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Suggestion: More alphabet skills to encourage learning Cyrillic

First of all, I'd like to thank the team for this fantastic course! Although I'm still at the very beginning of the tree, I want to make a suggestion for further improvement.

Currently I've got the impression, that the course discourages learners to use the Cyrillic alphabet. First of all, when starting the course the switch is turned to "latin mode". I think you can argue about that, but default values sometimes have a large impact on site handling.

But the bigger point is, that the first skill isn't enough at all to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. For beginners like me, who never saw this alphabet before, this results in a very steep learning curve in the first skills (Especially since I simultaneously learn the new keyboard). Without the help of this great post, I would have been completely lost.

Just as a comparison, in the other languages I tried it took me about 1-2 days to get to the first checkpoint. In Russian it took me about 2 weeks! (It gets better now ;-) )

If you are a more casual learner, this may be very demotivating. So I think many people will then either quit the course or change the settings to latin.

So I would suggest to stress this part of the course a bit more and perhaps make Cyrillic the default. I know Duo doesn't work at its best when it comes to teaching alphabets, but at least 1-2 further skills, focussing on the alphabet, would have helped me a lot there.

Edit based on the comments below: It could be even better to have a full section with easy lectures to teach the alphabet from which there would be a shortcut to test out. Since Duo has those shortcuts it shouldn't be a hurdle for any experienced user at all.

Edit2: I just started a poll to gather some data on how many people actually use the latin version: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/11900279

November 23, 2015



I don't have much of an opinion either way about whether there should be more on the alphabet, but I agree completely that Cyrillic should be the default. Unfortunately, I don't think that's something the course mods have any power over :-/


I believe if the Russian and Ukranian course moderators had any say on the matter, the Latin mode wouldn't even exist, let alone be the default choice. It appears that Duolingo instituted this as a way to deal with the problem of being not able to find Cyrillic keyboards or figure out how to use them...

As for the teaching, I think it does teach the alphabet (well most of it, anyways) in an unconventional way, but those lessons do require actively learning them in, rather than passively taking it in as can be be done with most lessons in most other courses. That said, I do agree with you that it could use an addition.


Well yes, I don't think the moderators have the power to change this function. However, I think it is a good thing to have the latin mode. It is an additional obstacle for people who aren't tech-affine to switch keyboard settings. So it helps many of those learners. (I think if you learned Russian with the Latin alphabet it is not that difficult to change after learning Cyrillic)

And yes, you will learn the alphabet along the way. But as I said, the learning curve is much steeper than it needs to be. And I see no real advantage in doing it this way.


I believe I saw an explanation by Shady_arc somewhere: They skipped the very basics because many learners are already familiar with Russian alphabet, at least a little. And, anyway, it is not too hard to find lessons on YouTube with letters and their sounds.

It would be cool to have the very basics which you could skip if you want.


I heard that, too. But I don't think this should count as an argument. Duolingo courses are designed for absolute beginners. It is like saying that there should be no skills teaching "I am", "You are" and so on in a "English for German"-course, because most Germans already know some English.

If you really know what is taught there it is quite easy to test out. That's what the shortcuts are for. In addition, you will learn some words there even if you already know the alphabet.


Interestingly, the English from Russian/Ukrainian courses have absolutely no skills to learn Latin letters. Of course, people who use those languages have generally been exposed to the Latin alphabet, but I think it's worth noting that this thing we all take for granted, that Duolingo will teach us the alphabet step by baby step, is not implemented at all the other way around. They are just thrown in and expected to get on with it.


As early as in Stalin's times, even a fifth grader from a village school could read the Latin alphabet. There are, probably, places on Earth where people cannot read the Latin script but you'll be hard pressed to find such people in Russia or Ukraine.

And you can safely assume that a person with a mobile or a PC has at least a basic knowledge of the Latin alphabet.


Yeah, I figured that was likely the case. I do think we English speakers tend, on the whole, to go to the other extreme and expect to be coddled in this regard. O noes, new alphabet runs in terror kinda thing.

Personally, I've always found the best way to learn an alphabet is to grasp the basics and then go use it, which seeks to me more or less what the Russian tree does.


I agree that the alphabets would need 1-2 more lessons. Of course there are other sources for everything, but I think the idea is that Duolingo courses are somewhat complete. So that we could treat the other sources as a nice bonus and not the lifeline to even be able to read.

Since there is already the possibility to skip lessons by doing the test in the beginning of the course, I don't see any good reason why the first lessons couldn't focus more on the alphabets. Yes, there are many polyglots and language-maniacs here, but better understanding of the alphabets would support more the needs of the average learner. If your motivation dies in the beginning because things are too difficult, you are not likely to try again.


I am pretty sure that a 7-skill lesson at the beginning of the tree is an overkill.

The main reason, though, is that Duolingo is going to create writing systems teaching lessons eventually, so we did not feel like completely ruining the beginning of the tree by teaching the Alphabet forever (which does not deserve such attention). Duolingo's lessons are one of the least effective ways to learn the letters. For all I know, using the page I provided, this and this will do the job faster than learning words, alphabet, grammar and pronunciation rules all at once on Duo. Words are used, in fact, while teaching alphabet but no one expects you to memorize them, whereas Duolingo does.


Ok, I get that. So maybe this is a problem which requires a solution on Duo's side, such as the possibility to exclude some lessons from the repetition (Or even a whole new mini-tree/course for learning the alphabet).

Since there are quite a lot new languages incoming with an alphabet different from Latin, it may be worthwhile for Duo to give such possibilities.

However, if you use words which are very similar to English, as you did in the first lesson, I don't think it has to be unnecessary clutter later on. And it wouldn't be difficult to memorize them even in the beginning when having no context.

Edit: In addition: Yes, maybe seven skills would be an overkill. But currently there are only five lessons to teach some parts of the alphabet. And I don't think it would hurt, if there would be some more to teach the rest.


Oh, sorry. I meant, a 7-lesson skill, surely not a 7-skill lesson.

Currently the skill has 5 lessons. The Ukrainian tree has 16 but it's their choice.

Personally, I would maaaybe make it 9 or 10 lessons but not longer. The risk of running into confusing words also increases—I have not foreseen so many people get mad at the course including (a rather infrequent) word "medic", which is indeed a bit different than "doctor" but was picked solely for its sound.


If you do end up adding more lessons next version, maybe you could split it into Alphabet 1 and Alphabet 2? Some people find it frustrating to have a skill with too many lessons in.

Why do people object to "medic"?


Exactly. I fully agree with that statement.


I completely agree... i have resorted to doing each skill in latin to get a basic pronunciation tip, because i am completely lost if i try the cyrillic first.


I think the way Latin transliterations are used in these courses needs to be completely re-worked. Ideally I think that instead of having a Cyrillic mode and a Latin mode there should be one mode that does both. Present the Cyrillic text by default, with the transliteration visible in mouse-over text. (both before and after the question is answered) Accept either version in the answer boxes.


That sounds good to me. Now if they would only implement that...

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