes.

8. iTalki will then ask you to settle your account by transfering some ITCs to your teachers account.

Tutor tips. You want to get your money’s worth from your tutor whether they be on Skype from LingQ or iTalki or in person, so study what they ask you to study so that you are ready on the day. Different tutors are going to have different styles. Me personally I didn’t want to know about grammar rules I wanted to have conversations. Practicing the alphabet with a tutor is useful as you are practicing the sounds that you need to make with your mouth. Later after you can hold a short conversation it is important to learn some grammar rules. But the rules should come after some understanding. If you learn a bunch of rules before you get a feell for the language you will just be confused.

pimsleur-french-levels-1-5-mp3-9781442381827Pimsleur French Method: Dr. Paul Pimsleur was a language teacher that came up with the theory that the best way to learn a language was to hear a new word or short sentence, as spoken by a native French speaker, and then learner is asked to repeat the word, or sentence shortly after it has been spoken. This process is repeated again and again.

The learn works their way through the course learning a few new words and sentences every day.

I was still a nervous new language learning when I bought the Pimsleur French lesson #1 on CD series. I played one lesson a day, but as I progressed I had deep insecurities about how well I was doing. The Pimsleur system is a good system but it’s not interactive like Duolingo where you are scoring points as you progress.

I gone back to using Pimsleur now that I am a little more secure in my knowledge of the French language.

For some people the Pimsleur method will work well. Others may not like it so much. If you can create a daily habit of listening to them they will work well. They are idea for someone who drives to work and has a CD player in their car. You can also get them at Audible.com. (I love Audible by the way. When I use to take public transport to work I used to read books all the time. But now that I have a car I don’t have as much reading time and I’ve started listening to audio-books.)

So a program like Duolingo or the Living Language calendar are good for starters to get you into the daily learning habit. Once you are in the habit and have built you vocabulary and confidence up I found it good to use CD systems like Pimsleur. This is also a good time to start thinking of getting a teacher either in real life or on LingQ.com or iTalki.com.

People are going to learn at different speeds so it’s hard to say how fast you should be progressing. Just make sure that at all times you are having fun. Make your learning system your own.

Pimsleur French

What is next.

I’m always looking for new systems to play with. I have the French for Dummies book but I didn’t find it all that useful so I only read a few pages. I have bought a few other courses and will look at those in a future post.

[Full disclosure: I’ve included links to the different
language learning systems mentioned on this post.
Many are free but a few of them pay commission
which will go towards paying for upkeep of this blog.]

How to use Duolingo


Language Hacks

duolingo-logo Today we are going to look at Duolingo.com. In my humble opinion one of the best language learning systems yet to be invented. And it doesn’t cost a cent.

Let me explain. I never really thought that I was much of a language learner. I have always wanted to learn another language however I spent a year in middle school Spanish and didn’t learn a thing. Later in college I took a French course and did a little better, but had to drop it after a term because of course loads. I still didn’t feel that I was brilliant at languages. In fact I was far from it. But I still had a burning desire.

So many years passed. My family and I finally made a trip to Paris and I fell in love with the place. A few months prior to leaving on a trip I took an evening course in French but it wasn’t enough. I began searching the internet for more information on language learning. Steve Kaufman (lingoSteve) at LingQ has some brilliant videos on language learning.

The two things I learned from LingoSteve is that language learning should be fun and you should do it daily.

Daily language learning sounds like a lot of hard work, especially for someone like me who never liked home work. This is where Duolingo’s system came into play.

        Gamification ˌɡeɪmɪfɪˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/ noun

The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

I think the fancy word for it is “gamification” which just means to make a game out of it. Duolingo is a bit like a computer game. You as the user acquire points (called Lingots) as you progress. A record is kept of the days in a row you have logged in and completed your lessons.

As silly as it sounds this “gamification” awoke the inner gamer in me (I use to be addicted to computer games).  I became very protective of my daily log-in tally. Missing a day causes your days log-in score to  go back to zero, which kind of hurts once you get into it.

You can buy a protection with some of your acquired points (there are absolutely no hidden costs in Duolingo). But this protection only lasts a day.

For some reason this running score was the motivational factor that I needed. So was the acquisition of  Lingots.

