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Duolingo Suddenly Has Over Twice as Much Language Learning Material (fastcompany.com)
362 points by ingve 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 266 comments



I did Duolingo seriously for more than 370 days in a row.

Spanish: I speak french and English so Spanish is relatively easy to complete. After completing the course, I tried having conversations with people (with friends but mostly uber drivers) and I was surprised how many times i learned it all wrong. I had to read a lot or children book to remedy that.

French: As a french speaker, I went through it as a meta course just to see. It was very awkward. The correct answers are always cringe worthy. Some of them even wrong.

Japanese: This is very different from the languages I speak. But after completing the entire suite, I still can't look at a japanese text and read it. I can't form a sentence on my own because it never teaches you how. I can't count to ten because it only gives you numbers randomly. I know a few colors. I know words, but those words make no sense on their own. I also had to follow youtube lessons to make any sense of what I learned.

Duolingo is cool at making it look fun to learn. I don't think you'll learn to speak any languages with it.


Agreed. I speak Portuguese fluently as a second language, and wanted to see what the Duolingo material was like. First warning sign: I couldn't pass the test to study intermediate content, because a significant proportion of the multiple-choice answers were just wrong. Then, looking at the beginner content, a shocking number of answers were wrong as well. It was kind of funny, since each piece of material had user comments associated, you'd see 70+ comments from people all complaining about wrong answers.

That immediately destroyed any trust with them. When you put out educational material, it has to be correct. That has to be the foundation.


I'm a Turkish native speaker and I couldn't pass their intermediate Turkish material as well.

EDIT: Also it felt like the whole game was written from an "Indo-European" perspective. For example, in Turkish there is a word "bir" (read [biɾ]) which literally means "one" which is sometimes used akin to indefinite articles (a/an). But they're not exactly indefinite articles, and sentence usually makes sense without them and when you speak fast you omit them. But in Duolingo they taught as if you should translate "the X" without "bir" and "a/an X" with "bir". That's not even remotely close to the truth (and made me get all "article" questions wrong). In Turkish definiteness is mostly denoted with accusative case. There is no single language construct similar to "article", you infer it from other kinds of information. For example "dolaba bira koy" : "put A beer in the fridge" vs "dolaba biraYI koy" : "put THE beer in the fridge". You add +I accusative suffix to "bira" (beer). This was not even mentioned in Duolingo. It also makes sense that they don't mention this sicne this is probably super advanced nuanced speaking, but then be consistent and don't teach that "bir" distinction to beginners as well.


It's not even just "indo-european" bias, it's just that word-for-word translation of sentences without any context only gets you so far. Even for something as "simple" as English-to-French it breaks down when the languages don't map 1:1 with each other.

For instance there's no single way to translate "I ran" in French, it could be "j'ai courru" or "je courrais" depending on context and depending no the lesson Duolingo will favor one or the other, leading English speakers to write puzzled comments like "I thought the imperfect was 'I used to run' or 'I was running', why is it 'I ran' here?" And the answer is "it's more complicated than that, but Duolingo won't teach you that".


Which is fine. It is about being understood. You are never going to get fluent from a course. Language changes, and even native speakers are learning new things.


That's besides the point. My point is "definiteness" is not a concrete concept in Turkish and if you're academically analyzing a sentence you'd have to use other types of information (accusative case, the word 'bir', context, etc...) to judge if a noun is definite or indefinite (or maybe something in the middle?). But Duolingo teaches as if this distinction is as strict in Turkish as it is in English. In English "a bear" and "the bear" are different things even without context whereas in Turkish "ayi" [bear] and "bir ayi" [one bear] mean more or less the same thing outside of a sentence and I'd just use "bear", but in some contexts they'll mean different things. "Ayi cikabilir" roughly means "caution, bear in area" and as you see you don't use "bir" but it is still indefinite. Duolingo would reject this answer. "Bir ayi cikabilir" would be Duolingo's answer, but it sounds awkward, no one would say that.

And there are no hard rules. In that sentence you can't just put +I to make it definite as I described above "ayiyi cikabilir" << this sentence doesn't mean anything. I think this is something your brain has to pick up implicitly while you're speaking/listening, I'm not sure if someone can discretely provide you a set of rules that always works. Just like in German you cannot translate "the" > "der". This is like Duolingo saying 'the'='der' and rejecting 'das' and 'die'.

So, it is not fine, it is wrong. And the wrong thing is not that Duolingo has a bug, it is that it has made-up grammar rules, which users still have to learn. If they never learned this rule, they'd be as well understood.

(I know you were replying to commenter discussing French, but I'm guessing something similar is going on)


Sure but my point was that Duolingo basing all of its courses on translating from one language to the other seriously limits its ability to actually teach you a language. My native language isn't English but as I'm writing these words I'm not translating, I think in English directly. If I switch to "translating" mode I'm a lot slower and I end up with unidiomatic English.

Any decent language learning course should try to immerse you in the target language as soon as possible, forcing you to actually think in the language instead of your own. There are many ways to do this, for instance making you answer questions. Instead of telling you "translate 'the cat is black' in French" they'd show you a picture of a black cat and ask you "Quelle est la couleur du chat?" and you'd have to answer "Le chat est noir". No English involved, like in real life. The problem of course is that such an approach is hard to correct by a dumb algorithm, especially as the concepts being taught become harder.


I disagree. The nuances that change are on a different level. I have learned a number of languages from books and this is taught pretty easily. If you can't conjugate a verb, you don't know much about that language.


>You add +I accusative suffix to [imply definiteness]

Very interesting! In Russian, the accusative suffix would play exactly the opposite role. While there's no real way to say the beer without additional context, you can say:

поставь пиво в холодильник / put the beer in the fridge

поставь пива в холодильник / put SOME beer into the fridge


пива (as partitive gen.) here sounds really weird to me, like you're pouring it out of a can into something else, and putting that in the fridge. If it's a can you can emphasise it with a number e.g. я поставил одну банку пива в холодильник :)

not a native speaker, just living and studying russian in moscow


It was noted below that this is properly called the partitive case; the Wikipedia articles have good examples in the vein of "А не испить ли нам чаю":[1][2]

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partitive_case#Russian

[2]https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9F%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B8...


The partitive here is to express that the speaker is not specifying in what form or shape the beer in the fridge should appear. For a native speaker it sounds like you are talking about some quantity of beer but omitted the quantity so it's literally just some unspecified quantity of beer.


So you would say that though? Like I've just never heard my хозяйка квартиры say that is all. I hear it often in things like "would you like some tea/beer?" etc or "i'm going to buy some tea/beer" but never like that. My impression was that outside of those contexts it's not popular. Mind sharing some examples? Would be really useful! :)


You probably would never hear somebody saying "Поставь пива в холодильник." since, while a correct sentence, it would need some rare circumstances to be said. Поставь here is much more concrete than "put", it's more like "place" and I could imagine saying this only if I had been managing the fridge at some party and noticed it's running out of beer so I requested somebody to add more beer there. Much more common would be "Принеси/достань/возьми пива из холодильника" (get some beer from the fridge).


>You probably would never hear somebody saying "Поставь пива в холодильник." since, while a correct sentence, it would need some rare circumstances to be said. [...] I could imagine saying this only if I had been managing the fridge at some party and noticed it's running out of beer

Yup, pretty much that. Or like that one time when we went binge-shopping on craft beers, but there was only enough space in the fridge for a couple of bottles; so that was a normal request about an hour before we were to watch a movie. Which is pretty much the exact situation you described :)


I think "пива" is the partitive case, though.


That's exactly it! [1]

I'm a native speaker, and I wasn't even aware of partitive case. They never taught us about it, even though a mind-numbing amount of time was spent cramming the name of the usual six cases into our heads.

I only got more interested in linguistics after moving to the US, and, sadly, only took one class in college on it.

Thanks for noticing this, I just learned something!

As a side note, I also mixed up genitive and accusative cases.

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partitive_case#Russian


I think the definitive and most authoritative review of the Russian grammatical cases was done by Zaliznyak: http://inslav.ru/images/stories/pdf/2002_Zalizniak_RIS_i_sta..., in Russian, pages 36-55. Fascinating reading.


Funnily enough, the most ancient Indo-European languages have an incredibly complicated case system.


Having only learned Indo-European languages before, when to use "bir" was hard to get right in Turkish for me. But our teacher insisted.

That's not to excuse Duolingo obviously.


Articles are more of a regional feature, that is restricted to just a subset of indoeuropean languages. Articles work quite differently in Romance languages than in Germanic languages and even there are outliers like Icelandic which does not use indefinite articles.

In my opinion you could go even further an say that they have an English bias.


I really don't understand that-- compared to the cost of developing and marketing the app itself, surely the cost to hire someone whose only qualification is that they be bilingual is trivial, and you would only need them for long enough for them to run through all the questions to double check they are correct.


That‘s probably what they thought, too. If you just pick a random bilingual person and let them proofread your learning material you are going to end up with crappy learning materials.

If you want good content, you need good editors, and they are neither cheap, nor easy to find.

The reason why companies try to save money with editors is that they don‘t „scale“ (one dev and a designer can program an interface that can be used for 20.000 different questions, but you need a lot of people to come up with those questions)


I'm not sure they've even gone that far. There are _plenty_ of long-standing complaints (on the Japanese course) that there are errors in the _English_ sentences, such as that they are grammatically wrong, or that you've translated something one way but later don't accept that as a correct answer. Just checking the comments, or proofreading the English sentences, would have caught most of them.


It's not hard to hire someone to notice that the comments are reporting errors.


Not only good editors, but good editors who are also bilingual.


Reading this thread, I'm lead to wonder if there's any open source, Wikipedia style (public editing) apps / sites / courses being developed? This would certainly combat the scaling issue, as Duolingo's comments seem to imply.


Why do you need 20,000 questions, though, when a typical user isn't going to need that many?


Engineer's disease... "why hire an expert when we're already Engineers!"


I'm Brazilian, and I was curious. So I just did the placement test (in English), completed all the questions correctly and was placed at level 11, with a few gray bubbles at the end of the tree.

I got all the questions correctly, but:

- Given capitalization I was forced to use word order that didn't come naturally. Mind you, what the app requested isn't _wrong_ but it's certainly not the only way to do it. If they were enforcing a rigid wrong order they were incorrectly marking as failures usage that I would argue is more natural, at least given my particular background (Southern). I went with it, but I was adjusting to the app.

- They repeated the sentences and some vocabulary a lot, so if you had any gaps or couldn't remember one particular word you might get three questions wrong, which would have a large impact on your placement.

- There's something inherently weird about the vocabulary, Duolingo-style. This doesn't go well with the previous point.

Overall it felt rigid and random. In any case Duolingo does not correlate at all with fluency. Duolingo correlates well with being trained in Duolingo.


I heard Portuguese from South America and from Portugal are different - maybe that could be a reason?


> I heard Portuguese from South America and from Portugal are different - maybe that could be a reason?

I came here to say the same thing. Spanish from one country is "wrong" in another one. A lot of people doesn´t understand that it´s just not your flavor of the language. It´s almost the same that If I, that speak Spanish, commented how wrong is Portuguese because is similar to Spanish but not the same.

Maybe the mistake is to announce the course as Portuguese instead of, for example, "Brazilian Portuguese".


Did you check if other language learning apps were wrong as well?


Why would this matter, at all?


It would matter to those of us trying to learn a language, because if another app was better, we could use it instead of duolingo.

At the moment I'm supplementing duolingo by nattering away to my father in French and asking the half-French guy at work how to say various things, but if the app is teaching me things that are plain wrong, I'll have to either find another app or start taking real life classes, which is why it would be useful to know what else is broken.


I've been trying a few of these lately. I passed French DELF A2 late last year and going for B1 in a week.

My chronological progression of picking up French via apps/courses (lots of trial-and-error):

1. Duolingo

2. Michel Thomas audio course - this has its critics but it gave me a much more solid, if limited, foundation on grammar.

