Let’s Learn Spanish: Advice for Duolingo Language Students

Varios de mis amigos estudian español con Duolingo. Nuestro maestro es Duo, el buho. Duo es muy listo, él sabe muchos idiomas. Pero, yo siempre he querido aprender español porque vivo cerca de la frontera con Mexico y tengo unos amigos que hablan español solamente.

Duolingo es un buen método para enseñar un idioma. Duo usa técnicas motivacionales como esos usado en los videojuegos. Pueden convertirse adictivo. Ten cuidado.

Of course, I am trying to show off for you and I confess to having a Spanish-English dictionary at hand. My vocabulary, usage and grammar are undoubtedly not quite up to Duo’s standards but I think they would get my ideas across to a good many Spanish speakers.

My real purpose is to offer advice to anyone using Duolingo to learn a language. It is simply this: beware of the video game motivations. In my case, I became so obsessive-compulsive about running up points and competing to attain goals and push ahead of other users that I was sacrificing the kind of learning that occurs when you stop to examine and think about the last item posted, to listen carefully to pronunciations, to look at the way sentences have been constructed, and, dozens of other details that you miss by hurrying on to the next item as soon as you hit enter.

I had attained a status in Duolingo called the Diamond League. It was difficult to get there and I maintained it for a sizable number of weeks. I watched the scores in “the league” as they mounted every day and I made sure I generated enough points to put a safe distance between myself and the others in the league. I found “cheap” points to score quickly and easily.

One week I set out to see if I could nail a number one finish for the week in Diamond League. I did it. That was the week that I discovered I had reduced Duo’s great teaching tool to a lousy video game, and a pretty lame one at that. From then on I was determined only to avoid “demotion” by keeping out of the bottom 10 per cent of the class. That wasn’t so difficult. But it still distracted from my learning.

So, today I changed my strategy. I am spending more time with each item. I have a set goal of points (XP) that I want to achieve every day and I am determined to stay with that number and not go beyond it. I found that I spend as much time studying as I did with my more compulsive approach but it is much more satisfying and I felt I learned much more.

Design your own approach. Establish your own XP goal for each day. Do it every day. Daily practice is important. I have a five year streak going and plan to keep it up until I can have a decent conversation with a native speaker in Texas’ first European language.

UPDATE: After the first day using my new approach, I was awakened by my cell phone with the following ominous message: You fell to #28! Be careful! You’re going to drop back to the Obsidian League. I will post another update at the end of the week to let you know what life is like in the minor leagues.

One & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 1):

That I was privileged to live in America’s Golden Age.

Yes, 2020 was a challenging, no, a horrible year. The Trump presidency wound down toward an election loss to a demonstrably decent patriot who loves America as much as I do. So there will be some better days ahead. But, with so much to be turned around and salvaged, what will our new President Biden be able to accomplish and sustain?

My fear is that you and I, dear reader, have seen the best of America’s days. We are the country that, in my lifetime, liberated Europe, emptied the concentration camps, welcomed millions of immigrants, advanced space technology, outlasted the Soviets in a Cold War and did all these things and still managed to turn out creditable literature, music, and visual art. Government programs provided assistance so that people could eat, become educated and receive a level of health care that, even at its lowest level, was better than people receive in much of the rest of the world.

Our appraisal of history is limited by our place on the time line and by our position in society. When I say we have lived during the Golden Age, I understand that most of the people who were alive at various times in the past probably believed that they were living in their country’s best years. And, of course, that assessment would vary by each person’s place in society. What may look like a golden age to one person, will look like a lifelong descent into hell by someone born without the privilege of color or inheritance. I am sure that my view turns to a large degree on having been born white and in a family where one or the other of my parents was able to work and secure some income most of the time.

But looking ahead to the future, there are so many problems of truly major proportions that it is hard to be optimistic. The climate is changing rapidly. We know why it is changing. We know how to retard and even stop the process. But we would rather gorge ourselves on material wealth, travel and entertainment. In the process, we have attacked the science capable of providing deliverance. Why? For revealing truths that would demand a level of discipline from us that no government was willing to enforce. The inconvenient truths Vice President Gore warned us about years ago.

We have undermined and exploited public education by privatization and “reforms” designed to reward teachers for teaching their students how to test. We have purposely denied health care to millions of Americans by failing to expand Medicaid to take full advantage of available federal funding. And political leaders have purposely led the public to distrust science, the key to so much of the nation’s progress since our founding.

After decades of progress in expanding the franchise, we are watching Republican majorities shrink the electorate through shameful voter suppression techniques. Technology assisted gerrymandering has made it possible for legislators and parties to perpetuate their majorities in the Congress irrespective of the general will of the voters. As a result, the legislative process is usually in a state of gridlock and unable to legislate for the needs of the citizens.