289 Days and 742 Lingots
289 Days and 742 Lingots

This gamification through the acquisition of days and Lingots tricks the brain into thinking that you are being paid to work on your daily language lesson. (This is the good kind of trickery.)

Often when learning a new language you feel that you are just spinning your wheels. But the running tallies make you feel like you are making progress.

Educationally the doing a little bit daily is the best way to learn a language. Duolingo allows you to pick your daily language goal. To start off with I chose 10 words a day. (I really had very little faith in my language learning ability.)

After about 14 months I moved that up to 30 new words a day. I was kicking myself for not doing this before. But I had been worried about feeling overwhelmed.

Duolingo will require you to go back every so often and relearn some of the words that you have already learned. This revision count towards you score and it is very very helpful.



I’m a poor speller and didn’t want my language learning to be hampered by having to memorize the spelling a bunch of words in a new language when I could hardly remember the spelling of words in my first language. So I came up with some hacks to get around this.

I used the hacks because I didn’t want to become frustrated with my daily language learning, especially in the early stages when I had so little faith in myself. I wanted to expose myself to the words but I did not want to be tortured when I couldn’t remember how to spell them.

So I started a running Word Document. Every day before I started the lesson, I opened the Duolingo word document. I wrote the date. (After a while I started writing the date in French.)

I would then open Duolingo.

Duolingo would show me the words I was to learn next. I would copy those words onto a Table on my Word document. This table had three columns. One was for the French word the next for the pronunciation as the last was for the English translation/s. Sometimes there are more than one translation for a word. (I would add more words to this table during the lesson as Duolingo would sometimes add different conjugations of the daily word list.)

I would then open google translate.    https://translate.google.com

I would then translate each word. Typing the translations in the third column of my table.


tumblr_mjg0xebmgk1s56exfo1_500In Google translate there is a little speaker icon that you can click on. This will say the word out loud for you. I would do my best to write down the phonetic sounds of each word as best I could.

I hope this isn’t sounding like a lot of work. It really wasn’t. It was a sort of system that I built up over time. In recording it now there seems to be a lot of steps, but as I was originally doing it I added a few steps at a time.


French letters also comes with accents. At first I used to skip over using the accents. Duolingo will still count your spelling as correct if you leave off the accents; however I wanted to get use to learning accents so I looked up the short cut keys for PC. Here is my list. I cut and pasted this key to the end of my word document so that it was always just below where I was typing.

French Accent Alt codes for PC
French Accent Alt codes for PC

The daily lesson.

A daily lesson for ten words in Duolingo usually has less than 20 questions. These questions are a combination of Translating short French sentences into English and or from English into French. This is very helpful as you learn the differences in sentence structure between the two languages.


You are also learning your daily words in the context of a sentence rather than just on random flashcards. This gives you a real feel for the rhythm of the language.

There are also exercises where you are asked to read a French sentence allowed, into your computers microphone.*

For the first year and more I skipped the spoken part of the French lesson. You are given the option to click on “Can’t talk now” and then you aren’t given any more questions that you need to answer verbally. The first time I tried a verbal question I kept failing and felt my frustration start to rise. But after a year and a few lessons with a tutor, I gained some confidence in my ability to speak French and now do this as part of my daily routine.

Duolingo is a wonderful system for building up a language vocabulary. After a year or more I began to look at finding a tutor. (I will talk more about finding a tutor in future posts.)

How much have I learned?

I have come a long way in the 20 months that I have been using Duolingo almost daily. I use it one my iPhone or on my iPad or on my computer. I no longer keep a running record on a word document, but I still think that was a good idea in the early days.

Picking up a book in French before I started using Duolingo 99% was alien to me. Now I can read about 60 to 80% of a Tintin comic without help. I can read most French menus in French restaurants. I can even read and understand most of the headlines in French newspapers such as Le Monde. (Use to be able to buy Le Monde locally but all my sources for this French newspaper have dried up. So I try to read on story a day on the web.

Most importantly my confidence has been built up. When I started working with a tutor after 18 months of using Duolingo my tutor was really surprised at my vocabulary.

It was all thanks to Duolingo.duolingo-owl

* [I have a Dell computer these days. Someone at Dell has decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to pick my own microphone! So my Dell computer does not have a microphone jack. I can plug in my headphones but not my microphone. Dell has a hidden microphone somewhere in the keyboard. The exact location is a secret.]