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Takeaways from 2 Years of Duolingo Spanish

Trauma Survivors Can Stick with Healthy Habits!

By Veronica WrenPublished about a month ago 5 min read
Top Story - June 2024
Photo by author: Veronica Wren

Two years ago on this date, I downloaded the Duolingo app for approximately the 15th time.

When I’d been inspired to try brushing up on my Spanish in the past, I’d start out hot and heavy only to sputter out after a few weeks of enthusiasm and dedication.

You know how it goes: we make grand plans for self-improvement that we’re deeply committed to for a few weeks. Then the rest of life creeps in to knock the wind out of us.

When I couldn’t keep up the initial pace of that New Hobby Excitement, I’d quickly lose steam. The next thing I knew, weeks would pass without my Duolingo app being opened.

Unable to stand the disappointment (or was it fury?) in those massive cartoon eyes, I’d admit defeat and delete the app once again.

Stand Back: I Have Tres Semesters of Spanish and I’m Not Afraid to Use It!

Where I typically began to struggle and trail off in commitment to Duolingo was when I’d get to things I knew I’d covered in the past, but didn’t remember and thus had to relearn.

I’d scroll through the seemingly endless courses I hadn’t yet unlocked, becoming increasingly overwhelmed by all I didn’t know. I’d lose confidence in my fluency and begin making basic mistakes, which would become a negative cycle.

This time around, however, I found myself with more of a motivation to stick with it.

I’d recently moved from my hometown in the Midwest to the Southwest to escape a five-year abusive relationship. I landed in a gorgeous new city brand new to me, in an area with a much higher population of Spanish speakers than I’d been exposed to previously.

I’d taken Spanish in college, so I had the advantage of dusting off a very basic understanding of the language. Despite the bleak circumstances behind the move, I was incredibly excited about exploring a new area. I was also determined to be able to communicate effectively and respectfully with my new community while learning about their cultures, customs, and (heavy motivator) cuisines.

Damned if You Duo: Obstacles to Self-Improvement for Trauma Survivors

As timing would have it, I’d been diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) just weeks earlier, thanks to the abuse that had resulted in my fleeing across the country. While this diagnosis gave me a place to start in terms of treatment, it also added to internalized feelings of brokenness and loss of control.

CPTSD can lead to individuals developing negative coping mechanisms as a way to survive or manage their overwhelming memories and emotions. These may include self-destructive behaviors, such as self-harm, substance abuse, or compulsive behaviors. Breaking free from these patterns and replacing them with healthier habits requires dedicated effort, support, and often professional guidance.

I’d begun taking my first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) but hadn’t yet found a therapist I clicked with to aid in my recovery. Medication improved my anxiety slightly, but symptoms like focus and memory issues continued to pile onto the standard difficulties of learning a language.

Spanish or Vanish: Additional Trauma Testing My Dedication

A month or so after I’d again committed myself to the lightly unhinged Duolingo fandom, I was viciously dumped and ghosted by my (avoidant as hell) partner at the time. While I don’t think these things are related, I wouldn’t put anything past that persistent owl.

I was, en una palabra: devastada.

In a completely new place, I felt crushingly alone and without support. Unprocessed trauma seemed to press in from every direction, squeezing the breath from my lungs. My mental health took a big hit, and emotionally it was one of the most difficult times of my life.

I felt totally untethered. At any given time you might find me sobbing on the kitchen floor; pushing my body to the limit running, climbing, and hiking in an attempt to feel something; refusing to get out of bed all day; or updating my Insta story with my adventures to see if he was still checking (he was 💁‍♀️.)

Through this dark period, despite the ever-present longing to crawl into a sorrowful little cocoon and rest for a few years, I somehow managed to maintain my daily Duolingo streak.

As possibly one of the most consistent parts of my life at that point, the small daily ritual helped me maintain a shred of normalcy. No matter how horrible I was feeling or how unfixable I felt, I managed to scrounge up enough hope for the future to focus a few minutes on improving my knowledge.

During that time period, that was worth a lot.

¡No me diga!: Opportunities From Unexpected Places

Months later, I finally emerged from my state of mourning and began dating someone new. I learned he was from Colombia originally, and that he speaks primarily Spanish with his family.

We quickly bonded over our shared love of the language. He delighted in challenging my speaking abilities and teaching me about Colombian culture.

As someone who’d learned English as a second language himself, he understood the challenges associated with different dialects; grammar; and other nuances of language learning that often go unrecognized.

Soon, one of our many inside jokes was riffing on the frustrations of understanding slang in another language.

