Monday, 2 May 2022

Book Review: Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential, by Radhika Gupta

 

When steel is heated in a forge and beaten into shape, it becomes stronger. When faced with setbacks, if you draw the right lessons and move forward, you are bound to achieve success. Radhika Gupta, the current MD & CEO of Edelweiss  AMC, had more than her share of drawbacks in life, but bounce back she did and she happily shares her experiences, mostly professional and a few personal, through her newly released book Limitless.

Born in Pakistan when her father, a career diplomat, was posted there, Gupta grew up in a variety of countries, ranging from Nigeria to Italy, until she went to college at hyper-competitive Upenn. In 2005, when she was just twenty, Gupta took to heart seven consecutive rejections from consulting firms during campus placements at UPenn and tried to commit suicide by jumping off from the 19th floor of a building.  Luckily for us readers, she did not succeed though the reasons aren’t fully spelt out. She also drew the right lessons from her desperate action and went on to become a business leader and an inspiration for many across the world.

Accept difficult feedback gracefully, Gupta tells us, citing a number of examples of feedback that she did not initially accept or was happy with, but which added value to her professional life once she was able to gracefully accept them.

Take risks, but do so sensibly. Gupta refers to Dr Arokiaswamy Velumani’s example to buttress this point. Dr Velumani, the founder and MD of Thyrocare, one of India’s largest diagnostics companies, went from having just ₹500 in his pocket to seeing his idea develop into a public listed company with crore market cap in excess of a RS. 5,000. Dr Velumani was able to throw everything he had into his venture, comforted by the fact that his wife could get a reasonably well paying job easily, if his venture flopped.

It is important to get started. Take small steps if needed, but do get started. This one resonated with me.

What’s the best thing someone who is just graduating from college or is in the early years of their career, especially women, can do? They ought to ask for opportunities, a task which is not very easy to undertake when one suffers from lack of confidence However, if you don’t ask, you usually don’t get. What’s the worst that can happen if you ask for an opportunity? When Gupta started her corporate career, a family friend told her that those who speak up always get more than those who stay silent. There are no points for being shy. Those who ask end up getting the bigger promotions, the raises, the better projects, because they keep vocalizing their needs. Gupta tells us that this advice made sense only many years later, but she swears by it now.

Change is always constant. One has to accept it and take it in one’s stride. Gupta quotes lyricist Javed Akhtar who used the ‘my mother’s cooking is better than my wife’s’ dialogue at the Jashn-e-Rekhta Urdu festival in 2017, to explain this. ‘Why does every man, when he gets married, tell his wife, you make good dal, but not quite as good as what my mother made? Has the quality of dal in India just deteriorated over 1,000 years?’ It hasn’t! We need to accept today’s dal – one slightly different from the one we grew up with – as our reality and move forward.

Let go of the past. Gupta tells us that she always tells new employees at Edelweiss Mutual Fund that if they want to have a chance at succeeding in their new organisation, they have to embrace it and let go of where they came from. One is certain to face problems after a job change and it is so tempting to look back to one’s past organisation with nostalgia, but if the rose tinted glasses are taken off, chances are there was no shortage of problems at the previous organisation either. If one were to take an honest count, one will find that there is no shortage of problems anywhere. A guaranteed way to fail at a new organisation is to focus on the problems in the new environment and compare them to the positives of the past.

Be adaptable. Charles Darwin theorised that the most important factor for survival is neither size, nor intelligence, nor strength. It is adaptability. Gupta fully agrees with Darwin. Gupta uses the example of the Kakapo to buttress her point. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard of the Kakapo until I read Limitless. Gupta mentions Kunal Bahl, the co-founder of e-commerce giant Snapdeal, as an example of a person who built a successful business by adapting and pivoting, based on feedback.

Gupta firmly believes that the job market is fair and very little arbitrage exists in it in the long term. In today’s information-rich world, one gets paid what one deserves. If you feel you are getting a lot less than someone else doing the same job, the most likely conclusion is that that someone else has a lot more experience doing that job in a larger organisation with a much larger profit and loss statement. I was reminded of the stock market, though Gupta doesn’t use this comparison and I am not sure if this would be a good comparison, since the job market doesn’t have to content with insider trading, for starters.

