1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. Colloquialism indicator


Colloquialism indicator

I've encountered a number of colloquialisms and idioms whilst learning German, which are sometimes quite bizarre. Perhaps some kind of icon that indicated that phrase is colloquial or idiomatic would be a good idea. For example, my favourite is:

"Mädchen sind nicht aus Zucker." "Girls are not made out of sugar."

An English speaker (such as myself) would read this phrase and frown, thinking: Indeed! Nor are girls made from concrete, marzipan or carbon nanotubes...

I had to ask my German friend to explain, and she said that people say it quite often, implying that you won't melt if you venture out in the rain.

English also has numerous strange sayings that would probably confuse a language learner, such as:

'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' 'He's a good egg.' 'It's like trying to get blood from a stone.'

January 3, 2013



Great idea CJ!

Personally, I think slang and colloquialisms should be left out of the Duolingo lessons entirely, unless they want to insert various lesson modules along the way that are devoted to that specifically, because they can be confusing as hell to a new learner. However, if they choose to leave them in the standard lesson material, which they will, then adding an icon indicator together with a good explanation of the meaning, would certainly be a nice addition.


I agree there... 1.It would be confusing. They always are unless properly explained. 2.It would be a nice section because it's everyday language, confusing or not (everyday language tends to be extremely confusing anyway) 3. I could not be approached as direct translation or even the corresponding expression in English, as they do not always match. I believe they would need a context explanation or little article.


Here's an idea of what could be done to not only warn that the phrase is an idiom, but also offer an explanation! http://img526.imageshack.us/img526/5531/girlsz.jpg


Well done, CJ! I really like the idea. That looks great!

As a side note that has nothing to do with whether or not this is a great idea (it is), I would point out that "Girls won't melt if they get caught in the rain" is also an expression. I think it's good to give that expression, because then it becomes clear why the word "sugar" is used. But what does the expression actually mean? I think it means "Girls aren't weak". Is that it?

For dummies like me, I'd like to see both an equivalent English expression (if there is one) and the literal meaning. Here's why. If I'd seen "Mädchen sind nicht aus Zucker." in the lesson material, I'd assume it was a nonsense sentence, still useful for demonstrating grammar though. Once I found out (from this post) that it's a German saying, I thought it meant "Girls aren't always nice just because they're girls". Sort of like one might say in English, "Yeah, well, girls aren't all sugar and spice." Clearly I got that wrong.


I've also wondered if some of the sentences in the Spanish course are less bizarre to a Spanish person than they sound to me.


I am native and I have been doing some "incursions" to see if I can help here and there... some are indeed bizarre


This seems like an extremely good idea to me. Part of learning a language should also be learning some of the culture the language is spoken in. How can you say you understand the French language if you don't understand the people who speak it? We're already broadening our horizons with a new language, why not push us a little further and give us some culture, as well?


Common phrases should absolutely be added to the Duolingo curriculum.

For example, "Aqui' tiene" in Spanish means "Here you go", such as when you are handing something to someone else. The literal translation "here you have" simply does not cut the mustard. To learn a language, it is just as important to learn idioms and common constructions as it is to learn individual vocabulary words in isolation. I suggest that phrases and idioms should be treated as "first class citizens" and tracked as we learn them, just as individual vocabulary words are currently.

Above all, given that Duolingo's business model is to create quality translations, teaching common phrases should be a priority. Computer translation tools can create sub-par translations just fine (if you want a fast but low-fidelity translation, just use Google Translate). But the remarkable and valuable part of human translations is the ability to translate meaning rather than just translating the individual words. The human ability to capture colloquial phrases is precisely what gives Duolingo translations their comparative advantage over the alternatives.

Let's encourage the amazing Duo team to teach us the phrases we need to know to produce great translations!

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.