Learning On My Time

Recently I have been to the south of France four times to enjoy cycling vacations. The people there are super friendly and happy to have our tourist Euros. The food is outstanding.

I took French in high school and for a couple years in college, but dropped it. I have recently picked it back up and am learning every day – literally.

I have been using a free app called DuoLingo. It was pretty cool to see what I remembered after twenty something years.

I set a goal to do some French every day. The app rewards you for hitting your daily goal. I made it realistic – equivalent to about 20 to 30 minutes a day. I am on a 92 day streak as of this writing. I am competitive with everything, especially myself.

It is amazing how far I have come already. Now that I have knocked down most of the basic vocabulary and tenses, it is getting more difficult – but I am learning quickly. The app works you over in several ways. It says something that you have to write, or shows something that you have to translate (English to French and French to English) or shows you something that you are supposed to say into the voice recognition.

While the app isn’t perfect, it is very, very good. I feel at this point if I could get someone to slow down while speaking that I would have a pretty good chance of getting around, ordering in a restaurant, reading basic travel information, etc. Someday I want to buy a little place in France so obviously learning the language is key – not to mention fun (to me anyways). I would recommend DuoLingo if you are interested in refreshing your language skills – it works on all of your platforms, and if you are in a place where you can’t speak, you can simply turn off that function.

DuoLingo isn’t perfect – at a certain point down the road I will likely have to find a new app or hire a private tutor to perfect my conversational French, but for these basic building blocks, it is fantastic.

But this particular post isn’t necessarily about DuoLingo – it is about learning on my time. In the past, something like this would be unimaginable. You would have to hire a private tutor or go to community college. My life isn’t structured that way. I am a business owner with kids all over the place so I need to approach learning French when I have 20 minutes here or there. I recently looked at the local community college for French courses and they only offered it at 6pm to 8.30pm on Tuesday and Thursday night. Not gonna happen.

With DuoLingo, I hit it when and where I want to. Waiting for a kid to get out of dance class? DuoLingo. Someone is late for an appointment or maybe I am early? Same thing. I don’t have 2.5 hours to sit in a chair twice a week, away from my house or work.

There are a lot of apps out there, and like with the first inning of the game, Khan Academy, I am excited to see how these new learning methods and interfaces come to fruition in the future.

We aren’t there yet, but I think eventually kids graduating high school will be able to say “why college?” – and I think that is a great thing.

Adults who want to simply further themselves no longer need to sit around at the local community college.

11 thoughts on “Learning On My Time”

  1. Ha!, thanks. I just checked it out. When we were young my mother would always try to get us to speak Portuguese. At that time being bi-lingual was not fashionable at all. Kids our age that spoke it were “right off the boat” and not cool. They also offered it in high school (in that region, as well as French) Our parents and grandparents would scoff at the high-school Portuguese as it sounded nothing like what they spoke. I clearly remember my uncles laughing at my cousin saying he sounded like a “maricas” from the city.

    I’m going to give it a try anyhow.

  2. If you are interested in the topic I recommend it. The big missing piece is the conversational part – but I would rather have the simple stuff like vocabulary and conjugation down before I started that anyways. DuoLingo is perfect to get you up to that part, imho.

  3. “Someday I want to buy a little place in France so obviously learning the language is key ”

    I had the same thought although I’m now too old.

    I have sent a lot of time in France and love it. My youngest daughter has been with me and she loves it. She majored in French in college and wanted to get a job in France but that hasn’t worked out. I usually used tapes and simple vocabularies when I was going and could get by but only with minimal stuff. I have found that the French got much friendlier and more willing to speak English over the past 40 years I’ve been going. The villages are emptying out and some are being filled in by English immigrants. There are now English speaking villages and towns in France with city officials English speaking.

    We are apparently in a classic south-west French village, as found on the better sort of postcard.
    Then, jarring elements arise. Of the few cars about, more than seems reasonable have British plates. Many of the houses are in a state of repair exceptional for an isolated country village. And, over in the bar by the squat little church, the owner, most of the clientùle and the language are all English. French customers look suspiciously like foreigners in their own village.
    And they are. This is the most colonised village in France. Per head of population, it has more Britons than any other commune.
    The mayor, Michel Lamy, contemplates the fact with puzzled pride. “Of the 81 houses occupied full-time in the village, 13 are British. And, of 75 holiday homes, 63 are British-owned,” he says, with proper municipal precision.

