The value of using time more effectively

Duolingo can be a fun tool


Photo by Submitted

Duo, the green owl mascot of Duolingo gives notification reminders every day.

Over winter break, I worked for groundskeeping here on campus. It was a really fun job with great people and I enjoyed it a lot.

There are two periods of downtime throughout the full shift, which take place from 6 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The first is a 15-minute break, which happens at 8:30 a.m. and the next is lunch, which goes from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Of course, what they are meant for is to warm up, drink a coffee and eat, but I was typically just sitting there relaxing in anticipation to go back to work.

I had downloaded Duolingo a few days before I started work at Grounds again, and decided I’d start spending my break time learning Spanish. I typically finished my food in 15 minutes, which left 30 minutes just in break time at work to learn the new language.

For context, I had not really traveled to a Spanish-speaking country before and took over two years of German in high school. I had zero ideas about how verb conjugation, sentence structure or what many of the words meant.

I really only knew a handful of Spanish words that were unrelated to each other and very trivial.

In the past month, I have maintained a 35-day streak (weird flex, but OK) and have been able to say various things about my day in Spanish. I do not personally know anyone who natively speaks Spanish, but I do have friends who speak it regularly or are Spanish education majors who supportively correct me nearly every time I try to speak Spanish.

I am wrong a lot of the time; misspelling words, incorrect verbs, incorrect conjugations — there are a lot — but they always know what I was trying to say which was a big step.

One of my coworkers spends his breaks watching YouTube fail compilations and most of my coworkers joined. Since I would occasionally burn through my allowed failures for the day before the end of our lunch break, I typically watched with them.

But I realized something. Here, my coworker spent 45 minutes a day on YouTube. Don’t get me wrong, I do my fair share of binge-watching — I watched all three seasons of Rick and Morty in a little over a week and I have over 50 days of time spent playing the Call of Duty video game franchise alone.

So, I am in no way perfect or in a place to put them down for how they spend their time and I’m not in any way trying to. We all do things to pass time, and they are not all supposed to be super productive all the time. 

What I realized is there are periods of time we can allocate to learning and pushing the boundaries of our knowledge.

In a week, we have 45 minutes of dedicated time for breaks. In a workweek, the total sums to three hours and 45 minutes. If we work all five days a week in all 52 weeks of the year, we have 195 hours dedicated to no particular task. That is eight days and three hours a year spent on breaks at work alone. This doesn’t include when you are waiting for the dryer or the dishwasher to be done, or just waiting in general.

We can’t go home and fold laundry, go get groceries, do dishes or really anything beyond what we can do in the break room. I am not complaining, but it is a lot of time to kill in a year — on top of the time we kill at home.

When we realize this time we have, we can make a choice on what to do with it.

It is important for me to learn new languages, as I personally hope not to live in the United States my entire life. Knowing more than English will be crucial to my options when I (hopefully) leave this country.

That is when I made the choice: Not to “someday” learn a new language, but to start doing what I can now. Unfortunately, I have too many credits for my major and minor to really dedicate myself to a college-level class at the moment, but I can start where I can.

That is where Duolingo came in.

I can do it during my 20-minute walk to class, my 30-minute breaks between classes, or when I am just bored. If I am bored, I may as well be productive.

According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes 480 hours to reach basic fluency in what are called “group 1” languages. These languages are seen as less of a challenge than others; to name a few would include French, Spanish, Italian, German and Swahili.

If an individual spends one hour a day to learn a language from this group, it will take 480 days to achieve basic fluency. This is one year and a little under four months.

Though the time and the practicality make sense to me, not all people agree. Kerstin, founder and writer for Fluent, said Duolingo could be a waste of time.

Kerstin is fluent in multiple languages and found she was frustrated by the apps way of using single-translations and it does not allow language variety. There is more than one way to say the same thing; something she struggled with when testing Duolingo’s ability to grade her.

Personally, since I do not know any better, it works for me. I think the app is clearly marketed towards people who start with little to no understanding of a language, not to fine-tune someone who is already fluent.

Yo no entiendo mucho español, pero necesito comenzar en alguna parte.

I do not understand much Spanish, but I need to start somewhere.

Seward can be reached at [email protected]