Thoughts After First Checkpoint
Discailmer: I am fluent in Russian and English, and just thought I'd help out with testing the course.
I have just finished the first checkpoint of this course, and so far it is very well done! I think I reported only one 'My answer should be accepted', which is a phenomenally small amount of mistakes for a course in Beta. By comparison, I filed about a dozen such reports for French when I started that course, and it had already been out of Beta! It could be because I already speak Russian and usually put the natural translation, but sometimes I tried experimenting and the system accepted any correct translations I threw at it.
It's hard for me to say about the teaching quality of the course. It seems very good overall, with simple concepts explained in the beginning, but I'm not sure noun declension should be there, and the basic vocabulary should come before (IMO). But that's really something that Russian learners can answer better than me.
The only major complaint I have is the horrible robotic audio, but I do know the troubles that the team went through just to get what we have, so I'm grateful for that. The style and pitch of the audio really remind me of Winnie-the-Pooh in the old Soviet cartoons. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqdiEUp6s4E
I will continue testing and reporting. Great thanks and good luck to the team!
Winnie-the-Pooh? Seriously? That's hilarious... thanks for this post, by the way, it's really helpful to have someone writing about this sort of thing. I sincerely hope that Duolingo will take this into account and fix it if they can.
In general, I think it's better to first have a decent vocabulary and understanding so that by the time pronunciation becomes important, you can actually experiment with it by saying real Russian sentences on your own.
As with any other language, when you first learn how to speak it, you will need to really twist your tongue to get things right—but as you speak more, it becomes easier and more natural. A lot of people don't take this extra step and continue speaking with a horrible accent on purpose (actually very true for Russians speaking other languages ;) ), so as long as you make that special effort and practice enough, you should be fine. Russian has the added advantage that words are mostly pronounced the same as how they are written, so you can pronounce any word you don't know, except the accent which is random.
You can use sites like forvo.com for examples of real Russian pronunciation, maybe tatoeba.org has some sentences, and of course, despite not being perfect, robotic audio (Duolingo, Google Translate) is OK for getting the basic hang of how it differs from English. You can also pair up with a real Russian speaker, that would probably be the best, but isn't always easy.
Lastly, always listen to yourself. Record yourself and play it back to really understand if you're speaking properly (you will probably notice if it's significantly different from real Russian). I actually recommend this even to fluent non-native speakers of any language; for example I have lived in Israel for almost 25 years, and only a few years ago discovered that my Hebrew 'sh' was "too Ashkenazi" (speakers of Hebrew will know what I mean)—by listening to a recording of myself speak.