Doritolingo — learn a foreign language by eating chips

Every year or so I try to make Duolingo a habit. Here's 2016's attempt.

My snack system was great. (Refresher: no snacks, but with a no-rules “snack day” about every 10 days.) It had me snacking less, feeling better and had my energy up. But the snack days? Man, they made me feel like trash. I would binge on junk from midnight to midnight and feel hungover the next day.

So — a step in the right direction, but not the ideal system. After 3 months, I came up with something better.

It was worrying to change a working habit. So I’d give the new system a month at first to see if it stuck. Turns out, it’s so much better.

A reward system

In the interest of habit building, I created a reward system. Each time I completed something in relation to a habit I was working on, I’d add points to my snack account. Then when I wanted snacks, I would weigh them. 1 point = 1 gram of snack.

(As a bonus, I get to use my kitchen scale all the time and I love a kitchen scale. I don’t like my kitchen scale but cooking-by-weight is way better than cooking-by-volume.)

The first reward list was:

  1. Publish a blog post
  2. Go to the gym
  3. Finish reading a book
  4. 10th-20th-30th (Time-based snack bonuses on days of month)
  5. Practice French on Duolingo

For each of those items I could eat 100g. (A number I could adjust to find the right balance.)

Focus

After 3 months, I’ve modified it again. Now it’s just:

  1. Duolingo – whatever points I earn that day

Duolingo gives you points as you complete lessons. Like this:

Graphs!
Graphs!

Blog posting became a pretty solid habit and the time-based ones seemed excessive so those I removed first. Then I thought, “well, what if I really focused this at one thing? I could harness all of my desire to eat junk food into learning French.”

And that’s what I’m doing now.

A sample evening: I’ll be getting ready to watch some Netflix, I’ll want some snacks to go with it, I’ll be like “damn, I’m out of snack points” and so I’ll fire up Duolingo.

Boom, a French lesson I never would have gotten in otherwise.

It’s not that I don’t like Duolingo or learning French but there’s generally no trigger to start doing a lesson. (Other than perhaps being embarrassed in social interactions with a francophone.)

My snack-lust is a great trigger and now I’m plowing through the lessons, learning more every day. At my current pace, I should complete the first run-through of the Duolingo tree by the end of June.

A French system

That's pretty optimistic given I can't say "that's pretty optimistic" in French yet
That's pretty optimistic given I can't say "that's pretty optimistic" in French yet

I doubt Duolingo will get me fluent, but for now it is the first step in the system. I’ll do this snack-Duolingo thing until I don’t think I can get much more out of it and then maybe I’ll switch to something else. Snacks-for-conversations or snacks-for-whatever.

Point is, I’ve always wanted to learn French and now I may actually do it simply because I’m learning to manipulate myself into it.

We are machines that can be programmed and I love digging into my source code.

There’s actually a beautiful balance in this as well. If I eat too many snacks, I’m too tired to learn, so I can’t eat any more snacks. The worst thing about bad eating habits are the downward spirals. “Man, I feel like shit. Some Oreos will make me feel better.”

With a reward system, it’s self-correcting and self-moderating and there’s never any guilt.

I snack, I learn, I feel good. All is right with the world.

Bonus: a french word you’ll never forget

The French word for outside is dehors. Remember this with an easy mental picture. Just think to yourself: “Where are the whores? Dehors are outside.”

You’re welcome.