Everyone has his or her imperfections and these imperfections that set you apart from your peers and make you what you are. Gupta repeats the story of the ugly duckling, based on the fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, who, after being teased and taunted by fellow ducklings, decides to throw himself at a flock of swans, assuming he will be killed. He forgets that he has grown up and matured into a beautiful swan and is finally welcomed by his fellow swans. Gupta wishes for a new version of this story, one where the duckling owns his imperfections, where he understands that it’s his imperfections that set him apart from his peers and make him who he is, where his happiness does not depend on becoming a swan. Who defines what ‘ugly’ is anyway? Gupta wonders aloud and I found myself nodding my head. ‘Self-confidence comes from accepting yourself, rejections and imperfections included’ Gupta advises.

The ability to reach out for help and to confide one’s problems in others is an important life-saving skill, something Gupta did not always have, but had to develop over a period of time. Gupta divulges a very personal story, one very traumatic, that took place just after she started working at Edelweiss. Either on account of her insecurities or the fear of judgement, she felt trapped. Though she had an incredibly kind team and an incredibly kind boss, she was unable to be honest and reach out to them during one of the toughest moments of her life. I’d rather not divulge the actual event in this review. Do please read this excellent book to find out for yourself. Five years later, an internal restructuring impacted the financials of Gupta’s division and Gupta just couldn’t wrap her head around the situation. Finally, she forced herself to ask for help from three very senior members of her team in sales, strategy and marketing. The end result? Gupta found herself out of the morass pretty quickly.

I’m going to wrap up this review, lest this become a summary of the book. Gupta has a lot of advice on investing in education, relationships, finding a mentor(s), work-life balance etc., all of which made a lot of sense to me. Do please read and find out for yourself.

A google search tells me that Gupta has a permanent tilt to her neck due to certain birth complications, but she doesn’t discuss this disability in her book, except for occasional references to her “broken neck”. There is a brief mention of a personal tragedy (in the context of her inability to reach out to her colleagues for help), a short but sensitive description of the day she and her partners sold their start-up to Edelweiss, took the signage off the door of their Worli office and crossing the Bandra–Worli Sea Link as they drove to the Edelweiss office in Kalina. The personal references are just right, as a percentage of the whole book, and make Limitless more wholesome and readable, without making it an autobiography.

They say that corporate organisations are glass pyramids, designed to make people slip off the smooth sides, as they gain experience and grow older. Despite all the risks and challenges that lurk ahead, hundreds of thousands of men and women pursue an education, usually an MBA, that sets them on course for a corporate career and then jump into the corporate well quite happily. If anyone falls of the pyramid, it is usually on account of an inadvertent slip-up in tactics or a defect in long term strategy. Limitless is a treasure trove of advice for all career-minded and ambitious folks and will definitely help all readers who imbibe its wisdom to avoid many of the pitfalls that befall many as they progress in their careers. Gupta writes in simple English, that is classy, easy to read and doesn’t force the reader to ponder over the language at the cost of her narrative. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

How Will Ukraine’s Nightmare End?

We all knew that Putin is a dictator and dictators are usually evil men. Despite that, the actual invasion of Ukraine came as a surprise to me. Why? Because, some evil men are clever and evil dictators are almost always clever and I thought Putin was an intelligent and clever man, albeit evil, selfish, conceited etc.

Russian forces have not had the easy success they were expected to have and their progress has been grindingly slow, despite an overwhelming superiority in men and weapons. The Ukrainians have put up a stiffer resistance than expected.

Putin had declared Luhansk and Donetsk to be independent a few days before starting the invasion of Ukraine. The Donbas region has been under the control of pro-Russian separatists for years now. What did Putin gain by declaring their independence? Will it now be possible for Russian to annex the Donbas to Russia? Possibly not.

