oops! They did not have both on forvo. There were two recordings of the same word. "полотенца " We need to wait for them to add "полотенцe". I do hear the "ye" at the end of this word on Duolingo. Not many dictionaries give the pronunciation for each form of the word. Do you have that link? I tried Wiktionary and it wouldn't bring up that page. http://www.russianlessons.net/lessons/lesson1_main.php https://www.duolingo.com/comment/8256103
http://forvo.com/search/%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%86%D0%B0%20%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%86%D0%B5/ Thank you below! On forvo I do hear a difference between a and e, but I don't know if it is my imagination. It is milder as the "y" sound is not really heard.
In all syllables that follow the stressed one (in the case of полотенце, it is це or ца) letters а, о and е stand for the same sound which is shwa. There can't be any difference between це and ца in this position because ц is never palatalized (the same is true about ж and ш). In other words, ке and ка, for example, will sound different with shwa in both as к becomes к' before е, but кожа and коже will sound the same, so will ноша and ноше.
Sorry for the delayed reply, and thanks for the useful links above. I was aware of russian.lessons.net but I haven't really used it yet - think I'll be making more use of it as a supplement to Duolingo as I go through the course.
The wiktionary links are:
There are pronunciations for полотенце on Forvo - I think the reason your search didn't work was that you had an English 'e' on the end instead of a Cyrillic one - looks the same, but it messes the search up. (It took me a while to work that out, but I like a puzzle!) Have a listen, and see what you think. I still don't hear the "ye" on the end - I'd be interested to know if you do.
I had trouble remembering all of the pronouns, and which pronouns to use...studying this page helped me very much!