At the end of the month, I'm taking the first real vacation I've had since 2017, to Central Europe. After connecting through Heathrow, I land in Prague, Czechia; then by train on to Vienna, Austria; then Salzburg, Austria; then a flight back to Gatwick and a night in London. And because of Vienna's and Salzburg's proximity to Austria's borders, I will probably also visit Slovakia, Hungary, and Germany—at least for a few minutes.
To prepare for this trip, about a month ago I downloaded Duolingo, and started the Czech program. I also jumped into the German program at unit 5, as I've studied German before.
I've had mixed results.
First, I want to make it clear that I love Duolingo. I have learned some basic Czech and I've gotten my German back to tourist-level fluency. When I get back to the US, I'm planning to load up French and Spanish, with the goal of getting both back to conversational levels. Just practicing languages every day keeps me learning them, so I believe I'll eventually finish the French and Spanish programs with some pretty good skills in both.
As for my upcoming trip, I've decided to change my approach. Thus far, I've spent about 20 minutes a day on Czech and 10 on German. And yet I'm going through the German lessons much faster, for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I first learned German in high school and I first learned Czech 37 days ago.
In the German program, I'm breezing through things like „wie ist das Wetter in Wien?” and „entschuldigung, wo ist der Geldautomat”, both of which which I actually want to know, and I'm acing (almost) all the speech and listening exercises. (Im and in gave me a bit of a bother for a hot minute.) I've gone from my start in section 1, unit 5 to section 2, unit 4, and the app says I've learned about 300 new German words.
In the Czech program, by contrast, 37 days have gotten me to...section 1, unit 5. And that's only because I gave up on the optional grammar drills after unit 4. I can say things like „jsem David” (I'm David) and „jsou to zvláštní zvířata” ("those are strange animals"), but not every time, and with no guarantee of grammatical accuracy. You see, Czech is a declined language, where all the grammar lives at the ends of words. I just can't seem to get the correct word endings 6 times out of 10. It's supremely frustrating.
So starting today, I'm going to change my approach.
First, I'm going to flip my priorities and spend 2/3 or more of my time on German. That's closer to my trip plan, anyway: from wheels down at Václav Havel Airport to my train crossing the Austrian border, I'll spend at most 48 hours of the 7-day trip in Czechia.
Second, I'm going to concentrate on Czech vocabulary, not mastery. For example, I'm going to skip the grammar drills at the end of each Czech unit and concentrate on just getting enough sentences right to move on to the next unit.
I'll continue to do the German drills, though. This will be my 5th trip to German-speaking countries, and will not be my last, but I have no idea if I'll ever get back to Czechia after this month. I'm singing Bruckner next year and probably Bach in 2025, but I have never to my knowledge sung in Czech. And I'm far more likely to remember the difference between „wo ist der Bahnhof” and „wo ist die U-Bahnstation” than I am to recall (or even say) „Jsem velký kluk” vs. „Jsme velcí kluci”.
I only hope „jsi hezká” comes in handy at least once...