It is clear that Putin was looking to install a friendly puppet regime in Kyiv, possibly Viktor Yanukovich. Russian agents and troops have been desperately trying to locate and kill Volodymyr Zelensky. Thankfully, they have been unsuccessful. It would be difficult to predict the impact of Zelensky’s removal. I presume the brave Ukrainians will fight on, but would Zelensky’s successor have the same credibility, respect and authority that Zelensky the former clown wields?

I have no doubt that at some point Russian troops will withdraw from Ukraine. Would Putin be able to swallow his ego and order a general withdrawal without a regime change in Ukraine or will he wait till Ukraine has been taken over and the expected insurgency takes a heavy toll on his troops, as had happened many decades ago in Afghanistan?

Why shouldn't Ukraine have the right to chart its own destiny, to join either the EU or NATO, as it may wont? Just because it lives next to Russia, is it destined to remain undemocratic unless Russia changes colour first? Is this so difficult to comprehend? 

The best possible outcome would be a regime change in Russia itself, with one or more Russian patriots taking the trouble to remove that blot on the Russian landscape. However, that’s more wishful thinking than anything else.


Saturday, 4 December 2021

Book Review: Kopi, Puffs & Dreams, by Pallavi Gopinath Aney

 

When Puthu and Krishnan open their eatery in British ruled Singapore in the early part of 20th century, they choose to serve curried puffs and Kopi, the black coffee traditional to the Malay peninsula, instead of the standard heavy south Indian fare served at restaurants like the Anna Vilas.  We are not told if the curried puffs were spicy or mild, but I’m assuming they were ‘somewhere in between’, not too mild to turn off the Indians in Singapore and not too spicy to turn off the others. Pallavi Gopinath Aney’s Kopi, Puffs & Dreams maintains that not-too-spicy-not-too-mild ambience throughout the novel, in the prose, its plot, the wry humour and the twists and turns, of which there are many.

They served meat too, in their café, though both men had started eating fish and chicken only after they arrived in Malaysia. In that sense, both men, but especially Puthu, constantly push their boundaries. Puthu is a visionary, a man much ahead of his times and he takes Krishnan with him, grumbling, dithering and even pulling back, as they establish a restaurant chain in Singapore. Puthu and Krishnan are quite different, though not exactly chalk and cheese. Puthu is from an upper class family, while Krishnan is from a broken home, his mother an alcohol addict, whose preoccupation with the bottle made Krishnan learn to cook.  Krishnan too pushes the boundaries in his personal life, maybe more than Puthu ,as he marries the daughter of their well-to-do businessman landlord, without the consent or even knowledge of  the bride’s parents.

Puthilath Parasuraman, Puthu for short, is a peculiar man, different from most other men. In a way, it is this difference that made Puthu board a ship for Malaya and his upper class Palakkad family was only too glad to be rid of him. Aney keeps her readers guessing about Puthu’s peculiarity till the very end. Puthu is not necessarily a warm personality. Though generous to those close to him, he is calculating. Nevertheless, Aney makes her readers fall in love with him from the first page. One ends up liking Puthu even more than Krishnan, though Krishnan is the better looking man, the people’s person, loyal and good. Puthu’s and Krishnan’s friendship is so heart-warming, as they navigate foreign lands, that one starts wondering immediately whether it will stand the test of time.

Aney’s language is elegant, in a classic 20th century sort of way, writing with a light touch and a deft turn of phrase.  The best part of Kopi, Puffs & Dreams is that Aney captures the atmosphere of early 20th century India, Malaysia and Singapore very well. However, certain values and skills are the same, whether it be  the 20th century or the 21st.  Puthu’s market survey before setting up his venture in Singapore would put a modern day entrepreneur to shame. Years later, when faced with a law suit from his investor, Puthu turns lawyer and wriggles out of his trouble. On landing in Malaya, Puthu receives a very rough welcome, something very different from what he had envisaged. However, his bad luck doesn’t last for long and he is on his feet in the beautiful Jacaranda House, which reminded me of Manderley in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. The bulk of the novel is set in Singapore and names like Serangoon Road, Orchard Road, Penang Road, Joo Chiat and Nassim Hill crop up from time to time.

