how do you measure a life? (or, A Thousand Days of Duolingo)
radical love note | + lists, links, recommendations
I started Duolingo when a lot of people did, in late March of the pandemic when it was clear we’d be housebound for maybe another month or so (ha!) and we juxtaposed unprecedented death and novel emotional processing with cute little hobbies. Bread making, dalgona coffee, Zoom happy hours, and learning a new language. L, my former partner, and I were still in Minneapolis when I started practicing my very rusty and very intermediate Spanish. I had a streak of over 100 days until we moved from Minnesota to Ohio, and in the midst of the multi-day travel and packing and unpacking, Duo—the app’s mascot/ green owl of surveillance—took me back down to zero. So I began again, and just this week, I hit 1000 days of reading, speaking, and writing mostly Spanish, and also Catalan for a bit. I was proud of this the way we’re taught to feel after accomplishments of persistence and consistency. As a Capricorn rising,* though, I have to admit, these things—work, effort, discipline—come fairly naturally to me. So, sure, I guess I was proud of committing to something daily for nearly three years, but more than that, I felt nostalgic. I realized that Duo was the only entity I had interacted with every.single.day during one of the most difficult periods of my adult life.
I tend to avoid frenzied conversations about AI, so I don’t want this to turn into a reflection on what it means to feel so pointedly connected to little robot characters in my phone. I also have so many thoughts on language learning and translation and culture and linguistics, but this isn’t about that either. What I feel compelled to share today is that I can’t help make meaning of the consistency of this ritual alongside the tumult of these last 1000 days. I keep hearing the song from Rent in my head: how do you measure a year in a life? For me, right now, I am remembering it in electronic language lessons.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to radical love letters to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.