I'm wondering if someone can tell me how Asian languages for English speakers will work in the future. Will users learn to read Asian characters while learning to speak the language or will the program focus strictly on speaking the language?
In particular, I'm interested in Thai. My wife is Thai and I'd like to learn the language. I'm curious if the words will be spelled out phonetically with English characters or if it'll include the Thai alphabet? I realize Thai's a ways off, but I think Chinese and/or Japanese is around the corner, right?
I don't know the answers since I'm not a mod or anything but I can say what I think.
Duolingo doesn't focus on speaking the language (their goal is the translate the web) and so they will have to be including the other language alphabets to truly teach the language. It may be possible (like on my ipad and in my textbooks) that in the beginning phases it has it phonetically spelled out until you reach a certain point when it stops. I hope they teach the alphabet and teach the languages in their full entirety but only time will really tell.
I wouldn't be surprised if they started with hiragana and katakana with English-romaji provided as hover text. And then later providing a kanji module to pair with every other module. By that point, the kanji could have furigana hover text. (I don't actually know if they plan to do this. It's just an idea I thought they might use. But, it could have several short-comings I haven't thought of yet.) One of the challenges the DL staff will face is with the writing system. Japan has 3 writing systems (4 if you count furigana, 5 if you count romaji. But, I always think of it as just 3)
I would be very excited to know what they plan to do though!
For folks wondering what I'm talking about, see the examples below:
Romaji --using latin alphabet to spell out words. For example りんご (hiragana-apple), ri.n.go (romaji-apple).
Katakana is used for non-asian loan words like コンプーター (katakana-computer) ko.n.pu.u.ta.a (romaji-computer). It is syllabic.
Hiragana also provides a syllabic (syllabary?) sound system for Asian words as demonstrated in the first example.
Kanji is a system of pictures, like hieroglyphics. The sound changes based on what other kanji are around it, forming new words. 飛行機 (Kanji-airplane) hi.ko.u.ki (romaji-airplane). (Note: While Japanese and Chinese both use Kanji, it isn't always a smooth transition. Take 手紙 in Japanese this means letter (symbols are for hand and paper.) I've heard that in Chinese these same characters mean toilet paper. (If I'm wrong let me know!!)
Furigana is a super script of hiragana over kanji, or a subscribe of hiragana under kanji.
I genuinely hope that there will be a focus on learning the alphabet before learning words. The best way is to listen and repeat many times. It's also important to learn to recognize the characters and identify them. When I learned that, that's when I really began to advance in Arabic. Learning the script is essential. It is a must if you want to know how to pronounce the words. It isn't as hard as many think and I'm convinced that Duolingo will make it easy and fun. =)
I am looking forward to the inclusion of Asian languages on Duo! I certainly hope that they include the writing systems in the courses, but it may be a challenge to find the best way to do so. The variety of meanings associated with Chinese characters and Japanese kanji will pose its own obstacle, along with the question of how to teach writing online.
I'm curious about this too! I agree with akhansson that phonetically spelling out words vs learning the script will make correct pronunciation harder in the long run. For Chinese, since they have pin yin, I think you can type on a "normal" keyboard then press numbers for different intonations and homophones?
Btw, I'm so excited you want to learn Thai!! I applied to contribute to the learn English from Thai course and I think I'll be waiting a while ;P
Shouldn't be too much of a problem for any Asian language. When people say "Asian" I think mostly they would be understood to mean East Asian and maybe sometimes South East Asian. Of all the languages in the world the only 2 that actively use a logographic script are Chinese and Japanese (partly). All the other languages, be it Korean, Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew etc., use alphabets. Sure, there might be some additional rules or difficulties, such as no vowels in Arabic and Hebrew, or "syllable blocks" in Korean, but hey, if kids can do it, so can you.
With regards to Thai as mentioned by the OP, it uses an alphabet. I would actually be more worried about the tones (of which it has 6 if I'm not mistaken).