I have a love hate relationship with Duolingo, the online language learning site. I have used it for many years now to toy with learning various languages. I have had most success so far with Dutch and have recently started, as you may well already know, to learn Welsh. It is great fun and easy to use as you can type in your answer, choose from available words or even speak to the app.
It is not the foreign languages that I struggle with, I expect these to be hard, but rather the English that is used. Of course it is an American English site and so some of the phrases are obviously from the other side of the Atlantic yet most of these are covered by the algorithm. Things such as sidewalk and pavement, color and colour are easily dealt with.
Occasionally though it throws me a real curve ball. I respond to the translation in what seems to me my mother tongue, natural English yet I am marked as wrong. Unnatural word orders, to me, are presented back as the correct answer and I have to remember these in order to get through the exercise.
As an example, I gave the answer ‘My son is now at the secondary school’ which was marked as wrong and the correct answer offered was ‘My son is in secondary school now.’ I can’t for the life of me see why my answer is wrong.
It has become a battle of wills. I am able to flag my answer and suggest that it should be accepted yet everytime it happens an image of someone pops into my head, the person at Duolingo who is making up these ludicrous responses. He is white, in his thirties and has brown curly hair. He sits at a desk with an anglepoise lamp which casts a cone of light on his corrections and markings.
I have no idea where this image has come from and why it has developed and stuck in my mind for all these years, but it has made my infractions with Duolingo much more personal.
I don’t know who you are, I doubt you even exist but brown curly haired bloke from Duolingo, I’m on to you and I’m not giving up!