Adventures In Polyglotism

Being multilingual is an aspiration of mine. Being a student of the humanities, I’ve always had a knack for languages, especially after getting a solid foundation in Latin in my middle school years. Ever since then, I’ve had grand ideas of sitting outside a Parisian café conversing in the rolling, fattened sounds of French; racing my tongue through the quick syllables of Spanish in a sweaty night club while I dance cumbia; even riding the waves of Hawaiian vowels (as well as the actual waves on the north shore).

At times, my desire to be a global citizen and achieve at least proficiency in multiple languages has led to my formal study of Latin and Spanish; my registration in an Arabic class during my years as an undergraduate (although I had to drop it because of later schedule conflicts); my daydreams about finding a tutor in ASL. Life, however, kept me from devoting any spare time to studying language, and so my existing skills in both Latin and Spanish withered on the vine.

My recent mission trip to Monte Sinaí in Guayaquil, Ecuador presented an excellent opportunity for language immersion. I fully intended to brush up on my conjugations before getting on the plane, but the trip somehow snuck up on me, so I found myself in Latin America without having spent any time studying the language I had not used for over five years.

I was not required to use Spanish on my trip, but the spirit of the mission, and my own desire to be a role model for my students, led me to attempt speaking Spanish without abandon. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually remembered, especially once I began using it again; I was also embarrassed by the really stupid mistakes I made. (At one point, I meant to wish a stranger happy birthday and wished them a merry Christmas instead.)

Returning to the United States after this trip, I felt recommitted to my dream of becoming an accomplished polyglot. One of my closest friends mentioned DuoLingo around the same time that I was thinking about renewing my foreign language studies, so I thought I would give it a try. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the courses. Although I did not test out of any Spanish skills (due to my terrible vocabulary), I quickly made it to Level 11 and have actually appreciated all of the lessons that have been a review, essentially, of my Spanish 1 high school course. The sheer volume of lessons that it has taken to get to Level 11 on DuoLingo has meant that I am really getting the vocabulary into my long-term memory. I already feel more confident in my ability to listen to native speakers and understand. The fact that the DuoLingo app includes speaking exercises means that I am also learning to think in Spanish more quickly, and my fluency is improving because of that.

With DuoLingo, I intend to continue my language goals by studying Mandarin (which I want to learn so that I can surprise my international students and their families), Polish (which I have always wanted to learn after hearing my grandmother speak it), Welsh (which I have wanted to learn since visiting Wales this summer), and Hawaiian (which I have wanted to learn since studying in Hawaii four years ago). As I get better, I think I will supplement my learning by taking some college courses as a continuing education student.

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