On Monday, March 28, the language learning-focused student organization MiCommunicate began its first ever language learning competition, the Duolingo Games. Based roughly on the Hunger Games, 32 students and one Minerva staff member signed up and thus agreed to commit to maintaining their “streak” on the language learning website Duolingo for 21 days.
The leaders of MiCommunicate — Inaugural Class students Namrata Haribal, Julian Grosse, and Khang Dương — organized the event. In addition to the incentive of regaining the initial deposit, they created a highly visible poster in the residence hall with every contestant’s name and will award a sticker every day the contestants continue the streak, similar to the simple but highly effective “sticker charts” in primary (elementary) school.
Inaugural Class student Raymundo Gonzalez Leal, one of the contestants who is studying German on Duolingo, expressed that the stickers and money were not his primary motivation. “I was already doing Duolingo before and being in the games gives you more motivation to be consistent, since you know that more people are doing it.”
IC student Corey Orndorff, who at publication time was still contemplating joining the game, added, “I’m thinking about it. I don’t wanna lose five dollars.”
Many of the participating students decided to focus on improving their language skills before they move to Berlin in late August 2016 and Buenos Aires in January 2017 — roughly 60% decided to focus on German and 30% on Spanish. Furthermore, two students decided on French and one each on Russian, Portuguese, Esperanto, and Norwegian.
The contest is not likely to result in language fluency in the near future, with Leal adding that Duolingo “is not something complete,” but rather a good practice tool supplementing conversation with native speakers and other immersion. However, it has so far engaged much of the student body, roughly 30%, to put some work towards learning a new language. IC student Colette Brown, who will be studying Spanish, said “I like a friendly competition. Hold the friendly.”