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It is easier to feed the dog than the hippo

May 6, 2011

I’ve reassessed my language schedule and goals with the help of’s amusing article Learning a language is like having a pet. Author Thomas writes:

Learning a language, really learning a language, is like having a pet hippo.  You need to give it all of your attention.  As much as possible, every waking moment you have should be spent in your target language.  And you can’t skip days.  All day everyday.  A few hours a week with a pet turtle isn’t going to cut it.

This is the break down of the pets:

  1. Hippo language: 4+ hours a day (Hungry Hippo 4-8, Happy Hippo 8+)
  2. Monkey language: 2-4 hours a day
  3. Dog language: 1-2 hours a day
  4. Turtle language: Few hours a week
  5. Rock language: Look at it a few times a year.

I’ve realized I have been treating my Navajo like a pet turtle or dog. Only studying a few hours a week. I need to dedicate a lot more time daily. I’m finding that it is a lot easier to feed a dog, or turtle, than a hippo. (I’ve demoted my spanish to a pet dog and portuguese to a turtle.) Feeding my pets can include any one of these activities suggested by Thomas, ” watching movies, watching TV, reading books, reading comics, reading news, doing SRS reps, playing video games, translating video games, translating magazine articles, reading children’s books, watching mouths and mimicking voices.” It is so much easier to get  content in spanish than Navajo.  I need to stick with Navajo, but it is so easy to revert back to Spanish or Portuguese.

To track my progress each day I have downloaded the aTimeLogger app for my iPod touch.


 I’ve personalized and grouped my activities into Navajo, Spanish and Portuguese. Once I select the group I can choose which activity I will participate in (example: Navajo Verbs, Reading, SRS, conversation). There are two options for entering the time and length of the activity. The first is a stopwatch like function, the other allows the user to enter an activity that was completed earlier in the day. I can view graphs of my logged time and even export them by email as an html or csv file. Very cool. It is doing an amazing job of tracking my study or input time. On top of that, it is also free and does not have any advertisements.

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