Shortly after starting quarantine, I got into a serious relationship. That’s right: I downloaded Duolingo.

The premise of Duolingo is quite simple. It is a language-learning app. You can choose from a surprisingly vast array of languages, and a cartoon owl will mercilessly bully you into practising for at least 15 minutes a day. You will learn a variety of phrases which you may find useful in everyday life, such as

and

Image Descriptions: two screenshot of Duolingo questions, one asking for the translation of “I am a Banana” and the other for “I think about firemen all day”.

As you can likely tell from these screenshots, one of the languages I have chosen to learn is Norwegian. Duolingo prides itself on including little bits of cultural trivia in its lessons, and so far I have learnt a great deal. For example, Norwegians enjoy participating in fun, relatable weekend activities such as

Image Description: a Duolingo screenshot saying “I am eating bread and crying on the floor”.

Norwegians also regularly engage in philosophical contemplation:

and environmentalism:

Image Descriptions: Two Duolingo screenshots which read “Everyone dies alone” and “He is talking to his spiders”.

Being isolated indoors for almost a year is fairly depressing, so I’m especially thankful for Duolingo. I almost feel like I’m in Norway, sharing bread with the spiders and having a good cry.

Being a linguistics-oriented app, Duolingo went with the obvious choice for its mascot: a codependent owl named Duo. If you dare to skip one day of practice, Duo will make you feel guilty:

Image Description: email reading “You made Duo sad”, with a crying face attached.

and possibly also install spy cameras outside your front door.

It is alleged that, in order to fine-tune Duo’s set of catchphrases, Duolingo sent out a poll to upward of 100 Desi mothers asking for their best tips on how to efficiently emotionally blackmail its users.

Despite all of this, I like using Duolingo. I am now able to read Facebook comments and news articles in Norwegian, as long as they are about banana-related identity crises. I can discuss eating bread in 7 different languages. None of this would have been possible without Duolingo and its clingy owl mascot, who is probably recording my keystrokes as I type this. Duo, if you are reading this, I adore you – and no, I have not forgotten my daily lesson.

––Aditi Ramaswamy

Software engineer; emerging author; almost certainly not a changeling. I write about the uncomfortable parts of Indian & American history & culture.