3. Lingvist - I was lucky to find this early. Added around 2000 words to my vocabulary (yes they claimed ~5000 - that was inaccurate; conjugations and plurals are counted separately). Today you need to pay $23 / month to get the same number of words.

4. Clozemaster - it offers a lot more words, so I got a paid subscription. Got disappointed really fast though because its automated method to offer mass sentences really shows its flaws quickly: there are many errors and nonsensical cloze placement. I got tired of flagging.

5. Assimil - seems good, but without any gamification or anything I can play on my phone while waiting, commuting, etc., this soon dropped off the radar.

6. Speechling - this one should not have the problem of Clozemaster or Duolingo, because they have a human teacher correcting your speech. I imagine their sentences are more carefully curated as well. I started the trial, but dropped after a while because I found I just couldn't allocate the time to sit in a quiet place and record myself for an extended amount of time. Yes, it's a genuine "it's not you, it's me" thing. I really like their recent features and will probably try this again during a less hectic life period. Hongyu (the CEO) is super responsive too, which is great.

7. Glossika - this is what I'm currently on. It's not perfect; their main thing is you hear someone saying X in English and a moment later the equivalent in French. They offer mass repetitions as well, with the same class of problems: occasional inaccurate translations. The reason I picked this one instead of Speechling is not quality: it allows me to listen to mass sentences while doing mindless boring stuff that I have to do anyway (e.g.: doing the dishes, walking to/from the subway station, etc.). This allows me to get French exposure every day, even if not perfect, which ends up meaning more exposure than what Speechling can give me.

8. I'm a subscriber of one more app, I can't believe I forgot to add this one the first time: Kwiziq. They have a very specific target: teach you grammar from A0 (i.e.: the level below A1) to C1. My main problem is that they don't have an "aging" feature. Something I learned fully in A1 9 months ago will be forever marked as "mastered", despite my having forgotten it completely. Nevertheless I continue to be a happy subscriber. It's fun to finish a quick grammar quiz here and there as you're waiting for food, queueing for stuff, etc.


Hey!

CEO of Speechling here. We'll work on (7). It's trivial to implement. We want the functionality of (7) to be better and free.

Hongyu


I did the Michel Thomas Spanish course and I found it to be excellent. It can be a lot harder to stay engaged than a gamified app, but you come away knowing a lot more than you would expect.


Yes, plus I can put it on while doing the chores, which is ideal, same as Glossika as my previous post. It's naturally there embedded into my daily workflow.

Everything else e.g.: Assimil is a workflow interruption, a new habit I have to assimilate, so it becomes a lot harder to do consistently over a long period of time.


Thank you for mentioning speechling. I'm going to give it a try.


Besides what the sibling comment said, if all apps are generally not great, it speaks to a basic limitation of app-driven study of languages, at least, that indicates one needs to supplement. My plan was to use duolingo to get to the point that I could start reading French newspapers and watching French TV, which I assumed would add a dimension to my learning experience that I couldn't get from DuoLingo.

After this thread, I plan to move that step up as a check on DuoLingo.


Reality check: after finishing the Duolingo French tree I tried to read Tintin. It was quite a wake up call, to say the least.

Since then by my estimate I know roughly about 4000 more French words, and reading lemonde.fr is still a struggle. Doing much better with Tintin though.


Tintin is a fantastic way to learn french. Just wanted to stop by to say I found it super helpful as well :) I remember the first book I finished in french was tintin in russia


I've been on duolingo since the beginning and am sure that I've spent more time with the site and app than 95% of the userbase.

I've learned languages with duolingo.. and by that I don't mean duolingo will teach you a language.

There's two things that I feel that almost everyone misses.

#1: Using duolingo alone will get you to about an A2-B1 level in comprehension and an A1-A2 level in writing and speaking.

This is just the basics of a language.. enough to understand basic expressions. You're never going to learn a language without further practice and tools. Spending time in books, trying to form your own thoughts. Duolingo is a great start, but if you never progress beyond it, of course you're not going to learn a language.

#2: and most important. When you complete a course you're not done.

I see this all of the time, people just get to the last exercise and stop.

You're not going to learn a language this way because most people can't retain a 2000+ word vocabulary by only seeing a word a couple of times.

There's a reason why your "strength" in categories decreases as time passes.. because it's unlikely that you've actually remembered every single word you were taught.

I've participated in a large number of duolingo related discussion over the years and one thing stands out is that there is a strong correlation between people that think you can't use it to learn a language and people that go straight through the course, reach the end, and stop.

Anyway, it has its flaws, and is far from perfect, but I can't imagine having a better product that does not come with a fee.


No way will Duo Lingo get you anywhere close to A2 for writing or speaking. MAYBE A1 if you try hard at it for a long long time in a language it well supports.

To get to A2 you need a real tutor and real communication experience. I used Verbling to find a tutor and I traveled to Eastern Europe over the summer to practice and only after hundreds of hours of practice was I able to communicate in Russian to any degree even approaching A1.


>To get to A2 you need a real tutor

No you don't. I'm French, I dropped out of school at 16 and picked up English later in life without using any formal method of learning. I started by memorizing enough vocabulary to read simpler English, after which I began reading popular fiction and watched movies with subtitles (in English) until it clicked. My understanding of the language is more based on intuition (sheer memorization of exposure to it through cultural mediums) than on memorizing the grammar rules book. The brain makes the connections as to what seems correct or not based on patterns. I don't think my skills are good enough to write literature but surely communication isn't a problem.

Duolingo didn't exist at the time, but I believe it would have helped me learn faster considering the way it introduces languages is quite similar to how I started learning and it does so in a more interactive, fun manner.


English is different. It’s everywhere.


A2 is nothing and you definitely don't need a tutor to get there.


If you're actually operating in an environment where it is spoken naturally for a prolonged period of time, I agree with you. Or if you're doing one of those intensive 8 week things with The State Department. But for regular programmers from America learning a foreign language that isn't Spanish it is really hard to get to A2 and impossible without a tutor. I've known plenty of people that think they're at A2 and can't even give basic driving directions when asked on the street. Taking an online test isn't the same thing as actually communicating about arbitrary topics.


A2 is defined as:

* Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).

* Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.

* Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

No way you need a tutor to get that. Duolingo course seems about right depending on language and language learning experience.


Perhaps take a look at 'Modern Russian' materials (Clayton). Great drill course from the 1960s with books and cassettes.

I have more recommendations if you want them.


I'm interested in those recommendations.


Isn't Russian one of the hardest languages to learn if you don't already know a slavic language?


It's only hard for a European language and that's only really because of the complex grammar because it isn't an analytical language. Both Chinese, Japanese, even Arabic are all harder. I'd say compared to French it takes me about 4x the length of time to make the same progress.


This largely depends on the language.

More complex languages, yes, but for languages like swedish/norwegian/danish where there is very little grammar, I find it's much easier to progress within the limits of their program.


It also depends on the languages you already speak.

Swedish/Norwegian/Danish do not really have "little grammar", but for an English speaker, there probably won't be any need to explicitly learn the grammar, since it works mostly like English. But on the flipside, they are just as difficult as English for speakers of unrelated languages.


>for an English speaker, there probably won't be any need to explicitly learn the grammar, since it works mostly like English //

For a period in the UK there was no English grammar taught in schools. This caused me great problems in Russian class (second high school language) as I had no idea there were cases in English and so had no reference for why a case was needed and what it did. The entirety of my English grammar training was learning a poem by rote for homework, which I didn't do ("A nouns the name of anything [...]"). I learnt the little grammar I know from French lessons. So, YMMV depending on the English speaker.


Having left school 3 years ago, I can confirm there is still no grammar taught in english lessons. It was all taught to the AQA exam we did. I studied french and german too, and all my grammar knowledge comes from there and from languages at uni. There's obviously basic things in primary school but that's like where to put commas, that's it.


Historically we were taught Latin grammer disguised as English grammer - so 'tenses' when English only has two tenses (past and present) and 6 or more moods (shall, could, will, might etc, etc)

Most English 'grammer' discussed in the Anglophone world (split infinitives WTF? English doesn't have infinitives) is gibberish...


Well, now they teach made up nonsense about "fronted adverbials" ("Stupidly, they do it too early.") in primary school, they spend quite a bit of time on sentence structure and labelling the parts of speech. It's too much IMO and comes easy too early.


It's because English grammar is either obvious and doesn't need teaching or is inexplicable and isn't worth trying to make a pattern out of.

I ran, she ran, he ran, they ran, we ran, y'all ran.

I run, she runs, he runs, they run, we run, y'all run.

I'll run, she'll run, he'll run, they'll run, we'll run, y'all'll run.

I thought I'd run, he thought he'd run, they thought they'd run.

We'll have wished we ran, they'll have wished they ran, he'll have wished he ran.

What exactly do you want to teach here? The only weirdness to the rule is that he and she runs with an "s", everything else is the same.

I love you. You love me. They love him. He loves them.

I want you. You want me. They want him. He wants them.

In Russian the above is far different because the word order can be switched for emphasis.

The only thing in English worth teaching is "I have" vs "I am" and almost every language has that same problem as well (Je suis vs J'ai in French).

The hard part with English is that our spelling makes zero sense, unlike Russian or French. The grammar is really quite straightforward.


So verb forms are not the only part of grammar. In these examples you've covered sequences of tenses, mood, word order, and it could be argued aspect. Ask someone to point out the parts of speech and they'd be able to point out the pronoun and verb, that's usually it.


A 10 word sentence has 10! possible word orders of which only 1 is correct - that is grammer


You seem to think that "verb morphology" is all there is to "grammar".


He runs to the store. I suggest that he run to the store.

Even verb morphology is a bit more complex than you've called out here.


Also everything in English has dozens and dozens of exceptions that you just need to memorize.


A good way to teach that for native users might be to teach why that is the case and leave the specifics to happenstance.


This isn't unique to English.


> When you complete a course you're not done

This definitely rings true. I was using it in the hopes it would help me provide some structure to teaching my kid portuguese (and it does to some extent), but by the time the app says a lesson is "complete", my kid is still a long ways away from having memorized it (and he's 5). I tend to complement it with a boogie board and repetition over the course of several days to really nail down new vocab.

I also wish it had some feature to introduce foreign concepts (e.g. gendered articles in portuguese). It's very awkward to try to explain the difference between `the`, english `a`, and portuguese `a` (and the remaining counterparts `o`, `um`, `uma`) for example, and the word matching exercises can get quite confusing.


You can't just keep taking new lessons. You have to do "strengthen skills" or go back to practice older lessons on a regular basis. In fact, the new scoring system they just released with levels (crowns) for each lesson is supposed to emphasize this; to really complete something, you have to go back and practice it many times.

When I do duolingo, I usually try to do about a two to one ratio of strengthening skills or going back to older lessons with taking new lessons.


Compared to working from a book it is ace - you get listening, speaking, reading and writing and it gets you where you want to be

I did the first three levels of Ukranian and when I went to Lvyv I picked out a couple of hundred words in shops and restau

Could I speak? No, but Duolingo gets you onto the pitch faster and better than anyone else - it gets you in play fast - so you can start learning the language properly


I had a similar experience and almost straight away I felt like I wouldn't learn much besides random vocabulary. Learning 'la tortuga es verde' and 'el hombre y el niño' and similar isn't particularly useful in the grand scheme of things and it's not going to help you get to 'la cuenta por favor', 'donde esta el baño', and so on. In fact you might run into certain situations where your vocab tells you one thing but the response is something else entirely. e.g. You might believe that 'estoy caliente' means that you're feeling really hot, because you learned that 'estoy' means 'I am' and 'caliente' means hot, but you would be confused when the room bursts into laughter and won't tell you what's so funny about it.

I spent a while using Busuu instead, which presents something more like a curriculum and lets you formulate your own answers to questions which are then reviewed by native speakers (in return for you reviewing the submissions of others). I found that incredibly effective because I wasn't stuck with putting strange sentences in the right order, I could get creative about how I described a red flag or a holiday I went on. More often than not I'd plug words and sentences into Google Translate, check dictionaries when I wasn't confident about a certain suggestion, and generally refactor the sentences until my gut said I had something that flowed reasonably well. Very intense and deliberate but it didn't take long to start posting to Facebook in Spanish. The only problem was that my writing was miles ahead of my speaking.