As mentioned in the beginning, Kopi, Puffs & Dreams is full of sudden, gentle roller-coaster spins, which turn the facts upside down and show everything in a different mild light.  I don’t want to say much more and give away the plot or the ending. I really enjoyed reading Kopi, Puffs & Dreams and highly recommend it to one and all.

 

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Book Review: 400 Days by Chetan Bhagat

Some things just don’t change. Or, rather, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more Chetan Bhagat changes, the more he remains the same.

Chetan Bhagat is good at connecting with middle-class, tier 2 town India. His plots are always fundamentally good and usually revolve around an issue that today’s Indian youth can connect with. As a story teller, he is decent, taking time to slowly build up his characters, though I have always found that there is usually a surfeit of information about the characters that impairs the main story itself.

400 Days follows the usual Chetan Bhagat formula. There’s a hero who’s down to earth and constantly tussling with his parents, especially his father. Keshav is studying for the civil services – he’s targeting the IPS, while at the same time, he runs a detective agency. Keshav’s parents want him to ditch the detective agency, clear the civil services and get married, not necessarily in that order.  Keshav has a side-kick, Saurabh, aka Golu, who is, as his nickname suggests, fat and a whiz with software and related matters.  He is also quite dumb in matters of health and fitness and goes to the extent of swallowing cotton soaked in orange juice to lose weight.

In comes Alia, beautiful, married, mother of two, but still rather young – you see, she got married at eighteen. Alia is in distress, her elder daughter has gone missing, possibly abducted and pleads with Detective Keshav to take on the case. As is common in Bhagat novels, Alia is half-south Indian. 

Bhagat doesn’t do stereotypes in half measures and these are not restricted to the Punjabis, Malayalees and Rajasthanis.  Police officers in Gurugram also bear the brunt of Bhagat’s stereotypical wrath. As soon as Siya’s parents report the disappearance of their twelve year old daughter, the cops tell the parents that she might have run away with a grown-up man. Alia’s in-laws are more worried about the bad publicity for the family than that their grand-daughter is missing. The mother-in-law is really nasty. She resents that Alia has given the family two daughters and no sons and goes to the extent of organising a Pishachini nazar utaar puja’.

Keshav is always on the moral high-ground. When after a trip to Kerala, his parents tell him, here, take another roti. Must’ve been eating only rice in Kerala. Have proper food,’ he wants to shout back that even rice was proper food. He doesn’t actually shout back though.

However, despite all these minor pinpricks, 400 Days is a good read, or to use Bhagat’s language, paisa-vasoool. Bhagat’s English is clean and straight, no doubt, the result of some heavy duty editing and makes the digestion of the story easy and simple.

Spoilers ahead

Alia, an ex-model, the mother of the missing twelve-year old Siya, is in an unhappy marriage, a fact which she doesn’t hide from Keshav. Not just that, she desires him, practically swoons over him and appropriates him, despite Keshav’s misgivings. I just didn’t see any chemistry between Keshav and Alia, and found it hard to absorb how a mother whose daughter has gone missing would have a physical relationship with the detective she has hired to find her daughter, pretty much as soon as they meet.

More spoilers

The biggest flaw in 400 Days is that, like many crime novels, Bhagat takes his readers on more than one wild goose chase. One is led to believe that the culprit is about to be bought to book and then, no, its not the case. Then another chase, which goes on almost till the end of the book and the reader is convinced that X and Y are the criminals and suddenly, Z is revealed to be the villain. Some writers do this wild-goose-chase thing well. Bhagat doesn't. 

A few more spoilers

Detection of Z is not the result of painstaking detective work, but due to a sudden breaking wave, from out of nowhere, a eureka moment which is inexplicable and mildly annoying.

