Once upon a time, I spoke fairly fluent, if inaccurate, German. It’s been a long time though, so I thought I’d start reviewing from the very beginning to close up the gaps (giant sinkholes) in my grammar. A friend suggested the famous Duolingo app (thanks, Anna!), and off I went.

I believe most language programs start off the same way, with basic introductions. This makes a lot of sense and there are only two exceptions that I’m aware of, my daughter’s beginning German book which skipped over, “My name is” (Mein Name ist) and went straight to, “Are you unemployed?” (Sind Sie arbeitslos?) and Duolingo.

Duolingo is a world unto itself. They are famous for their odd sentences which they slip in on purpose to keep the reader engaged. For example, users voted the following sentence as the one that best represented the year 2020:

I am eating bread and crying on the floor.

Can’t argue with that.

I always pretend to take my lessons 100% seriously and assume that everything I’m learning is likely to come up in common conversation. To illustrate what an everyday experience might look like in a Duolingo world, I’ve put together a little scenario. I think all language learners should memorize this dialogue in their target language, because after you read it I’m sure you won’t be able to imagine a collection of more useful phrases. Almost 100% of this delightful little story is copied straight from my lessons so far.

An Evening with New Friends

Friend: (ushering me inside and gesturing to her husband who is seated in a chair) Welcome! This is my husband. He is a man. He is reading the newspaper. (Wilkommen! Das ist mein Mann. Er liest eine Zeitung.)

Me: Hi! I am a woman! Are you unemployed? (Hallo! Ich bin eine Frau! Sind Sie arbeitslos?)

Husband: (rattling the paper) The sky is falling. No one is good. All humans must die. (Der Himmel fällt, Niemand ist gut. Alle Menschen müssen sterben.)

Me: I’m sorry. What’s for dinner? (Es tut mir leid. Was gibt’s zum Abendessen?)

Friend: Bread and water. We are vegetarian. (Brot und Wasser. Wir sind vegetarian.)

Me: The vegetarian does not like me. (Der Vegetarian mag mich nicht.)

Friend: This is my son. (Das ist mein Sohn.)

Husband: But the kid is not my son. (Aber das Kind ist nicht mein Sohn.)

Me: Okaaay. (okaaay)

Husband: The boy is weak. (Der Junge ist schwach.)

Me: Sorry? (Bitte?)

Friend: This is my daughter. She is a girl. (Das ist meine Tochter. Sie ist ein Mädchen.)

Me: Hello, you are wearing pants. (Hallo. Du trägst Hose.)

Friend: The bear is wearing her dresses. (Der Bär trägt ihre Kleider.)

Husband: The bear is strong. (Der Bär ist stark.)

Friend: This is a child. (Das ist ein Kind.)

Me: The child is eating an insect! (Das Kind isst ein Insekt!)

Me again: Oh my goodness! Your husband is eating an insect! (Ach du lieber! Dein Mann isst ein Insekt!)

Friend: They are hungry. (Sie haben Hunger.)

Me: I am not hungry. (Ich habe kein Hunger.)

We go into dinner.

Friend: Please sit down. Don’t bleed on the carpet! (Bitte setzt dich. Blüte nicht auf meinen Teppich!)

Me: Thank you. Your house is big. (Danke. Dein Haus ist gross.)

Friend: Yes. But we have no roof. (Ja. Aber wir haben kein Dach.)

Husband: Don’t bleed on the tablecloth! (Blüte nicht auf die Tischdecke!)

Me: I see a cat. The cat is drinking milk. The cat is eating a spider. (Ich sehe eine Katze. Die Katze trinkt Milch. Die Katze frisst eine Spinne.)

Friend: The cat is drinking your milk and the duck is eating an insect. (Die Katze trinkt dein Milch und die Ente frisst ein Insekt.)

Me: Do you have many pets? (Hast du viele Haustieren?)

Friend: Yes, we have 13 dogs and 15 cats. The cows have flies. (Ja. Wir haben 13 Hunden und 15 Katzen. Die Kühe haben Fliegen.)

Me: That is very interesting. Flies are important. (Das ist sehr interessant. Fliegen sind wichtig.)

Daughter: The dog ate my book! (Der Hund hat mein Buch gefressen!)

Friend: The animal doesn’t learn anything. (Das Tier lernt nichts.)

Child: Mother, why is my brother invisible? (Mutti, warum ist mein Bruder unsichtbar?)

Friend: Because he runs as soon as he sees you. (Weil er rennt, wann er dich sieht.)

Me: I see potatoes. I like potatoes. My potatoes are clean. (Ich sehe Kartoffeln. Ich mag Kartoffeln. Meine Kartoffeln sind sauber.)

Me again: (Suspiciously) Are YOUR potatoes clean? (Sind DEINE Kartoffeln sauber?)

Friend: All the potatoes are clean. The egg is dirty. (Alle Kartoffeln sind sauber. Das Ei ist schmutzig.)


Me: Thank you for inviting me. (Danke für die Einladung.)

Friend: Good night. We are not normal. (Gute Nacht. Wir sind nicht normal.)

Me: I believe you. (Ich glaube dich.)

There you go — a perfectly natural conversation — at least if the world was governed by Duolingo. The scary thing is that this dialogue might actually be more natural than I first thought. One of the side effects of this program has been to make me more aware of how many odd things I say myself, such as:

Have you fed the love-sponge?

You can go first because your nose is gross.

Why can’t I have a chainsaw?

Warning: The eyeball might look weird.

I’d explain, but now that I read these, I think I probably should make an appointment with a psychiatrist instead. I’ll leave it to you to invent the scenarios where these things were said.

Anneli Byrd is an academic advisor in Weber State University’s Student Success Center.

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