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Reaching the end German

Today I have just finished the last lesson on German in Duolingo. I started Duolingo in May last year, so it has taken me 9 months to get through the course. This was not my introduction to German, I have been trying to learn it for quite a few years. As well as Cassells Dictionary, I have studied Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage, a very through and detailed work, and Barron’s 501 German Verbs, very useful for finding the parts of “strong” verbs.

My aim is not to learn to speak German. To do that I would have to go and live in a small town or village in Germany where I would be unlikely to meet with people who would talk to me in excellent English, or worse still, wanted to improve their English with my help. That is the curse of the native English speaker. If everybody speaks English, how can one ever get any practice in other languages! No, I only want to be able to read German literature, writers such as, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth and others. I have read these authors in translation and would love to read them in the original. I have already done this with French. Armed with a good dictionary, I have read novels by Balzac, Zola, Sartre, Camus and plays by Racine and Corneille, and works by other less famous authors. I have done the same thing with Italian, but not to the same extent.

So that is how I approached Duolingo. I did try speaking at first. However, because of my microphone, or maybe my accent, I had trouble getting my efforts accepted. Also, the female German voice was not always very clear. I often needed to hear the sentence over and over again to decide what was being said. A particular difficulty was with the uvular trill “R. In some words the “voice” seemed to make it sound like “h”. An example is the word “Rock” meaning “skirt”. It sounded nothing like the English word spelt the same way.

On the whole I could handle the lessons fair well. After all I knew a lot of the grammar already. But when I came to translations, that was different. The vocabulary and grammar were completely different from that in the lessons. There were many English words that were not used the way they are in English. It was a question of “faux amis”. I know all languages borrow words, English certainly does, and it is not surprising that German borrows from English, since so many Germans know it.

Another problem is in translating a sentence just by itself out of context. I would prefer to take the whole webpage and translate all of it before submitting it. That way, the translator could understand what the page was about and maybe do some research on the subject matter, using Google perhaps, and go back and change earlier sentences as he gets to find out the meaning of the webpage. Having more than one person translate a page often results that they do not use the same tone and register or even translate a word in different ways.

I do like Duolingo, it has been a good experience. I would like to try a language that I have no knowledge previously. I realize that Duolingo is an Internet application. The idea is translate those languages that are prominent on the Web. Since I can read French and Italian they are not for me. Also I know something of Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Japanese, I don’t want to do them. The only other languages that are new to me and might have some Web presence that I might want to learn are Finnish and Turkish. Finnish is one of the official languages of the EU and Turkish is important in Central Asia. Since I don’t know any of their vocabulary or grammar. learning one of them would be a good way to test out Duolingo’s methods. Is there any chance one of them will added to Duolingo’s list?

Meanwhile, I will continue with the translations and make a start on a novella by Thomas Mann. His novels are all rather long, therefore I want to be much more competent before I tackle them.

January 18, 2013



Congratulations. I admire your tenacity and love of languages.


Interesting post. I'm curious. Have you taken a placement test since finishing Duolingo German? Is it a lot easier to pick up German now than it was before? i'm curious as to the level of comprehension one obtains from Duolingo lessons.

I've done about half (Spanish) and took an unofficial placement test and received Advanced for nouns and Intermediate for everything else.


What is a placement test? Is it a part of Duolingo or does it belong on some other site?


It's a test that "places" you. I don't know how to explain it but here is an article that explains it pretty well. Although, it is about math, but they are still talking about placement tests.


You can take informal placement tests on the internet.

This is Transparent's test: http://www.transparent.com/learn-german/proficiency-test.html

There are also proficiency tests which test how proficient you are in the language like the one above.


Thanks, I'll have a look at both these sites. From what you say, they might be what I am looking for.


You're welcome. I hope it is.

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