Op-Ed: In Only Ten Weeks, Duolingo Made Me Proficient In Slurs

April 30, 2019 12:00 pm
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Op-Ed: In Only Ten Weeks, Duolingo Made Me Proficient In Slurs

I was initially skeptical about practicing my language skills with Duolingo. People kept saying stuff like “Just give it a shot,” or “Come on, it’s free!,” or “All my older, whiter coworkers finally understand what I’m trying to say” — but I wasn’t so sure I believed the hype. Finally, though, I bit the bullet and enrolled, and turns out, everyone was right: ten weeks in, I’m fully proficient in slurs!

They start you out with the easy stuff – forbidden yo mama jokes, unredacted 4chan posts, ethno-nationalist dogwhistles – and it doesn’t really feel like you’re learning much; just reviewing old content, dusting off the cobwebs. But after those first few sessions, they really pick up the pace! I was going at it every day: honing my syntax, perfecting my twang, refining pronunciation until every new word rolled off my tongue with the grace of a diving swan. Barely a month had passed before I was finally able to read White House press releases without needing Google Translate by my side!

But what really blew my mind was the depth each lesson went into. Duolingo’s curriculum — custom-tailored to my strengths and weaknesses — incorporated everything from Nordic sea shanties to long-forgotten War of Northern Aggression battlecries, identifying in each one the relevant traces of neo-Darwinist jargon or Aryan biker gang phraseology that I never would’ve noticed on my own. As that little green owl hopped around the screen — cheerily quizzing me on minute details of Hitler’s 1936 commencement speech at the Berlin Olympics or the subtle semantic differences between “dago,” “wop,” and “goombah” — I could practically feel my neurons growing.

By the time the intro course was over and I’d received my little digital “Super Slurrer” medal, I felt way more comfortable using slurs than I ever had before: and I studied them for four years in high school! Obviously I still don’t pass for a native speaker when, say, I’m chatting with my cool uncle Blayne about that damn Colin Kaepernick,  but I’ll get there eventually. Thanks, Duolingo!

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