Happy Friday, everyone!
Today, we have a cause worth celebrating: Because as of last Sunday, I have finally achieved my long-time goal of reaching a one-year streak on Duolingo!
For those of you who don’t know, Duolingo is a free learning app that allows you to dabble in a whole bunch of different languages. And I’m a huge fan! Not only because the app’s mascot is an owl (though that is definitely an added bonus 😍🦉😍), but because I genuinely think Duolingo is helpful!
While I would never recommend it as your sole source if you’re serious about the language you wish to learn, I think Duolingo is a great way to familiarize yourself with the basics or make sure you at least get a few minutes of target language input every single day. Whenever I go to a country that speaks a different language on holiday, I use Duolingo to learn some basic small talk. Whenever I’m starting out in a new language, I use Duolingo to ensure I see those very basic vocabulary words over and over again. Whenever I want to revise vocabulary on a certain topic in languages I’m already fairly comfortable in, I like to do the corresponding Duolingo lessons just to feel good about myself!
And I’ll just go ahead and admit it: I am insanely competitive. So the fact that you can get a special Duolingo badge for using the app 365 days in a row – a badge that I did not have – seriously irked me!!! I have been trying to obtain this badge for literally ages and have come frustratingly close several times. But then I spent a weekend in the Alps and had no Wi-Fi. And then my phone died and I didn’t get a new one until about a week later…
During the past 371 days, though, there were no phone deaths or spontaneous Alp-trips. Which means that I have finally achieved the impossible!!
And of course, I have been preparing to commemorate this historic moment on my blog 😇 If there’s one thing Duolingo is known for, then it is the fact that every once in a while, its sentences are … well … a little strange…
So back in January, I had the marvelous idea that, to celebrate reaching 365 days of Duolingo in a row, I would recommend books to you guys based on the weirdest Duolingo sentences I encountered!
This post is the product of that idea. After two months of intense screenshotting – which inexplicably seemed to lead to the totally strange Duolingo sentences disappearing almost altogether 😭 – I hereby present you with my results. Be prepared for a lot of slightly strange utterances and an abundance of book recommendations to go along with them!
(Also, in case you’re wondering: My current Duolingo usage is split at about 60% Swedish, 30% Russian, and 10% Spanish. What I’ve been looking at in Russian is very all over the place, since I only use Duolingo for revision purposes, but I am currently learning a ton of animal- and food-related Swedish… So if any of this overwhelms you with cuteness or makes you extremely hungry, I apologize in advance! 😁)
Ummm… I’m really sorry, Duolingo, but I have absolutely no clue what you mean sometimes… 😅🙈 Like, what the heck am I supposed to picture here?! Actual men raining from the sky? Just a whole bunch of rain, like in the cats and dogs sense? An overabundance of men, like we have in Kiera Cass’ The Heir???
Since I would never recommend The Heir to anyone, we’re going for the first option. Ann Halam’s Dr. Franklin’s Island literally begins with people dropping from the sky after a horrific plane crash, so I guess that’s as close to raining men as we’re going to get. Oh, and we also have a mad scientist experimenting on humans in an air/earth/water-relevant way, which is kind of rain-related! Right?
Lots of Sweets and a Bit of Fat-Shaming
I mean, I guess this sentence isn’t weird per se. At least it actually makes sense, compared to the first one. But still!!! Like, what if you were really insecure about your weight and then Duolingo told you to translate this? Wouldn’t that come across as a bit insensitive, maybe? 🤔
However, I can’t deny that this sentence fits perfectly with Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers and Dog series! Because Frederick Algernon Trotteville, the head of the Five Find-Outers – who, due to his rather unfortunate initials and chubbiness, is known to his friends only as Fatty – loves nothing more than to spoil his fellow detectives with lots of candy and ice cream. SERIOUSLY, GUYS, YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HUNGRY THIS SERIES MADE ME AS A KID!! And I also positively adored it 🥰 It is by far my favorite Enid Blyton series, even ahead of Malory Towers and The Famous Five!
Lacking Love and Dog Food
Should I be worried about that eventual visit to Sweden? Because the kinds of sentences Duolingo apparently thinks I’ll need certainly suggest so!
If they got you in the mood for something truly dark and heart-wrenching, though, I highly recommend you check out A Child Called ‘It’ by Dave Pelzer. The first book in a three-part autobiography, it recounts the author’s experience living though one of the worst child-abuse cases that has ever been documented in California. This book is eye-opening in the harshest way possible. It will utterly destroy you. You will lose faith in humanity. Because Dave being hated by his parents and forced to eat dog food is, unfortunately, only the beginning.
