When Dewi outstays his welcome – confessions of a Duolingo junkie
Sarah Morgan Jones
I am reeling. I have just logged onto my Duolingo app, aced a lesson and been congratulated by the bird for completing my…first day. I stared. I checked the streak logo at the top of the screen. Sure enough, I have a streak of one. It’s fair to say roedd fy ên ar y llawr.
Last night as I shivered in my slippers under the corona of a clear Pembrokshire moon, with breath of a dragon and a glass of wine which was almost to cold to hold, I glanced at the banner on my phone and saw the reminder message.
“Hey, it’s nearly my bed time…are you going to spend three minutes to extend your 288 day streak? Or don’t, it’s up to you.”
“Up yours, you passive aggressive bird, I’ve got me a streak freeze and I know how to use it.”
I went back to shivering in my slippers. My internal dialogue was waxing lyrical.
Down in the bay, visible from our cosy getaway, the white-horse waves looked frozen at the edge of a blue black sea.
The headland across the water ghost-twinkled as a low-slung shroud of cloud silently prowled up the estuary, and above me, away from the corona, dark skies revealed the very brightest constellations.
I could hear my eyelashes and nose hairs crackle into icicles, like some animated death event in a Studio Ghibli film. There’s no way I will ever be fluent enough to blather on like that in Welsh.
The dog joined me for the briefest, perfunctory moment, standing to pee on the edge of the patio, his feet lifting up in diagonal symmetry, like a lizard on a sun-hot rock.
Except… you get the idea… it was freezing.
If anyone said there was a more appropriate time to deploy a freeze, I would demand peer-reviewed evidence.
A day later, as I stared in shock at the screen, it dawned on me that I had been taking my streak freezes for granted.
I messaged my Duolingo chum to share the sad news and concluded I had reaped what I’d sewn, let myself down (‘slacker than Norman Tebbit’s nuts’ was the random phrase, but I am being lyrical here, so this might get cut).
In the early days of simple sentences, streak freezes were hard to come by and I was too terrified to risk using them and then being stuck with none…and sod paying for them…and besides if I missed a day I would never get out of the Paper league and the quest ahead to the Pludridium Centauri tournament would be forever futile.
I ploughed on, feeling invincible each time I made it to ten, twenty days, a month, and beyond.
The first time I went up to the next league and did so at number one, I started thinking I’d be ticking the Ydw, dw i’n siared Cymraeg on the next census without even remembering the days when I wasn’t rhugl. I was on this.
I had been inspired to pick up the app after lining up the cultural highlights of my colleague last winter, when he was delighted to have reached … days.
I had let a class I had joined earlier that year slip for a number of reasons and so I thought, this is it, I can pick this up and just do a little every day.
“Habit,” he said, “habit.”
I have a lot of habits, not all of them good. This could redress the balance.
My daughter warned me not to do it.
She said “Once you let that bird in, he will never leave you alone. I learned Italian for three days two years ago and he still sends me sarky messages. I hate him!”
I smiled and hmmm’d sympathetically, but deep down I sensed the gauntlet had been thrown.
I became competitive with myself. I’d jump to life at 11.45pm when I realised I hadn’t done a lesson, and punch the air (in my head anyway) when the message popped up, “Way to go, night owl, you extended your streak with 37 seconds to go”.
I slowly started getting the Pannas jokes on Twitter and joined in the meithering about the in-app changes which would arrive without warning, turning the DL world upside down, and I learned not to get annoyed with the slow-hand-clap and the eye-roll of the on-screen cheerleaders when I achieved legendary status.
Legendary! I’ve never been described as legendary!
As I shared my little successes with my work chum to gain hearts or gems, and exchanged virtual high fives with strangers, it became clear I was hooked.
I called it dedicated and committed.
My husband said I was obsessed and muttered things like “You realise you’re a gamer now, you’ll be wanting an Xbox next”.
He was right, of course. I seemed more into the competition than the Welsh, the gaming structure had inexplicably captured me.
I was aiming for the milestones, grabbing at the gems, and harvesting hearts, racing to get into the promotion zone and announcing my league success on a Sunday night, puzzled at his DILLIGAF face looking back at me.
(Overall my husband was supportive in a sigh/bored kind of way, more so when I worked out that I could turn the fanfares off … and when I reached 200 days he was quietly impressed –“Chwarae teg, gal, chwarae teg”).
Once I got to the top of the top league and realised that … well I won’t spoil the surprise … I started getting complacent.
Heck, I could slip back down the pole if I wanted, now I know how to get back up. Slumming it in the Fartonium league was fine, a bit of yo-yo behaviour wouldn’t do any harm, right?
Turns out this kind of thinking is akin to that moment when you have a cigar after years of not smoking, because “it’s not the same, you don’t smoke cigars all the time, it’ll be fine” and before you know it, you’re huffing a Havana before breakfast.
Shark in bird’s clothing
As the freeze streaks popped up by way of reward pretty much straight after losing one, missing the odd day was dismissed with a shrug and a crossed-fingered promise that I’d do double tomorrow.
“Have this freeze on me, I’ve got your back” said the bird in shades, looking slightly seedy as he tapped his foot and leaned against a wall, wings folded, lulling me into a myth of mateyness and entitlement.
Then suddenly, abruptly, as with all sharks in bird’s clothing, the credit ran out.
No more Mr Neis Lingo.
So here I am. Day One. All those days, as if for nought.
And although I tried to sound convincing, just recently, that not being obsessed by the leagues and legends was a good thing, it’s the habit that counts, I have to say I was flumped and deflated when I saw that those days had blown away, and with them my census dream.
But I am undeterred. I will dust off and resume, Sisyphean in my determination.
And I will not feel like that damned bird is trolling me when his slow-hand-clap pals ask:
“Fydd hi’n rhugl os bydd hi’n ymarfer bob dydd?”
To which he answers: “Na fydd. Fydd hi byth yn rhugl.”
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