If you have ever used Duolingo before, then I have a question for you: Have you ever lost a streak?
How do you react when that happens? When you see that glorious number that you have built up ever so slowly, day by day, return to the lowly count of… 0?
If you have a strong sense of purpose, are clear on what you doing, or have less emotional attachment to silly number, then perhaps it wouldn’t matter at all to you. If so, wonderful.
But maybe you’re more like me, and you feel a crippling sense of loss and disappointment when it happens.
I have experienced this not just on Duolingo, but also on Memrise and Clozemaster. And while I know that logically it shouldn’t matter, I cannot help the immense disappointment and disbelief at the loss, and the inevitable self-bashing that swiftly follows. How could I have forgot? Ugh! I’m such an idiot.
But I have good news for you. It’s not necessarily the end of the world, even if it may seem quite like it at the time. I’ll discuss 3 reasons why it may be a good thing to lose your streak, and how you can turn this into an opportunity to improve your language learning.
What Is a Streak?
For those who have not heard of this term before, a “streak” is a counter. It counts the number of consecutive days you have completed your goals.
On Duolingo, it means earning a certain amount of XP. On Memrise, it is obtaining a set number of points. For Clozemaster, as far as I can tell, it is at least answering one question.
Each completed day, the number increases by 1. The satisfaction of seeing that little number grow bigger and bigger can be addictive.
In fact, I’m certain that this is one of the reasons why streaks were added.
Streaks can help you to build good habits because you become more compelled to return to the site when you normally wouldn’t. Personally, I find that once I have a streak going on a site, I don’t want to stop.
So why could it be a good thing to lose your streak?
Why Losing Your Streak May Be a Good Thing
1. It Is a Blank Slate
Now that your streak is a big fat zero, you have what is essentially a blank slate. Sometimes, there is nothing more freeing than knowing that there is nothing there to hold you down. Losing your streak can give you some much-needed perspective.
We may get so caught up in the daily doing that we forget to step back and ask the all-important question: Why? Why are we really doing this? And why do we keep doing it day after day?
Is it really to learn the language?
The scariest thing is to realise the answer to that question is because it’s what I have been doing for the past X days and, well, I just didn’t want to give it up. (Yes, I had this happen to me for Clozemaster – more on that later. I think this is in part due to the sunk cost fallacy. I know I fall prey to this one way too often.)
I don’t discount the importance of building good daily habits – in fact, I believe it is a necessary condition for success in any part of life – but there is nothing more tragic than losing sight of your original purpose for learning the language in the first place.
Which brings us to the second reason.
2. It Is the Perfect Opportunity to Evaluate Your Habits
Now that you have a blank slate, you are free from any obligation to continue just for the sake of it. It is the perfect time to evaluate your habits.
Specifically, it’s the best time to reflect on your habit of using this particular language-learning application.
Ask yourself: Do I truly benefit from using this application, or have I been continuing it only for the sake of maintaining my streak?
More importantly, could your time be better spent on other things that would make more of a difference?
But perhaps the most important question of all is this: Does doing this make me happy?
Only you can answer that.
It does not matter if everyone else seems to love the application and think that it was the best thing that happened to them. If it doesn’t help you, then you should stop. If it makes you miserable, all the more reason to stop.
I lost my Clozemaster streak after keeping at it for over 200 days. (It was probably closer to 250, but I forgot the actual number since Clozemaster had a glitch with the counting at some point.)
After the initial frustration, I forced myself to clear my mind. Then I proceeded to ask myself whether I should continue.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that I should stop. While Clozemaster undoubtedly has its advantages, I felt it was a chore and a waste of time.
Funnily enough, I had posted a link to Clozemaster on the Memrise forums in a thread for sharing resources for learning German. This was just a few days after I started using it and found it rather useful at the time. Many people loved it and said so in the thread.
Yet as time went on, I found myself going through the motions. In Clozemaster, you are given a sentence with a word taken out, and you needed to select the correct word to fill in the blank.
The missing word was automatically selected based on the word frequency. Unlike Lingvist, where there was careful choice in the words you have to remember, you frequently ended up with rather useless words to learn, or even repeats. (I got the word “que” which means “that” a few times for French.)
I would speed through the questions and select the missing word without thinking too much – after all, the default mode provided four options to choose from.
The best part? I had added a new language, Tagalog, that I knew nothing about, and was blindly guessing the answers. Can you believe I did that for over half a year?
Well, no wonder you find it useless, I hear you say. You’re doing it all wrong.
And you’re right, because I’ll admit there is a better way to use Clozemaster. But I felt that even if I changed the way I used it, doing so would not have been the best use of my time.
Remember that time is limited, and sometimes, you have to give up what is good to get something better.
This brings us to the last point.
3. It Is an Opportunity to Do Even Better in Future
Let’s say you realise that using this particular application was a waste of time. Then, you have an opportunity to do even better and progress further, by replacing the time you spent daily on this app with something of higher value.
But what if your self reflection led you to the conclusion that it is worthwhile to continue? That’s great, because you can easily find the motivation to start again. Here, you also have the opportunity to do better.
See it as a challenge. Last time, I lost my streak at 53 days. I have done it before, and I can do it again.
Yes, it may be painful. Okay, who am I kidding? If the streak mattered at all to you before, it will be painful… because who can resist adding the new streak count to the old, and think wistfully of what could have been…?
I lost my 95 day streak on Duolingo back in July 2015. At the time, it was the longest streak I ever had since I started using Duolingo on-and-off in 2013. Before that, none of my streaks went on for more than a month, and usually lasted less than a week.
It was painful, to say the least.
I told myself to continue, because I realised what mattered more was what I was learning. (If you ask me now, I would say that Duolingo is fine as a supplement for learning, but should not be the thing you spend most – or worse, all – of your language-learning time on.)
My current streak has since surpassed that (it has recently passed 700). These days, I rarely think of what could have been. In fact, to my own surprise, writing this didn’t hurt at all.
Have you ever lost a streak on Duolingo or another app? How did you feel about that, and what did you do?