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Improving our English. Cool.

I really like, though I know some don't, the way Duolingo forces us English speakers to use grammatically correct constructions. Knowing how our own language works is one of the keys to understanding other languages.

January 26, 2013



Something that surprised me when I first started studying Spanish when I was twelve was how much learning a foreign language teaches you about your own. It actually made me feel a bit sorry for monolingual people.


I had actually no idea whatsoever about conjugations until I started learning about them in French. I didn't really realize that "was" is really connected to "be" in any way


and for us non-english speakers, its a wonderful way to improve my english at the same time I learn spanish.


I can confirm this. I took, as an elective, a course in grammar wherein we dissected (diagrammed) very complex sentences. Often times when people ask why we say "X" instead of "Y", we answer with, "Eh. It just sounds right." As nice as it is to be able to "just know", this knowledge gap can create difficulties when it comes to learning a new language. Familiarizing yourself with "direct objects", "transitive/intransitive verbs", "antecedents", all sorts of pronouns (subjective, objective, reflexive, possessive, indefinite, reciprocal, interrogative, demonstrative, relative...etc) in your own language will give you a huge advantage in the acquisition of another. After taking that course, I better understood the materials in my French courses because I was better able to reduce the sentences to more manageable components. Oh, and if you're interested, the textbook we used for the class was Grammar by Diagram, Cindy L. Vitto.


Book looks very interesting.


I also like how they make us learn the exact grammar of the new language, given that many teachers and programs nowadays are willing to excuse common mistakes in the new language.


I see this as way to say "hey noob, pay attention to your own language, how do you intend to learn another one without knowing yours?" And yes, it's wonderful to improve my poor english while studing german. :)


This is actually pretty interesting. We are learning our own languages while learning others.


Yes. I had to start thinking about verb, subject, object, adjective etc. in a way that I haven't done for many years.

The proper use of English indefinite and definite articles is routine for me but I can't recall ever thinking of them as anything other than just articles before Duolingo.

I must say that I don't experience French articles to be consistently applied in some instances in the same manner as English. Once in a while I still get marked for incorrect use of des and les even after considerable thought.


I like that you consider English a "consistent" language.


I meant consistent with the same usage in English. Poor wording on my part.

Especially with articles which can be dropped seemingly at will, English is quite inconsistent.


I know what you mean - you're saying English is flexible in areas where French may not be. For instance, in English, the relative pronouns "that" or "which" are optional in certain cases. The following sentences are all grammatically correct:

  • The car which I drive is old
  • The car that I drive is old.
  • The car I drive is old. (relative pronoun omitted)

In French, you don't say, "La voiture je conduis est vieille.", but "La voiture QUE je conduis est vieille."

That said, can you give me examples of the articles in French not being consistently applied. My guess is there are some nuances in meaning which might not be obvious.


I must admit that I was referring to the Duolingo program marking procedures, which are not necessarily the same thing as proper French procedures. They are trying to teach, after all, not make conversation.

As I mentioned earlier, I experience the use of des and les as employed by Duolingo to be difficult to reliably predict.

I have spent considerable time trying to deal with des which appears to be both indefinite and definite depending on the context. Duolingo tells me that I have not mastered deriving the context that applies to its usage. That means that I lose hearts for dropping des from the English translation sometimes, then again, sometimes not, or choosing les when translating to French. After considering all the ramifications of gender, plurality, definite/indefinite etc. I still get it wrong on occasion.


I hate to be picky but to be grammatically correct you need to use a comma before "which", so the correct sentence would be "The car, which I drive, is old."



Relative pronouns can be used in restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. We put a comma before a non-restrictive clause. Adding the commas can change the nuance.

"When a clause is necessary for identification, it is called a 'restrictive clause'. It is 'restrictive' because you have to use it. There are never commas around a restrictive clause. When using a restrictive clause, the words 'who' or 'which' can be replaced with 'that'. (Therefore, there are never commas around a clause which starts with 'that'.)





In short, it depends on the nuance you're trying to convey.


I'm being off topic here, but the particular confusion between les and des in French might come from the fact that des can be the plural indefinite article (plural of a/an in English) or the contraction of "de les". As you probably noticed, "de" comes in play in many cases not always easy to predict: as the mark of possession/genetive, but also as preposition necessary after certain nous or verbs, or part of an expression. to give an example: "to need the parents" will translate as "avoir besoin des parents", because the verb "to need" translates as "avoir besoin de". If you don't know that last part, it is easy to think that les/des have been mixed up in "avoir besoin des parents". I'm sure some cases are also just plain illogical and "that's the way it is", but i found in my own study of german that more often than not, i can make sense of duolingo's seemingly confusing answer by digging a bit further into the particular sentence. Of course most of the time i just keep going, hoping for the sentence to come again in a slightly different version that'll help me clear it up...


Just moving on is what I do most of the time but it can be frustrating to think I got it figured out only to get it wrong for apparently mysterious reasons in some future example.


I left school many years ago. We learned English grammar very thoroughly. This involved phasing sentences and understanding the different parts of speech. Is this not done anymore? It would seem so judging from some of the comments found here in Duolingo.


In my case, it is simply that I have forgotten the rule for putting a comma before or after a phrase in the vocative case. I just recognize the speech pattern and slap one in there.

In French, I don't have those familiar patterns to fall back on. I have to stop and think exactly why I have been putting commas there all these years. So I have to formulate the vocative case clearly in mind with respect to English.

I have no habits in French that I can rely on. So I clarify why I do it in English and then look to see how that rule and others apply to French. I mean I can see an adverbial phrase right away in English. I just wouldn't have been able to give an accurate definition until I started looking up such things because of French.

Naturally, over time, bad habits have crept in to my writing style which become apparent when I'm forced to review English grammar.

That's all everyone is commenting on.


Learning German made me learn the correct difference on when to use "who" or "whom". I never really cared for it and just liked to use "who" every time. Now I always use whom when I'm supposed


From what I understand "whom" has mostly fallen out of favor in modern American English (i.e. has become optional), but is still commonly used in British English. I'd be happy for someone to correct me if I'm wrong though. :)

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