What happened when I went on holiday to France for the first time in about 3 years? Obviously I had a very nice time visiting interesting places, enjoying the local cafes and generally relaxing – but I’ll tell you more about that over the next few days. I also discovered that I had forgotten a lot of very basic words and phrases. Not good – and entirely down to a lack of practice. It seems I need to do a little more than read the odd article in l’Equipe from time to time in order to maintain my limited language skills.
Since I’ve finally finished my M.Ed course (huzzah!) I’ve got some time available for languages again, so I decided to give Duolingo a try. I’ve been impressed so far.
What is it?
Duolingo is a website that allows you to learn a language for free. The activities that I have used are a mixture of simple tasks to practise reading, writing, speaking and listening. The activities are straightforward, but they are sufficiently varied and introduce enough new material each time to keep me interested.
What’s so good about it?
It’s free and easy to use. I find the Duolingo lessons are most effective on my laptop, where I have a keyboard, but there is also an app, which works quite well on my iPod. I’ve not tried the Android version, because nothing works well on my phone!
Regular practice is encouraged. The lessons are short, varied and can be completed at any time. Duolingo also sends very polite (and very optional) daily reminder emails to encourage me to keep going. Finally there are virtual rewards available for regular daily practice.
Progress is recognised and rewarded. The lessons and practice drills for each language are arranged in a ‘skill tree’, which unlocks gradually as each level is completed. Duolingo also awards points and a virtual currency called ‘lingots’ for successful completion of lessons, levels and so on. I was a little surprised at how much this kind of gamified scoring appealed to me once I got started.
Regular reviews of earlier work are encouraged. Each block of activities has a bar indicating progress, but this progress bar doesn’t stay at the maximum level unless you practise the skills regularly. After a week, I discovered that some of the bars on my skill tree had started to drop down. Redoing some lessons or completing a practice session topped them back up.
There are flexible start points. In German, I simply started at beginner level. I have studied German before, but I had forgotten almost everything. However in French I was rusty, but not a total beginner, so I opted to do an assessment test. This immediately ‘unlocked’ a large section of the skill tree and assigned me a starting level. The level was obviously about right – I’ve been able to complete the tasks, but I made a few errors and needed to learn a few new words. There are also options to take tests that unlock all activities up to certain key points, so if I did find the work too easy, I could move on.
After 10 days, I’m already seeing an improvement in my vocabulary, which is exactly what I’d hoped for.
What’s the catch?
Well, Duolingo is free with no ads, which made me wonder how it is being funded. According to their site, Duolingo has received some capital from investors and it makes money from what appears to be crowd-sourced translations. I’m not sure how viable that is as a business model, but I really hope they succeed. It’s a great site – I’d happily pay a subscription or donate to keep it going.
Picture: Duolingo banner © Duolingo, Inc.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
attributed to Seneca (via Lifehacker)
How true. I’m hoping that my hard-working Y11 students make their own luck when they take their GCSE Mathematics exams this week.
I had forgotten that I had written this post. Given what happened since I drafted it, it no longer seems entirely appropriate, so an update is in order.
Like many schools, mine faced an impossibly difficult decision when changes were announced shortly before the November exam. The result is that my hard-working Y11 students are now taking mock exams this week – but have continued to work just as hard as if it was the real thing.
Best of luck to them – and to all the students who are still taking their GCSE Mathematics exams this week.
Where was I? Some visitors turned up, so I’ve been a bit busy with other things
Anyway, here’s a few more bits and pieces from Wirksworth:
We went to see Niall Young, who was dotting away on Rainbow Warrior – I forgot to take a photo, but came away with a very nice print. We loved Lucy Gell’s whimsical illustrations – and I’m sure Mr TLC’s granddaughters will love the greetings cards/mobiles that we’ve stashed away for their next birthdays. The granddaughters aren’t really old enough to appreciate Corrina Rothwell’s quirky humour, but we liked it – so that’s a few more greetings cards stashed away ready for the forthcoming October-birthday-fest.
We found Rupert the Bear in the maker’s market (and yes, of course we sang the song – but only quietly, because we are very polite):
There was a “SQUIRREL!” in a garden – one of several woven sculptures by Paul Higginson:
And finally, one of my favourites this year: Olivia Punnett’s ‘Greenhill Intervention’. Greenhill is a narrow street, lined with stone cottages. Olivia Punnett had painted lots of patterns of ‘light’ on the ground, as if they were shining out from the windows of the cottages. It will wash away, but it’s rather beautiful while it lasts.
The Art & Architecture Trail is easily the highlight of the Wirksworth Festival, with a wide variety of buildings becoming galleries for the day and playing host to an amazing number of artists. We spent most of Sunday visiting churches, gardens, the library, tiny cottages, large houses, schools, shops and even the railway station. The array of work on display was as large as ever, with paintings, photography, sculpture, baskets, pottery, jewellery, quilts and more.
We also spent quite a lot of time soaking up the atmosphere, whether it was enjoying a cup of coffee whilst listening to a busker in someone’s gorgeous courtyard garden, dancing to one of the bands that took the stage in the market place or sampling the beer at the local brewery. Definitely an eat, drink and be merry sort of day. With glorious sunshine. And art.