> You might believe that 'estoy caliente' means that you're feeling really hot, because you learned that 'estoy' means 'I am' and 'caliente' means hot, but you would be confused when the room bursts into laughter and won't tell you what's so funny about it.

That's pretty funny - I was taught in my german class that "ich bin warm" directly translates to I'm feeling hot, but colloquially it means "I am gay". And here, the same phrase in spanish just means horny.

Transliteration is definitely littered with booby traps.


When I studied French in school, on my first trip to Québec some of us were eating dinner and someone came by to ask if we wanted anything else.

One of the girls in the group responded "Non merci, je suis pleine" -- word-for-word "No thanks, I'm full". And got a laugh, because the connotation was not "I'm no longer hungry", but "I'm pregnant".


I'm french, and I've never heard of that connotation for pleine. OTOH, if you tell me "je suis plein/pleine", I'll take it that you're drunk.


I was unaware of it until it happened. Was told it's a Québecois thing.

They also taught me the helicopter joke.


Québécois here, never heard it either. Maybe it's a regional thing or it was a different word.


Also possible they were messing with the American teenagers, since we were already being overwhelmed with differences between dialects of French.


Not in Utica, no, it's an Albany expression.


>More often than not I'd plug words and sentences into Google Translate, check dictionaries when I wasn't confident about a certain suggestion,

Ha, I do that too sometimes (GT), and when it doesn't work, I do this:

https://translate.google.com/#en/en/Blame%20Google%20Transla... and share it with the person I am talking or writing to.

Just first change the language of the right side text box inf GT to the target language you want, or in the URL above, change the second language code from en (English) to de or es (German or Spanish), for example.

Also, it's interesting that if you toggle the translation from lang A -> lang B to lang B -> lang A, the result is sometimes not the same as the original you first typed in lang A.

e.g. try the above phrase I used (Blame Google Translate) with DE (German) as the target lang.

All that said, GT is still a useful and fun tool. I play around with the audio outputs of the languages sometimes.


It’s super useful when you’re not treating it as a tool that does all the translating work and you copy/paste the result, but one that lets you explore how words fit together. I think you have to be comfortable enough with the grammar to get a feel for what seems to flow, though.


> The only problem was that my writing was miles ahead of my speaking

That surprises me because Spanish is one of the few languages that what you read is pretty much what you have to say. Each letter has its unique sound and in very few cases the combination of them forces you to make an unexpected sound (for example "que" that would be expected to sound k-u-e but actually sounds like k-e). The entonation is another story but despite of it, your pronunciation should be clear enough to understand you.


It’s mostly a case of confidence I think. When you write you have all the time you need to get the message right and tweak it to perfection, when it comes to speaking you don’t and you need to work on your sound in order to be understood. You can’t speak and instantly know how to write and it’s the same in reverse.

Speak too slow or sound unsure and plenty of people will default to English to give you a hand instead of waiting for you to figure it out. It has nothing to do with the phonetic simplicity, although it does help when you compare it to English, for example, which might as well be lawless because there’s practically no connection between the spoken and written form.


>That surprises me because Spanish is one of the few languages that what you read is pretty much what you have to say.

Sanskrit is like that too, pretty much, i.e. as far as:

"what you read is pretty much what you have to say"

goes. There is only one way to pronounce any letter or compound letter or word. In fact Hindi is too, except for regional differences in pronunciation, and both are unlike English in this respect, where a non-native speaker often fumbles to pronounce some words right (even apart from accent), because the right way to say a word can be very different from how it looks when written (if you try to build up the sound of the word from its component letters, at least in many cases).

Examples of this are: cut and put, argue and vague.

IIRC George Bernard Shaw made a well-known observation that I learned as a kid in English class; he is supposed to have said something like: in English, going logically by how you say / spell parts of other words, you could spell "fish" as "ghoti", i.e. "f" as in the "gh" of "laugh", "i" as in the "o" of "women", and "sh" as in the "ti" of "nation".

>Each letter has its unique sound and in very few cases the combination of them forces you to make an unexpected sound

In Spanish, the letter combination "ll" (two ells) sounding like a "y" is another unexpected one, as in "amarillo" (yellow) for example.

https://translate.google.com/#en/es/yellow

Click on the speaker icon under "amarillo" to hear it spoken.

"j" being pronounced as "h" is another one, at least for speakers coming from English.

Interesting stuff.


> But after completing the entire suite, I still can't look at a japanese text and read it.

Well, if you're coming from a European language background, Japanese is one of the hardest languages to benchmark on. I mean, there's three writing systems (hiragana, katakana, kanji) for starters! And then unlike European languages, it's not alphabetical and kanji is not even really syllabic - which means, the background you need to get to be able to read texts is huge.

E.g., for Spanish, I can read the newspaper (not understand yet, but just reproduce, look for words I recognize, etc.) without even touching a language course. And if I get the basics, I can see grammatical structure, and given common Romance background, get about 20% of vocabulary for free just from knowing another European language (well, not true for all European ones, but for many it is).


It's true that Japanese is harder to learn. However, the Duolingo course is particularly awful. Even with some prior knowledge I was completely lost with much of the stuff they randomly throw at you without any explanation.


Also a lot of it is essentially wrong, since they expect you to transliterate parts of the sentence that would probably not be included in context, e.g. saying "watashi wa" for any sentence starting "I".


I don't blame them for that. It seems to me (a very early beginner in learning Japanese) that a lot of languages have a formal way of expressing things, and informal shortcuts which native speakers use almost always in real life. But when you're just learning, you need to learn what "wa" does and what "watashi" means, and thus having "watashi wa" may help.

It's like in martial arts you learn kata first, though if you get to apply it later you don't do the same kata, you do something else - but to do it, you have to learn to do kata first.


While there may be some specific cases where it's done, I'm halfway through the course and watashi was shown on its own, (quite early) but I don't think it was used in even one sentence so far. (Most of them starting with I)


I've made it through the full course. It will generally let you add "watashi wa" on, but rarely mandates it. Most of the time the suggested answer won't include it either.


> stuff they randomly throw at you without any explanation

That's kind of their approach. I agree that in case of Japanese they could do better. E.g. if they explained what is explained here: https://8020japanese.com/japanese-sentence-structure/ - and they have space for such texts, but they are not using it for Japanese - it would save me some frustration and trying to figure out what these weird things are doing inside the phrases. Once you get the principle, it kinda clicks in place. So with the help of some other sources, so far it's not too bad for me with Duo and Japanese I feel. Though of course I don't think it's possible to use it alone without some auxiliary materials.


I've found that Duolingo is very good for learning how to read another language (or at least read enough to get an idea of what a text is saying).

It's mediocre at teaching you how to write, bad at teaching you to listen, and useless at teaching you how to speak.

I've found that if you just grind through lessons without actually reading the supporting material, you don't learn much at all. If you actually read the supporting material you'll learn a lot more.

Duolingo is best used as a tool in a toolbox of language learning tools. It's good for reinforcement learning, but not great for actually developing an understanding.

As an analogy, you could learn algebra by looking at a lot of examples and working through worksheets of algebra problems, but you're not going to actually understand what you're doing, or learn very well.


I’m trying to learn Japanese and 99% of the apps out there focus on memorizing phrases out of context that could be applied to any topic, and market itself as a language learning system.

I’ve yet to find a single app that beat out a one-time read through of a Japanese grammar guide.

That being said memorization apps can be useful, such as for vocabulary, but I’ve yet to find an app that markets itself as that.


> That being said memorization apps can be useful, such as for vocabulary, but I’ve yet to find an app that markets itself as that.

What about Anki?


I’m using StickyStudy, which is built just for JLPT official vocab sets.


I've been using Anki as called it by a sibling. I'm not super excited about it because everything about it is just a mess. But the are great pre-made decks and it's easy to find help because so many people use it. There is also memrise which seems to be gaining in popularity. If you are using Genki the publisher provides their own mobile apps.


Skip the apps and hit the books. Apps aside from Anki are useless.

https://djtguide.neocities.org/guide.html


Well, Duolingo can't make you learn a language. You have to do that yourself. You can use Duolingo along the way..


Disagree, I went from no spanish knowledge to being able to basically text/whatsapp. Some of the phrases were retarded but I was still learning new words and a bit of grammar. 4 years later and I am fluent and still credit duolingo for giving me a boost and making it fun/gamifing the very basics.

I also disagree about Japanese, I used to it learn the kanas and I am continuing to learn with it.

I don't understand why there are people that hate on this free language tool so much.


I agree that the kana were pretty good. Everything after that was just incoherent and I'd rather sit down and read through Genki instead, memorise what I learned with a Anki deck and maybe even spend some money for a teacher in iTalki. I've also had good success listening to Michel Thomas recordings while commuting. While none of this except most versions of Anki is free, neither is my time and learning a language especially Japanese is a massive time investment to begin with. I'm happy to throw money at the problem, especially if we talk $50 for a text book or $15-$20/hour with a native teacher.


Measuring Duolingo’s quality by kana learning is not a good idea. Kana are so simple you can learn them in a week using any method ever. What Duolingo fails at is the important part of learning Japanese (aside from kanji) - grammar and sentence structuring.

You’re much better off reading an actual textbook.

I personally don’t hate on Duolingo because it’s free but it tends to waste people’s times and gives them false impressions about language learning.


Exactly my problem with Duolingo. It is great for Vocabulary, but in the end it's just knowing it by heart, and I was suprised there are no real courses explaining you the synthax of a phrase or some other advanced rules.


I don't find it great for vocab either, Anki or Memrise are massively better IMO since they only do that and they do it well. Of course it Duolingo you get the words in some context which could be better but since half the time the context makes no sense anyway why bother? I just did a Duolingo review about "household items" right now and it repeated twice the word "stairs" and thrice the word "kitchen", words I have no real trouble with. How about giving me some vocabulary I actually need to practice instead?

And at least on Anki or Memrise you can select decks that match what you want to learn, such as getting the basics to order at a restaurant or ask for directions. On Duolingo I think I've learned how to say "the bishop sends a pineapple to the queen" before I learned how to say "bathroom".


French: As a french speaker, I went through it as a meta course just to see. It was very awkward. The correct answers are always cringe worthy. Some of them even wrong.

This is interesting.

I took six years of French in high school + college, and did immersion in Québec. I had not spoken French since then, so a couple years ago when I was planning a trip to France I got Duolinguo and worked through the French course to refresh. I didn't notice anything odd about it. And in France I was able to communicate with people, though one person asked if I was Canadian -- apparently I have an accent.

Did I perhaps learn French incorrectly?


I read/write fluent French (not native, but close enough for Duolingo purposes). I just went through the course to see what I could find.

It's quite common for correct answers not to be accepted. In particular, often some technically correct literal translation is accepted but the almost certainly correct colloquial translation is not.

For example: "Tu manges ça"

Literally this means "you eat that" or "you are eating that". However, since it's hard to imagine someone saying "you are eating that" in real life (why would you ever say that?) I interpret this as a question ("are you eating that?") or as a command to a child ("Eat that!" or a bit more literally, "you shall eat that!")

However, the accepted answer was indeed "You are eating that.".

By the way, this isn't even taking into account the fact that "ça" should quite commonly be translated as "this", not "that" -- the distinction between "this" and "that" isn't the same in French as it is in English, and it's totally wrong to assume that "ça" should always be translated as "that" and "ceci" as "this". In fact, I think "are you eating this?" is orders of magnitude more likely to be the correct translation of "tu manges ça" than "you are eating that.".

I've only shared one, but there are a million examples like this on DuoLingo.

There are also some translations that are just objectively wrong: "He reads the menu" should be "il lit la carte", but on DuoLingo it's "il lit le menu". Nobody says "le menu" for "menu" in France. (They do say that in Québec, but nowhere was it indicated that I should be answering in nonstandard Québec dialect. "il lit la carte" was marked wrong here even though it's what you would say in France, the primary French-speaking country in the world.)

