The area around the spider…

Example of exercise on Duolingo

… and other useful phrases! Learning Danish with Duolingo is challenging and fascinating even if some of the vocabulary is obscure and some of the phrases downright weird.

If you have access to the internet an activity accessible to all is learning a language and using Duolingo is one way of going about it. I haven’t investigated the app, just the website but I had been aware of Duolingo for some time as people I had taught Spanish to had often mentioned it. I looked at the Spanish materials a while back and thought the choice of vocabulary was a little random, an opinion confirmed in spades when I started to learn Danish. I’m not sure words like hedgehog and penguin are essential for beginners of any language!

Example of exercise on Duolingo
Example of exercise on Duolingo

I had always wanted to try a language that was not Latin-based to see how I would get on. Watching Danish dramas on television I noticed words with links to northern English or Scottish dialect (barn for child, kendte for knew) so I thought it would be interesting to give learning Danish a go.

Example of exercise on Duolingo
Example of exercise on Duolingo

Many more linguistic links came along such as dale for valley or rygsaeck for backpack and I found that when we next watched a Danish drama I could pick out a word or two. I even on occasion recognised a whole sentence. That felt like progress!

Example of exercise on Duolingo
Example of exercise on Duolingo

Although you can pay for access to more exercises on Duolingo, there is far more free content on there than I expected. As I wanted to test how good Duolingo was as a language learning method as well as have a go at learning Danish, I didn’t consult any other materials for a long while. Eventually, however, I felt frustrated by not having a set of pronunciation rules so I looked online for some information.

Example of exercise on Duolingo
Example of exercise on Duolingo

If I seriously needed to learn Danish for some reason, or any other language for that matter, I would go about it differently. Having taught languages for over twenty years my advice to anyone would be to take a multi-pronged approach. You need exposure to some authentic language rather than the out-of-context praises on Duolingo. I was able to experience this thanks to the many Danish dramas available to view but there is an argument that it is better to be exposed to language which is just a little bit more advanced than the level you are at as some people find it off-putting when they cannot understand every word they are hearing or reading.

Graded readers from the Eurobooks website
Graded readers from the Eurobooks website

This is where things like graded reading materials come in or sites like News in Slow Spanish. I would advise using both methods: some easier stuff and some more challenging stuff!

News in Slow Spanish
News in Slow Spanish

Obviously, different approaches suit different people but it is always good to push yourself and try things which might not be your favourite way of learning but which are nevertheless beneficial. For example, if you prefer working methodically through a grammar exercise, try something a bit more unstructured for a change such as looking at a newspaper or listening to the radio from the country whose language you are studying. If being methodical isn’t your thing, sometimes you could try focusing on a particular area of grammar you are unsure of: look up the rules and do some exercises until you feel confident with it.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais
The Spanish newspaper El Pais

Duolingo is one tool in your language learning kit. It’s not perfect but it’s compelling, it’s fun and it’s free!

Digitally accessible museums

I realised recently that many museums and art galleries around the world can be viewed on Google Street View. This is useful not only as it increases access for those with disabilities or limited mobility but also creates access for everyone during times of lockdown or other Covid restrictions. It is also brilliant fun!

The Ambassadors, National Gallery, from Google Street View
The Ambassadors, National Gallery, from Google Street View

Perhaps this feature of Street View has been available for a long time but I was delighted to discover it recently and promptly had a look around museums I am familiar with such as the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Musée D’Orsay but also the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Lahore Museum which I have never visited and am not likely to.

Lahore Museum on Google Street View
Lahore Museum on Google Street View

Some are easier to navigate around than others: I failed to access the upper floors of some museums, whereas in others it was easy to go up or down the staircases. The Dulwich Picture Gallery was particularly simple to navigate and you could get a good view of the paintings. Many art galleries, when viewed digitally, have a circle in front of the paintings which you can click and a side panel opens on your screen giving you more detail about the picture in question.

The Ambassadors, National Gallery, with information panel
The Ambassadors, National Gallery, with information panel

If you find a museum on Google Maps then click the little man to bring up the blue Street View areas, you can tell whether the museum can be visited because of all the blue lines showing where the Street View camera has been.

National Gallery on Street View
National Gallery on Street View

Some just have blue dots which means you can go inside but only in a certain position, you can’t navigate around the place. That said, one of the museums I tried this with was Hull Maritime Museum which didn’t have blue lines inside it so I assumed you couldn’t visit it virtually but when I tried anyway, found myself inside and I not only navigated around but also up and down the staircase!

Musée D'Orsay on Street View
The Musée D’Orsay on Street View

It’s definitely worth having a play with this function of Google Maps and Street View. Obviously, seeing paintings ‘in the flesh’ as it were is best but when that’s not possible this is a great substitute!

Monet Waterlillies, Orangery, Paris on Google Street View
Monet Waterlillies, Orangery, Paris on Google Street View