Today, he and I are happily living together and still regularly incorporating Spanish into our day, interspersing it throughout our conversations. Subtitles on our TV are almost always in Spanish (life hack: nature documentaries are amazing as a language learning tool) and we cook to a Spanish Indie Mix on Spotify. I’m also fortunate to be able to use Spanish to help clients in my community-based job.

We’ve been incredibly lucky to visit my partner’s family in Colombia, where I experienced and learned so much I may have missed without an understanding of the language.

You Can Duo Hard Things

In learning Spanish with Duolingo, I’ve found a supportive, confidence-building tool that combines bite-sized lessons, gamification, and community to overcome some of the difficulties that might have caused me to throw in the owl yet again.

Every time I get the chance to put my knowledge to the test, I’m so thankful that I’ve stuck with that small habit. While I still have a long way to go before I’m fully fluent, I feel at least 730 steps closer.

If there’s a behavior change you’re hoping to make, but it’s hard to see the finish line from where you are now, remember your motivation for taking that first step.

You’ve already done so many hard things. What’s one little step in pursuit of something you truly care about?

See you this time next year for my 1,095-day celebration!

Bonus Content: My Near-Constant Misfortune

As a thank you for reading, enjoy this free photo compilation, wherein I realized disaster was upon me as I popped champagne to celebrate my 365-day Duolingo streak last year.

The blissful ignorance just before realization struck; I was so young then. Photo by author: Veronica Wren

I should call him. Photo by author: Veronica Wren

Still a joyous moment, even though I’m now freezing. Photo by author: Veronica Wren

Can’t bring me down. ¡Brindies! Photo by author: Veronica Wren

I’m not sponsored by or affiliated with Duolingo (yet, anyway. Hit me up, búho.) My love and enthusiasm for this language-learning platform stem solely from my personal experience and the benefits it has brought to my educational journey. I appreciate Duolingo’s ability to make language learning accessible and engaging for anyone.

wellnesssocial mediaself caremental healthhumorhumanityhealthadvice

About the Creator

Veronica Wren

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn't. Subscribe here for your FREE exclusive guided journal

❤️‍🩹 bio.link/veronicawren ❤️‍🩹

Domestic Abuse & CPTSD Recovery Coach

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Reader insights


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Comments (14)

  • Dr. Jason Benskin26 days ago

    Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • Lost in Writing29 days ago

    Me alegro que le esté yendo mejor. I too am on a very long Duo streak. Last year I finished Portuguese and picked up Italian again. Now I am officially a polyglot.

  • Bugsy Wattsabout a month ago

    This is amazing! Thanks for sharing:)

  • Sweileh 888about a month ago

    hank you, I am happy with your exciting stories. Follow my stories now

  • Jane Kattabout a month ago

    Wow, what a journey! Thanks for sharing your story—so inspiring and relatable. Keep going!

  • Local Manabout a month ago

    Congratulations on your top story

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    A very unique and different story Congratulations on TS

  • TahimaAniabout a month ago

    great story 🙂

  • Gerard DiLeoabout a month ago

    Very useful, and other well-earned sentiments, too.

  • peterabout a month ago

    Deliciously written

  • Belleabout a month ago

    I love this! I love all of the Duolingo puns, and how incredible your story is!!! Living for it!!! I was first introduced to Duolingo as a student to learn Spanish, in which my teacher did not know Spanish either but was learning with us, and told us that he would buy lunch for whoever had the most points at the end of the month! So, I took to my at-home laptop... Aha! I have used Duo for Spanish, French, Arabic, Japanese... I hope someday I can reach the dedication you have! I think so many of us start hobbies that we can't stick to. I used to be an avid bullet journalist/diary journalist, but I always seem to lose hold of it... Anyone who has ever tried to adopt a new hobby, language-learning related or not, can absolutely relate! I loved reading this, Veronica, and I'm glad to hear you are in a healthier space now than you used to be! <3<3

  • The Dani Writerabout a month ago

    Deliciously written! And those subtitles are INGENIOUS! A much-deserved top story! Woot-WOOTING you!

  • Anna about a month ago

    Wow girl, congrats on your insane streak! I wish I were half as determined as you are! Congrats on Top Story! <3

  • Kathy Tsoukalasabout a month ago

    I use Duolingo for a few things. I do want to learn Spanish but currently I am using it to maintain my German and to learn Greek. For Greek, it's been great at helping me build my grammar and vocabulary but I supplement it with Pimsleur (which helps me get comfortable conversing). I promise myself 5 minutes a day, which is totally doable. It's actually 2-3 little lessons, which is nice.

Veronica WrenWritten by Veronica Wren

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