Similar to the "ça" == "this" fallacy, DuoLingo seems to believe that any phrase in which "le" or "la" appears has to involve "the" in the English translation. "You help kids" is apparently wrong for "Tu aides les enfants". The expected translation was "you're helping the children". Yes, that's one possible meaning, but "les enfants" isn't necessarily definite here: "tu aides les enfants" can certainly mean that "you help children" (or "kids", see the paragraph below), in general, whereas "you're helping the kids" implies some fixed, well-defined set of kids.

Let alone French: there are even cases in which DuoLingo's writers don't seem to understand English. For example, any sentence with "les enfants" has to be translated with the overly formal "children": "kids" isn't accepted, even though I, a native English speaker, would say "kids" something like 99.9% of the time.


That makes more sense to me. When I used Duolinguo it was to get caught up on some grammar and sentence structure, not vocabulary (which I can look up if I need to, and starts coming back quickly anyway as soon as I start speaking French). So I didn't really pay attention to word choices, and didn't internalize them.

(also, as my other comments make clear, the fact that my first French immersion was in Québec probably explains a lot, if you think Duolinguo is more Québecois)


Having completed the Duolingo Spanish tree a couple of times, I found that it gave me enough of the basics to work my way through books and follow some basic plot of TV shows with closed captioning.

It hasn't done a whole lot for my listening or speaking skills, but to be fair I often disable the listening and speaking exercises since I tend to do the exercises at work while I'm waiting for something to compile.

Duolingo will not make you fluent in a language, but it can give you the basics to build upon.


I like Duolingo and worked through a bit of their Spanish tree but one thing that I found baffling is how late they introduce numbers. I got to Spain knowing how to tell someone that my large uncle was a milk-drinking crab in the army, but without covering 1-10.


TBF Japanese kids spend 10 years learning how to read their own language, so it’s important to have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish


I've used three apps to slowly teach myself a little Japanese. Human Japanese, Memrise, and Duolingo. And they all offer distinct advantages and disadvantages, and that's frustrating because a combined app would be far superior.

Human Japanese is great for gentle explanations of grammar, but its flashcards are horrible, so one can't get the spaced repetition needed to remember everything it throws at you. Memrise is fantastic for vocabulary with its spaced repetition, but I couldn't string a sentence together, as Memrise (at least the course I did) mostly ignores grammar. Duolingo is great for practicing reading and writing sentences, checking the comments for sanity if the sentence looks fishy. But it doesn't try and teach anything, just get it wrong until you get it right. Does sentence order matter? Why do we use "wa" here and "ga" there? Duolingo doesn't say.

An app that combines actual lessons with spaced practice sessions would make the whole process a lot smoother.


To me Duolingo is a fun side activity while learning a language, good to reinforce vocabulary, but I wish the exercises had just a bit of context. So much of language is with full expressions. When we learn words, we don't learn them individually but rather how they are used in a context or phrase.


It takes a couple of years before you can look at a Japanese text for normal adults and read it without problems.


For Russian, initial test wasn't terribly bad, but it would flag word order as wrong when it would make no difference in Russian (and really is a bit more natural). Some of the "correct" answers also obviously required more background information than the phrase they wanted me to translate provided.

Looks like fun, but not a tool that would teach you to speak a language correctly.


I can't speak to the others, but I did the Japanese course for a bit as a refresher since I'm 20+ years from my 4Y of japanese. I found the content pretty terrible, some of it is also obviously wrong or very misleading.


>The correct answers are always cringe worthy. Some of them even wrong. //

It can't be expensive to get this right, not considering what Duolingo must be doing in revenue, so why is it that way?


I also don't like that it's mostly reading and listening comprehension, with little writing and as far as I know no spoken.


I'm in the exact same boat? I'm French and I've been learning Portuguese for about a year now, including on Duolingo. I currently have a 203 day streak and I had a ~100 day streak before that. I've been using the "Portuguese for English speakers" tree because the French counterpart was so filled with typos in the basic lessons that I didn't trust it. I thought that the more popular English version might have been better reviewed. I mean if they can't even proofread the text of the "Basic 1" lesson the rest probably isn't better.

The streak is actually the only thing I really like about it, I want to keep it going because it shows me how long I've been working on it. For everything else I completely agree with you, Duolingo is borderline worthless for actually learning a language IMO. I can make a random list of complaints in no particular order:

- The spaced repetition aspect is ridiculously poorly calibrated, at least for me. Basic words decay way too fast which means that if I actually try to keep the skills "golden" (in the pre-crown era) I keep drilling the same basic skills again and again. Anki or Memrize manage that tremedously better. It's not even that complicated to implement correctly, I wonder why it's so crap. Maybe to keep you coming back and stretch the existing content? Now with the crown system they got rid of skill decay altogether, instead having you drill the same sentences an ungodly amount of time to reach a higher skill level. Also no matter how much I've drilled any lesson the majority of the exercises are asking you to translate foreign-to-native instead of the other way around, which would be more interesting as you improve.

- The actual "lessons" for each skills are so bare bones that they're basically useless. I think they know that since I don't think they're accessible at all in the android app. I know that grammar isn't sexy for most but if you want to learn a language you'll have to bite the bullet at some point, an english speaker will have some trouble learning the nuances of the perfect and imperfect past in romance languages by examples alone.

- Meanwhile, on top of not actually teaching you proper grammar they like to mix concepts in the same lessons, because otherwise it wouldn't be confusing enough. For instance the Portuguese subjunctive course contains examples that are actually imperative but "by chance" happen to have the same form as the subjunctive. Because obviously the subjunctive is so trivial that you have to spice things up by adding a completely different tense in there.

- The actual vocabulary they teach you is absurd. You can do the entire tree and not know how to say basic stuff, but you'll be able to say "the painter opens the power outlet" or "my tiger ate my pillow". Those are real examples.

- Worse than weird vocabulary you also have very confusing sentences. For instance take a look at this: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/2121481$from_email=comment&... "Se nós nos encontrássemos mais vezes?" which is translated by "If we met more often?". What does that even mean? It's not even a full sentence. And that's for the past subjunctive lesson, you know, that trivial thing that definitely requires trash sentences like those. And it's been there for 4 years judging by the comments, so the authors of the course stand by it.

- These types of weird sentences are super common and they keep you wondering if you're not getting an idiom of the language or if it's just a super weird sentence. 90% of the time it's the latter.

I don't understand why Duolingo is so popular, IMO Memrise is massively better. It's a lot more focused, it only pretends to teach you words and simple phrases, but at least it does the job. If you want to learn a language buy a good grammar book, a dictionary and drill vocab on Anki or Memrise. Use something like lang-8 to practice your writing. Forget Duolingo.

I do enjoy their "Duolingo Stories" service though, but there's not enough content there to keep you busy for very long and there's no "replay" value.


As far as your fifth point, they might have messed up explaining the concept. In Portuguese, starting a sentence with "E se...?" (And if...?) is the same as saying "What if...?" in English. In the link to the comments section you provided, only one person (Paulenrique) gets it right, though he doesn't explain why.

- "[E] se nós nos encontrássemos mais vezes?"

- "What if we met each other more?" (ie, what if we saw each other more often?)


Did it, at least, improved your vocabulary?


I reached the end of Japanese course about a month ago and have continued to practice daily. Here are my thoughts:

* Many of the English translations don't seem like idiomatic English. Sometimes I think it is even grammatically incorrect. This has made me worried about some of the Japanese not being super great as well. With other people chiming in about how languages they already knew having this problem, it doesn't look great.

* I agree with numbers. They way Duolingo handles numbers, days, months, etc is to me worse than the traditional way. It took a long time to get decent at numbers, and I screw them up a bit. I don't know any of the days of the week, but I know what day of the week words look like. They only ever include one day of the week word it the word bank, so you never actually have to learn.

* On the subject of the word bank, I think if the incorrect words where more plausible. For many lessons, you don't need the Japanese input. The word bank only provides one plausible English sentence.

* It needs more sentence variety. For example, if a less has "The tea is hot." and "The ramen is cool.", why not also add "The tea is cool." and "The ramen is hot."? I find if Duo selects the same lesson a few days in a row, I start to memorize the answers and can punch them in without needing the input.

* I can form original sentences. I'm not very fast at it, but I think that is to be expected. I don't think I'll get better until I start trying to actually speak to people.

* The bigger problem I have is a lack of vocabulary. Duolingo seems to like to jump around a lot, never getting good enough at any one thing. Even in a situation where you are able to get by if you stick to a script, eg at a restaurant, there are still gaps that would prevent me from doing everything in Japanese. Looking at Memerise, it seems to focus on giving you more depth. For example, Duolingo taught me how to say "How are you?" and respond "I'm fine.". Later I've been able to add "I'm tired." and "I'm scared." Memerise teaches you "I'm fine.", "I'm tired.", "I'm happy.", "I'm angry.", "I'm hungry.", and "I'm sick.". That feels more useful.

* The audio quality is crappy. Sometimes it sounds like the syllables are clipping into each other or something. Sometimes it seems like their text to speech engine got confused about where word boundaries are. I took a brief look at Memerise's Japanese course, and the audio quality is much better.

* About 50% of the time when I try to tap the button to replay the audio clip, it seems to think I want to quit the lesson.

* It would be nice if there was something you could tap to temporarily see Japanese sentences with spaces between words.

* While I expect Duolingo would never do it, I think a few lessons on innuendos would be useful. It would save some embarrassing situations.


The reason Duolingo is ineffective in my opinion is multi-faceted. First, my main language for study is Japanese, and Duolingo's Japanese course is awful - these are the specific things I noticed when trying it:

- There were several factual errors in their material and important points entirely omitted

- Japanese grammar is very flexible and their tools aren't, so they often mark you as wrong when you were correct

- Their approach to learning Kanji (borrowed Chinese characters) is completely ineffective

These flaws make me wonder if they even had actual Japanese users working on developing the tools for learning Japanese. I can't speak to any other languages, but my experience with Japanese leads me to belive they don't have expertise in many of the languages they offer, instead trying to cram their prepackaged square-shaped tools into a variety of circle-shaped holes. All languages are different and each requires a different approach.

On top of that, however, is that they don't go nearly far enough. In my opinion there's no magic bullet that can teach you a language. Each student learns differently and will need to leverage a large variety of tools. Even if Duolingo's course were good, it would only make up a small facet of an effective study strategy. Vocabulary drilling with flash cards, focused grammatical study, reading genuine material in the language, writing novel material in the target language, and regular conversation practice with native speakers are all incredibly important and distinct topics of study. Duolingo tries to mix a diet version of each into an scatterbrained, ineffectual method of study.


Once you have the basics down, I like anki or memrise better for picking up vocab. You can do decks based on JLPT levels or do Core 2k/6k. Here's the memrise course series I am using (6000 words broken up into chunks of 500, frequency optimized):

https://www.memrise.com/course/1091685/sgjl-05-core-2k6k-voc... (first of 500 of 6000)

https://www.memrise.com/course/1125407/sgjl-07-core-2k6k-voc... (next 500 words)

https://www.memrise.com/course/1125874/sgjl-10-core-2k6k-voc...

https://www.memrise.com/course/1125879/sgjl-12-core-2k6k-voc...

The "SGJL" series also does grammar but it was easier to just reread tae kim every so often: https://community.memrise.com/t/course-forum-suggested-guide...


Nice resources. I should probably elaborate on my actual study methods:

- Vocabulary study with Anki

- Kanji study (RTK order) with a script that shows vocab on my desktop

- Grammar study via Tae Kim

- Listening practice with regular consumption of Japanese music & television

- Reading/writing practice by engaging in Japanese discussions on Mastodon, IRC, 2channel

- Reading practice with Japanese manga and novels

- Regular meetups with friends (native speakers) IRL

- Translating anime and manga from Japanese to English

Soon I'd like to start blogging in Japanese, too, but that's a lot of work. Can also recommend jisho.org as the best Japanese/English dictionary on the web, and djt's bunpou guide as a deep grammar reference resource.


