Written by:
Jan 1, 2020

A Language Challenge Like No Other: #90DayswithDrops

A language challenge is a great way of diving headfirst into learning a new language, just ask Nelson Dellis (remember the name, you’ll hear it a few more times). Exactly one year ago he started his journey towards becoming conversationally fluent in Dutch. 

One year ago, Nelson didn’t know any more than a few simple words in Dutch. Today, he’s able to communicate with his mother and her family in their native language.

Nelson learns Dutch to connect with his Dutch-speaking family
Nelson Dellis speaking Dutch with his mother

It all started with our annual language challenge.


This month sees the return of our #90DayswithDrops language challenge where we encourage participants to use the Drops app for—wait for it—90 days.

There are 36 languages available in Drops, so pick one (or two) and join in. Use the opportunity to increase your vocabulary in another language in no time at all. 

You won’t be alone. 

People from all around the world have previously taken part in our yearly language challenge.

People quite literally all over the world have taken part in our annual language challenge
People quite literally all over the world have taken part in our annual language challenge

All you have to do is participate on Instagram and share your progress with us (full instructions at the end of this article). You will be in with a chance of winning a year of Drops Premium if you do!

Not so double Dutch 

Nelson Dellis (remember the name?) is no stranger to learning things. He’s a four-time USA Memory Champion. We’re talking about a man who memorized an entire deck of cards in a record-breaking 60 seconds, is a grandmaster of memory, who memorized a string of 339 digits in five minutes and 235 names in 15 minutes. All record-breaking feats. 

When Nelson agreed to take part in last year’s #90DayswithDrops challenge as a way of kick-starting his journey learning Dutch, he set himself an ambitious target. He aimed to learn all 2000 Dutch words available on Drops in just 90 days. 

Nelson’s decision to learn Dutch wasn’t a random one. 

His mother and her side of the family are from the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium called Flanders. Flemish is a dialect of Dutch and you could say is something like British English vs American English. Nelson never learned to speak his mother’s native language as he was born in the UK and raised in the USA, so choosing Dutch was the logical choice.

Dutch vs Flemish
Flanders highlighted in dark green  Credit: Wikipedia

Over the last year, Nelson’s journey has taken him from an absolute beginner to conversational fluency. He achieved this using a combination of Drops and one-on-one online tutoring. 

His ability to learn all 2000 Dutch words available on Drops throughout the three-month language challenge gave us the perfect opportunity to put our philosophy to the test. We strongly believe that building vocabulary first, then sentence construction and ultimately conversion, is the fastest way to learn a new language. 

And Nelson agrees. 

After using Drops for the first three months during the #90DayswithDrops challenge, he spent the rest of the year taking one-on-one conversation classes online. We asked about his thoughts on using Drops to improve his vocabulary before taking additional classes. He agreed that it helped his progression and accelerated the process of achieving conversational fluency.

Using Drops to learn Dutch
Nelson using Drops at Everest base camp

“It helped familiarize me with the language, so I wasn’t jumping in at the deep end with one-on-one classes. When I eventually started the classes, it was like oh, I know that word already, and that one too, which helped me figure out how to put sentences together much faster.” He said. 

A Christmas reunion

The culmination of Nelson’s year-long effort was a trip to Belgium with his mother to see their Flemish family this Christmas. He told us that being able to communicate with his family in their native language is something very special to him.

It’s something he has never been able to do before, and it all started with taking part in our #90DayswithDrops language challenge. 

Nelson said “The trip was great. I had an amazing time. It felt great to sit there with my family and understand them after years of not understanding a single thing. That was a special experience for sure”. 

Nelson with his Dutch-speaking family
Nelson with his Dutch-speaking family

Why vocabulary is important

Our approach to language learning here at Drops is simple, focus first on building up vocabulary and then move on to sentence construction, grammar, conversation, etc.

There is much research that indicates this approach is effective. The most notable example of this is from the linguist and researcher Paul Nation. He has devised a teaching method that focuses first and foremost on learning frequently used words.

