The careful reader of these updates knows I’ve attempted to study two things this year: The guitar and Russian. One was a success, the other… less so. And the reason may be the way I’ve tried to learn.
First, Russian. I’ve always fancied learning a fourth language, preferably one that would pose a challenge. Russian, then, is an obvious choice. Tricky, but not impossible.
I’ve learned all the languages through a combination of classroom study and practical experience. Dutch I Iearned naturally, English when I became an ESL teacher, and Spanish on the evening of 29 June 2008 when I was living in Madrid, and they became the European champion in football. Locked-down, Russian, I had to learn another way.
I settled for Duolingo, a language learning app that offers many languages. Fun at first, the app is gamified to the extent that it seriously harms the learning experience. Throughout the day, the app starts buggering to remind you to spend some time learning. Notifications, emails, they throw everything at you. If you miss a day, you risk losing your ‘streak.’ Or worse: degrading to a lower league.
Within days, rather than learning a language, I managed the app’s expectations and complex reward systems. Unfortunately, instead of making learning fun, Duolingo makes learning a chore. As if learning the various tenses of verbs isn’t enough of a chore already. Needless to say, I’ve since given up, hoping for a chance to learn Russian in person soon.
Learning the guitar is a radically different experience. I played the guitar for a few years as a teenager, never achieving anything much. Two dozen years later, I’m alone in our house without music as a tool, so I bought a cheap guitar and subscribed to Fender Play. Another learning app, a radically different experience.
The only gamified aspect of Fender Play is that if you play 3 times 15 minutes in a week, you’re entered into a draw with a chance to win a guitar. No leaderboards, no notifications, no leagues, nothing.
Instead, a well-curated program of lessons, each with various videos with friendly and patient teachers, teaches me all the aspects of playing the guitar. I started in the “pop” track but transitioned to “rock” after a few weeks because I knew very few of the popular songs they tried to teach me. So now I play Green Day and Death Cab For Cutie and a range of other artists I’ve actually heard of.
The difference between Duolingo and Fender Play is that the first tries to make the learning experience fun, while the latter makes learning fun. Duolingo desperately sticks to the gamification guidebook, while Fender Play trusts in the proven power of learning to play songs you know.
So what I’d want for Christmas is a version of Fender Play that teaches me Russian songs and their lyrics. Ideally, obviously, songs with some historical significance, protest songs, power ballads. I’m a terrible singer — worse when I’m also playing my broken chords — but I promise I’ll do it indoors only. Does anyone have any suggestions?
I’d love to hear what you’ve been studying this year and how and if it worked for you. With 2022 around the corner, there’s room in my life to master more skills. Thanks for sharing!
Have a wonderful week, see you in the next,