For me, I think this list is almost optimal. I'll only add a couple of things. I recommend karaoke as a way to learn pronunciation, tones and pacing for language. Songs aren't in any way indicative of actual language, but it gets you listening for rhythm and tones (even though it's different than natural speech). It also allows you to internalise common contractions, especially with fast songs.

Another great way to learn to speak fluently (mechanics, not content) is to shadow other speakers. I recommend going to someplace like http://news.tbs.co.jp/ (news site). Most of the stories are written and they have the video above. The commentator reads exactly the same thing that is written. Create an understanding of the text, watch the video a couple of times, then try to read along with the commentator. News is super hard, but if you google you should be able to find some readings of children's books, etc as well (I eventually found some when I was looking years ago, so I suspect there is more now).

Finally, I don't recommend RTK order for Kanji. I learned to recognise and write the jouyou kanji with RTK. Then I learned vocabulary. Yes, being able to recognise all the kanji was useful... but it's an obtuse way to do it. Worse, by the time I was learning more complex vocabulary I had completely forgotten the kanji (because it takes years and years to learn a language). Unless you have some strategy for keeping your kanji recognition current, I think it's a waste of time. The RTK approach is awesome, but the order is pants. I recommend doing chapter 1 of RTK and then throwing the book away. Then learn vocabulary, memorising the kanji as you go. Make up stories using the radicals and feel free to revise stories as you go. Once you see kanji regularly, you won't need the stories anyway -- so optimising order to make your stories consistent is a wasted effort. My 2 cents. Other people I know did RTK the RTK way and had no problems -- however, I think all of the people I know either did shodo as a hobby or were really active in studying for the kanji kentei. So they had a way of keeping that knowledge current.


>Finally, I don't recommend RTK order for Kanji. [snip]

I learn most new kanji naturally as I study with Anki and look up unknown kanji I encounter in the wild. I only idly pay attention to the RTK-order kanji on my desktop status bar. The purpose is basically to have some vocab stuff to glance at throughout the day, it doesn't really settle in but it keeps my eyes used to reading Japanese.

I can second your suggestion to do the first chapter of RTK, though. I would recommend learning maybe the first 100 RTK kanji just to establish a baseline understanding of how kanji work and familiarize yourself with important radicals.


"Then learn vocabulary, memorising the kanji as you go. Make up stories using the radicals and feel free to revise stories as you go. Once you see kanji regularly, you won't need the stories anyway -- so optimising order to make your stories consistent is a wasted effort. My 2 cents."

Not just your 2 cents...this is the way they teach in Japan, both to natives and at language schools. They have a kanji ordering that is loosely based on frequency, and the kanji are individually presented for reading(s) and (hand)writing, but the actual learning involves memorizing lists of words. In fact, now that I'm not taking exams in Japanese anymore and I care very little about handwriting, it's more efficient to memorize words. I find that new kanji sink in automatically. It's kind of magical, really.

To overgeneralize a bit, the folks I've met who are most dedicated to the RTK method are the ones who have been "studying" Japanese for years and years with little discernable progress. Lots of people get sucked into the kanji memorization black hole because it's gives the impression of steady, incremental progress to a process that is not incremental at all.


Can you share how you're showing the vocab on the desktop? That would be a neat study tool.


Try the rikaikun chrome extension?



Thanks! What do you use to display this on your desktop?


This binary puts a porcelain command on the Python library:

https://git.sr.ht/~sircmpwn/dotfiles/tree/bin/kotd

This command is run by my status bar, which prints each line sent to stdout on my desktop:

https://git.sr.ht/~sircmpwn/dotfiles/tree/bin/custom_statusb...

Which is powered by sway:

http://swaywm.org


I liked Tagaini when I was learning Japanese a couple years ago.

https://www.tagaini.net/


Nice, I like this. Cross platform too


For raw vocabulary, my favorite app is CleverDeck (https://cleverdeck.com). I really like their simple UX and well curated content.


...trying to cram their prepackaged square-shaped tools into a variety of circle-shaped holes. All languages are different and each requires a different approach.

The first half of this is dead on. The second half is wrong.

Duolingo's top languages are in the Indo-European family. (Their most learned language is English, next is Spanish.) Their techniques are perfectly adequate for gaining elementary vocabulary a basic grounding in the grammar of those languages. The most common languages in that language family are positional. You really do need to learn to say "black shirt" in English versus "camisa negra" in Spanish. Saying it in the other order is wrong.

Their tools don't work well for other language families. However they do work for lots of languages that people want to learn.


Funny that you say the example of ADJ+NOUN and NOUN+ADJ, since in Spanish both are valid! But not for every adjective, and many times the meaning actually changes:

- Different meaning: Es un pobre hombre (pity). Es un hombre pobre (poor).

- Same meaning: Tienes un excelente humor. Tienes un humor excelente. [1]

- Emphasis: ¿Ya os habéis mudado a la nueva casa? ¿Ya os habéis mudado a la casa nueva?

In your specific example, "negra camisa", while it is valid it does sound archaic. However this does not mean that ADJ+NOUN are wrong in Spanish. Not at all.

Edit, more on the topic here: http://adjetivos.org/adjetivos-especificativos-y-explicativo...

[1] https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjetivo_especificativo


No, languages are indeed different. Providing elementary grammar or vocabulary is next to useless in real conversation with natives. I highly doubt anyone is SOLELY learning English or Spanish through Duolingo.

It's important to look at resources that languages provide- English and Spanish also have immense amounts of media to listen to and read, and obviously a lot of people to talk with. I would say that helps far more than learning simple grammar.


I'm not sure what point you think you are responding to.

My point is that a particular approach tends to work similarly well across many languages within a language family. Duolingo's method is effective at providing elementary grammar and vocabulary within Indo-European languages. I agree that it does not get you a sufficient vocabulary to read, or the verbal reflexes for speech. But it is an effective approach for an absolute beginner.

Everything that I've heard about it says that it is basically useless for various Asian languages. Even for absolute beginners. For example my wife used Duolingo with languages like Polish and Spanish. She was quite happy with the results, even though she outgrew what the app can do. However despite these good experiences it took her less than a week to decide that it was useless for Japanese, and move on to a random flashcard program instead.

As an interesting aside, we have objective evidence of these linguistic differences from machine learning. Google Translate originally worked by a form of statistical pattern matching across large numbers of original and translated documents. This worked brilliantly for Indo-European languages, but did badly for various Asian languages. To my understanding for much the same fundamental reasons that Duolingo does.


The Japanese lessons are listed as being in beta.

But yeah, I think they're going to have to do a pretty complete revamp of the Japanese course, and possibly add some more features like handwriting recognition for learning the characters. I did a little of that on my own, putting together a flash card deck that I could type in Japanese in, and used Android's Japanese handwriting input method to enter characters, and found that pretty good for learning kana, but I didn't feel like putting all of the work in for building such decks for the kanji I was learning as well.

I find Duolingo much better for the lessons that are more well developed, and which the software was originally written for, like French. I think that they could eventually get to the point where the Japanese lessons are useful, but now is not that point; they will need both some software updates that make Japanese learning work better, and a revamp of the curriculum.


> - Their approach to learning Kanji (borrowed Chinese characters) is completely ineffective

It's not only useless for learning the kanji, it's useless for learning the rest of the language is well. Long strings of kana are harder to read/parse (even when you don't recognise the kanji, you can parse to something like <noun><grammar><verb><grammar etc. just based on the structure and see where the parts you don't understand are, which is much harder to do with just the kana form), and there are multiple times where after learning the kanji I've thought "Oh, _now_ that thing in Duolingo makes sense.

It's also easier to remember when building off the other kanji, and lets you build understanding. Say you know that 姉 is "older sister" and 妹 is "younger sister" -- you can make a pretty good guess that 姉妹 just means "sisters", even if you can't actually pronounce it. You can't really do that when all Duolingo has taught you is "older sister" is ane/あね and "younger sister" is imouto/いもうと and not the kanji form, and you certainly won't see how they are connected when "sisters" is introduced as shimai/しまい. Learning the kanji steepens the learning curve for sure (which is why I suppose Duolingo introduce very few), but it gives you a _much_ better understanding and I felt more comfortable manipulating the language.


I've used Duolingo for about a year now.

This is what I discovered:

1) It can't be your one learning source. You get the essence of the language but you'll never become fluent.

2) It's very good at keeping you engaged. It gets an A from me on that.

3) The web app is stricter and will force you to learn better than the Android app

4)On the Android app you can get thru the challenges without learning a thing. You can just guess.

5)Your mindset should be to learn as opposed to getting thru the challenges.

6)Grammar is important so make sure you read the text they post on the web app. The phone app does not have it.

7)Find someone to speak the language with you ASAP. Speaking is the fastest way to fluency.

8)They've started to monetize the app so ads are a problem now. And ad-free is expensive.

9) It's many times better than the in-class teaching I got in junior high. They should replace the 1st few semesters with the app.


The biggest issue I have with Duolingo is that they offer "grammar notes" to explain why specific elements are the way they are... but only on desktop web. In-app, which is the main way that I (and I'd imagine most users) use Duolingo, there are no grammar notes and no way to access the grammar notes - they just seem to assume that you'll pick it up from context. Personally I've been studying Russian, a language with extremely complex grammar much of which has no analogue in English or Spanish (the two other languages I speak), and were I not supplementing Duolingo with a textbook that actually explains the grammar, I would be extremely confused.


I really can't understand why they don't provide the grammar notes in their mobile apps. If it's trivial things like table rendering then I'm sure they can come up with something. It's such a crucial part of learning another language and it's completely ignored.


Grammar in general is my definitely my biggest issue. I have a firm grasp on grammatical terms in English, and it would be much easier for me if the rules of grammar were simply explained instead of implied.

I've found I end up looking at the comments frequently and just hoping that someone was kind enough to plainly explain the grammar at some point. Failing that, I end up asking fluent Spanish speakers random questions like, "Are adjectives gendered and pluralized in Spanish?" Which works up to a point, but when you start asking about things like "gerunds" and "past participle" you end up having to explain what those things mean in the first place (using English) and then ask the question again about Spanish.

Would love to see an app that focuses less on implied methods of teaching and is more willing to dive in to grammar lessons.


Yeah it makes no sense, a read more button that sends you to a screen that is basically just a text box with the notes would be enough. It has been requested for years on their forums.


Does anyone have any experience with the Fluent Forever approach? Their Kickstarter campaign received more than twice the amount requested[0]. Their book is currently selling for $2 on Amazon[1], and has some glowing reviews.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15498952 [1] https://www.amazon.com/Fluent-Forever-Learn-Language-Forget-...


It works. And it's written by someone who's (a) learned multiple languages himself, (b) done the research on human language learning and memory/expertise to condense an immensely effective method into a book.

He's gathered a vast amount of material for French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and more on his website, https://fluent-forever.com. I've used his pronunciation trainers for Spanish and Japanese, and it's obvious the enormous effort he's put into all of his materials. Wyner obviously loves his work.

Learning a language has no shortcuts - only different methods with varying levels of effectiveness, i.e. fluency gained per hour of work put in. I can say that of all the apps and methods I've tried, from Pimsleur to Rosetta Stone to Duolingo and Memrise, Fluent Forever is by far the most effective one.

I used it to learn Spanish for a few weeks - his approach of learning pronunciation first, then basic vocabulary, seems counterintuitive at first, but it really, really works. Which I found out to my pleasure when I went to Spain on vacation with my friends. Even though they'd studied Spanish all throughout high school, both my pronunciation and my fluency were miles above theirs. I couldn't employ advanced tenses, but as he explains in the book, it'd be impossible for me to fluently internalize more advanced grammar before the simpler forms for any language, anyways.