As a German, your thoughts tend to go in a very specific direction when you read Russian sentences about walls that once used to be here… However, I could not for the life of me think of a good GDR-related book to recommend to you guys 😅
(Although if you want a movie, I can deliver! Nothing has ever made me sob quite like The Lives of Others; and let me tell you, I am not alone: My class once watched this at school, and it was thoroughly embarrassing because everyone was a red-eyed wreck afterwards. The film deals with some super heavy topics, but it’s so, so good!!)
Instead, you’re getting a different kind of unsettling “there used to be a wall here” recommendation – Sleeping Murder, one of my favorite books by the Queen of Crime herself! After buying a house, newly-wed protagonist Glenda Reed keeps having these eerie feelings that things don’t look the way they should. Shouldn’t there be a different wallpaper in this room? Shouldn’t there be a door here? And then, to her horror, Glenda figures out that she’s envisioning exactly what her house used to look like – many, many years ago…
You know those friends who are always taking advantage of you? The ones who you’ve been super close to since childhood, whom you’ve always shared everything with, and who have absolutely no qualms about stealing food from your plate because they think it is basically theirs anyway?
Well, Morgan Matson’s The Unexpected Everything features a friendship like that. It also features:
a) lots of dogs,
b) family trauma,
c) politics, and
e) the most cinnamon-roll-y fantasy writer character you’ll ever encounter,
so what’s not to like?
Cereal Meals and Writing in Books: The University Experience
In Duolingo’s defense: At least it only describes making cereal as “cooking” and doesn’t say anything about it being soup! Nevertheless, any platform that praises the culinary skills of someone who knows how to dump a bit of milk into a bowl of cornflakes and tries to force you into hurting your precious bookish babies immediately makes me suspicious! 🧐
But does Duolingo have the university experience down to a T? You bet! Honestly, guys, cereal with milk got me through countless study days during which I was simply too lazy to cook, and my literature professors reduced my fear of annotating things quite considerably! (I still like to keep my fiction books in pristine condition – annotations annoy the freaking crap out of me during rereads – but have I gone over to the dark side that scribbles into textbooks? Maybe… 😁)
So obviously, I had no choice but to pair these sentences with Elif Batuman’s The Idiot. This book nails the feeling of being a university student unlike anything else I’ve ever read – you get the full package: struggling with academia, failing at adulthood, and feeling like a lost sheep with absolutely no clue how to get the happy, fulfilled life you’ve always dreamed of, causing you to aimlessly meander through your days and decide to study a random subject like Russian.
Do I love The Idiot? NO. It hit way too close to home and probably wasn’t the best reading choice at the time I read it. But do I think it’s a book that many others might benefit from? 100% YES.
Does Harry Potter need a recommendation? Well, no. At this point, you’ve probably either read it or you’re never going to.
However, do you know how freaking difficult it is to find a book in which there are horses drinking alcoholic beverages?!? 😫 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was literally the only thing I could think of!
“My steeds require – er – forceful ‘andling,” said Madame Maxime, looking as though she doubted whether any Care of Magical Creatures teacher at Hogwarts could be up to the job. “Zey are very strong….”
“I assure you that Hagrid will be well up to the job,” said Dumbledore, smiling.
“Very well,” said Madame Maxime, bowing slightly. “Will you please inform zis ‘Agrid zat ze ‘orses drink only single-malt whiskey?”Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire – Beauxbatons and Durmstrang
And since I felt like you needed to see this Duolingo sentence – especially after I myself was forced to see it about fifty million times because my brain refused to accept that a word that meant “oil” in German could somehow mean “beer” in Swedish and I therefore kept translating it wrong 🙈 – you’re getting it!
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
If you see people other than yourself in a mirror, it’s probably time to start running. In all likelihood, it means that person is standing way too freaking close to you!! There’s nothing that gives off creepy-stalker-vibes quite like spotting people in the mirror who aren’t meant to be there…
Unless, of course, you live in a fantasy world where mirrors are used as communication devices. Although this trope might be a bit overused – seriously, from Cinderella to Tamora Pierce’s Immortals Quartet to Harry Potter, magic scrying mirrors are everywhere – it tends to be my favorite stories that use them, so I’m more than willing to forgive! And Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns is no exception 🥰 It, too, features communication by mirror. More importantly, though, it features books! And a hate-to-love romance! And Silas!
