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Translation mishap *use of a swear word*

I use duolingo for most of my junior high French classes, but today I had an unfortunate incident when a student came across the word "chienne." The translated word in English was a swear-word. I hoped duolingo would have a better way of translating as this word is considered "inappropriate" in English.
Anyone else came across this problem? And I have also unchecked the box "enable all words," under the privacy settings, in order to prevent this from happening, but it still occurred.

December 11, 2015


[deactivated user]

    I contacted the French course moderators, and received some very good replies that explain its usage. They were the following:


    The issue is that the word is actually an accepted and correct term for a female dog which happens to also be used as a swear word in English. It is not used as a swear word in the context of the Duolingo exercise.


    So as to be clear, "❤❤❤❤❤" it its prime sense is the female animal of dogs, wolves, foxes. If impolite people use this word to refer to a woman, this is not what Duolingo is teaching, for most animals in French do have a masculine noun and a feminine noun: une chienne, une louve, un renarde. This is what you have to learn and also be aware that in all languages, some words are used as insults.


    Hi there! Thanks for reporting this. I have made the necessary changes so that the word in question will no longer appear as a recommended answer, but on a philosophical level, I'd add that "❤❤❤❤❤" is still a non-derogatory word for a female dog. It's only derogatory if it's used to describe a person, but I understand that the word itself has become provocative for that reason.


    Thanks for contacting the French course moderators about this Teenage_Polyglot, and thanks for sharing their responses. This comment is directed at the folks who gave you those responses.

    These are all good responses and all quite correct, but still, instances such as this are problematic when working with young students. I would contend that it may also be problematic for individuals learning English. Yes, ❤❤❤❤❤ is the technically correct term for a female canid, but outside of a few select environments (breeders, wildlife biologists, vets...perhaps a few more) this term does not get used in day to day conversation. Outside of these few environments, the common English term for a female dog is "dog", not "❤❤❤❤❤". I can honestly say that I've never had a child come up to me and say "Hey! My ❤❤❤❤❤ did something really cute last night!" It just doesn't happen...and I think it does a disservice to individuals learning a language to suggest otherwise.

    Language and culture are inextricably linked. How one uses language to convey ideas is easily as important as having a repertoire of technically correct terms. I understand that Duolingo is necessarily limited in this area, but it does seem unnecessary to intentionally include phrases that are likely to be problematic in daily conversation. Knowing that culturally inappropriate phrases are present on the English side leads me to question the value of the French I'm learning. How many times have developers put in a French phrase thinking "Sure, no one would ever actually SAY this...but it's technically correct..."? I have sense enough to check out questionable references before I use them, but most of my students don't.

    Do you know if there's anywhere I can find out what other culturally inappropriate phrases might come up so that I can do some pre-teaching with my more suggestible students? Oh yes, we've already talked about the possibility that there may be phrases including naked waitresses (although why developers thought this was an important phrase to know is beyond me) and while a few of my students are still uncomfortable about this idea, they're all clear now that Duolingo is not suggesting that it is culturally appropriate for waitresses to be naked. Just wondering if there any other little cherry bombs that I should be preparing for. Thanks.


    I do not speak for Duolingo, but I accept responsibility for the translation that seems to cause you discomfort. This reaction causes me distress. I remember a respected educator saying, perhaps a half century ago, that "Our business is not to make words and ideas 'safe' for students, but to make students safe for words and ideas." The word "❤❤❤❤❤" is a perfectly good label for a female dog; if it has acquired other "unacceptable" uses, it is YOUR responsibility to explain that to your students. If they recognize it as a "dirty" word Duolingo is not teaching them anything; they know that sense already. There are other words I wish young humans did not have to know: "war," "death," "murder," "terrorism," "discrimination," "poverty" for example. But they know these obscene words already, too. Do your job as teachers, and explain these concepts to your students. Make them safe for living in this world.

    [deactivated user]

      This is concerning, and i was surprised to see that word is used as a hint, and translation. The problem, I believe, is how English has no separate word for "male dog" or "female dog".

      I am going to contact a course contributer regarding this, and ask them to take a look at sentences like "A dog and a female dog". If you hover over the hint for female dog, you can see what the OP is talking about. When I looked at the lesson, and came upon this sentence, it was the recommended answer as well.

      happy learning!


      Oh my! That's a concern for me too. My students are as young as 8 years old, and a few of them are coming up on the "Animals" lesson. While I don't feel that it's necessary (or even a good idea) to shield children from perfectly good words that have been twisted into swear words, I do think that it's important that exposure to these words comes complete with directed discussions regarding where and when and how it is appropriate to use such terms and exactly why they are considered to be impolite under other circumstances. I don't want their first exposure to be from Duolingo.


      I really hope Duolingo can change this as a lot of my students are coming across this word in the animal unit.


      As a department chair in an Episcopal school, I have concern for what the parents will think as well. We can teach students these cultural differences but their parents are not in our classrooms. I have not yet adopted Duolingo for all of our French classes because of some of this. We have French students from 3rd grade to 12th grade which is a wide audience. I'm most concerned about our younger students before deciding to use this tool in our school.


      Duolingo was kind enough and changed the translation to only "dog" for both words " chien" and "chienne due to the fact it is a concern for students. This is very much appreciated

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