I've moved on to Japanese for now, since I have a much longer trip there coming up. This will take much, much longer (it's a Category V language versus a Category I language), but so far it's been just as effective at teaching me pronunciation and hiragana/katakana (their phonetic lettering system).

I highly recommend the book - it's practically free at that price. Compare it to the $300 you'd spend on Rosetta Stone and don't hesitate.


And for further knowledge - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15508440 - this is the comment that got me to look into Fluent Forever in the first place.


I speak Irish pretty well and Duolingo I think is a fantastic tool to get better and learn some new words that I didn't no. (Neither my dad nor I knew portán meant crab). The issue is that pronunciation in Irish is kinda varied but the lady who does it for Duolingo is on some extreme. The majority of Irish speakers would not pronounce things that way in the slightest and it would be misleading for someone who learned on the app to actually try and speak it as I'm not sure I would understand them


The lady who pronounces things for Duolingo is a native speaker. The issue with Irish is that most learners, including teachers, pronounce it horribly wrong. They're never exposed to native speakers os they just substitute English sounds in.

That said, DL's Irish course is useless for anything except a little vocab. There's tons of incorrect answers, or things that only work in certain situations, or direct translations from English nobody would say, or things that are mistranslated, etc etc.


This is a good point. Especially for minority languages like Irish, they can end up being completely dominated in mass-media by a specific group. Duolingo and TG4 (main Irish-language tv channel) mostly speak Gaeilge Cúige Connacht (the western dialect) meaning the northern and southern pronunciation and style are neglected.


Which is funny, as the Caighdeán hardly reflects Connemara Irish at all. It's mostly Munster.


I particularly like the audio courses from Language Transfer. They create rules that help you transfer words from English into a destination language.

For example, words ending in ation in English, will end in ación in Spanish. Further, these words are also 'ar' verbs.

Conversation -> Conversación -> Conversar

I've found it quite helpful, especially in conjunction with Duolingo. At some point, I realized what I learned via Language Transfer was applying more as I progressed in Duolingo.

https://www.languagetransfer.org/complete-spanish


Doing Duolingo well just makes you better at doing duolingo. In real world, even in your native language, there are certain situations that can make you tongue tied. The goal of practicing with teachers from sites like iTalki is to get you comfortable opening your mouth and spitting out something, anything. To get past the fear of saying the wrong thing and just saying something. However, if you want to say the right thing and just spit it out, there is a way...

For most people learning a second language, one of the fastest ways to learn can be the most painful way for some of us to learn. Rote memorization. Bor-ing. Methods like Assimil and Glossika and others use this as their core method, with some tweaks.

By memorizing grammatically correct phrases, you will know that you are saying something correctly. I've heard saying that some incorrectly things is literally like I just wrote - your brain processes based on patterns and when you say it in the wrong subject-verb order or even phrase cadence, the person listening gets confused and sometimes irritated.

If you are musically inclined, this can be song lyrics. Or you can hire someone to translate things that you would like to say from your native language into your second language.

You must memorize phrases because memorizing single words without the context of an enclosing sentence can create bad habits that have to be unlearned later.

Like learning violin, mastering the fundamentals are important before you can learn to play music. For learning a language, the two most important things are speaking with the right accent and speaking like a native speaker would in a given situation (which is usually grammatically correct but smooth).


has anyone had success with any of these language-learning apps, even as supplemental material to a more traditional education?

I've tried to use Duolingo for Japanese, with very little success on its own. Paired with my own studying, it was only a bit more helpful, but not more helpful than flashcards.

Another app, LingoDeer, was better, because it had a curriculum and more unified lessons, and I could swap between Kanji/Katakana/Hiragana at will to learn one at a time. (Whereas DuoLingo will bring you to 15% understanding of Hiragana before dumping you into Katakana).


I find it fun (enough) and quick enough to use daily to keep my mind thinking in Spanish now and then, but I agree it isn't very effective at allowing me to speak it. I draw a blank whenever trying to converse in Spanish. But, I do find I can read quite a bit more Spanish after a year or so of using Duolingo mostly daily. I only use it for about 10 minutes a day, so I don't expect miracles.

I find the "you are 53% fluent in Spanish" notifications laughable, though. I'm maybe 10% fluent, on a good day, when listening, and about 20% when reading. Though assigning a percentage to fluency is a bit weird anyway.

So...yeah, I think you kinda get out what you put into learning a language, and Duolingo is way closer to putting in "nothing" than it is to putting in "something". One shouldn't expect to get much out, if you're just doing little memory quizzes a couple times a day. But, I can do it without needing a lot of free time, and maybe it'll help some day when I am able to spend a few months in Mexico, so I can immerse myself in the language, to really learn it.


I am also 40% or so fluent in Swedish >50% in Spanish, and similar for Portuguese and Korean.

I have come to the conclusion that people in those countries are either very dumb and have little to talk about, or these numbers aren’t really correct.

I’m not sure which it is yet ;)


They have removed the fluency rating, for good reasons.


I've used Duolingo French mostly daily since last August, along with reading children's books of gradually increasing difficulty. (I'm into the first Harry Potter book at this point.) I think I could've learned substantially more efficiently than with Duolingo, if I could've focused on it as a top goal, but it worked well enough as a way of turning time when feeling tired with no initiative into learning time. You just fire up the app and do what it asks you to, for some delimited time per day, and gradually do get good enough at French to read real books. I wish it were better still -- some other responses have pointed out criticisms I agree with -- but by the standards of when I grew up, in the 80s, it offers something that afaik just didn't exist then. I took several years of Spanish in school but probably could not read it as well as I read French now. (I'll have to grab a Spanish Harry Potter and check.)

Conversations out loud might be a different story.


> Conversations out loud might be a different story.

This is the biggest limitation of duolingo. In most languages, reading is the easiest in the reading/ writing/ listening/ speaking hierarchy[1] - a good way to learn vocab, but learning to cope with the sound of the language at full speed is generally where the biggest challenge lies. I would seriously recommend listening to language learning podcasts over duolingo once you get past a beginner level.

Source : am also an intermediate French learner. French people talk fast.

[1] ... but writing correctly in French is freaking hard as European languages go, because of the spelling rules...


I've recently vacationed in Mexico and Colombia. Duolingo Spanish was my main resource for brushing up on the language before each trip. I wasn't fluent, but I impressed myself over how much I was able to successfully communicate. I practiced for about a month before each trip. My daily goal was 50XP.

That said, I've cumulatively taken about 6 years of Spanish throughout middle school, high school, and community college.

As this article points out, they are adding an impressive amount of new content. The new "Stories" feature is cool (I think it's still under the "Labs" section). So is their podcast, which is an NPR-style story that alternates 1 paragraph in Spanish, then the next paragraph in English.


I had taken some Japanese in high school, and French in college, and later done some Duolingo to try to brush up my French, but then abandoned it.

I recently picked it back up again (couple of months ago), and tried doing both Japanese and French. I find the French one much more helpful. The Japanese module is still in beta, and it shows; tapping on one word to look them up if you don't remember them doesn't work well in Japanese but it works fine in French.

And yeah, I found the Japanese curriculum pretty lacking, and the kanji really hard to learn in this format.

I did find an interesting way to practice my hiragana and katakana, though. I created a slide deck using Tinycards (Duolingo's flash-card app, I found it a lot easier to set up and use than Anki even if it's less powerful) in which I would have to write the kana using the handwriting input method for Japanese. I found that actually trying to write out the characters was way more helpful for remembering them then just clicking on the right one out of a list.

However, I couldn't figure out a good way to get Duolingo to give me a list of the kanji I was supposed to have learned by now to use that with kanji, and figured it would be too much of a pain to go back through all of the lessons, write all of that down and then create the flash cards manually from that.

I've quit with the Duolingo Japanese lessons by now, I think I want to wait until they're a little more fully baked, and even then I'll probably need some other outside resources to study along with.

I think Duolingo in its current form is a good way to stay practiced with a language and learn some vocabulary and grammar, but only for some of the languages. However, even for those languages, you will need some other resources to really develop fluency.


Even though it seems to have a bit different purpose as it offers more structured learning, I find Tiny Cards to be significantly more enjoyable to use than the main Duolingo app. The gamification does play some role in that, but I think it's mainly how the learning is organized.


I found TinyCards to be good for some things, like drilling on kana, but I find that the extra context provided with full sentences and different types of exercises in Duolingo to be better long term. But maybe I haven't found the right card decks in TinyCards yet.


I’ve found WaniKani to be amazing for SRS for kanji. If you are diligent about it you can go through the jouyou set in 18 months or so.


Looks interesting. I think I'd have to be a lot more dedicated to that, and need some other resource for learning grammar, vocabulary, and testing complete sentences.

The nice thing about Duolingo for, say, French is that I can kind of mindlessly do it every day to keep my skills up and improve my vocabulary, and then do smaller bouts of studying using other methods to improve actual fluency.

But with Japanese, Duolingo just doesn't work very well, and just learning kanji with WaniKani would miss all of the rest of the context, so I'd need something to pair with that for learning the rest of the language. Any recommendations on good resources for learning the actual spoken language to go along with WaniKai?


> Any recommendations on good resources for learning the actual spoken language to go along with WaniKai?

BunPro is pretty good. It's fairly light on its own lessons, but will point in the right direction for material on each grammar point (both online and in the Genki books), and then has a spaced repetition framework for practice/memorising. It also ties into WaniKani fairly well, so that once you've learnt a kanji in WaniKani it will stop showing the furigana so you get kanji practice at the same time.


Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese is what I used when I was starting out. Iirc it's pretty focused on grammar without a lot of fluff or a specific program, but if you already have a decent grip on grammar generally and like learning in terms of rules and patterns it's excellent.


WaniKani is a lot more limiting than Anki (which is free and open source) since it has a fixed schedule, while Anki allows you to learn at whatever pace you wish. In addition, it offers next to no customization.

There's a WK deck if you really want to use their content.


Next to no customization is what I want for something like this. I want to be able to mindlessly drill for a few minutes a day, not spend a lot of time fiddling with my decks to get them perfect.


I've been having success with WaniKani. It's mainly for vocabulary learning, but just that lets me be able to read enough to be able to start picking up the grammar from context, and (more importantly) being able to apply that grammar in more situations which makes it much easier to learn. It also forces you to rapidly become fluent in hiragana (IIRC romaji isn't used anywhere). I feel like it's working because I'm frequently understanding the terms in real Japanese content, and it's giving me the ability to understand terms that haven't been explicitly taught (e.g. I was reading something the other day and read 心理学校 and 火の用心 as "psychology school" and "beware of fire" [with the correct pronunciations/readings] without any thought, despite never coming across the phrases before).

> DuoLingo will bring you to 15% understanding of Hiragana before dumping you into Katakana

Personally that's how I prefer to learn -- I got to being able to read about 50% of the hiragana without too much effort then went straight to WaniKani, and found I was making much more rapid, reliable (i.e I feel like I'm actually _reading_ them, not just being able to remember the meaning/having to think about it) on the remaining 50%, and I've mostly learn the katakana through context/use -- but of course YMMV.


Absolutely. I did Duolingo Spanish (although I a) was fluent-ish in French, and b) had taken a Spanish course at University.) I can say without a doubt that I learned a ton (via Duolingo) and a trip to Cuba made it very obvious.

I am far from fluent, but I could get by in nearly all situations.

I'm learning Swedish now, and it's getting to the point where new languages are easier and easier to pick up. My partner is further than me, and knows a shocking amount of Swedish just from the Duolingo app.


I used it for French. It was great to get a footing with the language, but ultimately it doesn’t allow you to learn more than superficially.


Yes, German. Taught myself to GCSE grade B (self assessed with a past paper, for non UK that exam is the standard for 16 year olds and is merely OK not amazing or terrible).

Also learning Esperanto (I don’t think it’s teaching me enough) and Greek (no idea, only half way through the course, but I can now touch type Greek on an English keyboard).


Not apps, but I've had good results with the old Teach Yourself... book+audio series as well as the Pimsleur audio series. Tried Duolingo for a while and it felt more like a vocabulary course than a language course. Not useless, but it didn't improve my language skills.


