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"Talking the walk" of self-directed language learning. Language learning connects people and creates community.

An old man with young thoughts

I saw this wonderful video about a 77-year-old kitesurfer this morning, and it somehow reminded me of “The Summer Day”, the Mary Oliver poem that delicately lands on a simple but powerful question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

If you haven’t heard the poem before (artist reading below), give it a listen.  I usually make notes about other languages here, but both of these videos are solid reminders of the poetry of life and the beauty of the English language– I shouldn’t take it for granted!


Duolingo streak is dead (long live the streak).

It had actually been coming for awhile— ‘life’ was speeding up and the daily check-in with Duolingo was becoming more of an “oh yeah~ I almost forgot!”. First I changed my daily commitment to a lower number to minimize the time needed to maintain the streak— then, I ‘froze’ my streak a couple of times (i.e. the system showed that my streak was still intact, when I had, in fact, missed a day) by exchanging some of my system credits (just free gems/etc. that I’d picked up through engaging with the platform); today, however, the inevitable happened and I realized that I hadn’t even been on the system for two days [sigh]–the picture below is how Duolingo greeted me.

It’s all good– I was preoccupied with real things, so I don’t need to feel bad about dropping the ball. I don’t think I’ll take them up on their offer to repair my streak for a fee ($9.99), but I think take it as an opportunity to pause and see whether I’m going to try and get back on the horse, or try something different. I like the Duolingo platform—-I think for my learning style though, it can’t be the engine that maintains or sustains my connection to the language. I’ll just have to think about where it fits in the ecosystem.

As for the streak– I’ve been at this game long enough to know that, in the long run, the key skill that keeps you moving forward is being able to pick yourself up again after you inevitably stumble.  As the Japanese proverb says— “Fall down seven times, get up eight times”  (七転び八起き)

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Learning Norwegian via Trump: “Hvordan sier du «shithole county» på norsk?”

Not to get sucked into politics, but Trump’s alleged comments about immigrants from “Shithole countries” were apparently paired with comments about wishing that there were more Norwegians immigrating to the U.S.A.

In terms of a reality-check, there was a piece in the Atlantic that nicely covered why that isn’t likely to happen–(spoiler: Norway is one of the few countries in the world that consistently beats Canada (yes, and the U.S. too) on UN Development index, happiness rankings and other measures).  Still, I was curious to see what Norwegian people were saying about this chapter of current events— how would you even say “shithole country” in Norwegian?

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Norwegian Day 60, Discovered NRK app, Norwegian version of “What the world needs now is love”

Still trucking along with Duolingo Norwegian —day 60!  

Playing around with Duolingo Norwegian still has me checking out Norwegian content on Netflix and my local library and just ‘noticing‘ things here and there.

Free NRK Radio app

Looking for iphone apps, I discovered a free NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) radio app and gave it a whirl.  Fumbling around the menu, I tried a few channels and left it on a show called “Språkteigen” while I was doing something else.  During a music break between segments, I heard what was obviously the Norwegian version of “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love”.  As luck would have it, the app showed the name of the song so I took a screen shot (“Nå skal du få kjærlighet”, by Kirsti Sparboe).   I’m a relatively new Apple Music subscriber and it seemed like a cool bonus to find her album there.

I’m a bit of a guitar hack so I found the lyrics to the song and the tab to the original song and put the tab for the chorus together (below).   It’ll be worth a laugh to try and play the chorus on my guitar in the next while.






“Smart Helix” Red Dot Award– 一条 YIT videos

I’ve been following a channel called (一条 YIT)on Facebook for a little while— their videos are incredible!   I didn’t realize that FB videos worked on this platform, but here we are.  Check out this Chinese-language (English Subtitled) video about Yan Shaoting, who won the Best of the Best of the Red Dot Design Award for this work.


Moments of Norwegian serendipity

Just continuing to capture these baby steps of learning Norwegian; this project started off on such a whim—it’s been a delight to watch it build a bit of momentum. (Not forgetting the obvious caveat that this is still early days for sure–I’m determined to maintain my Duolingo streak until I finish the course!)

