Nine days ago (to judge by my streak), I dusted off my old Duolingo account and (re-)started working through a couple of their courses. I’ve gone through a couple of “phases” of consistent Duolingo use before. The first was in 2013, when I’d just come back from a trip to South America, and was filled with this enthusiasm to learn Portuguese. I did learn some Portuguese, but it turns out that trying to learn it at the same time as you’re studying Catalan at uni is a recipe for disaster (…or at least for some very mangled Catanhol sentences), so I had to give that a rest after a while. My second stint on Duolingo was 2018, when my dad had just discovered the site (he currently has a 1,582-day streak in Greek!), and inspired me to get back into it. For a while there I was basically studying five Romance languages simultaneously, but eventually I came to feel that it was a lot of effort for no real benefit to me, so I drifted away again. In the years since, I made brief comebacks to start – and not get very far with – the Esperanto, Indonesian and German courses.

The comeback I’m making now has already lasted longer than those last few, so, hooray! The thing that prompted me to do it was this little conversation on link) about the words different Germanic languages use for “country”, which reminded me that I still don’t really understand any German, but I had once started the Duolingo course in the hope of learning at least something. (In fact, I think I even wrote an entry about wanting to learn some German at the time.) So, I logged back into Duolingo, found that the German course had undergone a revamp so the site only credited me with level 1 in the very first skill, and with renewed determination began to plug away at it. Honestly, it’s hard to predict how long I’ll be motivated to keep at it – my main motivations are curiosity and wanting to have some idea of what all those German-language posts on Mastodon say, and those might not be enough to keep me willing to work through the complicated grammatical points that I’m told German has 😛 But I’ll see how far I can get.

Then since I was already back on Duolingo to study German, I decided to also re-take up Duolingo’s Esperanto course. I’ve mentioned before how I prefer Ido, a “reformed Esperanto”, to Esperanto itself, and starting this course again has not changed my mind in the slightest. That said, I don’t dislike Esperanto, and as an internationalist and a bit of an idealist I feel like it’d be a good thing to achieve some level of competence in Esperanto as well as my preferred Ido. Duolingo’s course also helps in that I find Ido a bit hard to practise regularly due to the relative lack of resources. I’ve been making (and practising) vocabulary flashcards in the app Mochi Cards(external link), but flashcards by themselves aren’t really adequate as a study method. Studying Esperanto through Duolingo, I get some extra Ido practice because every time it says “translate this sentence into Esperanto” my brain comes up with the Ido translation first 😛 Plus, when I make notes of the new vocab the course throws at me, I translate them not only into English, but also into Ido. The two conlangs’ grammars are similar enough that most of the time, you can just replace the words in an Esperanto sentence with their Ido equivalents and have a correct sentence. In a perfect world, I think it’d be great to get good enough at both of them that I can “code-switch” freely. But that might be a tall order, haha.

Anyway, studying German and Esperanto side-by-side has really helped me to understand some of the things Esperanto does that confuse or irritate me. For example, the fact that Esperanto words are masculine by default, and you have to add an extra suffix -in to make one feminine (and there is no such thing as gender-neutral words, only “both genders together” words). Why does Esperanto do this? Why, because… that’s what German does! Down to the suffix to add being -in, it seems – at least, the Duolingo course has already been full of pairs like Kellner/Kellnerin (waiter/waitress) or Student/Studentin (male student/female student). One of my favourite things about Ido is that nearly all its word roots1 are gender-neutral, and an affix must be added to make them feminine or masculine.

Another thing, this time one that didn’t really annoy me but struck me as funny, was that Esperanto uses the same preposition, el, for what we’d say in English as “from” and “out”. I’ve previously mostly studied Romance languages where “from” is the same word as “of”, instead. I think you can see where I’m going with this, but yes, the reason Esperanto conflates “from” and “out” (and contrasts them with de “of”) is that that’s what German does. (Ido has three prepositions covering this semantic space – ek, de and di – but they don’t map 1:1 onto English’s meanings for them. Still, in general you could say that “out” is ek and “from” is de in Ido.) At least, as far as I’ve learned from my eight skills of the Duolingo course that’s what German does 😅

So overall, being back on Duolingo has been a bit of fun, and it’s also motivating me to work a little more on Ido when that doesn’t even have a Duolingo course. I mentioned in March that I was thinking about using Hugo’s multilingual mode to make an Ido-language personal site, and I’m actually right on the cusp of having something releasable (not necessarily full of content 😂), but not quite there yet. Hopefully soon! It’d be a fun little experiment, itself.

  1. The exceptions being matro “mother”, patro “father”, viro “man” and muliero “woman”. But there are gender-neutral equivalents too (and not only in plural): genitoro “parent” and adulto “adult”. Ido also has a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun, lu, and grammatically, gendering pronouns at all is optional. ↩︎