I successfully learned Esperanto, extensively studying solely on duolingo for 3 weeks, then jumping on to other material. It was one of best things that I did for myself. I particularly recommend Esperanto to HN readers as the language itself is "hackable".


ĉu vi povas rekomendas la aliaj materialojn ke vi utilis? Mi jam forgesis plej de miaj studisoj...


Mi forte rekomandas ke vi legu Gerda Malaperis ĉe lernu.net. Fakte, mi trovis ĉiu materialo sur lernu.net tre utila. Kaj tiam vi povas provi legi rakontojn de Fratoj Grimm, denove sur lernu.net. Alie, vi povas vidi videojn de Evildea sur Jutubo kaj aŭskulti podkastojn ĉe kern.punkto.info. Ne forgesu aniĝi al Duolingo Esperanto Learners ĉe Fejsbuko, se vi havas konton tie. Bonŝanson :)


A few years ago, as a graduate in Japanese studies, I was curious about what Duolingo offered to learn the language. My verdict: nothing usable at all. Recently I needed to learn Czech, and give it another try. Again, not something that can be used to learn the language: it just throws quizz of things I never learnt in the first place.

Years ago, I had a project for an app that proposes collaborative language learning quizzes. Sometimes, I think I shouldn't have abandoned it because existing software still doesn't exactly provide what I want.


I use the Living Language series in conjunction with college courses when I want to learn a new language. Then try to read online newspapers and comments to get a more well rounded vocabulary. Then I try TV/Movies once I've roughed my way through the language listening stuff I've got.

I tried Dulingo for a bit but found it mostly annoying as I prefer the structured way I've been taught and learned in the past. Maybe it's just how I enjoy learning though.


I used it to learn basic Spanish before a trip to Spain, and do feel that it helped. However, I'm coming from a specific position in that I already speak French and studied Latin for a long time. It was absolutely sufficient for me to pick up a basic vocabulary, with my general knowledge of Latin-derived grammars helping me fill in for its weaknesses on that front.


I am currently using Duolingo to learn French and finding it tremendously useful as a way to practise. It's only been for the last 3 weeks or so but I feel that it is working much better for me than if I was trying to learn from videos or books. I should say however that I am also taking weekly face to face French lessons (it was my teacher who recommended Duolingo)


I did French with Duolingo. I found it was a great companion. It's not enough on its own.


I casually used Duolingo to start learning Russian for a few years.

I had a trip to Kiev a bit ago, and decided to take some lessons while there. I hated it. I couldn't keep up with the class, felt like I was learning nothing and wasting money.

Different learning styles work best for different people.


I've learned Japanese to a level where I can read the children's news mostly without using a dictionary mainly by grinding vocabulary in Anki and reading with Yomichan. Depending on the topic I can follow spoken language decently as well.


I have only used Duolingo for languages I am fluent in. There is a mode somewhere where you can take a set of exams to see where you place on the fluency spectrum in any given language they offer. I do this for pure curiosity to see how far I get up on their "track". I find it to be a super shallow and lacking system - the words encountered have little to do in the way of everyday conversation, things you see on TV, the grocery store, or even most professional settings. I don't have too many examples off the top of my head, but one that really kept coming up in the French test was "the little spider is red" - When does someone need this? Whys is this any mark of proficiency?

I always leave feeling as though this app/product is a giant waste of time.


Hmm. Those all seem like fairly basic words to know; OK, maybe "spider" isn't as common a word to need, but it is something that comes up in conversation sometimes. That particular phrase isn't one you're going to have to say very often, but I'd say it would be pretty hard to say you're fluent in a language if you don't know those words.

I've been doing Duolingo for French for the past few months, trying to dust off the couple of semesters of French I took in college and get a bit beyond that to maybe get to the point where I can get by. Yes, there is a bit skewed towards things like family relationships, clothes, the house at the beginning; things that might be important if you're living somewhere but possibly less important if you're just visiting. But they are always adding new content, and as the original article points out they just did a revamp to give access to a lot of newer content they hadn't provided access to before.

I don't know; a language generally has a huge amount of vocabulary, as well as grammar to learn, and you need to learn it in some order.

The main thing I do find lacking is that it's pretty much all translation or transcription of simple sentences, or word matching. I do find these helpful for learning vocabulary and grammar, but they aren't going to lead to fluency. The article does mention that something that they are working on is longer listening comprehension exercises, which I think would help out with that a lot.


Isn't the point of phrases like "the little spider is red" that you can substitute to say many phrases, so you can - vocab willing - then say that 'the big dog is scary' or 'the small pizza is hot' or whatever. You're supposed to be learning a model sentence [definite article][adj][n][v][adj] to enable you to make statements about things in the present tense.


What really bothers me about Duolingo is its Rosetta Stone approach to language learning. For adults, learning by osmosis is not a thing for languages. The creator has said that the reason the grammar notes (as bare bones as they are) are not available in the apps, is, that he wants, users to pick up the grammar through the exercises.

I study French, German and Russian at uni, and for doing translations, or even just writing letters or speaking, this is not good enough. You want to be comfortable in a language, and that comes with a rock solid grammar foundation, as 'dull' as it seems.

As many have said, Duolingo should be a tool amongst many. It has actually been really helpful for drilling through particular problem areas where I get a case wrong here or there.

What they really need to do is get listening and reading comprehension out there; working alongside some people who really never understand grammar explanations, they can often work it out in their head after reading through a passage with a few examples, it makes it personal to them and they can see the 'point' of the rule.

Also they need to get a better vocab tool, memrise/anki style. Sometimes I just wanna practice shopping items because I'm on the bus to get 'groceries' and I wanna make sure im all sured up.


I have found that a combination of Duolingo / Rosetta Stone in combination with the FSI Courses ( https://www.livelingua.com/fsi-language-courses.php ) gives a good combination of Grammar + Speaking material to learn a language.


The FSI language stuff is great, highly recommend!


I'm learning Italian with English as the base language. One of the things I felt with Duolingo (at least the "old" version, didn't try the new version) is that the exercises make you write mostly in English, not Italian, which is the main point of why I'm on Duolingo in the first place.

It's rare for an exercise that makes you write in Italian, even when assembling your own sentences is the basics for those who are learning a new language. Finishing an entire module doesn't make you entitled to write anything.

So I inverted things. Instead of the Italian course, I applied to the English course (which I am already fluent) as an Italian native speaker. This way, I write mostly in Italian, with almost no exercises to write in English (same problem with the Italian course).

Learning has been much more effective.


I'm still puzzled by duolingo - it uses an outdated pedagogy and an overemphasis on 'fun'. I have only looked briefly at the courses but I find the structure unconvincing.

Regarding something mentioned in the article: what is the point of learning 'entertaining' phrases like 'they are washing the holy potato'. From a pedagogical point of view this is a waste of time is no better than the famous 'plume de ma tante' (look that up if you want to know more).

For any language learner, it's important to remember that the most fun you can have in language learning is experiencing success. That success needs to come from your language acquisition, not arbitrary games.

Learning a language is great!



Duolingo has to be supplemented with reading and / or YouTube materials in the language of choice. Any language course the examples are necessarily contrived and never to your exact needs. But we have the internet and can look for (and hopefully find) something that matches our interests.

If you're looking to do business in Japanese... then you need to be looking at the NHK news app which has beginner resources. If you're looking to do scholarship in German or Spanish or cooking in French then you need to search for vocab resources connected to those tasks.


[Meta]

So far in this thread, there are several comments that could be the grounds for substantive discussion, but don't bother offering the substance. For example: Why does jonbarker recommend Anki for going deeper than "complete beginner"? What does zealsham mean by Duolingo lacking a "structural syllabus" and why is that problematic?

The conversations can be a very valuable part of HN, but not if most comments are at the level of "I still find their spaced repetition lacking" with only the tiniest bit of elaboration. Hopefully I'm not out of place in encouraging something more substantive.


If you're interested in learning more about something someone said, maybe you could reply to them with a question?

People often respond well to a bit of encouragement, and replies are more likely to be seen than a meta-comment.


Of course, and to the extent that I want answers to those specific questions I'm happy to ask.

Asking individual questions, though, doesn't encourage a different mindset in the way that I hope my meta-comment will.


No doubt - we're not here to write counter-blogs, just to discuss.


Yeah, it's also bugging me. From a perspective of a person that's really into this topic and creates some stuff/software - this is invaluable info, only if would be more descriptive. Unfortunately most people treat such topics as "this title is bogus, my experience is completely different, here's why in one sentence, since I won't waste any second more about this". And that's why I love real world conversations since you can immediately receive feedback just by asking 'oh why is that'. In Internet this question just strikes the emptiness and that person doesn't feel obliged to provide any feedback. And also makes discussion a mess since commenter doesn't provide any context to challenge that opinion - is he native in X language? Is he student/PhD/professor, etc.


Instead of making a "meta" post complaining, you could reply to those folks with your questions. That might help develop the discussions you would like to see more so than this tactic.


I don't want to repeat myself[0] too much, but: Of course, and to the extent that I want answers to those specific questions I'm happy to ask.

Asking individual questions, though, doesn't encourage a different mindset in the way that I hope my meta-comment will.

Also, I take a bit of issue with calling this "complaining". If you think I could have been even more constructive, please point out how. But I'm not just posting a lamentation, here.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16823827


Standard for HN is it no? Easy criticism and nitpicking without any substantial real-world solutions.


It's interesting to see how many people don't find Duolingo or other apps to be effective learning tools. I spent the last 2 years creating a Thai learning app (that I think of as a 'digital textbook') specifically to address the issues that many people here raise. I won't cite the name since I'm not trying to advertise, just bringing it up as a talking point.

Duolingo does lots of AB testing and found that gamification greatly increased user engagement, but I think that they took it too far and lost the forest in the trees.

Everyone learns differently but in my experience you need to hear or read explanations of the second language in your native tongue and then hear that construction in the second language to reinforce it, because the key is lots of comprehensible input.

Can a complex sentence become comprehensible input with just games? Sure, but if someone can explain how the grammar works in English then you can get to that same point faster and without the guess work. That's my opinion, at least, and so far users are seeming to find it effective since reviews have been largely positive!

I think that serious language students will seek out appropriate apps or textbooks, and Duolingo will be a fun option for people that want a mixture of cognitive exercise and entertainment that may also be useful when they're traveling or interacting in a foreign language.


ctrl+f "Thai". Since Duolingo doesn't have a Thai module, would you mind sharing your app?


Sure the main app is called Pocket Thai Master and it teaches reading and speaking, with cultural notes and historical facts sprinkled throughout.

I’ve also made a second app that is a subset of the first that only teaches reading, which I creatively named Pocket Thai Reading.

I’m currently re-writing a lot of the content to create a pared down version for travelers that teaches basic grammar and vocab through audio and transcriptions and without learning the Thai script. It takes many hours to learn the script and it is 100% worthwhile if you’re living in Thailand and it’s great for pronunciation, but it isn’t a worthwhile use of time for people that might just be visiting for a week or two.

If you take a look and have any feedback I’d be happy to hear it - I’m actively working on updates! Next update I’m trying to add some different exercises to test comprehension since it’s multiple choice quizzes only right now.


The biggest problem I had with Duolingo was knowing what to do next. I much prefer a simple "next lesson" button, which both introduces new material and reviews stuff you've covered previously. But with Duolingo there's a set of available lessons you can choose, and you can either work on going down the list and opening up new lessons, or re-doing ones you've already done and leveling up those particular ones. Then there's also a "barbell" which you can press and takes you into some lesson, but I never quite figured out what it did. But I spent quite a while getting a bunch of "crowns" on the first few lessons (essentially, doing them over and over) before realizing I should be doing some forward progress as well.

My wife is a fan of the app and recently paid for premium, but I'm personally a little happier (at least for my use case of Spanish) with Babbel, which I pay for. It has a single way forward, so you never have to choose what to work on next, and that single way will bring back earlier stuff just to refresh your memory for you. It also has little grammar asides, which I found very helpful, and which Duolingo lacks.


