There is only one real regret I have from my undergrad educational experience, and that is not taking more Spanish than was absolutely necessary for me to get a degree, Michigan in its infinite wisdom requiring two years of foreign language to attain any degree other than General Studies. The years I took Spanish I mostly regretted not having chosen French instead. These days, of course, I read extensively in Spanish and Latin American literature, and must endure the frustrating experience of waiting for novels to be translated before I can read them.

I am also not, in general, a smartphone person; when I switched to iphone, I took off all the games. The phone exists for twitter and mgoblog, to call those members of my family who communicate primarily through the phone, find directions on the odd occasion we're lost, and settle disputes over factual matters (e.g. last night's debate about when Pixar hit its peak). I am also suspicious of the desire to 'game-ify' anything. I'm not short on the desire for self-improvement, nor on the ability to carry something out once I've committed to it. But I read a couple good things about Duolingo as a means to brush up on language skills, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The results, so far, are a qualified success. I retained a lot of Spanish, as it turns out, and the growth in my vocabulary since undergrad has made figuring out unknown words an easier process. The idea seems to be that working a combination of writing what is spoken out loud, speaking oneself, and translating to and from the language will allow people to expand their knowledge without consciously focusing on expanding that knowledge, without negotiating verb charts or phrase books. It has revealed to me certain areas where traditional language instruction put odd emphasis: I am so used to dealing with irregular verbs and nouns that take a different gender than the noun spelling suggests that I have had to adjust to the idea that most verbs are regular, etc. The ideal end result is an 'aha' moment, where you can translate to or from the language smoothly without quite having to think about it--you just sort of know what the answer is supposed to be.

It is not without its flaws: the difficulty I had in traditional language instruction keeping all the various past tenses straight continues, since they follow odd conjugation rules and are more frequently irregular. One makes progress, but slowly. And a greater amount of instruction is sometimes ideal: French is in certain respects a breeze (thanks to Latin and Spanish), but there are instances--articles and pronouns, in particular--where a chart that I could memorize would be tremendously helpful.

And, of course, none of this will stick unless I start regularly reading in each language. 

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