Mary Knize

Learning Languages for Fun

2 min read


Years ago, before I started learning programming languages, I was on a mission to learn to read, write, understand, and (hopefully) speak multiple natural languages. I took Spanish in school, and I didn't enjoy it. Years later, I moved to an area where Spanish is a common language, and decided to give it another go. This time around, I found Duolingo.

I love Duolingo. It's part game, part spaced repitition that has really helped me learn vocabulary and grammar. It's very basic, but it made me very confident in my ability to read and understand some spoken Spanish. After finishing the Spanish course (which has since been expanded), I started dabbling in Dutch, since I would love to visit Amsterdam, the Hague, and Efteling sometime in the future.

Before I could finish the Dutch course I decided to embark on my career as a JavaScript developer, which entailed using all that Dutch language time to learn JavaScript. I've gone back to Duolingo from time to time, trying to brush up on skills, but for years I haven't had the time or mental bandwidth to immerse myself in those languages as much as I wanted to.

Now I'm in a good spot in my career. I've gone from front-end JavaScript to full-stack JavaScript and PHP. I'm spending a ton of time working with Zend Framework. While I still have a ton to learn as a programmer, I've spent the last few years only learning programming, and I need to change things up.

This time around, I've jumped to German. I've also picked up a project that I had started in 2013 that I called The Potterglot Project (Edit 3/3/19: Removed the link because I haven't been keeping up the site). I'm trying to learn languages the way I learn programming languages: by picking apart finished products while at the same time learning the fundamentals. In this case, I'm reading each Harry Potter book in a different language. When I first started I was reading the first book in Spanish, but now I've picked up Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen in German. I've also picked up the audiobook.

To reinforce what I've learned, I'm putting my notes into blog form, sort of a Feynman Method meets blog. It's not really written for an audience, but if someone finds it interesting, that's great.

Also, in an attempt to incorporate some programming into my studies, I'm working on projects like a flashcard app. I've already created a small python script that will provide word frequency analysis that I'm using on each chapter, and you can find the Gist here.

While I might never really use German, Spanish, Dutch, or any other language that I want to learn, language learning is such a fascinating puzzle that I just can't stay away from it.

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