Final (non) spoiler

Does Keshav get Alia? Who was the villain who abducted Siya? How exactly do Keshav and Saurabh solve the crime? Does Keshav get into the civil services? I’m sorry, I’m not going to reveal answers to these questions. You’ll have to read the eminently readable 400 Days to find out for yourself.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Learning French with Duolingo - Pros and Cons



I started learning French in 1999


I’ve been learning (or trying to learn) French since 1999 when I started working for a French multinational in Mumbai and Alliance Française
’s French classes were offered for free. I finished Niveau Un (Level 1) in French when I moved on from that job and though my next job didn’t have a French connection, I persisted with my efforts to learn French, my long working hours and other personal commitments notwithstanding. My motivation? I had fallen in love with French. I signed up for Aliance Française’s Niveau Deux, listened to audio lessons and would go to the Theosophy Hall to watch French movies with subtitles. The Niveau Deux required me to attend classes in the morning from eight to ten, five days a week at Dhanraj Mahal in Colaba. Halfway through the three month course, I was forced to drop out after a M&A transaction I was working on required me to take a cab at eight thirty in the morning to reach a due diligence data room in far away Andheri. I continued learning French on my own using audio tapes and books.



A Diplôme Supérieur from the LSE

After I started an LLM at the London School of Economics (2002-2003), I went to the LSE’s Language Centre and asked for French language courses. They made me take an assessment test and enrolled me for Niveau Trois, which led to a Diplôme Supérieur after a year. By that time, I could speak passable French (with some planning and deliberation) though I didn’t understand much of what I received in response. After leaving the LSE, I started working in London and slowly my French became rusty. Every once in a while, I would brush up, only to lapse back to beginner’s level. Between 2005 and 20012, I made five trips to France, each for around 5 days and before each trip, I could spend some days working on my French, but those were mere splashes in the pool.


Then Duolingo happened

In March 2019, I started using Duolingo to learn French. It was highly addictive and I was hooked. Initially, I would spend just 15 minutes a day on Duolingo, but soon, I was spending up to an hour every day. I was never into movies or cricket, but used to be a news junkie. After I was hooked on Duolingo, I actually stopped watching TV altogether to make time for Duolingo.  

My hold over French grammar used to be shaky. I could speak confidently, but with lots of grammatical mistakes. With Duolingo, my grip over grammar improved substantially. When learning French in a formal classroom with fifteen other students, you doesn’t always get feedback on the grammar exercises you do in class or as homework. You get to speak up or read a passage once in a while and get corrected. With Duolingo, the feedback is instant.



Holiday in Paris

In May 2019, we went on a week’s holiday to Paris, my sixth trip to France. Being able to speak French in Paris is useful, especially with cab-drivers and in cafes. However, three months of Duolingo hadn’t improved by ability to converse in French. In fact, I caught myself hesitating a lot more than I used to. This was understandable, I reasoned to myself. I was sure that once my grammar improved, I would get back to speaking confidently as I used to, albeit without mistakes.

A break from Duolingo

On my return, my work load increased and I cut back the time I spent on Duolingo to fifteen minutes a day, until I ceased altogether, I think by around August or September 2019. I stopped entirely more because it was addictive and sticking to a fifteen-minute-per-day regime was annoying. It was either all or nothing and since I couldn’t spend enough time with Duolingo, I stopped using it altogether. I did miss a lot though.

Reunited with Duolingo

Then in November 2020, my daughter announced that she would take French at school, starting June 2021 and I happily went back to Duolingo so that I could help her with her lessons. I started with fifteen or twenty minutes and day and so I was spending all my free time on Duolingo. Once again, I stopped watching TV altogether.

Scaling “Levels” and Acquiring “Skills”

Duolingo’s French course has nine “levels”, with between 24 to 30 “skills” in each “level”. To cross from one "level" to another, one has to cross a "checkpoint", which involves a test. Each skill involves a situation, such as “shopping” or “at work” or “office” or “flirting” or “education” or “sports” and all exercises in the skill involves such a situation. A “skill” could also be a grammar topic, such as “passe compose (past tense)” or “Objects”. Each “skill” has five levels and each level involves five or six exercises. Within each “skill”, the “levels” are supposed to increase in difficultly and complexity as one progresses from one to five. I found that the increase in difficulty is marginal and some of the questions from the lower levels are repeated at the higher “levels”.