Resisting Those Turtle Cravings
Naemi, didn’t you just read The People in the Trees and say you hated it? Why yes – I did! 😅
However, I also said that it was a deeply thoughtful, provocative, and well-written book that I just wasn’t the right type of reader for. If you’re a huge fan of unlikeable narrators and don’t mind an extremely slow-moving plot, this one might actually be right up your alley!
More importantly, though, the plot is actually centered around eating turtles. Or not eating them. The eating or non-eating of turtles sparks quite the controversy in The People in the Trees, so I couldn’t not use this book here!
“I could be wrong, but – he says that anyone who touches an opa’ivu’eke brings a great curse upon his family. One of the wrong-doer’s family will reach sixty o’anas and will get to eat the opa’ivu’eke, but after a period of time that person will slowly lose his ama and will become a mo’o kua’au.”The People in The Trees – The Ninth Hut
I’m “Definitely Not” Gonna Date Him
Who discusses their plans to NOT date someone??? Like, if I did that, you’d be here for a very long time… (I’m sorry, all you people out there who were hoping to date me, but I kind of have this thing where I don’t plan on ever dating the majority of the people I know. I assure you, it’s nothing personal 😜)
So yeah, if you keep telling me how you’re not going to date someone, or that all you’re doing is fake-dating this person to make your relatives happy and not always be the lost-looking single at family parties, I’m going to be like, SUUUUURE. Of course you’re going to end up eventually dating the freaking person!!!!! Especially if you’re the main character in a romance novel!
No matter how utterly ridiculous and trashy it gets, though, I am an absolute sucker for fake-dating scenarios in books (and horrible Netflix movies)! I love that moment when the characters go from being awkward partners in crime to realizing they actually like each other. I love when they’re so scared that the other person might not feel the same way that they end up becoming all broody any annoying. Things just get so wonderfully cheesy! And Kasie West’s The Fill-In Boyfriend is a fun example of the fake-dating trope done right 😊
No Eating in the Lab!
I’m completely with you, here, Duolingo – DO NOT EVER EAT IN A LABORATORY!! This sentence actually isn’t weird at all; rather, it’s kind of scary because of how many people I’ve seen casually breaking this rule. The math department at the university I studied at shares a building with the physics department, and, look, physicists: Just because you guys don’t usually work with as many toxic substances as the chemists do, it doesn’t mean you can just eat in your labs! You still use chemicals in there! You could contaminate something! Stick to scientific etiquette because it exists for a freaking reason!
Honestly, the mere idea that anyone could want to eat in a lab fills me with horror – maybe because my physicist parents made sure to drill this rule into my head starting pretty much the minute I was born. They obviously sometimes had me in the lab with them, so I needed to know how to behave there. Which means I grew up thinking everyone was taught rules like this!
Similarly, I also thought it was normal to have a ton of books around the house featuring “physics adventures” for children and was so disappointed when my friends had never even heard of them. Especially George’s Secret Key to the Universe, which is about a boy who travels into space using his neighbor’s super cool computer, Cosmos. Together with the neighbor’s daughter, Annie, he gets to study black holes!! He gets to learn about string theory! How freaking cool is that?! 🤗
Women with Bears
Women – or any people for that manner – having bears is not something I run across a lot in everyday life. But Duolingian characters seem to have a whole zoo of exotic pets at their disposal! They don’t just have bears, they also have lions, elk, elephants, wolves…
But of course, I shamelessly had to choose the bear sentence. Because that gives me the opportunity to push the Winternight Trilogy at you once again!!! It’s so beautiful, and lyrical, and Russian history inspired, and political, and atmospheric, and fairy-tale-esque 🥰🥰🥰 And the protagonist Vasya captures a bear! At least, kind of…
So saying Vasya has a bear is not too far-fetched, right? People who have read these books, please tell me I’m allowed to recommend them here! And everyone else – go read them!
Even More Bears – Only This Time, It’s Food-Related
This bear sentence, on the other hand, seriously creeps me out. The bear likes the vegetarian? In what sense?? Does the bear like the vegetarian because vegetarians are a particularly tasty type of food? Or because he can be sure the vegetarian won’t get a sudden craving for bear-meat? Somehow, neither possibility sounds particularly reassuring 🤔 Especially since the only people with a craving for bear-meat that I know of are the “vegetarian” Cullens….
