1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Duolingo
  4. >
  5. gender bias in danish module?


gender bias in danish module?

reviewing in the danish module this morning, these were the first five sentences that appeared:

the girl is not smart; boys are better than girls; the man is tall so he is strong; she is a terrible mother; my father is a great man

for months I have noticed that the vast majority of phrases regarding men are positive, while almost all phrases regarding women are perjorative in nature; slurs, slights, or slanders.

I would like to believe that we all want our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends and the men in our lives to be exposed to positive expressions of women. especially when we are seeking to broaden our understanding through language aquisition.

Let's keep the insults for objects:

the book is not useful; apples are better than oranges; she is clever so she is popular; the food is terrible; my mother is a great person

thanks for "listening"

this is my first post, anywhere, ever, and I'm a little nervous about how I'll react to any negative comments, even though I am, essentially, posting one. I may not join in any commentary if, in deed, anybody cares. But, I encourage you who may agree to champion for a positive learning environment.

successful learning to all, thanks again.

February 25, 2016



Okay, I have now read through most of the discussion. And people seem to, in my humble opinion, be making a great deal out of a few careless moments. By careless moments I'm saying that throughout writing 5000-6000 unique sentences, you may just be having fun with your fellow contributors and do not actually realize the potential harm in "Boys are better than girls", because it's just friendly banter until somebody decides to view it in a negative light. There are no bias towards any gender, but we cannot create a course that consists of only animals in order to avoid hurting feelings. We've been quite abusive to animals in the course as well.

So as I posted in one spot our sentences are far from always negative towards the female gender: "She is three times as strong as the boy." "I like strong women." "She is the woman we all respect" "The woman has the power in their marriage" "The woman had led the population for 8 years"

If children are going to be affected when learning through this course, then they will also believe that all men are raging alcoholics.

This does not mean that we do not take this serious though, and we will look into fixing these sentences for 1.0 already. But please, don't expect us to keep a list of good sentences and bad sentences for both genders, because then we'd spend all our time managing a list to ensure that both are even. And seeing as I'm the contributor with highest amount of new sentences it's highly likely that I have somehow introduced this gender bias, which I find hilarious. Mostly because the thought of me being gender biased seems so unreal to me. And obviously I write good things about myself, so whenever the man, boy, or bear are doing something splendid I probably got carried away a little bit.

If you have any insults you want to fling at me, then you can visit my profile for ways to contact me (hint there's a few). You can also find me on our Facebook group, where I'm an administrator, or you can come join us on Slack and yell at me there. But please, keep this discussion civilized, I believe in you.


Thank you for contributing so much to the course. Understandably, many of the sentences are written from your perspective, a male perspective, and that's fine. This is also clear since most of the first person sentences are from the male perspective. There is a lot of potential here and it's been very useful for learning.

What I think you are misunderstanding is that we are not asking that you keep a list of good and bad sentences for each gender, and we're not asking you to insult both genders equally. We're asking for you to consider updating the sentences in the future so they are more positive towards both genders and don't propagate stereotypes (in either direction). Like the OP said, why not insult the apples and the oranges? And be uplifting with the people?

You may not be sexist, but the sentences are showing a sexist pattern. This includes the negative and positive sentences about men as well - alcoholism, starting fires, liking fast cars, etc. Having this pattern makes some of the sentences you listed that sound positive about women (and men) not seem so positive. Had the sentence "she is the woman that we all respect" not been sandwiched between so many negative sentences, it would sound positive, but now it seems to imply that there is only one woman that is respected. It's not a bad sentence, and could even be a good one, but the context doesn't help.

My husband, who is Danish and the motivation for why I am learning Danish, has been watching over my shoulder and has noticed this pattern as well. We both agree that each of the sentences on their own are fine, but the pattern is what we find disturbing. This is especially true given that Danish is a culture with a high degree of gender equality. To be honest, after coming across so many of these sentences in a row, I find myself getting angry and stopping. I'm pushing through because I want to learn, but it's getting in the way of that.

We are just hoping that the course can be improved in the future so it is an inclusive and comfortable learning environment where the hard work you've put into it can shine.

Med venlig hilsen! :)


Since I have a hard time believing that the Danish course would be gender biased I had a little look at their tree in the incubator, since I am not doing the course, to see if I could find any positive sentences about women.

Positive sentences regarding women:

  • All the women in the organisation got promotions.
  • His sister wants to change the government into something better.
  • The girl is the best pupil in the school.
  • My aunt is a judge.
  • She takes a university education.
  • The boy is the guard and the girl is the captain (assuming we can agree that a captain outranks a guard)
  • She is three times as strong as the boy

Similar you can find negative sentences regarding men:

  • The men are in prison
  • The boy is impossible
  • Is he stupid?
  • Perhaps the two last examples regarding women should be put here, though that depends if you find them negative or not for men

Now what does this mean?

In my opinion it seems that there are negative and positive sentences for both sexes. Perhaps there are a few more positive sentences for men than for women, or perhaps it is the other way around. There are too many sentences that involve both genders and it's going to be impossible for course creators to constantly keep checking that both genders have an equal amount of positive and negative sentence. Furthermore, even doing that would not have meant that the same thing might not have happened, since those were the first five sentences the OP got while reviewing. If the OP got 5 sentences from my list above first, would we then have a topic now on how the Danish course is not gender biased? Or perhaps biased towards women?

In the end the courses are about learning languages, and putting restrictions on what kind of sentences can be created will not help anyone.