    This has created a bit of a problem for the French Social Securite health care system as the English are registering and have never paid into it.

    As far as expatriates are concerned, access to the system for early retirees is complex, as you can read at Health Insurance for Early Retirees in France..

    Retired expatriates from within the EEA who are covered for health insurance through their S1 are not part of the CMU, as they are covered directly by their home country, with administration of their cover carried out by the local health authority (CPAM).

    If you are not from within the EEA then in order to make application to the CMU you will need to demonstrate that you have a right to live in France through a residence permit (carte de séjour). Entitlement to access has historically depended on legal residence of at least three months duration, although we are finding that local health authorities are interpreting the regulations in different ways, with some insisting on at least 5 years residence.

    It looks as though the French have taken some steps to solve the problem.

    For most people, the CMU is a contributory scheme, called the CMU de base.

    The contribution level to the CMU de base is 8% of household income above a minimum threshold. The current threshold is €9,534 per household/annum, a figure that applies from October 2013 to September 2014 and is revised annually.

    Accordingly, you will pay 8% of your net income above this figure – your income after deduction of eligible allowances as determined by the French tax authority.

    The income figure used for determining the amount you pay is the revenu fiscal de reference, as advised on your French tax return.

    Thus, if your income is €25,000 a year you deduct the CMU threshold of €9,534. This leaves €15,466 as the base figure used for calculating your 8% contribution to the CMU. This gives a premium of €1,237 pa for health insurance cover.

    The French system is, in my opinion, the best in the world and I had hoped a US reform would follow those lines. Obamacare doesn’t.

  4. “I have found that the French got much friendlier and more willing to speak English over the past 40 years I’ve been going.” I agree with this. I had a bad experience in Paris, however the people in the Southern, more rural areas south of Toulouse where I have been vacationing are perfectly fine with me knowing rudimentary French and most of the shopkeepers know at least a little English. I think they are just happy to have my Euros more than anything as this area is somewhat of a dead zone save for skiing and cycling vacationers.

  5. Even Paris has been friendly the past ten years. I think the boycott after Chirac stabbed us in the back hurt. I’m not so sure they actually, you know LIKE us, but I’ll take it.

    I started the course at the most basic. I just hope I have another chance to use it. I’m not sure after this summer.

  6. Dan,

    Thanks for the tip. I passed it on to my daughter who is trying to recover the Italian she has lost since leaving college. She seems enthused.

  7. I think I used that on my desktop until my XP system took a dive – I became less and less enamored with it over time.

    My German is not fluent – the natives will smile knowing most of the time what I am trying to say –
    but it is far from perfekt .

    My problem with it was like a lot of repetitive courses – you don’t really say things like a native would say things and for me at least it gets boring fast.

    I have heard there is an app for the iPhone at least where you can say something in English and it will translate it to a language of your self.

    That in itself probably isn’t perfect – I have seen computer generated translations – but I think it would help me learn faster

  8. Think about what this means for language education generally. Then think about tens of thousands of union language instructors in schools. Then think about better jobs as tutors and coaches, providing a human supplement to a machine-led language program. The machines go in first, the humans follow, using Skype and video conferencing. F2F would be a nice to have. This could all be done on a completely flexible schedule.

    The entire existing system can be and should be replaced over the next few years.

  9. Perhaps Lex, perhaps. I worked for State government for a number of years, the last few in an adaptive technology department. It was right around the time of transitioning from MS-DOS to Windows, internet etc. The agency had a “systems” department who were union state employees responsible for the data bases within the office and those offices statewide. Long story short, the system was continuously “down” and when the technology changed they were overwhelmed. The agency was forced to hire outside contractors, and because of union rules, they had to set up a separate system to actually serve the clientele, while the systems guys who could not be replaced, sat in their office playing solitaire, going on the road on “service call’s” and fussing with the system that continued to “be down”. I’m not sure the contractors and systems guys ever really spoke that much.

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