Fundamental to this idea is learning new words in different ways such as by reading, writing, listening and speaking. Paul also advocates the use of learning tools, for example, word cards to help students visualize new words and commit them to memory. 

We build upon this with Drops. 

The app presents words in multiple different ways, using both visual and audible cues to make them easier to remember.

It’s a proven approach and one that has undoubtedly helped Nelson. 

Learn a new language with Drops

Nelson’s advice on memorizing words

We couldn’t let a four-time memory champ go without asking him how he does it. Well, Nelson uses a technique that involves mnemonics. A mnemonic is anything that aids memorization such as a rhyme, abbreviation or, in Nelson’s case, associating information with something already familiar. 

For Nelson, it goes something like this. 

When he’s learning a new word, he thinks of two images. The first image is something related to what the word sounds like, and the second is relevant to what it means.

For example, the Dutch word for ‘spider’ is ‘spin’. Nelson’s mnemonic for this is thinking of a spider spinning a web. Spinning sounds like spin, and the spider’s web represents the spider. 

Spider = spin (spinning a spider’s web).

However, you don’t have to be a memory champ to take part in this language challenge

Don’t think that you have to be a memory master to take part in this year’s #90DayswithDrops challenge. 

Anyone can do it.

You don’t even have to learn every word in the 90 days. Do as much as you can. The whole point is to challenge yourself to open the app and learn something new every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn by the time the challenge is over. 

We’re all in it together. 

Use the hashtag #90DayswithDrops on Instagram and interact with other participants, encourage each other and use it as a source of motivation to keep going. We’ll be monitoring everyone’s progress and highlighting some participants on our account!

You don’t even have to stick to one language! Just ask Claire. Claire also took part in our 2019 language challenge. She decided to take on Russian, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesian.

Learn a language with Drops
Drops collection feature

Practice makes perfect 

As a testament that you do not need to be a memory champ to get the most out of this challenge, Charlotte took on six languages at once and in total learned 9618 new words! She puts her success down to hard work and planning. 

She even managed to finish 100% of Hindi, an awe-inspiring accomplishment in just 90 days.

Learning a language with Drops
Charlotte’s Hindi winning streak (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/BwCzLITjN1m/)

Her tip for anyone taking part this year is to set yourself an attainable target. Think about the time you’ll be able to dedicate to the challenge every day and let that determine the goals you set. There’s no point in setting yourself a target if you don’t have the time to meet it, you’ll only end up disappointing yourself. So be realistic and set achievable goals. 

Also, don’t break the streak as it encourages you to keep going. It will help you feel a sense of satisfaction seeing your accomplishment on the app.

Final words on this year’s language challenge

A little bit of work every day can yield surprising results. You can fast-track learning a new language by taking part in our #90DayswithDrops language challenge starting right now!

If you haven’t set yourself a New Year’s resolution yet, then now’s your chance.  

Remember, all you have to do is pick a language on Drops (or more than one if you’re feeling confident) and spend some time each day learning new words. Don’t forget to let us know you’re taking part by using the hashtag #90DayswithDrops. You can also share screenshots of your progress with us.

Learn a new language with Drops

How to be in with a chance of winning a year of Drops Premium

To enter the giveaway and be in with a chance of winning a year of Drops Premium all you have to do is:

  1. Like this post on Instagram 
  2. Tag a friend in the comments 
  3. Make sure you’re following the Language Drops account
  4. Repost one of the two photos below using the hashtag #90DayswithDrops and let us know which language or languages you’re going to learn (make sure you have a public profile)
90 Days with Drops
90 Days with Drops

The giveaway will end at 11:59 PST on January 1st, and the winner will be announced via our Instagram page shortly after. 

Good luck and Happy New Year from everyone here at Drops!


About the Author: Charlie Gardiner is originally from the UK but grew up in Spain. In recent years he has spent his time travelling and living in several different countries, trying to expose himself to as many new languages as possible. He has been bilingual since an early age and, thanks to that, language has always been a passion of his. His other passion in life is creating well-researched and engaging online content aimed at helping and inspiring people.

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