Duolingo and learning lingo at an advanced age

I just spent some time reading a discussion site on my Duolingo ap. One person about my age had expressed frustration with how slow going it was to learn French at 67. She asked if there were other older learners who could give her tips. I just had to add my two cents. For anyone contemplating such an activity this is what I told Dranke (probably not her real name)

Good luck Dranke,

We are the same age and I started from scratch learning French on Duolingo 16 months ago just before my 67th birthday. I’ve had two streaks – 194 days when I quit because I had just begun a month long tour of France. 30 days later I started a 208 and continuing streak. I’ll have more to say after I share this link from yesterday’s New York Times about the limits of online language learning from someone who just passed a 500 day streak:


I don’t know if that will be an active link when I push post but if not just copy it and paste it into your browser.

The story is spot on but more dismissive of learning Duolingo than I am. I am not someone who simply redoes easy lessons to add points or win lingots or worry about owls. Everyday I try to cram new information in my head. I have put close to 2 hours a day memorizing…..as the article says….the vocabulary and the grammar. Nine months didn’t come close to preparing me for speaking in France. Neither has the subsequent seven months. But I am improving. I have started listening to cartoons in French, Peppa the Pig and Zazou the Zebra. Movies are too hard to follow so far.

I’ve considered similar immersion programs in Quebec. I’ve also considered spending a month in a rural part of France where there will be fewer English speaking residents to hamper my practice.

I’m doing a lot of listening when I am on Duolingo especially with the French stories. I’ve done them all and started them over again. I’m catching their drift better than I did eight and nine months ago when I first read through them. There are other resources beyond Duolingo worth considering. I’ve reread the first chapter of Le Petit Nicolas half a dozen times. Each time more of the language comes into view. Its a book about a bunch of kids in the 1950’s with illustrations. Its by Sempe and Goscinny. I also picked up a couple of French books in France one of them is Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

At no time have I ever expected to become half as fluent in French as I am in English. If my calculations are correct I’ve had about 396,000 waking hours to practice English. Since I turned 67 I’ve had perhaps 800 hours of French. By the way, the State Department says that French is one of the easier languages for serious Americans to learn. In their intensive courses it can be learned in about 460 hours. I’m obviously behind that curve.

I will continue until I can carry on at least a halting conversation in a French restaurant. I don’t expect to chat about American politics in France. That would take another ten years and I’ll probably go on to some new project before I reach that kind of fluency. I’ll leave you with some advice from a polyglot who gave a sort of Ted talk on learning new languages. She has learned about a half a dozen languages so far and she spoke to other polyglots to see how they managed learning new languages. She says to only study one language at a time. An hour a day for two years has always managed to be enough for her to pick up a new language. That would be about 700 hours so she’s quicker than I am.

She also offered this helpful saying. “The best time to learn a new language is when you are five. The second best time is now.” I’ve kept that to heart.

Bonne nuit.