Whether you find Duolingo to be a green-feathered friend in your pocket or an intimidating monster lurking outside your door waiting to pounce on you for not meeting your daily study goal, there’s no denying the app’s ubiquity and widespread cultural influence. Even Saturday Night Live has done a skit about it! Given its popularity, I am frequently asked whether I use Duolingo myself and what I think about it as a path to foreign language fluency. The answer to the first part of this question is easy: yes. Every single day. The answer to the second half, however, is far more nuanced and chock-full of caveats. Read on to see why Duolingo (alone) won’t get you fluent in Japanese, but why I think you should use it anyway…
Once upon a time, you had to two choices if you wanted to get fluent in Japanese: ① Take Japanese language classes. ② Move to Japan. I did both and had a (mostly) great time doing so. But while I think classes can be great for those who can afford the time and tuition and that living abroad can be a profoundly transformative experience, neither undertakings are a requirement for learning a language. Today, anyone with an internet connection, a little creativity, and sufficient discipline can reach a high level of fluency anywhere in the world if they design the proper environment. Read on to see exactly how to create a fun, effective Japanese language environment no matter where in the world you happen to live.
Ever catch yourself saying, “I really wish I could learn Japanese but it ain’t ever gonna happen ’cause I can’t just up and move to Japan! Nor are there any native Japanese speakers near me… Guess I will have to put my linguistic dreams up on the shelf alongside competitive caber tossing and having lunch with Warren Buffet.” The bad news? Kilts and cabers can be hard to come by outside of Scotland. And you probably won’t ever share a cheeseburger and coke with the “Oracle of Omaha.” The good news? You can reach and maintain fluency in Japanese (or any other language) anywhere in the world using tutoring sites like iTalki.
Arieh Smith, a.k.a. Xiaomanyc (Xiǎomǎ, 小马), is a popular YouTuber who loves practicing Mandarin on the streets of New York and surprising unsuspecting native speakers. From 24-hour crash courses in new languages like Korean, to learning additional Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Fuzhounese (which are really mutually unintelligible languages), his viral linguistic exploits have entertained and inspired millions of learners around the world. In our conversation, he shares why and how he learned Mandarin Chinese, tips for mastering Chinese characters and tones, and strategies for going from zero to basic conversations in days instead of years.
On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., an American activist, humanitarian, and pastor gave what would become one of the most famous speeches of all time and a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The masterful address, usually known simply as I Have a Dream, was delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in front hundreds of thousands of people who had joined the “March on Washington.” If you’ve never watched the speech, or haven’t seen it in a while, please take a moment now to relive a bit of history and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And for extra points, follow the links in the post to read the speech in Japanese, Chinese, or Spanish!