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Finished Ukrainian Tree – Thoughts

So finally I have gone through the Ukrainian course tree. What a ride! It was exciting to learn the language, especially the vocabulary that differs from Russian. Now I can finally try to communicate with Ukrainians I meet abroad (many of my local friends are also from Ukraine but don't speak Ukrainian. Maybe I can troll them now :) ).

I'd like to extend a big thank you to the creators of this course! While below I will also have a healthy dose of criticism, please know that this is just a list of thoughts for improvement, not criticism of the great effort that went into making this course.

So here are some thoughts:

<h1>The good</h1>
  1. The course was built fairly quickly, allowing students to get a taste for Ukrainian and Slavic languages in general when other Slavic langauges were not available. If/when the team releases an expanded tree, students who are serious about Ukrainian will have a good basis.
  2. The sentences for the audio were pre-recorded, instead of using a robotic voice. While this causes problems like rigidity in the sentences the course offers, overall I think Duolingo courses should either have pre-recorded sentences (by real native speakers), or no audio at all. I am completely convinced that this is how it should be after doing the Ukrainian, French and part of the Russian tree. So hopefully more sentences are recorded, and keep it up!
  3. Each lesson returns the learner to sentences they got wrong so they can try again. This is not done in the French course for example, which is a shame—it really helps cement understanding of more difficult concepts without doing the same lesson over and over again (which gets tedious and I'm sure it can cause learners to abandon the course).
<h1>The bad</h1>
  1. So let's get the biggest and most obvious issue out of the way: the course was made with very specific goals in mind. It seems to be meant for practical travel/business in Ukraine, and less for learning/immersing in the language (reading literature, listening and understanding Ukrainian music and TV, etc.). This is how concepts like 'superstition' made it into the tree, but not much more common words (especially verbs) that are too numerous to list here. It all comes down to the fact that the tree is very small and there was no space to include everything, so the team decided to prioritize travel/business concepts. Hopefully this can be fixed, but it will require a tree at least double in size, like the Russian or French trees
  2. Continuing the above: unfortunately the course also has political overtones, some of which are understandable while others are baffling. For example, I understand that the team made a huge effort to release before Russian, and actually this is a good thing (IMO) even at the expense of releasing a small tree. But what I don't understand is why names like Kiev and Dnieper (official English names) are not accepted in most lessons, maybe because they are transliterations from Russian and not Ukrainian. I hope that this was unintentional (although at the time of this writing it hasn't been fixed despite dozens of reports from me alone). Also sentences like "Real Ukrainian history" are strange, and seem like over-politization to me. Another amusing example but probably unintentional, 'Це Україна' appears in the Future lesson :) I also hope Ukraine has a great future!
  3. Again continuing from #1, it appears that in many lessons, the words are very loosely related to the lesson subject. It happened in the French course with the 'Transport' lesson, and it was so obvious that many people "reported" it—but in the Ukrainian course this problem is almost ubiquitous. Again it's a consequence of fitting so many different concepts in such a small tree, and I hope the tree will be expanded.
  4. The next major issue: very few reports have been processed, and I sincerely hope that this is because the team is working on something big, like expanding the tree :) I think I made at least 1,000 legitimate reports in this tree, and some of the problems are systemic, like in some lessons the audio is completely unrelated to the sentence. I really hope they address these soon! This is also a great place to say a huge thank you to the volunteers who are not course moderators, but have been answering questions in the discussions!
  5. Continuing from #4: some of the systemic errors (i.e. same error in many exercises) seem to stem from intentional decisions by the team, or simple oversights that can quickly be fixed. Examples: маршрутка should be 'share taxi' by default, літак is 'airplane' (not just 'plane'), сосиска is 'sausage' and definitely not 'hotdog' (which is a specifically cooked sausage), and аптека should be 'pharmacy', not 'drugstore' (usually a convenience store or supermarket that includes a pharmacy). I think this point was the most frustrating for me in the course, together with the Kiev vs Kyiv issue.
  6. Lastly for the major problems: there is no verb conjugation / noun declension feature yet. This is a problem even for a Russian-speaker like me, but for non-Russian/Polish-speakers I can imagine it would make learning a nightmare. I understand that this is a huge feature, maybe even more difficult to do than a larger tree, but it should definitely be added before the course is out of beta.
<h1> Technical problems </h1>
  1. There is a serious problem with audio dynamics, some audio is extremely quiet, while some is a bit loud. They should ask the Duolingo team to implement some kind of volume normalization library (there are open-source libraries out there) to fix this automatically.
  2. New words are highlighted in orange, but seemingly at random—sometimes already-learned words are orange, while other times new words are not orange. Worth a look by the Duo dev team.

