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Duolingo stories, "Can-do" moments, and Langroops

Yesterday morning after waking up and rolling over in denial several times, I began my morning language learning routine (still in bed) with Spanish on Duolingo. Without getting into the debate over the effectiveness of learning a language with Duolingo, I would like to highlight the importance of a certain feature I discovered yesterday for the first time and what it can teach us about how to learn a language the right way.

"Duolingo stories" are short interactive stories in the language you are currently practicing that open up as you move through the levels of the standard course.

(To find the stories just click on the little book icon on the bottom.) The stories are integrated with audio and questions to verify and clarify your understanding.

Yesterday after completing my "daily goal", out of a whim, I decided to give the stories a go. I was delighted to discover that the content was clever and entertaining and upon completion, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment that a hundred levels of the course never gave me. It felt something like "Wow, I can actually do this!". So what was unique about reading a story that made it so much more gratifying than matching up words and recording myself for a robot?

This kind of experience is what some language learning experts call a "Can-do moment". The concept is linked to a language learning approach where vocabulary, grammar, assignments, and tests are all only an ends to the means of real-life communication (seems obvious right?). The approach builds the language learning process around practical skills known as "can-do"s. For example, one unit may be built around the can-do "being able to order at a restaurant" and will include vocabulary and grammar necessary for executing this task. Regardless if you are learning with the can-do approach, a standard language course, or self-study, incorporating "can-do" experiences is an invaluable part of successful language learning. The reason that reading the story on Duolingo was such a positive experience is that, unlike the other tasks, it was a can-do moment. Now question is, what makes something a "Can-do" moment and not just a plain old exercise?

Well, there is no clear-cut answer, but in general, I can say that a can-do moment should be "Real". It should not be about answering a very specific question or getting something "right". It should be about the big picture, about understanding, about communication, and about real life. It is an experience you will learn from but is not about the act of learning itself. It is when you put aside the dictionary, the word lists, and the cheat sheets and just do for the sake of doing. So by this point, you may be asking "okay, so how do I create this kind of moment for myself?".

The answer is: you have to go out and do. Read a book, watch a movie, write a diary, or best of all have a conversation. That is where Langroops comes into the picture. These days with the plethora of resources on the internet finding something to read or watch is not a problem. On the other hand, finding real people to have real conversations with is quite a bit harder, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. That is where Langroops comes in. It brings people together using the power of online video meetings (Zoom) to exchange language and culture and most importantly experience "can-do" moments that are otherwise so hard to come by. Langroops gives people the courage to speak up, to experiment, and to make mistakes in a fun, safe, and supportive environment. It gives people the chance to take all those hard spent hours of study and cash them in for communication and connecting to others. That can-do sensation is what Langroops and language learning is all about.

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