My Duo: the Duolingo Owl Horror Story

The reminders didn’t seem to be working, so he took matters into his own hands

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Emma Jean, Staff Writer

It was just after 10 o’clock. I’d finally submitted my essay on Canvas, and my burning eyes demanded I close my laptop for the night. Instead, of course, I unlocked my phone. Amongst emails, notifications, and texts, there my relentless frenemy was: Duo, the green Duolingo owl. 

Usually, the notification reminds me to take daily French lessons. Every day, I swiped them away. Pas maintenant, monsieur. My grade 10-level French wasn’t getting any better. I didn’t need an owl to remind me of this. 

Tonight, the notification was different. 

“These reminders don’t seem to be working. We’ll stop sending them for now.” Thank God. I stared outside at the darkness then rubbed my eyes. When I opened them, I yelped at what I saw staring at me through the window.

Massive and enshrouded in darkness, except for a pair of bright, crazed eyes, was the slime-green language king himself. 

Salut, mon élève,” he shouted. “Or do you not know what that means, you stupid bitch?” Smashing the window pane with his talons, he stepped into my room. 

I needed to atone, and fast. “Duo, I’m so sorry—” 

“ENOUGH!” he yelled. “I try every day to teach you this precious second language. You’re the one who wants a governmental job, not me.” He shook his head, pulling from under his wing a bottle of Orangina, the French soda. He untwisted the cap and downed it in one go. “Non, I just came here to teach you a lesson and drink Orangina.” With a swing, Duo smashed the bottle on the countertop, creating a glass dagger. 

“And I’m all out of Orangina.” 

Duo lunged forward and I scurried back, looking around for an exit. 

“There must be something I can do,” I begged. He screeched and waved the glass shard in my face, feathers flying across the room with every swipe. 

“Well, you could’ve parlez-vous’ed en Français, but here we are.” 

I ran towards the door, but Duo stepped in front. 

“I know French, though,” I insisted. “I took it in school!” At this, Duo stopped and narrowed his eyes. 

“Prove it.” Merde. I couldn’t possibly. 

En Français, tell me I deserve better students and you’re a disappointment to the French language,” He said, pushing the side of the makeshift blade against my collarbone. 

I swallowed, trying to remember what my old nemesis Madame Windsor had drilled into my mind. 

“DO IT!” Duo screamed. 

“Okay, okay! Hang on.” I took a deep breath. “Tu—” 

“‘TU’? What am I, a school chum? Give me a ‘vous’.” 

“Okay, fine! Vous—” Shit. I had no idea how to conjugate. “Vous sommes? WAIT NO—” I ducked as Duo whipped the bottle at my head. “Vous être! Vous être!” 

The owl stepped back and put a wing to his forehead, shuddering. “Mon Dieu, you really don’t care about French, do you?” With glass shards everywhere and sweat dripping from his clumped feathers, he seemed shaken. 

“I do! That’s why I take your lessons!” He looked up. 

“Really?” 

“Yes,” I straightened my shoulders. “That’s why I won’t skip a single day from now on.” 

Locking eyes, he stared. “Promise?” 

“Promise.” 

He looked at his watch. “Well, that only took 10 minutes. Pretty good!” He waltzed towards the window. “Only 238 more to terrorize tonight. They aren’t going to motivate themselves!” Dumbfounded, I tried to object but couldn’t. “Adios! Wait, damn it . . . Salut!” Just like that, his green wings carried him into the night. 

When you hear my impeccable French, know it isn’t out of dedication or love. It’s out of stone-cold fear. And it could happen to you, too.