So yeah, these are just some thoughts. I can't wait for whatever comes next: a larger tree, and maybe a Ukrainian for Russian speakers course :D good luck!

December 12, 2015



Congrats ! The problem 2 in Technical problems is something in every courses, not just Ukrainian. At least, I've encountered this problem in the Dutch, German and Spanish trees


Thanks. In French it actually almost never happened (I think less than 10 times in the entire course), so I thought it was a rare problem. Turns out it's not so rare then.


I can't agree about the audio in one respect; there are pluses and minuses to the options available, but either is preferable to no audio at all. Too many people are aural learners, and even an imperfect audio is a better introduction to a language than the learner attempting to go by their own, possibly faulty, understanding of how the alphabet is spoken, which can be a decidedly dodgy guessing game.

Having attempted to learn languages outside the Latin alphabet (or with a very different usage of the alphabet), without audio input, even the best descriptions to approximate a given sound can be misleading, and some of them (even in commercially produced textbooks) are awful. Given the choice between that and a robotic voice which can at least give me an idea, I want the audio every time, no question.

A good speaker, having done recordings in conditions where there is no necessity for there to be a lot of sound reduction (it's my understanding this is part of the reason for the slightly patchy Ukrainian audio, as opposed to the TTS on the French and Russian trees.

I share your desire for a more in depth, longer tree. Duolingo is good at teaching grammatical patterns, in my experience; it seems to make a lot of sense to capitalise on that. And I would absolutely love to see a Russian > Ukrainain tree.

Well done for finishing the tree! Вітаю, поздравляю!


The thing with audio is that you don't have to sacrifice on recorded audio and settle for TTS if you can't record every sentence. I think that any team with 0 budget can record a few dozen sentences (especially in the basics) to give a user an idea of what the language and specific constructs sound like.

In some languages with nearly-random pronunciation like English, or unwritten vowel languages like Hebrew, it's more important to continue the audio further, but for languages like Russian in Ukrainian I see no problem with releasing a course with only 10% pre-recorded audio, and then completing it as time allows (while leaving the other 90% with no audio at all at first).

The reason I say no audio is better than TTS is that for many languages TTS just makes too many mistakes and gives the wrong impression. French is a great example, when a lot of the TTS audio was not just low-quality, but simply incorrect.


I tested out part of the French tree and haven't done any since, so I'd have to take your word for that.

With Russian, where letters can change due to stress and in voiced and unvoiced clusters, I think a lot of people need the reminders to take those things into account. Yes, you can learn the rules, but for most people learning the rules by sitting down and memorising them is quite forbidding, and they learn better by continually hearing unstressed Os reduced, for example.

Also remember that many of us English speakers are horrible, horrible language learners, and run away from the first sign of difficulty. And while people who grow up in countries which use non-Latin alphabets generally learn the Latin alphabet out of necessity, these days (or so it seems), to many people, Cyrillic is a huge stumbling block before they even start. Those of us "in the know" are well aware it's not close to being as difficult as people think, but for many people it's very intimidating. Note the number of people actually asking whether they should learn Cyrillic (which really should be a no-brainer of a question, no?), or complaining it's 'too hard'.

With a resource like Duo that's supposedly designed to be used to absorb the information 'naturally', the audio is an important aspect of that. I think for some people it'll be a bigger deal than for others, but, just IMO, it's part of the package that needs to be included. For people who are very much aural learners, it's hard to do without, but even for the average person, I think it's generally helpful.

There are other issues with actual human recordings. The Ukrainian course is a case in point; because of necessary noise reduction, there's a huge variation in volume.

(I've also seen complaints about poor intonation, but as I'm not even a native speaker of Russian, never mind Ukrainian, I can't comment on that. However, apparently some native speakers didn't feel it was good, as I recall.)

The Irish team have had terrible problems, apparently their 'native speaker' just isn't very good, and some of the pronunciations are actually wrong. Worst of both worlds!

The native recordings also don't have the ability to be played at a lower speed for the listening exercises, which is sometimes very helpful for the learner.

The only course I've used where the human being speaking is a definite asset, for which I would happily vote, is Esperanto. The vocal artist on those recordings is excellent, as is the overall sound quality. The best voice on Duolingo, IMO.

If one could guarantee getting someone that good for all languages, then the TTS versus Real Person argument would sway heavily in favour of the real person, IMO.

In the meantime, I think there are pros and cons to both.