So, to keep us well away from the horrifying interpretation lane, we’re just going to assume that the bear likes the vegetarian because the vegetarian throws a ton of tasty vegetable scraps into his trash can, where the bear can then steal them from. And this way, the sentence also goes really well with Erin Hunter’s Seekers series, which follows a group of bears in search of a place where they can live in peace. I wasn’t quite as obsessed with this one as I was with Erin Hunter’s Warriors back in the day, but I still really liked it and would particularly recommend it to preteens interested in environmental protection and Native American mythology!
Strange Pants and Non-Bird-Eaters
I’m not gonna lie – reading the sentence “The pants are not mine.” gave me intensely traumatic London flashbacks 😅
(In 2018, my sister and I spent two weeks travelling through the UK together, and, thinking we were being extremely smart and saving a ton of money that we could then spend on sightseeing, we booked a hostel for £7 a night. In London. Sure, the reviews were bad, but some people simply had lofty standards! For a room that cheap, you can’t expect a hotel! What we had not bargained for, however, was for our door to have a gaping hole where the doorknob was supposed to be, for insects to be crawling all over the bathroom, for our Australian roommate to have to stealthily sneak to the window armed with a book in the middle of the night because someone started screaming behind the dumpsters, or for our Italian roommate’s bed frame to break apart, leaving us to discover a five-centimeter thick layer of dust and a mysterious pair of pants that belonged to no one and smelled like it had been urinated on months ago… It was definitely the worst place I have ever stayed at, but hey, it was super affordable and made for an extremely effective roommate bonding experience!)
However, I suppose “The pants are not mine.” could be normal enough in a family discussion about laundry. My parents never remembered whose clothes were whose, and I was constantly ending up with my sister’s jeans by accident… So the weirder sentence is definitely “The women do not eat the birds.” Why would they even consider eating THE birds??? What birds? Why is there a definite article?
Still, I have decided not eating the birds sounds close enough to a vegetarian situation that we can roll with it. Which means that we need a family story involving laundry and vegetarians! And Dawn’s Wicked Stepsister perfectly fulfills that requirement. We have stepsisters excited to move in together and share clothes, only to be disillusioned by the reality of having the other person’s clothing strewn around everywhere. We have the vegetarian part of the family clashing with the non-vegetarian part, and each refusing to eat the other’s cooking. So it fits! And even as an adult, you can have so much fun revisiting the Baby-Sitters Club books that I will never stop recommending them 😁
Lots and Lots of Elephants
See – I told you Duolingian people always have a ton of exotic animals!!! This dude doesn’t even stop at one elephant, he has several!!!
And so does Elephant, Elephant. This may be a picture book primarily meant for children, but I assure you, it is absolutely genius. Even as an adult, you’re going to get a kick out of having opposites like “solid” and “liquid” or “plugged” and “unplugged” explained to you through elephant pictures, and I guarantee you, if you have a child that hates reading, it is still going to love this book. Elephant, Elephant is hilarious!
Mysterious Wardrobes and Hopeless Battles
I’m sorry, but it simply isn’t possible to have nothing in a wardrobe… Do you know how many things I stuff in there??? Not only is my wardrobe filled to the brim with clothes, it is also my primary hiding place for Christmas and birthday presents. It stores my hiking backpack. And all of my swimming gear. It simply cannot be empty!!
Also, in light of the current political situation, “Это их последняя битва.” just seems horribly macabre 😢 Why are you telling me stuff like this, Duolingo; I am freaking out enough as it is!!
So yeah, I guess we’re just going to have to assume these sentences are talking about The Chronicles of Narnia. Because then, they suddenly make a whole lot of sense and don’t seem anywhere near as ominous anymore! When Peter opens the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that first time Lucy goes on and on about having been to a secret country, there is nothing there. (And, unfortunately, I never found any entrances to Narnia while checking wardrobes as a child, either 😭). The final Narnia book is literally called The Last Battle. That must be what these sentences were getting at! So if you haven’t read the whimsical children’s fantasy series that are The Chronicles of Narnia yet, take Duolingo as your motivation to do so!
And that was it for today! I hope I got a wide enough range of recommendations in that there was something amongst them for everybody, and that you enjoyed seeing a bit of the nonsense Duolingo spouts every once in a while! Do let me know what your favorite sentence was down below, and whether or not you agree with my pairings!
Also, do any of you use Duolingo? Have you ever run across any true sentence gems? I would love to hear about them down in the comments!