I think this blog today comes under the heading of random musings. I could blog on a couple of plays I’ve seen recently in London, or a few books I’ve read in the last few weeks, but the thing that I keep coming back to is my daily interaction with Duolingo!
You may or may not be familiar with Duolingo. It’s a website where you can hone your language skills. You can choose from a huge list of languages, but for me it’s Italian. I go to Italy frequently, and to an area where English is not widely spoken, which is one of the reasons we love it. But to survive there a basic level of Italian is necessary. I have been learning Italian for several years, although my neighbours in Italy may be a little surprised to hear that.They would be even more surprised to know that in 2010 I did a GCSE in Italian and gained an A*. This probably is not the place to say that I think I could have got a C grade without having taken any lessons at all – but I don’t want to undermine the idea that GCSEs in foreign languages are rigorous.
Doing a GCSE as an adult is an interesting experience. Obviously, normally this exam is aimed at 16-year-olds and therefore the curriculum is more suited to a young person. At 16 one may think nothing of describing your bedroom to someone else but as an adult that seems a little strange, if not creepy. I could not really see an occasion when someone might ask me to do that, and if they did I might bring the conversation to an end rather than explain how big my bed was. Awkward!
So I go to a weekly Italian class with the wonderful Caterina who has been endeavouring to teach me Italian for longer than either of us would like to remember. However, in the last few months, I have discovered http://Duolingo.com and have added this to my learning programme. When you start out the programme tests you and on the basis of this, it works out the level at which you need to start. Then the idea is you decide how much time you want to devote to this daily and it sends you these pushy little emails every day, reminding you to get on with it. For some reason they think that using a cartoon of an owl will inspire you to greater achievements. The idea is that you need to practise in order to ‘keep the owl happy’. Can’t say the happiness, or otherwise, of the owl has ever loomed large in my motivation for logging on.
My husband decided to have a go on Duolingo recently. His Italian is woefully weak and has lead to some great misunderstandings on previous holidays culminating in our 70-year-old Italian neighbour mowing part of our extensive olive grove after my husband thought he had offered to mow our neighbour’s grass for him! Franco, for that is his name, the neighbour, not my husband, must have thought us rather cheeky, to say the least. He doesn’t even live at the property which is next to ours and there we were apparently asking him to just put the mower over the olive grove while he was visiting. Fortunately, all was explained with much jollity, but since then my husband has been banned for talking to anyone without supervision, well at least while we are in Italy, but I may extend it.
My husband tested his skills on Duolingo and was told he was 2% fluent in Italian! Much hilarity ensued when Duolingo asked he if he would like to share this newly acquired skill on his LinkedIn profile! He declined!
But I have rambled for too long. The point of my blog is that I am becoming increasingly concerned about the sort of situations Duolingo feels that I will encounter on my trips to Italy. You see it is teaching me some very odd and surprising phrases, which I have to say, I really hope I never have to make use of. It began with:
‘Where are the bodies?’
closely followed by
‘Did you hear a scream?’
Even on my trip to Naples last year, I didn’t ever feel I was getting close to using either or these, thankfully. More useful may have been, ‘why have you closed your restaurant for renovation at the height of the summer season?’ But you don’t ask questions in Naples. Believe me!
The rather creepy,
‘How did you get into my room?’
was made even more threatening by
‘Why are you holding my hand?’
and, can you believe it?
‘I am ready to die.’
I have been giving a lot of thought to how I might include
‘The penguin is dying of hunger.’
casually into a conversation, but I’m still working on that.
And when, I ask you, am I ever going to need to say,
‘I am not an expert.’
Please! As if!
I shall certainly endeavour to use,
‘It is a great loss for the people of Argentina.’
It is unclear what the ‘great loss’ is which makes it quite a flexible sentence.
For those times when a very deep and impenetrable response is needed I shall be putting these phrases to good use:
‘Your words are a form of violence.’ and ‘How do I find a different rhythm?’
I’m not sure I even know what they mean in English, but I might try them out on the baker in the village and see what happens.
So you can see how well prepared I am for some very interesting conversations when I next travel to Italy. I’ll let you know if I get to use any of them anytime soon, and how did you get into my room by the way?