Don't be nervous. You do bring up great points that are important for feedback and discussion. I'm not sure if the Danish course is one going through the process for the tree 2.0 yet, but if they are, then feedback like this is important for them moving forward. Duolingo does its best to try to be inclusive no matter who you are, but sometimes we don't realise this kind of stuff. I don't think it's something they've consciously done in the creation of the course, but it is something that they can look out for in the future.


This is a very valid concern to bring up. I have zero experience with the Danish course, but these sentences are indeed insulting. I'd like to think it was not the intention of the course contributors to be degrading toward girls and women, but expressions like these can be really damaging, for they might drill it into the mind that thinking this way is completely normal... while it is anyhing but. Gender inequality is a huge problem, and we don't need that here.

I have encountered wonderful phrases in some courses that not only promote gender equality ("She is a skilful boss"; "He wants to become a nurse"; "He respects his wife") but are also sexuality inclusive ("She is her wife"; "He supports his husband".) Whenever I come across sentences like these, I smile and think "good job, Duo". Although I guess it's the contributors we should thank for them, not the DL staff.

The phrases you have pointed out are saddening. Your solution to substitute the necessary parts with objects should be easy enough. It would be great if the Danish contributors could be reached and they would be willing to fix the questionable sentences. There is no need to paint women in a dismissive way.


Is there somewhere where we can see a complete list of sentences in the Danish course? I would be very curious to look at it but I also don't really feel like learning Danish at the moment :P



We don't know if this is cherry picking, a statistical fluke, or is there really a bias.


I had never noticed this. Thank you for pointing it out though. I have noticed that there is quite good representation in some courses (the Dutch one springs to mind here). I am surprised about the Danish course. I will have to keep my eyes open.


i am really surprised to hear that about the danish course! i remember i thought the portuguese course was really sexist, but the newer courses i tried like norwegian and swedish seemed to not have the same problems so i thought it was just the older courses that had the problem.


You've done right to highlight this.
While it may not have been deliberate, this sort of unconcious bias on an educational site is very disappointing. I hope Duolingo staff will take steps to recify it.


Until fairly recently, all the human figures on the tree had Village People moustaches except for the ponytailed head for 'Passive voice'


I am a person of colour and I have a feeling (kindly correct me if I'm mistaken), that more than 90% of the people on this thread are white, from relatively advanced countries. I am more and more convinced that as you people have overcome real issues to debate in your societies (mass poverty, famine, civil war), you have fallen to nitpicking over quite petty ones.

Please rest assured, if there's a little girl out there using duolingo who has to keep typing "boys are smarter than girls" over and over in her school, she's probably really well off and goes to a really good school that does enough for gender sensitization that she's not going to get brainwashed here.

On the other hand, the girl who has actually got it drilled into her head that her brothers are more valuable to the family than her, she's probably too busy fighting for basic human rights to be worried about the wording of some sentences on a website like this.

If you have a problem with these sentences yourself, you're probably enlightened enough to not be influenced by them so really, I don't see the point. There's real threats that undermine girls on the internet (porn that shows women in degrading light, women celebrities using their bodies to sell themselves as products for mass consumption etc.) and the sentences on duolingo don't even come close.

We ostensibly live in an era of maximum freedom of speech, and yet everybody feels it's their birthright to question that freedom being exercised by others (whether in kind or in degree).


I am reasonably new to duolingo. I've been going through the Danish course, learning a lot, and really enjoying it. I appreciate what the course creators have done! (And I really like a lot of the silly sentences with people and animals doing unexpected things.) But like the OP, I've noticed a gender slant to the sentences. I don't think it's intentional on the creators' part, and I don't intend to cast blame. But if, despite the best intentions, the slant is there -- then I think it's important to try to fix it.

I haven't kept any statistics, and I don't go looking for this sort of thing, but it stood out enough to convince me to post something about it.

What has stood out to me is not so much sentences with positive or negative connotations, though I have noticed these too, but rather sentences that implicitly assume a gendered point of view. Here is my main observation:

  • There seem to be a lot of sentences that describe how women or girls look, or what they are wearing. There are some about men, but it seems like an order of magnitude fewer.

This atmosphere makes it so that some other examples stand out as well:

  • Several sentences about women and girls near beds or in bedrooms, none that I remember about men.
  • "The girl is becoming a woman."
  • Default meaning for "kæreste" (almost?) always being girlfriend, in the sentences I've been given. Boyfriend and sweetheart are accepted as answers too, but I think that the answer being given as default -- seen for example when you go to the discussion for a given exercise -- is always girlfriend, when the subject of the sentence is first person.
  • Positive / negative sentences like those the OP called out. (Sure there are some that go the other way, but the overall atmosphere definitely feels unbalanced to me.)

It's clearly making a lot of people uncomfortable. It would be great if some of these sentences were changed.

EDIT: I just now got "Min kæreste elsker lakrids mere end mig" / "My boyfriend loves licorice more than me." So this is good, so far as what I said about "min kæreste" above.


Is there a way fraisdebois can bring this to the attention of the contributors to the Danish course? Taking that route seems more likely to get results than posting to the general discussion.


Every single time someone gets a sentence like that they could hit the report function.


While the OP pointed it out in the Danish course this issue is not specific to that course. People should be reporting this in all languages they comes across it.


Congratulations on your first post! To react to negative comments, what I do is try to stay respectful. And I don't know about the Danish course, because I don't take it. :/


Looking at the Danish course, it seems most of the contributors are male.

Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.