Even if we translate "soon" as bald and agree that gleich is closer to the present than bald, I don't really think it makes translating gleich into "soon" incorrect. Actually, an admittedly infrequent suggestion of dict.cc says "soon [very shortly]" can be translated as gleich [sehr bald].
I think that the further one analyses this sentence then the further one gets away from the original meaning. The preparations are about to begin. Are you ready for that? They are about to begin. Now, soon, immediately are irrelevant. The preparations are about to begin. The preparations have not started yet, they are about to begin. The event will not happen until all the preparations have been prepared and then we will see. In the meantime: the preparations are about to begin! Get the drumroll ready. You are about to experience the trip of a lifetime!
Because "in a minute" is not quite "immediately" :)
Thinking about it, I think I'd usually not use "sofort" in the present tense, perhaps because it's hard to promise that something will happen the split second that you utter the word.
It's easier to use it about events in the past (no sooner had he reached his home than it immediately started to rain) or the future (as soon as you arrive, we will leave immediately).
Vereschagin, I think of bald, gleich, and sofort as increasingly soon or quick. I associate bald with "soon" and sofort with "immediately." Since gleich is in the middle and I couldn't think of an English word midway between "soon" and "immediately," I chose "immediately," assuming that Duo would probably correct me. It accepted my answer, and more importantly, it reminded me how to convey something midway between the two extremes by using "about to." In short, Duo provided a good lesson.
Since "about to" is more apt than either "soon" or "immediately," perhaps Duo should reject both. Then the message would be clearer that "about to" is better than either. However, Duo apparently considers gleich closer to "immediately" than to "soon" and cut us some slack. And I can't report "My answer should not be accepted." :-)
_sree, We love to disagree. So here's more love: "about to" and "soon" are not defined to the minute, but the feeling and usual meaning is that "about to" is sooner than "soon." In fact, I'd say "about to" usually means the same day. You don't have time to go get lunch; the rehearsal is about to begin. Rehearsals will start soon; so try to finish that term paper this week.
People who aren't attuned to this interpretation presumably have different cultural or linguistic backgrounds from mine. I'm not going to say that one culture is right and another is wrong. Presumably their interpretations work in their circles.
Let's bear in mind, however, that we're translating German to English, and that German-speakers are culturally stricter about punctuality than native English-speakers. Since the alternative views here are that "about to" is sooner than "soon" vs. they are equivalent, and no one is suggesting that "soon" is sooner than "about to," it would be prudent to err on the side of using the expression that will sound sooner at least to some.
Doctor John. You may love to disagree. I do not. Your long winded message is presumptuous, patronizing, illogical and self contradicting. You are disagreeing with yourself. If I have to disagree with you, I would have to choose which half of your nonsense to disagree with. I am not interested in making that pointless choice.
_sree, I have a lot of respect for you, both as a serious student of German, and for the clarity with which you usually state your points of view, although I think here and elsewhere you've been mistaken. Anyway, I'm sincerely sorry to see you read so many supposed personal failings on my part into the above comment and then indulge in what you presumably think is something other than a gratuitous ad hominem attack. I'll try not to rattle your cage in future. Congratulations, though, on your level 25 German and 524-day streak.
V has two pronunciations in German: in most loanwords it's pronounced identically to W (e.g. Vene "a vein", Vase "a vase", Exklave "exclave"), while in most German words it's pronounced identically to F (e.g. Vater "father"). Also at the ends of words due to Auslautverhärtung: brav rhymes perfectly with Schaf (at least in my mouth).
So you basically have to learn the spelling, yes.
viel "much, a lot" and fiel "(he) fell" are pronounced identically, for example; you just have to learn which one has which letter. Er fiel viel "He fell a lot" :)