We have catered to the National Rifle Association as they campaigned to put guns and ammunition into the hands of every right wing voter the industry could reach in order to shake them down for the price of long guns and ammunition. The court has provided them an interpretation of the Second Amendment that arms manufacturers have taken to the bank while consumers take to the streets, armed and dangerous, to make the country safe for the nonsense and lies they have seen and read online.

All of these things taken together make it likely that we have not seen the last of DJT and his “base.” He was not the most competent candidate to lead an authoritarian movement. He may trail off into the sunset but the followers he has stirred will find someone else and, sooner or later, they will find someone with more of the skills and planning abilities to move beyond the entertainer stage of development Trump seemed be stuck in. It’s a job my junior United States senator seems to be auditioning for with great relish.

I look to the future of our country with foreboding. There may be another “Greatest Generation” out there. It seems odd to say it, but it may be us they have to liberate this time.

For the last fifty or so years, I have suppressed my pessimism. But my visions of the bad things that could happen have come true more often than not. I wish I had something more than thoughts and prayers to offer the young ones who have to try and deal with the mess we are leaving them. But I am afraid it has come to that.

Thoughts and prayers – and Joe and Kamala. May God bless them in their work.

Ten & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 10):

Civics education is important.

Of course, I knew this already. I have been interested in government and politics since I became aware in my childhood. The subject has interested me since I first heard President Truman’s voice coming out of our Philco console radio and my sister explained to me that he was the president, that he was in charge of the country, and that he told everybody what to do. Her childish understanding was insufficient for me and I have made a lifetime study of politics.

But not everyone has been paying attention. Some citizens never learned much about their government beyond a few patriotic platitudes. They have been too easily duped by pundits, preachers, and playboys into using their votes to gain admission to see lousy snake oil promotions.

One of the beauties of majority rule is that most people can’t be fooled. But now and then, the snake oil candidate slips through the screen and becomes a governor, a senator, or even a president. I recall that Minnesota elected a wrestler for governor. Texas once elected a hillbilly singer to the governor’s office.

Sometimes the promoters grow into the office and surprise us by delivering a creditable performance, at least managing to preserve our most hallowed institutions. For example, Ronald Reagan.

And sometimes we get snake oil. Just snake oil. And slime.

Some Thoughts on the Election from Over There

www.theguardian.com/books/2020/oct/24/how-do-we-become-a-serious-people-again-dave-eggers-annie-proulx-and-more-on-the-2020-election

I will offer more on this myself after I finish reading the entries from various writers. However, after reading the first by Annie Proulx and the next by Dave Eggers, I wanted to go ahead and post it so others could take a look for themselves. The Guardian offers a fresh view from the UK that I don’t get from the Times and the Post, my usual first stops in the morning.

I will get back to these essays later. In the meantime, enjoy them as YOU have the time.

Graduating before the Pandemic – and After

Such a joyous occasion. Families and friends crowded onto football fields and into auditorium lobbies. The hard work has paid off with a treasured piece of paper (or parchment as you move beyond high school), the smiles, tears, and congratulations of adoring parents, extended family and friends.

That’s the way it was. And, who knows, maybe it will be that way again.

Now our graduates are treated to celebrations like this.

We line them up in the church parking lot and friends drive by and hand them cards and gifts of congratulations. They honk their horns. They smile, they cheer. They do everything but touch.

And if you made it out of A&M, you may even get a treat like this one.

Day 105: A Lesson in Handling Bad News – the Inspiration of La Lydia

I glanced again today at a letter I received a few weeks ago from Dr. Socorro de Anda, president of the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso. I had made a small donation to the Institute a few years ago in honor of one of their graduates who had served a summer internship at Chapelwood. The young woman had gone on to study at Wiley College in East Texas and came to us from Wiley. At Lydia Patterson she had daily crossed the international bridge to come in from her home in Ciudad Juarez to study in the U.S.

The Institute is supported by the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. It was established in 1913 as a mission of the Methodist women in El Paso to serve children from across their border, many of whom had no local schools to attend. The project is now, as the letterhead points out, into its “Second 100 Years” and serving the cross-cultural friendships that strengthen all of us. Judging by the young woman they sent to spend the summer with us at Chapelwood, I became a very big fan of the Institute and its work.

Dr. de Anda’s letter was seeking support for the Institute but it was notable to me that no development officer had called on me since I made that one gift three years ago. Hers was the first contact I received from the Institute beyond the gracious thank you I received when I made the gift. Needless to say, I appreciated that they did not fill my mailbox with so many requests that I would wonder how many more I would receive before they had spent my entire gift on postage hoping I would send another.