In my first stint with Duolingo (March – August 2019), I used to finish all five “levels” in each “skill” before moving on to the next “skill”. In my second stint, I changed tack and started to do just one “level” of each “skill”, before moving on to the next skill. Finishing one “level” (out of five “levels”) of a “skill” is sufficient to get permission to move to the next “skill”. 

It is also possible to complete a level without completing all the (five or six) exercises in the “level” by taking a test. If you make four mistakes in the test, you flunk, but you can repeat the test immediately. Soon, I found that most of the time, I could clear the test for a “level” after doing one exercise. 



It came to pass that I would do one exercise in “level” one for a particular “skill” and then take the test to complete “level one”. Sometimes, I would fail the test, but if I took the test again, some of the questions would be repeated and so, I would easily pass on my second attempt. 














Is it an addiction?

Duolingo functions by making the user addicted to the learning process in various ways, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because you enjoy and look forward to using Duolingo. It is a bad thing because, as I came to realise very slowly, you don’t learn much if you play with an app to earn rewards and XPs and to maintain a streak.

Quest for XPs

When one learns a language on Duolingo, one earns experience points, which are called “XP” for short. A single lesson to acquire a “skill” or a general practice session gets you at least 10 XP and usually there are bonus XPs. When you complete all five levels in a “skill”, you get XP.  When crossing from one level to another, there’s a quiz to be taken and if you are successful, you get 50 XP. Then there are Duolingo Stories which are actually quite good and the XP ranges from 14 to 28.

When you start using Duolingo, you choose a daily goal for earning XPs. Casual is 10 XP, Regular is 20 XP, Serious is 30 XP and Intense is 50 XP.



Leaderboards

Every user is placed on a “leaderboard”. The top ten XP performers of a league are promoted to a higher tier for the next week. One starts with Bronze and progresses through Silver, Gold, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, Pearl and Obsidian until one gets to the Diamond league. I progressed steadily, occasionally falling back. I got the Diamond league a few times and once I topped the Obsidian.





Your fellow learners on your leaderboard may not be learning the language that you are learning. The only two common factors are that you are on Duolingo and you are hungry for XPs.

Once addicted, one goes way past the daily XP goal, in order to be go up the leaderboard.

If you don’t keep up, others get to know of it.


 

Rewards

There are a number of rewards on Duolingo, for reasons ranging from frivolous (adding a profile picture (Photogenic), practising on a weekend (Weekend Warrior), following three friends (Friendly), reading a tip (Strategist)) to more serious shit, such as earning 30,000 XP (Sage), learning 2,000 new words in a single course (Scholar), making it to the Diamond League (Champion), completing 100 lesson without a mistake (Sharpshooter), Finishing #1 in the Diamond League (Legendary), finishing #1 in my leaderboard (Winner), reaching a 125 day streak (Wildfire) and earning 2 crowns in every “skill” in a course (Conqueror).




I am Photogenic, a Weekend Warrior, Friendly, a Strategist, a Sage (though I’m pretty sure I don’t know 2000 French words), a Scholar, a Champion, a Sharpshooter and a Winner. The only three rewards I haven’t got are Wildfire, Conqueror and Legendary.

Maintaining a Streak

If you keep hitting your daily XP target for more than a day, you are on a streak. If you do it for two days, you are on a two day streak, if you do it for ten days, you are on a ten day streak, if you do it for eighty days, you are on a eighty day streak. Folks who use Duolingo often boast about their steak on social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook, I guess it shows that they are consistent and persistent. Duolingo not only encourages you to maintain a streak, it has various aids to help you maintain your streak. 



You can buy a weekend amulet to make sure that your streak is not lost if you fail to practice during the weekend.









If you make a mistake

If you make a mistake during a lesson, you immediately get to see the correct answer and the lesson doesn’t end until you do it right, which is easy since you have seen the answer. 




If a lesson has fifteen questions and you get questions five, eight and twelve wrong, then after the fifteenth question, questions five, eight and twelve will pop up again and you know what the correct answer is. So, there is no incentive is pondering over a question to get it right. Instead, the temptation is to answer it somehow, see the correct answer, move on and answer the same question towards the end.

