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>
- 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.
- 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!
- 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).
- 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
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!