The Tortoise and the Hare

I’ve always hated The Tortoise and the Hare.  The allegory has a good enough message and all; don’t be lazy, don’t be conceited, hard work pays off in the end, that’s all good stuff, sure.  And it all applies very neatly to language learning if you think about it.  Dashing forward in heavy sprints that make you feel good enough about what you’re doing that you might as well take the next week off is a great way to stall out language acquisition.  Eventually that arrogant little bunny will get embarrassed and discouraged enough to go home, even without the tortoise’s victory to compare itself against.  The tortoise’s approach of constant work, day in and day out, even if its slow, is definitely the better model to follow.

But as I said, I’ve always hated it.  Nobody wants to be the tortoise, and the tortoise shouldn’t win.  The hare should win, and will win every time, so long as it isn’t a lazy puke.  I have vivid memories of myself in elementary school objecting to the parable and refusing to accept as given that the character I should be emulating is the tortoise.  I should be the hare, but just, you know, finish stuff before declaring myself the victor and taking a nap.  I argued with my (patient and saintly) teacher that the hare should win.  It’s clearly faster and better at racing, it’s an easy victory.  Why is it taking a nap in the middle of a race?  That’s stupid, it’s being stupid, just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean I should be the tortoise, I’ll just be the hare but not be stupid.  Looking at it now, I can imagine that poor teacher’s teeth grinding together, holding back the desire to tell me that if I wanted to be the hare but not stupid, I ought to start doing that immediately and stop asking stupid questions.

And as much as I would have deserved that burn, I kinda still feel that way?  I get that what I was supposed to be wanting to emulate was the work ethic and attitude, something that can be emulated, not natural abilities which you’re born with and wouldn’t be able to change.  Wishing to have been born a hare when you’re a tortoise won’t do anything, but a tortoise that works hard can still beat a hare that’s resting on its laurels.  And fair enough.  But on the other hand, is there glamour and pride in doing something the slow way, lionizing the idea of “clean, hard labor” as being more honest and worthwhile than looking for shortcuts?

That’s an old yarn that gets tossed around which I also don’t think holds much water.  Sure, if the shortcuts you’re taking make it so you’re doing something slipshod, it usually is worth doing something the hard way, but the counterpoint yarn of “work smarter not harder” rings much more true to me.  There’s no glory in doing something hard just because it’s hard.  I’d much rather do something efficiently.

This is reframing the parable slightly, abstracting the physical limitations of the tortoise and hare from natural gifts out to styles of work.  One could argue that this reframing is distorting the point, but the parable is already framed in this direction to begin with, otherwise it would just be a literal telling of two animals racing against each other and have no relevance to human beings.  This is just nudging it slightly further, away from the physical abilities of our two racers and into how they approach the world.

On the left in the red shorts, we have the tortoise.  It likes working hard, long proofreads on the beach, and wouldn’t describe itself as a perfectionist because there are one or two points where that label is inaccurate. On the right in the blue shorts, we have the hare.  It likes working quickly, binge-watching Netflix, and has a crippling problem with procrastination.

And once again I am my elementary school self, I see that I am obviously the hare, and yet I don’t want to be the tortoise instead.  The hare has the right idea, it just needs a tiny amount of the tortoise’s resolve.  If it could save the nap until after it’s won, the tortoise can spend the rest of its life perfectly finishing the race for all the hare cares.  It got its work done, it did the job right, it did the job quickly, and it’ll be over here watching Netflix if you need it.

So, uh, what’s this have to do with language learning?

Well, a lot of things, really.  At first glance, it could seem like the takeaway is that I’ve confronted a field of study that requires me to actually be a tortoise.  The world is full of snake oil salesmen promising the quick fix shortcut, but the truth of the matter is that nobody can learn a new language without devoting a tremendous amount of time and effort into it.  You have to plod along at the tortoise pace, there is no dashing to the finish line right away, let alone space for a nap.  Kind of a depressing conclusion.  However.

If we keep pushing that frame around the story just a little bit further into abstraction, I think that most people come to the same conclusion.  We all are the hare.  Maybe not with everything, or even with most things, but nobody prefers to have something be hard and take forever over being fast and easy.  So what, as hares, can be done to make the language race more appealing to us?

Well, there are already lots of think pieces out there about efficiency in studying new languages, what works and what doesn’t, and how best to maximize your time.  The advice out there has led me to try and structure my working habits around the goal of letting me get a lot out of it without anything being incredibly difficult.  This seems to be the main thrust of the internet space on offering advice about language learning, how to be hare-like.  It’s just the day-to-day, working-on-it-a-little tortoise approach without resting on your laurels that’s an absolute necessity.  It’s a hare’s work style on a tortoise’s timeframe.

Here, real quick.  Picture a hare on a treadmill.  As it runs on that treadmill, taking breaks in fits and starts, the belt moves, which keeps the hare in place.  However, the belt’s movement is also charging a generator.  A generator underneath the treadmill, inside the shell of a giant mechanical tortoise the hare is riding on.  As the generator charges, the mechatortoise plods forward, slow and steady.  The more the hare runs, the further the tortoise goes and the closer to the finish line they both get, but the line is very far away, they’ll never make it if the hare sprinted until its lungs gave out.  The hare has to keep running to make the tortoise move, but it doesn’t want to run itself to death, so it needs to pace the running out, just here and there every day, moving the tortoise closer and closer to the finish line.  And that’s what language learning is.

Well, that’s what it is to me, anyway.  Feel free to replace the tortoise and hare with Mecha-Godzilla and Mothra if you’d prefer.  It’d probably look cooler.

And after that pile of nonsense, let’s get into the numbers for the week.

Tuesday 7/10

  • Anki: 150 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1520 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, ~40 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Wednesday 7/11

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1440 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 2/3 chapters of El Odio que Das, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Thursday 7/12

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1600 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1/3 chapters of El Odio que Das, ~30 minutes

Friday 7/13

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1150 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Saturday 7/14

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 2040 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, ~60 minutes

Sunday 7/15

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1200 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes

Monday 7/16

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 1920 XP earned, ~60 minutes
  • Reading: 1 chapter of El Odio que Das, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of My Little Pony, ~20 minutes


  • Total Anki: 930 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 10,870 XP, 420 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 5 tv episodes watched, 100 minutes
  • Total reading: 6 chapters read, 370 minutes
  • Total Time: 16 hours 0 minutes

This week was just okay.  Unrelated to this project, I’ve been having a little bit of trouble sleeping, and a lot of the week felt like I was burning the candle at both ends, even if I wasn’t strictly.  Slowed me down a little bit here and there; I had a rather sparse day last Thursday and I didn’t do as much as I usually do over the weekend, purely from being a little extra tired.  I’m still feeling a touch on the overcooked side, so I’m not positive that I’m out of the woods and back to normal, though I am feeling a little better.

Though in saying the week was just okay, really it’s just fine but not stellar.  My central goal for this month was focused around reading + watching/listening time to have a combined total above Duolingo time, and despite the sparse days and continued failure to spend more time on watching/listening, this week does match up with that goal.

Going into next week, my main hope is that my sleeping just evens out again.  I’ve had some crazy hayfever this year.  Better sleep means better focus on the things I’m doing, which would likely fix the things that made this week just okay.  Provided I can focus, I hope to keep on keepin on with how reading’s going—if that goes well I should be approaching the end of El Odio que Das by next update—and try to double down on watching/listening.  I feel like it’s becoming a bigger issue for me as my reading comprehension continues to make strong improvements, but I struggle with actually understanding it when it’s spoken aloud.  Might need to consider reprioritizing my day-to-day stuff to try and get more listening time in.

Well, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

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