[Suggestion] Real life situation lessons
Hello to the Duolingo team and congrats to your awesome product!
While you are probably very busy with all the changes, tests, incubator stuff and more, I still would like to point out something that bothers me a little bit (in real life), and that's why I want to tell you about it.
I live in a large city with a very high percentage of immigrants, expats and tourists. Many of my friends and work mates come from all over the world and barely speak the native tongue of this country.
As this is a big city, they do normally quite fine with English, but there are many, many situations they are not prepared to tackle. These include: getting a proper hair cut and describe what you want from the hair stylist; calling and dealing with a plumber to fix broken pipes; speaking about the formalities that go before you can rent a place; dealing with doctors when ill; dealing with hospitals and emergencies; talking to the police when a crime has happened; registering yourself with the authorities when you settled down; understanding a work contract; looking for health insurance; speaking to customer service when there's a problem with the internet connection or ordered products arrived broken; getting a tax number and a tax consultant; who to call when the car broke down and how to speak with the car mechanics; and what are the parts called that are suddenly needed when the vacuum cleaner stops working?
Do you see the issue here? There is just so much ... I hope you can maybe discuss this at some point, note it down for some later improvements or so. I would love to see some lessons that deal with very specific situations thoroughly, so people's life can be made easier :)
Thank you for your time!
There are two types of teaching.
The first type focuses more on grammar and gives a very basic vocabulary. It is great to prepare you for reading: you'll have all the necessary structure and can expand your vocabulary with the help of a dictionary. The examples of this approach are Duolingo and Michel Thomas's courses. People end up with a fair level of grammar but are often helpless in specific sutiations.
The second type focuses on real life situations and encourages you to learn phrases rather than build them from words using grammar. This type is used on busuu.com and in Pimsleur's courses (from what I have heard). There, people learn a lot of useful phrases but are often bewildered about their structure.
Combining both types will make a course really powerful but also quite big. In fact, most academic textbooks cover grammar, vocabulary, useful phrases, pronunciation, etc., but you don't go through such a textbook in a couple of months (as you can with Duolingo or Busuu). Turning Duolingo from gamelike experience into a comprehensive and serious language course may push away casual learners who enjoy Duolingo now because it's fun and learning does not last for years.
When I learned French, I used Duolingo, Busuu, Michel Thomas's courses, and podcasts. Every type of course gave me something different, and they worked great in combination. I'd encourage users who are serious in their learning to use different resources and take the best of them.
This raises the interesting question of the "ideal" size for a Duolingo language course. Of course, adding all these topics would give a course maybe 5-10 times larger than the current <2000 words per language, which is just sufficient to touch briefly on most of the topics you mention. Just for medical situations you'd want maybe 200 or more words to describe all manner of body parts, symptoms, and treatments. So obviously there's a question of how many person-hours are available to expand these courses. In the later stages of the Italian tree there are still people complaining that the course is buggy, valid translations aren't accepted etc., so I think any expansions at present would be met with howls of "first fix what's there already!".
The other thing I wonder is whether people would be put off by such long courses. For me, one strong motivation for study is the visible prospect of finishing the course. At the current sizes, this can be done in a matter of months by completing around 4 lessons a day. I'm not sure how I'd feel about starting a language course with a projected completion date in 2017.
A valid point, but language learning takes years in a formal environment, and you never truly stop learning a language, in my opinion. Also, the tree could remain the same, and only unlock if you reach a certain branch.
Learning a language to a fluent, near-native standard takes years for most people, yes. But expanding a Duolingo tree to 15,000 words and spending four years on it won't get you to that fluency -- rather, you'll be a basic-level speaker with an unusually large vocabulary. The current Duolingo course gets you to a stage where you can start conversing with natives and reading in your target language, which is where you really start taking steps towards fluency.
This is what makes Duolingo so attractive: at least it looks like you can learn a language in a few months. This is enough for a random user to make a first step, and with time they can always add other methods and enhance their knowledge.
Yes, I suspect one of the Duolingo staff members is a PhD, a Psychological Doctor. These people play mind games with us! In any case, in truth Duolingo is one big research instrument for one of the founder's research project.
On topic, I think the lingot store would be the best place for adding new foliage to the tree, making it rather optional, and only showing it once a person completes the tree. I think seeds would be an appropriate name for such a store object!
That way it looks more game like, much like buying an expansion to a game.
"This raises the interesting question of the "ideal" size for a Duolingo language course. Of course, adding all these topics would give a course maybe 5-10 times larger than the current..."
Speaking for myself, I do not believe the course needs to be lengthened to achieve this objective. Within the current structure, the sentences could be restructured. i.e. andare passato prossimo = I went downtown to find a barber to cut my hair.
i.e. andare passato prossimo = I went downtown to find a barber to cut my hair.
But this won't teach you the phrases and vocabulary needed to explain your preferred hairstyle to the barber.
Within the current structure, the sentences could be restructured. i.e. andare passato prossimo = I went downtown to find a barber to cut my hair.
Currently the grammar lessons don't tend to introduce new vocabulary -- for example in passato prossimo I believe the new material is just the appropriate forms of verbs we've met already. This makes it easier to figure out the sentences from our existing knowledge. Note that, even with this restriction, a lot of people complain that material is introduced too quickly. So imagine the outcry if every new grammar unit threw in a pile of specialized vocabulary while you're trying to get your head round a new tense or case! There's really no free lunch here: you can't teach more material in the same number of lessons without making the lessons harder, and from what I've seen on the discussions, not many people want harder lessons.
(By the way, I think you mean "e.g." not "i.e."; please see this handy guide: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/ie )
I would just include new lessons that introduce the vocabulary needed for the specific situations. In the barber case those are verbs (cut, dye), nouns (hair, strain, curls), adjectives (red, straight), but not Grammar. Well I guess active and passive and future/past would play a role. And then you do the barber lesson, the vehicle repair lesson, the dentist lesson and so on.
Oh btw, I once applied to be a contributor for En/De, but after I read that you received like thousands of applications, I realized my own one was too half-assed to be ever considered. I totally forgot to mention the qualities that would me qualify. What I'm trying to say ... I would be happy to help with said topical lessons. :D
Just so you know I'm not one of those people who jump in and just demand.
While I was typing and making corn bread for dinner (good vocab possibilities there) I see that you added another blurb. I, also, agree with this thought of yours. Somehow, DUO needs to develop a method that allows them to receive constructive input without a the huge burden of thousands of posts.
I cannot agree with you more. I do not believe that DUO has enough real life situations in their exercises. Quite frankly, I do not understand why they don't. Having previously studied Italian in the USA and in Italy; I can appreciate the lack of useful information. IMO, what DUO needs is input on the subject matter that they form their sentences around.
I am using Duo as a refresher, and I do like the setup of the site. What they need to do is to change the vocabulary of the sentences to more useful scenarios. How to buy tickets for a train, airplane, concert, bus etc. As you said haircuts, grocery store vocabulary. The list is endless. I have to admit that I am baffled at the reasoning behind the choices that have been made. I do not see any reason that the grammar section that is being taught would be infringed upon with a more useful vocabulary.
I see that you are learning German and Spanish, so, that indicates that this is occurring in other languages too. Your comments and others I have read on this topic deter me from attempting another language here.