General Suggestion for Exercises
I've long wanted to learn Welsh, going back to the days of the original BBC Catchphrase series. The portable, interactive format on Duolingo has allowed me to do that (and stick with my commitment) in a more helpful way than previous attempts. But I do have one big suggestion for the course as a whole which is related to those strengths.
Please make the exercises more substantial. Namely, I would suggest avoiding exercises which only test one word or a very short phrase. Too many of the exercises are currently along the lines of, 'Translate "February"'. or 'Translate "the small mouse"'. As most experts on language learning will say, the real key to learning a language is in learning how to USE the language, not just learning vocabulary or rote phrases.
I am using Duolingo for several different languages (including Vietnamese, which is also in beta), and the Welsh one is currently the least satisfying in terms of feeling, after I've completed an exercise, 'Excellent! I've really learned something!' That isn't to say I'm not learning the language, but I don't think I have as firm a grasp as in others. It's too easy to stumble through an exercise, learn a few isolated vocabulary words, and move on.
For comparison, let's look at the Welsh and French units on months. I just started up a review session in the Welsh course and was asked to translate:
- Mis Mawrth
- Ym mis Ebrill
- Mis Ionawr
- Mis Ebrill a mis Mai.
- Dw i ddim yn hoffi mis Chwefror.
Only one of those was truly a sentence. Only once did I truly get a chance to 'use' the vocabulary and usage that I was learning. Twice I was quizzed on a single word. Contrast with the French exercises:
- A picture quiz for 'le hiver'
- C'est en décembre.
- Aujourd'hui nous sommes mardi.
- Le mois de février
- Demain c'est lundi.
- J'aime le mois de janvier.
- C'est la saison des fraises.
- Nous sommes en hiver ?
With the exception of the first one, every quiz was a full sentence. I was quizzed not just on whether I knew the word 'mardi' but whether I understood how it stood in relation to the rest of the sentence. I learned the phrase 'nous sommes' to mean 'it is', when used with time. I was also able to draw on a previous lesson to translate 'saison des fraises' with the more usual English phrase 'strawberry season'.
The effect is even more pronounced in cases where exercises are repeated by the interface. I could end up responding 'in' to 'ym' two or three times. I'm going to learn much better if I have to instead translate a full sentence which uses 'ym' multiple times.
In sum, I'm hoping that the approach to exercises in the Welsh course can also see a more holistic approach. Force the learners to USE the language with nearly every exercise, rather than just repeating back single words or short phrases. Not only would doing so help users learn the language better, but they will have a strong sense of accomplishment (i.e., a stronger sense that they are learning) if they are required to do so.
I welcome any comments on the suggestion!
Thanks for this comment. When (or if) we get a chance to revise the course we will definitely take your suggestions seriously.
However I feel your comparison is rather unfair.
The French course, like all the main language courses, was developed by the paid staff of Duolingo. They know how the algorithm for selecting sentences works, they have a vastly better understanding of the technology behind Duolingo. They have the advantage of a wide variety of successful courses to adapt their content from.
The Welsh course was developed by unpaid volunteers who had to spend almost a year pleading with Duolingo to even let us write the course. We have no idea whatsoever how the algorithm works for selecting sentences, there is really minimal support for developing courses. We have only ONE moderately good all-Wales, sort of standard course to use to base the content on.
Under those circumstances it's a bit of a miracle that it exists and has attracted 135,000 users.
The comparison was only meant as an example to aspire to, not a critical comparison of quality. I understand that the Welsh course was a volunteer effort. As I state, the post was a suggestion, as constructive criticism. It was not meant to disparage the course in any way.
I, for one, don't mind the exercises being a little simple. Welsh feels so alien to me that I DO want to move slowly. But I look forward to seeing the course developed further, with speaking exercises as well as translating. I hope to see more "explanation of grammar for very basic beginners" as well. Take me down to kindergarten level, I'm okay with that!
Thank you Steven Mitchell for illustrating this comparison. Yes, the unpaid volunteers have done a sensational and important job in bringing this to us but the course is lacking in more challenging and complex sentences. Translating Elvis Presley and Saunders Lewis into Elvis Presley and Saunders Lewis is pointless and a waste of a valuable learning opportunity.
A number of the less helpful single-word or very short translations have already been deleted from the course by the course team. Many other corrections and changes have been made as as result of reports made during the beta testing which is still in progress. Some of these changes are still awaiting release by Duolingo.
I think that everything depends on the individual. A language is not only sentences but words, too. Every language uses one-word sentences. Actually, spoken language uses a lot of half sentences, or only a word. Try to think of this when you answer with "I don't", "Indeed." "Me too." and the like.
Since duolingo was developed for bite-sized activities for phones, they have to be short so that you could use it while e.g. you are waiting for the bus to arrive. I don't see the point that everything should be in sentences.
I think it is not fair to compare Welsh with French, German, Spanish and other widely spoken languages. Welsh is spoken mainly by the Welsh and some interested people. You cannot compare it with e.g. French which is first and second language for hundreds of million people. And French has a long history of teaching it, so more teaching material, more textbooks, dictionaries, just go to a book shop.
So dear volunteers who prepared the Welsh course of duolingo, congrats! You did a wonderful job with limited resources and limited technological advances, well done! I enjoy every bit of it!
It is fair to compare Welsh to any other language because otherwise you relegate it to a second class 'fun,' 'interesting' or 'enjoyable' language. Once your tree goes gold and you get to level 15 or so, the cupboard is pretty bare. I am highly appreciative of the efforts of the staff and hope this is the beginning of an avalanche of more materials for Welsh learners.
There are other resources available which we have already posted links to, eg Big Welsh Challenge, Say something in Welsh, also here is a website which gives a daily crossword and also a range of 'her geirfa' vocabulary challenges:- http://www.happyhere.co.uk/
In addition for people not anywhere near a Welsh class, there are a number of people and places that offer online Skype lessons. Here is the link to the Skype courses of the centre I work for:-http://www.coleggwent.ac.uk/welshcentre#.V1Zh_5PR-V5
Click on online courses.
Thanks for the links. There are podcasts available from Radio Cymru that I find very useful. Pigion i ddysgwyr, a fifteen minute highlights podcast for Welsh learners, is excellent as a listening exercise. Aditionally, Stori Tic Toc and Straeon i Blant, two five minute podcasts of children's stories helps develop confidence in listening skills if Pigion is a little advanced.