Dual choice questions

When there is one blank and two choices, the correct answer is always the second one.






When there are two blanks and two choices, the second choice always goes into the first blank.






Jumbled sentences

A bulk of the exercises involve choosing words from amongst a pile to form a correct sentence. Even if one doesn’t know French, it is possible to form the correct sentence. 




However, I assume, the exposure to the words teaches you something. Unless you are in a tearing hurry and only want to get XPs.  

One of the mistakes I made most often when forming sentences from out of jumbled words was using “the” instead of “this”.






English meanings for French words

When doing an exercise, one can learn the meanings of French words by clicking on them. So, answering a question is pretty easy.





Constant encouragement

As one learns, one is constantly encouraged in various ways. If one spends thirty minutes on Duolingo, one’ll  be encouraged in at least five different ways. 









The next day, the same messages of encouragement pop up. I started to find the messages annoying or condescending.

You are encouraged to encourage those you follow and you receive encouragement from them in turn.






Oral practice

If you use the Duolingo app on your smart phone, a big chunk of the exercises are oral.




You need to listen to a sentence and repeat it. Even if you do not say a few of the words correctly, you pass. 



Maybe the app assumes, it’s a problem with the mike. On the rare occasion Duolingo rejects the oral response, you get to try again immediately. 



So, it is much easier to pass each lesson on the smart phone app than when doing the same lesson on the laptop. It is also possible to opt out of oral lessons when using the smart phone app.

Alternately, you need to listen to a French sentence and then pick words from out of a pile to form it.






Hard exercises



After the first few levels, each lesson has two tough questions at the fag end. Usually, these are tougher than the preceding questions.





Diverse, Funny, Whacky and Weird

One of the best things about Duolingo is the sheer diversity of the topics used to teach French.













Mauvais Anglais

Once in a blue moon, the English doesn’t make sense or read too well.



Playing and skimming, not diving

I realised that I was playing with French, skimming through exercises, not diving deep enough. When I think back to the French classes I had at the Alliance Francais de Bombay or at the LSE’s Language Centre, I realise that the lessons there gave me lots of time to think and made me look for answers. I am pretty sure that, though I learned a lot of new words on Duolingo, I don’t remember most of them and my entire French vocabulary dates back from my pre-Duolingo days.

Duolingo Stories

These are distinct from “Skills”, but are easy to do and generate a lot more XPs. More than on one occasion, when I was in the Obsidian league and wanted to get into the Diamond league, I found myself doing more “stories” than lessons and it worked. I moved into the Diamond league. Some of the stories are really good and most of the characters are good and real. If I were in search of entertainment, I would give these stories five stars.

One particular story of an office worker sneaking into her boss’s cabin to read a document on his computer (which had a list of promotions) was especially engrossing.



Diversity

Duolingo’s characters are diverse in various ways. 







Vikram and Priti, who are vegetarian, are an integral part of the French speaking cast.



As Free As the Air

Duolingo is free to use – one only needs to register. However, Duolingo Plus requires payment and one gets to use Duolingo without being interrupted by ads.

 


If you refer a friend who signs up to join Duolingo, then you get Duolingo Plus for a couple of weeks. 



During my first stint with Duolingo, I got Duolingo Plus for a couple of weeks twice by referring friends.

Exit from Duolingo

I haven’t used Duolingo since July 11, 2021. Though I didn’t use Duolingo since July 11, 2021, I used my streak freeze for a few days after that. I kept getting various reminders, through app notifications and by email, to keep my streak frozen.







On July 17, 2021, my streak stays frozen. If I use Duolingo on July 18, 2021 and accumulate 50 XP or more, I will have a 83 day streak, despite not having used Duolingo for six days. 

Will I return to Duolingo?

I think I will return to Duolingo sooner than later.

Duolingo is an incredible resource, the best free resource to learn a foreign language that is currently available online. However, to really learn French and to make optimum use of Duolingo, I need to train myself to not to focus on XPs or streaks or my position on the leaderboard and to couple my Duolingo lessons with watching TV5, reading French newspapers and practising French with other French wannabes.