Nope. After completing the French branch of Duolingo, all I got was a relatively unexciting congratulations message. But I got something else too.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t speak French. I could bumble along with a few phrases or sentences, but that’s about it. But despite my almost complete lack of ability to, you know, actually speak the language, learning some French has helped me appreciate English. Understanding, on a very basic level, the mechanics of another language has helped me to appreciate the complexity, beauty, subtlety and power of my mother tongue.
This is just one example of an idea that has crystallised for me over the last few months. It’s an awareness that the only way to get closer to something is to become distant from it.
My command of English has increased because I started to learn about another language. Living away from my hometown has helped me to understand the special place that it holds in my heart. Not seeing my friends and family as much has been illuminating. Their absence from my life has helped me see why their presence is so important.
It’s easy to think that the best way to get to know something is to get closer to it. To try and penetrate it’s depths. To poke and prod at it. But that’s not always the case. Learning another language, living away from my hometown and not seeing my friends and family have made that clear to me.
If intimacy and understanding are what you seek, don’t get closer. Move away. Create distance. Put space between yourself and the thing you seek to understand and appreciate.