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    • Living in Malaysia is a really good opportunity to learn multiple languages. By default most people are fluent in at least two languages - Malay, the national language, and a second language which is often either English, Mandarin (or any other Chinese dialect), or Tamil. Some people are even fluent in three languages, as the Chinese and Indian citizens could be fluent in Malay, English, and their respective mother tongues. My best friend has told me numerous times that I should pickup Mandarin, and I finally decided to listen to her. So for the past two weeks I've been learning Mandarin via Duolingo and I wanted to share my experience, both for those who are just curious and those who might be interested in picking up a new language as well.

      Duolingo makes learning language fun through gamification. As someone who plays video games pretty much every day, this approach appealed to me instantly. There are levels which you need to "beat" before moving on to the next one. You have a finite number of "lives" which you will lose every time you make a mistake. You're rewarded with in game currency for completing levels, and there's even a leaderboard, daily streaks, and daily goals to motivate you even further. I'm currently on a 14-day streak (missed one day but you're given a single "day off" when you begin) and I don't want this streak to end, which is a great motivator.

      When it comes to the actual lessons there are a few formats. Some lessons are merely listening to a Mandarin character and choosing which of the given written characters matches the audio. Tapping on each character plays the pronunciation of it, so you merely match it to the original character you heard. Other lessons involve learning the meanings of Mandarin characters, so either you'll be given a sentence in Mandarin and you need to translate it to English, or vice versa. This can be done in two ways - choose the translated words from a selection of answers, or type the translation in manually using your keyboard (this is only for Mandarin to English and not the other way around). Finally, there's pronunciation lessons where you will need to repeat the sentence/phrase given to you in Mandarin (using your phone's mic). All these lessons are repeated multiple times so you get familiar with the language and lessons are grouped in categories (image below).

      Some people might be wondering if Duolingo can straight up replace a language teacher. In my opinion the answer is no. Duolingo is a great way to learn a language; it's flexible, it's fun, and most importantly, it's free. Even though an independent study has said that 34 hours on Duolingo is the equivalent to a full university semester, I feel like a teacher might still be necessary for some. Or at least someone who understands the language to help you when you need it. I've asked my friend for some help a couple of times when I don't understand something I've learned. If you ask me, Duolingo may be a good replacement for a language class, maybe not a language teacher.

      Duolingo has been very popular for a long time and I can see why. It's a very good service and the app is well designed (it's also available on the web but I'd recommend using the app). I'll continue using it daily and maybe once I finish the Mandarin course I'll write up another post to update you on how it went.

      Do you use Duolingo or have you used it in the past? Are you interested in picking up a new language?

    • Good luck with your Mandarin studies! I’ve been learning Mandarin for three years and Japanese for one year. My studies are mostly on YouTube. I’ve tried Duolingo a bit, but it isn’t my jam. That said, I’m all for doing whatever you feel works best for you! Good luck! 加油!

    • I've been using DuoLingo to brush up on Italian and am on a 330 day streak. I find it's a matter of making a habit of it - just 5 minutes a day. Every little bit helps, although I wish sometimes the vocabulary wasn't so random sometimes. There are only so many times I'll need to say "The duck is on the table."

    • I'm using DuoLingo for Spanish. 778 Days on my streak. I had a few streaks going (and broken) before that, but this is by far the longest (helped by Shelter-in-Place). It's pretty fun, but indeed pretty random, and sometimes the English translations make little sense. I have become convinced that either they are using non-Native English speakers or AI to do the translations. Most of the time, it is great, but sometimes it is just bizarre, and given they do the whole gamifaction thing, it ticks me off when they take a life because of their bizarre English (I'm not learning English, I'm learning Spanish. My English is already pretty decent).

      I did try Japanese when it first came out, just to brush up on the language, which I had learned during my 6 years living in Japan. But it was a Beta version at that time and was pretty terrible. My wife is a native Japanese speaker and I showed her some of the funky Japanese translations and she just laughed. I think it has improved in the meantime. My wife has started using Duo to brush up on her Chinese and German, so she obviously likes it too now.

      Overall, I would recommend it. But if you are really serious about learning a language a live teacher and interaction with humans is still better.

      BTW, JazliAziz, where in Malaysia are you? I've been to KL, Johor, Penang, Malacca, Langkawi, and Sarawak. It's been a number of years now since I have been to any of those places, but I really enjoyed all of them. Sarawak was probably my favorite, though. KL, Johor, and Penang were mostly on business.

    • BTW, JazliAziz, where in Malaysia are you? I've been to KL, Johor, Penang, Malacca, Langkawi, and Sarawak. It's been a number of years now since I have been to any of those places, but I really enjoyed all of them. Sarawak was probably my favorite, though. KL, Johor, and Penang were mostly on business.

      I'm in the Selangor/KL area. You seem to visit Malaysia quite often. What work brings you here?

    • That was years ago. I was in the Semiconductor Industry and specifically selling to the Automotive Industry for several years. I was based in Japan and responsible for the Asia-Pacific region and had some Japanese and European customers with operations in Penang and JB and I also visited Proton/Perdua in KL. But I also just loved the region and took advantage of being there, so on short vacations or weekend trips I visited Malacca, Penang, Langkawi, and Sarawak. Great memories. One fond memory was spending the night in a long-house of the Iban in Sarawak in the jungles of Borneo in Sarawak. That was back when they were still allowed to have their traditional tribal decorations (human skulls) hanging from the ceiling and drink their traditional home-made alcohol and do sing-alongs, dances, and such. I understand you can still visit the Iban, but they now live in concrete long-houses and all the skulls are gone (for those who aren't familiar, in the very olden times, the Iban were headhunters... a practice they gave up about 100 years ago). It was a fascinating contrast from being just a few hours boat ride from Kuching, which is a pretty bustling port town, which in turn is just a few hours flight from the amazing metropolis of Kuala Lumpur.