I really don't like the idea of trying to learn a language without it, myself, I just find it too important to absorbing the relation of letters to sounds (I'm actually finding this way more difficult with Polish than with Ukrainian, or than I remember it being with Russian 8-o), and just in general cementing things in my mind. Attempting to tackle a language I didn't already have exposure to, even if it used the Latin script, would be very difficult for me without audio. Everyone is different, but for me personally, it's a case of being decidedly better than nothing. I'm aware it's not always perfect, and it's never going to be my only source of input for a language I'm serious about, but I would find it very hard to do without.

If the TTS is very bad, then I could see a smaller amount of accurate sentences would be better than loads of sentences with mistakes, but I don't really feel qualified to comment on that. The courses I've actually done a significant amount in have all been okay in that regard - rarely perfect, but good enough to be helpful.


"Kiev" and "Dnieper" are transliterations from Russian, and they're not any more official than anything else, just perhaps more commonly used. The US Embassy uses "Kyiv" and "Dnipro," which are transliterations from Ukrainian.

As I understand it, the Duolingo Ukrainian course has a fairly strong connection with the US Peace Corps presence in the country. Having had that experience, yes, travel/business understanding is much more critical than reading. You need to be able to get your groceries at the market and buy a train ticket.


OK "official" was a bit of an exaggeration, because English doesn't have a central authority and technically there's no such thing as "correct" or "official" English. However, Kiev is not just more commonly used than Kyiv, it's an order of magnitude more common, both in general and in important publications. This is changing slowly and I think that very soon they will be about equal in high-profile publications. Still, even when that happens and certainly right now, it's very important to accept Kiev and Dnieper (and other similar cases) as correct answers for this course.

On the other point, I agree that if you have to present only a small vocabulary, maybe it's better to have specific travel-useful words (except 'superstition'). However, my hope is that they expand the tree significantly to really teach people Ukrainian—not only because I personally learn Ukrainian for understanding and not travel/business, but also from my experience learning other languages. When I finished my French tree, for instance, I had no problem asking about train tickets and groceries in Paris, even though the French course has very little travel-specific vocabulary. Basically it's just one lesson near the end of the tree, and everything else is scattered; but understanding how the language works helped a lot more for real-life inquiries. Same with Japanese for me (although Duolingo has no Japanese course yet). On the other hand, learning just a small set of words useful for travel will often leave you stuck when you need to say something out of the comfort zone.


Credit to the Ukrainian team - at least at the start, anyway - when I reported sentences/suggested Kiev should be accepted, those translations were added, unfortunately that doesn't mean they all got caught! I had to train my fingers to write Kyiv not Kiev, as one of the first non-natives doing the course, and it was a pain. Kiev is definitely much more familiar to me, I was quite taken aback the first time it was rejected ;) LOL


Oh, I agree - an expanded tree would be good. I just think they started with the sorts of topics the Peace Corps tends to use in language training and went from there. Their assumption - which isn't really valid for most of us who aren't actually in Ukraine - is that you'll be immersed in Ukrainian society and pick up on the broader language that way (which isn't always a correct assumption, either, depending on how easily one learns a language).


Kiev is definitely more common, but it's more common because it's seen as more common, if that's makes sense. There's a critical mass who refuse to say "Volgograd" and instead say "Stalingrad". Wait, my bad, wrong country. I meant "Beijing" and "Peking". Oo, no, "Bombay" and "Mumbai".

Or, you know, whatever.

It's actually interesting how dedicated the Kievers are even though the imperialists have become a minority with every other major city name that I know of. No one says Constantinople anymore, or Shanghai, or any of a number of terms, but people do say Kiev and are quite insistent that it's the correct term even though, as noted by multiple posters here, it is the transliteration from the Russian instead of the Ukrainian.

Which is even more funny when the same people who insist on Kiev will object to Bombay as it's a Portuguese term from colonial times, or Peking which is a French term. Mind you, the fishies do like their Soviets, and some people still use Peking, so there's that.


Nobody uses "Stalingrad" unlike the other examples. Do you support avoiding "Peking"? Should ukrainians use a different word for the chinese capital instead of imperialist french one? Or this rule is applied only to certain language(s)?


No one says Constantinople anymore, or Shanghai

No-one says 'Shanghai'? Are you talking about on Mars?

I meant "Beijing" and "Peking".