Random moment this week though—we were over at a friend’s house and the kids were surfing videos on YouTube; suddenly, I spotted an “ikke” (familiar word from Duolingo lessons) in the “up next” preview box…. I jumped up to snap a picture (below) so I could check it out when I got home—lo and behold, Google Translate confirmed that “Verschrikkelijke Ikke” is the Norwegian title for the Despicable Me movies!

There aren’t any Norwegian speakers in that house (Just Persian, Arabic and English), so it seemed extra serendipitous to be having a “Norwegian moment”.

The next day my French news app (Le Monde) popped up a headline with another Norway connection. Trivial as it was, it was yet another reminder of how, for all the effort that we put into deliberate language practice (i.e. I found the NRK radio app), the universe/language/culture/community always seems to repay our efforts with these kinds of connections from time to time.

Norwegian screen capture test

A lazy Saturday project….  wanted to capture some Norwegian practice and realized that I’d never bothered to set up a session where I was simultaneously recording video from FaceTime camera and doing a Quicktime screen recording.  It’s not rocket science, but just wanted to make it work.

The good news was that it worked, but my challenge is that I didn’t like the audio, especially capturing audio from the onscreen app (Duolingo in this case).   Is there not a way to capture audio from the user on one track and the audio from the system application on another?  Another project for another day:)

32 days of Duolingo Norwegian: $)^* just got serious!


IMG_452632 Days! What started out as a whim has quietly become a ‘thing’ — crazy to think that it’s been a month since I started Norwegian. Up until this point, it’s really only taken about 5 minutes to get enough experience points to meet my daily quota, but I’ve recently discovered a ‘settings’ button that I hadn’t noticed before and I’ve now raised my daily quota to 30xp.  It’s still not much of a task and I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride and genuinely looking forward to my daily ‘study break’— not wanting to break my streak is a bonus motivator, and the way that Duolingo is set up, it’s easy to balance taking a little bite of a new unit with practicing old content.

Duolingo humour continues with random phrases like “She is leaving him” and “Are you wearing underwear?” that are good for a chuckle every now and then when you figure out the sentence.

I can’t wait for the Christmas break— getting through the rest of the Duolingo course and starting some audio/visual practice will be a fun project for the holidays!

Daily goal settings serious



Got to speak Japanese with George Takei!



George Takei came to Edmonton last week to give a talk as part of a speaker series that our public library (EPL) has been running.   The talk itself was primarily a reflection on several chapters of his life, including being sent to a internment camp after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour–this period actually began with his family living in a barnyard horse stall while the camps were being constructed.

He then went on to weave his personal story of challenge and triumph, living most of his life feeling like he had to hide his sexuality, with the larger swaths of American social change, including the eventual recognition of same-sex marriage.

Having said that, he did manage to weave in a several lighter moments of laughter–some of the Q&A also got him into Star Trek trivia, and talking about connecting with people over social media.

Some of the themes were quite timely because the day before George spoke, the Canadian Prime Minister had offered a historic apology to the LGBTQ2 community in Canada.

After the talk was over, I had the good fortune of attending a smaller reception; since the line to speak to him wasn’t too long, I decided that I couldn’t pass up the chance—but what to ask?

As it got closer to my turn, it suddenly dawned on me to ask if he spoke Japanese at all. When I asked my question in English,  he responded in Japanese, asking if I could speak Japanese—- when I did, we had a nice conversation that lasted a few minutes.

In an interesting bit of serendipity, the woman behind me had also been to Japan and she too took the opportunity to speak with George in Japanese– when it was over, we got to chatting, and her father said “this is so interesting– I’d only ever really heard my daughter’s Japan story, so it was interesting to hear some of yours as well”.

Afterwards, it struck me that there was something quite poetic about his choice of words: “my Japan story”. But it’s true, though, isn’t it? When we learn another language, we really are penning our own ‘______ story’ in the context of that language and culture.

Anyway– a very neat experience for sure!