Not so many photos this year – I was still getting to grips with my new camera – but here’s a few highlights:
Some of Duncan Thurlby’s sculptures:
Paul Smith’s work always makes me smile:
The local quilting group had a chapel full of beautiful quilts:
But was the window display at the vet’s surgery just a load of balls? ;P
St Mary’s Church in Wirksworth held their annual clypping service today. The old Anglo-Saxon word clyppan, which means to embrace or clasp, is the etymological root of church clypping, but how and why this tradition started seems – like many such practices – to be rather unclear. At Wirksworth, the modern-day clypping is considered to show devotion and love for the church.
Clypping may be an ancient custom, but few churches continue it, so we thought we would take a look.
The clypping is a small part of a longer service. Part way through the service, the worshippers all go outside and form a circle around the building.
First the choir emerge from the church:
They are followed by the clergy and the rest of the congregation, who move around the church to form a circle. It’s a pretty sizeable church, but it’s also the weekend of the Wirksworth Festival, so David the vicar was able to persuade most of the not-inconsiderable crowd of onlookers to embrace this tradition and join the circle.
It’s an interesting but slightly peculiar thing to watch. Forming a circle is certainly symbolic, but it also looked rather like a giant version of a dance at a wedding reception. Apparently at some churches, dancing is part of the clypping, but not at St Mary’s, where everyone simply faces the church, holding hands whilst the choir processes around the church singing.
Regret for wasted time is more wasted time.
Mason Cooley (via Lifehacker)
I’m very aware of just how fortunate I am to get such a long break over the summer. As usual, I started the holiday with a list of things to do that would take months to complete, so I set some priorities: I wanted to do interesting things, get fitter, complete the work for my TAM course, complete a few jobs around the house and garden and do some preparation for the new school year. Oh, and do some relaxing.
The holiday is almost over, but I think I’m pretty much on target. I’ve not done everything on my list, but I’m very happy about how I’ve spent my time – and I’m making the most of the last couple of days. No regrets for me.
We spent today in Maryport. The first time we visited here, we fell in love with the rugged beauty of this stretch of coastline. And, just like the people in films and holiday brochures, we had an entire beach to ourselves. Perfect..
There is some extensive conservation work going on at Furness Abbey. Happily most of the abbey isn’t hiding behind scaffolding, so we were able to explore.
Looking at the remains of the nave, I found it difficult to imagine what it looked like when it was still a working abbey. Then I found myself wondering how long it will be before I can stand in the same place, wearing some hi-tech glasses, looking at the ruins, with computer generated images filling in the gaps.
Anyway, I’ve lots of other nice pictures to show you, but we’re currently in the Land of Limited Internet, so the rest will have to wait until I’ve managed to upload them.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Derbyshire is a rather magnificent ancient monument. Arbor Low is a Neolithic henge, consisting of a large earthwork, some 90 metres across, that encloses a circle of limestone blocks. It’s stunning to look at, so it’s no wonder it’s been referred to as ‘the Stonehenge of the North’.
Like all such sites, there seem to be more questions than answers. Is it a calendar, a religious site or something else? Were the stones always lying down, or did they once stand upright? Who lived here? Where did they live? Archaeologist Dr Ian Parker Heath was at the site when we visited. He is part of a team who are trying to investigate the area around Arbor Low, it will be interesting to see what they discover.
The site is well-signposted, but access is via privately owned land. The landowner requests that adults pay £1, which is left in an honesty box. This isn’t an unreasonable request in my opinion, given the number of people that were traipsing through the farm to get the site on the day that we visited.
Here’s a few pictures from our trip:
The earthen wall around the site looks quite impressive – just the sheer scale of it gives it a certain grandeur.
Once inside, the large stones look amazing. The two sheep grazing in the background should give you a sense of scale.
The site is used by a variety of people. Many, like us, are just visiting. The marks seen on the left of this photo were made by a pagan group. It looked like flour, so it should wash away in time:
There is also a barrow nearby which can be seen from some way off. We set off across the fields to get a closer look. First we had to get past some sheep…
… but there were no convenient sheep providing a sense of scale for amateur photographers at Gibb Hill Barrow, so average-sized Mr TLC did that job:
Apparently this is actually two barrows, one built on top of the other – although I couldn’t see that from ground level.
If you are in the area, Arbor Low is well worth a visit. But I’d recommend wearing some sensible shoes!
All photos on this post are by Lois Lindemann and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
What’s that Billy Connolly quote? Something like “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.”
However, different people clearly have different ideas about what the right clothing might be. There are always plenty of people out walking who are wearing clothing – especially footwear – that would be on my personal list of wrong. Most of these people seem quite happy though, so good luck to them.
I do remember one encounter with a group consisting of a man in his best shiny shoes, three women in unfeasibly high heels and two small children, one of whom was in a pushchair. They attempted to follow me & Mr TLC as we toiled up a very steep and extremely muddy bridle path. We were struggling in our sensibly stout and grippy boots, so it’s not surprising that our would-be followers didn’t get very far. Happily for them, there was an easier (if longer) alternative route along a nearby road.
So who was out in the wrong shoes today? Oh, that would be me. A spur of the moment decision to stop off and yomp over some fields left me climbing stiles, slithering along damp grassy banks and evading nettles (not entirely successfully) whilst wearing a pair of slippy sandals. In my defence, it was only a short walk – and the view was worth it. I’ll show you where we went once I’ve uploaded some photos. In the meantime, I think I’ll put my walking boots in the boot of the car before we go anywhere else.