'Beijing' is a romanisation, rather than an anglicisation/gallicisation. People who butcher its pronunciation should really just stick with 'Peking'. It was a terrible idea for the PRC to promote pinyin transliterations as official English names, as the vast majority of people have no idea how to pronounce pinyin, often resulting in pronunciations even further from the native ones than the anglicised versions.
The whole thing is a fuss about nothing; I don't care if the French say 'Londres' and they don't care if I say 'Paris' (to rhyme with 'Harris'). Languages with different phonemes naturally evolve different terms for the same place, and the government of one country has no dominion over the languages of others.


How can Dnieper be a transliteration of the Russian word if it's spelled differently: Днепр (Dnepr) )) Evolution of ѣ into ie tells that it's more likely borrowed from Polish or something like that.

I also fail to understand how one language can dictate another language what name to use: perhaps should English choose Dnepr because the river starts at Russia, or should it choose Dnipro because Ukraine holds the longest part, or because USA befriends the country nowadays, or maybe choose the least probable option: the English name? That's all ridiculous political stuff creating cognitive dissonance. A language course should avoid it.


There is one lesson (I think it's in 'Indefinite Pronouns'), where almost every sentence has mismatched audio. I saw comments about it from months ago, but the problem hasn't been corrected.
Are the Ukrainian team even still active on Duolingo? I notice that SergioRuido doesn't seem to have posted anything for 3 months. I can't see how the course will ever graduate from beta if there is no-one to deal with the reports, particularly reports about crucial things like sentences having completely the wrong audio.


Вітаю! I gotta admit the tree was short and the verb conjugation was a nightmare. They barely introduced the imperative which is crucial because it can mean many things like 'let's' for example. I never really payed attention to the audio but there were many grammar errors (mainly with gender). I would like the tree to be expanded and include the following topics in the future: imperative, superlative/comparative/positive adjectives, participles, passive voice, more on aspects (that was really weird), declensions of nouns/numbers/adjectives, when to use different conjugations based on the stem (like -їти), more on tenses because Ukrainian is weird about them, and more. This is a long list but I hope they at least do some of the things I've said in here. Overall it's like they need to base the tree off of this website: http://www.ukrainianlanguage.org.uk/read/unit01/page1-1.htm


After reading this I am wondering if everyone has found the Ukrainian course useful and worthwhile compared to other sites that may be offering it. Or is it needing to be developed more before investing the time into learning it?


I'd second Ynhockey, it's definitely better than nothing, and there's a relative scarcity of Ukrainian teaching material out there. It is hard to advise well, because like Ynh I started the course as a Russian speaker and have a huge leg up. I do think the Russian course is more thorough, well structured and with excellent grammar notes.

I guess what it boils down to is why are you doing the course and what do you hope to gain? If you want to get a good basic idea of how Ukrainian works, then yes, it's a good primer. If you're after in depth understanding, you will definitely need to use other resources ASAP.

If you just want to learn a Slavic language, and don't have a specific yen to learn Ukrainian, then you might be better off doing the more demanding but more thorough Russian course, then coming to Ukrainian with a lot of the basic information already in place - they are very closely related. (I'm a non-native, out of practice speaker of Russian: I initially got through the Ukrainian tree in five days. Some of the vocab is wildly different, but the grammar is very similar.)

If you absolutely have your heart set on Ukrainian, then do Ukrainian, and just be aware that you will probably need to supplement it with other resources. It is still an order of magnitude better than not having a course, and the Duolingo framework makes it very user-friendly. It would, IMO, be a pretty good grounding to support further study.


Thanks for the feedback and suggestion to also learn Russian. I will add that to my course list.


While the course is of lower quality than average on this site, and there are some really frustrating moments with missing obvious translations, overall it's better than nothing and will give you a good basic hang on the language. If you want to learn more seriously, it might actually be a good idea to do the higher-quality Russian course and then move on to Ukrainian.


Thanks for the feedback! I will also look into the Russian course.


Congrats on finishing the course! And good review of your experiences, too.

While I certainly don't agree with you on every issue regarding the politization of words / terms, I agree that there are quite a few things I had hoped to see and still hope to see if there ever is a revision of the course.

The audio dynamic (particularly the ones that are actually inaccurate/don't match) are only a minor nuisance but one I'd like to see fixed.

I, too, would love to have the tree revised and extended. More verbs, more case practice, and more options for idiomatic and colloquial phrases, and a deeper look at future tense (something I needed to do on my own) would also be great.

Hopefully there is something in the works, but the updates have been silent for a few months now. We'll see.

For now, congratulations on your efforts!


Thanks. The audio dynamics problem is mostly evident on mobile. When I'm doing exercises on mobile on a noisy street, even at maximum volume I can't hear anything in those exercises, and have no choice but to skip them. On PC it's not really a problem.


Fantastic :D it inspired me!

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