Sat 21 May 2016
Learning a new skill as an adult is hard. I was accepted into a choir that will be singing in Germany in June 2017 in honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation*. It will be thrilling to Bach sing in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the church where Bach was Kantor for so many years, under one of the world’s great interpreters of Bach, Helmut Rillig. Not only will I be learning new music for the week-long event but I have decided to try to resurrect my high school German.
I have done this a number of times in the last 45 years but this time, I have found a system that works and is sustainable for me: Duolingo.com. I was made aware of this online program on the Road Scholars’ Facebook page. There a multitude of languages one can learn through this site as well as other ways to customize the learning process, including ways to test out of lessons, which I have yet to do.
I chose a “regular” commitment level, which means about 10 minutes a day. You can commit to more or less and there are days when I have done a lot more than my basic commitment. Short lessons teach new words and algorithms focus on your weak spots in the practice sessions, which you can do as many or as few times as you want.
There are little reward points called “lingots” that you can spend in the virtual store on things like a lesson in idioms or a timed practice or buying a “day off” when life prevents you from keeping your commitment one day. I get a daily reminder e-mail and I can even post my progress to my Linked-In page. There is the option of competing with others via Facebook, an option I have not chosen to do at this point.This is a wonderful program and I have been doing it daily now for nearly three weeks. I am pleased that I remembered some and am pretty good about translating from German into English. I do less well translating English into German.
All of it is still humbling. Remembering whether a certain German noun is masculine, feminine or neuter is hard and I often get dinged as I move through my lessons. It isn’t enough to have the noun correct; I must have the article correct as well! Computer games like this don’t let you cheat: I either know it or I don’t! There really are absolutes with German nouns and their articles.
One can extrapolate this idea of “I know it or I don’t” into training of any kind, be it physical, mental or even spiritual. A disciplined life really does bring its own rewards and often from activities engaged in for just a few minutes every day. Of course, a disciplined life is also a way of being that includes an attitude as well as the specific physical, mental or spiritual exercises we intentionally do. Never despise the small! Over a period of time, those small habits can bring great changes into your life.
While ten minutes a day will not allow me to discuss with Herr Rillig the finer points of Bach’s cantatas when I am in Germany, it will allow me to order a sandwich and buy a pair of shoes. Auf Deutsch! And that will be reward enough for me. What can you start doing today for ten minutes that will bring you a reward at some point? Begin now!
*If you want information on how you, too, can audition for this choir, contact me ASAP.