Learning French with Duolingo app : How long does it take ?

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Basically, the question of how fluent you can be with a particular application, any application, is not the right question. And I know that sounds a little bit harsh for you to say, well, how fluent can you be, and I say, oh you’re asking the wrong question. But the thing is you could be 100% fluent or, you know, basically, proficient in that language in 1,000 days. Or you could be genuinely 1% fluent. It really depends, what you do and how you use your resources. If you want to spend a thousand days on any language, in order to be fluent, I would recommend less it. If you’re already using Duolingo I’d recommend less of it. If you’re not using it I’d recommend you don’t take it up. I mentioned something in my last video, which was that a good language learning application doesn’t necessarily have the best sentences or the best native speakers, or anything. But a good language learning application lends itself to being used well. That is it makes it a desirable thing for us, the user, to use it in a way that actually helps our language learning. In my opinion, Busuu does this, linguist does this to an extent, depends exactly what you’re trying to do. I have a friend on skype in France who helps me with French while I help him with Swedish, and in our very first conversation, all he had done was a little bit of Duolingo in Swedish, or quite a lot of Duolingo actually. And obviously, the first conversation was very slow, there were lots of words he didn’t know, he switched between Swedish and French and English regularly. And I actually thought he did really well, his Swedish was pretty good considering how long he had been doing it, and the fact that he had only been doing DL. But, then in the next conversation it was much, much, much better. And I said this to him and he said « I didn’t think it would be that good because I haven’t been doing that much DL », so no matter how much DL you do, you’re always going to need to put it into practice to train your brain. For that process of associating a meaning with certain words and grammar, and for that meaning to go straight to your mouth. I think about this quite a lot, when you think about your native language it has that process, so you don’t even realize you’re doing it, and you don’t need to remember any words that you use. Your mouth knows the words that go with the meaning you want to say. The reason that this French guy had gotten so much better since the last conversation was simply that the last conversation had already happenned, and then since then even if he didn’t deliberately do it, he was probably thinking about what other words that I didn’t know for that conversation. So, what do I need to learn ? And what do I need to remember ? And he probably sort of subconsciously sought out those words or even consciously sought out those words. But the point is he went and learned the things that he didn’t know.

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But what about input ?

Some of you out there will know what is meant by input, it’s basically filling your brain with the language in all the ways possible, so that you can build up your knowledge of that language the way you have with your native language. You just you know basically all the different things you could say, all the different constructions you can use, all most of them anyway. And you regularly use them because you know that they exist, that’s kind of what input, is that’s probably not a very good explanation of it but that’s what it is. And people have said that DL it has more content, it offers more possibility for massive input. I can test this out, it is true that to speak a language very, very fluently you need massive, massive input. Say that you also need to speak it a lot, and the earlier you start speaking the better, but you do need a huge amount of input. But, if that is your goal, if massive input is the goal, then the program you use, DL, Busu, Linguists, any of the other programs out there, all of those are only really to get you to a stage where you can have a very efficient amount of massive input. That didn’t make sense, a very efficient massive input. Person who is training for a marathon, let’s say they’re way overweight, they’re well into the category of obese and they decide they want to run a marathon. The first thing they’re going to have to do is to start walking, let’s say they just fit enough that they can actually walk. They’re going to have to start walking and they might go out and walk one kilometer, and then go home, and collapse. And the next time they walk they might manage 1.2 kilometers, and the next time 1.5 etc, etc… Would you say that they are training for a marathon ? Sort of tricky, yes and no, they’re not training for the marathon yet, they’re getting their body up to a stage where it is even possible for them to do marathon, like training, for example running 30 kilometres. They’re trained to get their body to a stage where marathon training is even on the horizon. Now, it’s an extreme example but hopefully you get what I mean. If fluency is analogous with the marathon, okay ? If that’s what you’re aiming for fluency in the language, you cannot just use a program such as DL up until the point that you’re fluent. That is not going to happen, that is like the overweight person just going for 1 kilometer walks every day and then one day thinking that they’ll be able to run a marathon, that’s not how it works. They have to go for 1 kilometer walks, two kilometers, then three kilometers walks etc,… Until they can run and until they can run a bit further and run a bit further and until they can eventually run the full 42 kilometers. That is what you are trying to do with your language learning, you are trying to get your comprehension up to a point that basically all the input you can get, no matter what the level is comprehensible input. And that is the reason that I don’t think DL has more possibility of input than Busuu. Because Busuu will help you get to a stage where a lot more material is actually comprehensible, because Busuu forces you to use the language in a real way, it forces you to listen to native speakers and asks that you talk, asks that you speak the language, and that’s it will get you much quicker, much faster to the stage that everything is comprehensible. Now we are getting much closer to a real question that actually has an answer, and that is the question of how much practice ? How much rudimentary exercise do you need to do in a language before you get to the stage that all input or the majority of input, that isn’t philosophy lectures or something is comprehensible input ? This is a massive oversimplification, I would say about a hundred hours, this is remember how much practice do you need to do before all input will be somewhat comprehensible. A hundred hours in a language that is close to your own like if you’re an English native people than the Romance languages all the Germanic languages. About a hundred hours with 200 hours if it’s something far removed. Again, it’s going to depend if that’s Arabic or just Ukrainian. If I haven’t said it already, I want to say that DL is a poor way to spend even those 100 to 200 hours. It’s not a bad way to spend the first maybe 10 to 15 hours, but after that there are much more efficient ways that you can spend that time. So is to practice to get yourself up to the stage where all input is comprehensible. What else can you be doing ? You can grab a tutor on Italkie and read through a basic article with them, that is you reading aloud and then correcting your pronunciation and then explaining to you what certain words mean in the target language. Preferably maybe using your native language. If they need to, you can also just do that yourself, you don’t need a tutor on Italki obviously. You won’t have the pronunciation correction but you can you know be looking up words stuff like that you can use something where just by clicking the word, it’ll tell you what that word means. I’ve got a review of a program called « book mate » that does that for you, you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere when you do this kind of stuff. But if you’re just, if it’s kind of just at that painful level where you’re like, this almost makes sense but not quite. That’s the level at which it is most effective, that level where you’re almost sweating, because it’s difficult, but not so difficult that you just switch off. That’s the level that it’s effective.

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You can do so many things, you can watch YouTube entirely in your target language, that’s what I’m doing at the moment in French. I’m actually doing 30 days, at least I hope to go longer where I’m only watching YouTube in French. And the level of my comprehension has increased massively, even in the six days I’ve been doing it. Just to be clear, if you’re not a particularly high level in your target language yet, but you can understand some things, there will probably be YouTube channels in your target language that are entirely in that language. But, I aimed at newbies of the language where they speak very slowly and clearly. So, as to the question of how much DL does it take to be fluent in your target language ? It doesn’t have an answer because no amount of DL is going to help you be fluent in your target language. It can like the obese person running trying to run the marathon, it can get you up to a stage where you can train further to be fluent in your target language. That’s all it can do but in my opinion it’s not normally the most efficient way to do that. And look guys, I understand that as much as some of us know that you earlier isn’t a particularly good use of time, we still just kind of like it. I’m a little bit in that boat, I don’t actually like doing DL anymore, but I do like my streak.

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Thomas 😀

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