> Then there's also a "barbell" which you can press and takes you into some lesson, but I never quite figured out what it did.

It takes you into a lesson that it thinks you should review next. Duolingo is meant to implement spaced repetition in that it keeps track of all the times you have seen every word, and it tries to give you lessons that are "due" for repetition according to its algorithm. In the web interface they show you how "strong" each word is in their opinion, but I found that their data on when you last saw a word was buggy.

Anyway, the barbell is useful to keep you up to speed by revisiting stuff once you have finished all the lessons once.


This thread is living proof why many people are seemingly unable to learn languages (well): they're more concerned with tools and methodologies instead of simply putting in the effort and learning the language they want to learn (emphasis on "want to learn"). Yes, it's (sometimes hard) work to learn a language and there is no magical fairy dust.


The top comment is from someone who put 370 days straight into Duolingo and completed the content for multiple languages. Is that indicative of someone unwilling to "simply [put] in the effort"?


Yes, straight into Duolingo. A tool. A gimmick. And the results were, according to the commenter, underwhelming. But I can tell you what I mean by putting in the effort: I had to learn Classical Latin and pass an exam in order to enrol in University in Germany. For that I took a two-month crash course.

What did we do in this course? 4 weeks of grammar, interspersed with reading, analyzing and translating classical texts, then 4 weeks of reading, analyzing and translating classical texts. 4 hours in class plus 2-4 hours self-study each day. It worked like a charm. The bottom line: if your aim is to read classical texts, read classical texts. And the key here was not that I learned 4-8 hours each day, the key was that the learning was not dumbed down, gamified, artificially made fun. And I have found that this is applicable to pretty much every other language.


It seems the author didn’t bother to really check the app’s forum where users are heavily complaining (about 1500 comments in the main announcement thread) about the redesign, which at best was handle badly (people didn’t understand what was happening) and at worst has removed critical features like spaced repetition.


The new version is very good for Chinese. It is giving me much more complex sentence structure.


I'm just annoyed it forces you to learn the writing system.


Learning characters has enabled me to watch movies, because subtitles are often easier to follow (and look up) than mumbled, fast, dialect-tinged dialogue. And the ability to watch movies is a game changer for language learning.

Note that recognizing characters is much easier than being able to write them correctly from memory (and you really don't need the latter – even Chinese can't write anymore; look up "character amnesia").


You should look at Pimsleur if you just want to be conversational in Mandarin.

But regarding the writing system, that's where the interesting stuff is IMO, it's a system where words are linked to more to meaning than sound (unlike most other writen languages), which meant it could be used as the writing system for many various regions all around what is now modern China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.


Right, when I’m learning mathematics I hate how they force you to learn math notation.

Learning a romanized version of a language is not learning a language. Sounds in one language don’t map neatly to English sounds, and beginner language learners who use romanization always have pronunciation issues because their headspace isn’t in the language, it’s in a romanized variant of that language.

What’s the point of learning Chinese or any other script language if you don’t learn the script?


> What’s the point of learning Chinese or any other script language if you don’t learn the script?

I once learned Chinese in a very intensive course that focused on the spoken language and only taught a few hundred characters. It has proven very useful for my occasional travels in China, being able to interact with hotels etc., having nice enjoyable conversations with my drivers when hitchhiking, etc. For me, my present skills are enough for what I want to get out of the country; for me, China is just one country among many. The few characters I know are enough of a bare minimum to find my way around. If I were keen on reading Chinese literature, then I would definitely go further with characters, but there is value for many people in having simply a minimum command of the language.


What was the course?


Pimsleur audio books all the way. It's spaced-learning/repetition with conversations.


Came here to say the same. Pimsleur is also excellent for pronunciation and I have this feeling that once I learned something from the course, I never forget it. It just sticks, even after months or years. It is also most similar to how babies learn - without grammar, reading and writing, just by dialogue.


Yes, Pimsleur gives you excellent pronounciation and the sentences really stick (which is very good, of course!).

But apart from that? It doesn't teach you grammar, so you are repeating and repeating like a parrot, hoping that one day you will know why they say XY in one sentence and YX in another sentence. It's true that babies don't learn formal grammar, but they usually grow up in an environment with full immersion (several hours per day over several years), surrounded by native adults who give their best to interprete, repeat and correct (!) their utterances.

In addition, Pimsleur is very slow but it gives you the illusion that you are learning a lot by keeping you constantly busy. At the end, how many words do you learn in three levels? 400? That's barely A1! Most annoying, 70% (just a guess) of the time, you are just listening to the English speaker ("Now repeat this", "Try to say that",...).


I've tried with Duolingo quite a bit, but what I studied never seemed to stay in my memory. I've had much better luck with Language Transfer - https://www.languagetransfer.org

Disclaimer: the guy who runs it is a friend, but I met him through the project.


Low efficacy ed-tech solutions like this don't work.

Context is king in languages.

I think true solutions have to account for the following in language learning:

Video / Audio

Dual Subtitles

Transliterated Subtitles

Tongue Positioning for Pronounciation

I haven't found a solution that does this....


I would pay good money for a speech to text plus translated text solution - something like a dual subtitle AR set up. I am probably unusual in that translation is less of a problem for me than accuracy in hearing. I invariably wish the other side of the conversation had much better diction/ clear pronunciation. I often find that I am hearing very different sounds from what my conversation partner later tells me they were saying. I don't have this problem with English but I do when the partner is speaking the three languages I have studied (French, Japanese and Spanish - none of which have particularly foreign phonemes from English). Any phone apps that do something like this well?


> I often find that I am hearing very different sounds from what my conversation partner later tells me they were saying.

That's normal. Everybody has the same problem to some degree. Your brain is mapping what it hears to the sounds and sound sequences that it knows from your native language. That's usually a good thing because it helps humans to understand others even in the presence of background noise or speech impediments.

Less probable but also possible: You have a hearing loss which your brain is able to compensate for your native language, but not for foreign languages. Had a friend with that problem. He was not able to discriminate between similar words starting with different sibilant sounds. He didn't have the problem in his native language because he knew from context which word would come.

Have you tried to listen to audio books based on books that you know very well in your native language?


In my opinion, Duolingo tries to teach language by forcing familiarity. I for one, just cannot learn a language using that method. I like to learn starting with fundamentals - alphabet, grammar, words, sentences and so on.

Are there any recommended books/material to learn Spanish that way? Everyone says spanish is easy to learn, but all apps kinda try to teach you by repetitive methods with no insights in to the structure of the language.


Nifty.

I've been able to use Duolingo to bootstrap my way into being able to sort of read French. It's also decent at drills in German, a language I took in college.

I really like Duolingo for drills and for getting a sort of 101-level language map. A lot of the early sentences are absurdly inane, to be honest, but they are useful in the drill sense.

That said, I took a run at Chinese, a language which I see as something potentially really useful, and it was a complete non-starter.


I’ve used Duolingo and Memrise for a year learning Mandarin Chinese They both have pros and cons Memrise has native speakers in videos saying the phrases you learned Duolingo forces you to learn the characters rather than letting you get by with pinyin Duolingo is often slightinly wrong or not natural either in the english or the chinese translating


I still find their spaced repetition lacking. I never see some of the words again after seeing them for the first time.


Worse yet is that there is a world of difference between being able to recognize a word when primed, and being able to recognize it when not primed. When it decided that I need refreshing on a phrase I probably got flashcards corresponding to translate this English phrase into Russian, translate the Russian phrase into English (from a set of pre-chosen words), type this Russian phrase in Russian, and maybe type the English version of this Russian phrase and/or type the Russian version of this English phrase. All with the same phrase. Lumped with many other variations of the exercise on the same topic.

Introducing them all together is helpful. However after some level of proficiency I would like to receive them separately. In a group with unrelated exercises. On a schedule indicating how well I know that phrase.

That said, they have been a painless way to gain a basic foundation.


My observation from using Duolingo (Spanish) was similar to this. My theory was that there spaced repetition was simply based topic and then once a topic was chosen it then decided what words to test you on. This is crude, simplistic and ineffective (IMHO). Like you say, there are words you see rarely.

Also, certain topics end up reinforcing earlier topics. I lost count of the number of times that the stupid "algorithm" would make me go through the exercise of translating "no, nada". At some point, don't I just know this?

Additionally, when you have topics that aren't "gold", it simply selects the first non-gold one to repeat. This can mean that a bunch of stuff at the bottom of the tree gets rusty because you don't get to it while you end up redoing stuff you know backwards.

I made this observation in the forums but couldn't really get any traction on the issue.

At some point they also introduced the stupid heart system, which was pretty much my trigger for just abandoning the whole thing.

Also, I'm really not sure how much this format actually works. Like having completed the Spanish tree, I'm honestly not sure if I really remember anything more than a small fraction of it.


Perhaps that's because they have too many words?

If you look at some of the core languages like German the course has a 'words' tab and it shows you exactly how strong it thinks you know each word and when you saw each word last.

It could be different between languages, and who knows how well it works.. but it's definitely something they seem to be working on and putting thought into.


Thing is, I do less than 1 lesson per day. Probably 3 lessons per two weeks. Meaning that I press Practice button about 100 times in that two week period.

After about 40 days, I went back to go through some of the previous lessons, given their new Crown update, and realized I haven't seen some of the words at all.

Despite having around 400 words learned so far.


Don't forget to take into account that new words are added to each course regularly. For newer languages and any of the beta languages, the words you are taught can change very frequently.


I've found that Lingvist is pretty good at spaced repetition. It focuses on hammering in the words I don't pick up quickly, but it still reviews all of the vocabulary it offers pretty regularly.


I think Duolingo is good for getting you past complete beginner but to go deeper I recommend Anki.


1. If you read enough, (spaced) repetition occurs naturally. No need for a software.

2. It's not bad to forget words during the learning process.

3. Purely personal: SRS reviewing is the ultimate bore, however you design your cards. And making the cards is even more of a bore. It's the opposite of fun.


It's good for 'grinding it out' type learning tasks. Example: I sat for and passed all three ham radio exams in one shot mainly because of an android ham radio exam prep app that did SRS. No way I could have done that just by reading ham radio study guides.


This one https://apps.ankiweb.net/ or this one? https://www.ankiapp.com/ If there is much of a difference?


Ankiapp in the browser. Also Anki for iOS (which is around 25 dollars but is the only way the developer is monetizing). This enables sync between iOS and browser.


If anybody interested specifically in Japanese Anki tips, see a previous discussion on this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16748008


I have given PC and Android versions of Anki a number of tries yet I couldn't understand how to use it at all.


Did you try tinycards by duolingo? It looks very promising.


I used tinycards, but at some point you want a desktop interface to mass import cards from CSV instead of punching them in the phone. Also as spartan as the Anki UX is, the actual SRS implementation is quite good.


Why Anki?


The short version is that Anki’s spaced repetition is very good for retaining and learning vocabulary.

My background is that I’ve used it while studying Korean. I’m at about 2,000 korean words now, of which Anki has helped me a lot. Each day I review 50 words and add 20 new ones. It sucks but it works.

As you see new words in reading material, etc, you can add it to Anki. That’s supposed to be how it’s done, but there are premade decks also.

The real beauty lies in anki’s customization. You can add pictures or custom fields and style them. You can reverse the deck so you’re seeing one side or the other when reviewing.

Anki is NOT helpful with a word’s context if you don’t know it or don’t add sample sentences. Which is why people recommend building your own deck over time by reading short stories or news, etc, and adding every word you don’t know, rather than using a premade 5k word deck.

If you have any other questions feel free to ask.


Funny coincidence, I am also studying Korean and think the searchable repository of pre-built decks is a great feature. I also enjoy that the spaced repetition algorithm seems to make it exactly as difficult as it should be without becoming frustrating. Would be interested in Anki decks for studying programming languages.


How much does it cost to place an an advertisement masquerading as an article at fast company?


Unfortunately Duolingo is only getting bashed here.

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