Starting Your Bilingual Summer


Motivation. It’s strange how it works. I mentioned on Facebook that I was loving Duolingo for Spanish and offered to follow anyone who wanted to join me on that site. A few people took me up on it. The next morning TWO of my readers had beat me on points when they had just started out at zero.

So I did what anyone would do — I crammed in order to beat them! Of course! (haha, I’m so competitive.)

My score inched up, but so did theirs, they were keeping just ahead of me. So frustrating! Yet so motivating! That’s when I had this idea, isn’t it more fun to do things together?

Announcing: Bilingual Summer!

We just passed Memorial Day, so I propose between now and Labor Day we set the intention (not a resolution, not a rule, not have-to) of learning a new language this summer.

Three months. One language of your choice. Your Bilingual Summer.

I will be keeping my language learning process really transparent and writing about what’s working here. But I also want to hear from you guys, so as this summer progresses I hope you’ll keep us updated on how things are working for you, what you’re discovering and any tips you want to share.

1. Pick a language

2. Set an intention to learn it

3. Create an immersive environment this summer full of movies, music, books and other media in that language. Reach out to native speakers on sites like for language exchanges. Find local resources. Be creative.

4. Do a little bit, at least, every day.

5. Keep yourself motivated, by participating in our summer long language love-fest.

On using the word “Bilingual”

I usually shy away from using the term bilingual or fluent because it can mean so many different things to different people. But there has to be a term, something to represent a desire to learn a language to a certain skill level. I like bilingual because fluent is a temporary state (it can be lost) whereas bilingual feels to me more permanent. I think of language learning as a lifetime endeavor, not a single mad rush towards a finish line, so when we reach for bilingualism we’re talking about gradually adopting a language into our lives. There are also lots of bilinguals that don’t have native-like fluency in their second language — so in that regard it’s more flexible too.

It’s not perfect, but I think it’s the best we’ve got. I’m embracing bilingual even though I won’t self-identify as one (yet) but that’s definitely my long term goal.

Submit inspirational posts and articles

Part of this experience, I hope will be not just what I write about but what you guys come up with — and I know some of you have already been through all this either yourself or with your kids! So I’ll be looking for your articles and posts in the coming weeks (or anything you want to send me, even if you didn’t write it). You don’t have to link to me or anything, just give me a heads up on Twitter or Facebook (you can use the hashtag #bilingualsummer if you want) and I’ll be re-sharing my favorite ones.

Get your kids involved!

Well, if you want. And you have kids. And you’re ready to be frightened and amazed by their freaky ability to learn. My son has hit the tipping point with his Spanish, I’m having to look up words routinely just to have basic conversations with him. He’s devouring new words in Spanish and he doesn’t even flinch. It’s awesome. And easier than you think.

Beat me at Spanish

And finally, for this week’s tip, here’s an instant ego boost if you want, you can join me on DuoLingo (if you’re learning Spanish, French, German, Italian or Portuguese) and you can compete against me by adding me as a friend (and you can add the other people who follow me, because those are all readers too). I’ll also be trying out and reporting on other language learning sites this summer, but this a good place to start. And it’s free.

Can you do this?

I want to finish off with a quote from Gretchin Rubin’s amazing book The Happiness Project:

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently. Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.”

h/t to



  1. lol I must be one of the people you are talking about. I got the app when i saw it on my facebook feed, and I am very competitive, so I had to keep going to I got a higher score than you haha. Hopefully we can keep each other motivated 😉

  2. Georgina

    What a great idea!!! I have been learning Swahili for over 18 months now. I started off in classes in UK then moved to Asia and well finding Swahili speakers here has been tough so progress has slowed if not gone backwards. I have picked it up again and got a lot of resources together just this weekend cause i really want to build on what i have learnt and not go backwards, so I this is great motivation to get going. Any of the sites you use have Swahili resources? So far I only have some Swahili specific sites and BBC news in Swahili. I go to east Africa for a while soon so hope this will be what I need to help me brush up and progress before I get to immerse myself in the language!!! Love reading your language tips !!,

  3. Thank you. I needed a good kick up the arse and this is it. I look forward to a bilingual (southern hemisphere) winter.

  4. I love this idea! I’m seriously considering joining you in your bilingual summer as a way to work on my Italian. I have a B.A. in Italian but it’s so easy to forget when you’re not using it daily (I just checked out the site DuoLingo and it took me 30 seconds to remember the word for boy!)

    I’m going to be in the U.S. this summer so this could be the perfect idea to get me using another language while at home. I have several Italian novels sitting on my bookshelf, and I’m sure there are lots of new Italian movies I haven’t seen.

  5. As if I didn’t have enough to do before we leave…I really want to do this. My Spanish has gotten really sad and if I really do want to raise our future kidlets to speak Spanish, then I need to get on it. I will set forth with the intention of working on my Spanish this summer and see what comes of it. I also want to learn a few words in Mongolian, so it’ll motivate me to keep learning languages.

  6. Is it ok to use your graphic in posts about the project on my blog? (Will link back to the original post as well.)

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    • P.S. I hope that following your direction from Lindsay’s post was too presumptuous of me… I used your image as well ;).

    • Yes, please, the image is free to use! Thanks for your write up, so excited there’s another Mandarin learner in the group! Wee! Sharing on FB/Twitter/G+ now 🙂

  9. Michelle

    Thanks for the inspiration to learn a new language and be multilingual. In order to be completely confusing (and grow my brain) I am doing several languages at once. I grew up learning Spanish so its part refresher part new words, German I took in High school but haven’t touched since, and Portuguese is brand spankin new. I will see you on the leaderboard at Duolingo!


  10. I’ve been practising French now for a couple months on Duolingo and I love it. I’ll start following you. The Happiness Project is on my reading list too!

  11. I didn’t realize I was so competitive until I saw that you were beating me and then I stayed up an extra two hours before a grueling day to gain dominance(!) I may learn spanish… but at what cost? 🙂

    Also, I just wanted to say I really adore your blog and you’ve inspired me so much! Not just to travel the world (which I’m doing now in two months! Ah!) but to make a blog that’s hopefully as honest, insightful, and well-written as yours. Enough gushing. Back to the games!

    • Thank you! Also I have to catch up! I am loving the game-like atmosphere on duolingo, best thing ever. I heard there’s only 25 levels so I’ll be kind of sad when I eventually beat them all!

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  14. By the way if you’re writing a post about this, please let me know! I have been scheduling out the retweets & facebook shares so it’s more spread out but I will continue to share them as they come in.

    • Hey Christine! Just wrote a post about this last night – can’t wait to see my progress in a few months, great idea!

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  16. I just joined your challenge! My husband and I are hoping to take our travels to central america next year and would love to have a spanish base before we go.

  17. Absolutely amazing idea! I downloaded Duolingo months ago for Spanish and French and used it maybe once before promptly getting distracted. What I was missing was a little friendly competition! Added you now. Bring it on! 😉

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