I Like Duolingo

Me gusta Duolingo!

About a month ago, I realized that I’m not immersed enough in Spanish to actually achieve even minimal fluency by the time we leave a year from now. I only had two days over the weekend with any significant immersion for more than a few minutes, but during the workweek I’m in a strictly English environment. Eso es no bueno.

I had a choice to make. Either continue drifting with Spanish, or get serious. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn Spanish while practicing with nearly every person I interact with outside the house, so I chose to kick it into gear.

I went back to Duolingo, and started over. My goal was to get caught back up to where I stopped a year ago, getting all the lessons back to the gold completed state.

With this program, when you complete a set of lessons on a subject, the icon turns gold. After a while (days or weeks?) it loses its gold status, which indicates that you need to review the material, because memory decays over time. You go through one or more refresher lessons, depending on how long it’s been, to get it back to gold.

Even when I was studying regularly, I actually never practiced enough to keep everything gold. I would review one lesson, only to have two revert back. It got rather discouraging, especially when I hit new lessons that were more challenging.

Duolingo-in-iPhoneWell, I’m now on a 33 day streak, the longest I’ve ever had. And last night, I got the last of my previous lessons back to gold. Today, I actually started new material. Nice.

At the same time, when I kicked it into gear I decided to form relationships with more fluent speakers around me, so I would be doing more serious practice 7 days a week. I’ve got the guy at the corner market and a couple of neighbor boys, and every time I talk to them I try out a new word or phrase so they can correct me.

But my best teacher has turned out to be Eliseo, the cocinero at the little restaurant where I’ve been getting lunch during the workweek. Because of my schedule I’m often the only one in there, so we talk a lot. Man, he is so patient. I’ll try to say something, and he’ll correct my grammar, then make me repeat it several times until he’s satisfied. He’s got a little notebook that he’ll write words or sentences in if I can’t understand.

The end result of all this is a burst of improvement that I’ve seen in just the last couple of weeks. The proof came last week, when I talked with some native speakers back in the U.S. that I’ve never been able to understand, and could actually hear what they were saying.

It’s still a long journey ahead. According to Duolingo I’m 22% fluent, though it doesn’t feel like that much. But as Eliseo tells me every day, “Poco a poco.”

Volkswagen Van

In our neighborhood, there’s been a guy working on an old Volkswagen van since we arrived 5 weeks ago. Today, he brought in an artist to paint it. It was an all-day affair, and became quite the community event.

Photo Aug 14, 7 59 20 PMPhoto Aug 14, 7 59 13 PM

As I took pictures, one of the spectators asked me, “¿Bonita o fea?” I pointed to the yet-to-be-painted roof and said, “No bueno.”

Photo Aug 14, 7 59 26 PM

At the end of the day, we’ve got one proud van owner…Photo Aug 14, 8 00 54 PM

Bumps in the Road

In Ajijic, there is only one asphalt-paved road in town. That’s the main Chapala-Jocotepec highway that runs through communities north of Lake Chapala. Asphalt is used for other purposes, too, like the Walmart parking lot and pavement at gas stations, but street surfacing is not one of them. What do they use instead? Guijarro, or cobblestone.

I’m amazed at the variety of guijarro in town. The base cobblestone is river rock, held in place with dirt:

Cobblestone in Ajijic

The through-roads with more traffic will have bricks laid in the tire tracks, with river rock for the rest:

Cobblestone with bricks in Ajijic

Nicer neighborhoods have cement poured between the stones, rather than dirt:

Cement cobblestone in Ajijic

Often they’ll have larger stones laid out in the tire tracks, giving it a more intentional look:

Cobblestone road in Ajijic

Some intersections use what we would call “pavers” back in the States:

Photo Jul 31, 4 51 18 PM

Nicer homes use slate for the driveway:

Photo Jul 31, 4 51 35 PM

I told someone last week that we’ve had a few bumps in the road settling in. Then I realized, bumps in the road is pretty normal for Ajijic. After all, “bumpy road” is redundant when your roads are paved with cobblestone.