Just finished my first Duolingo tree - Danish; some thoughts below (x-post from reddit)

So I have just finished my first ever Duolingo tree - Danish. And I have a few things to say about Duolingo in general:

It is really fun and suits my learning style perfectly - I am something of a loner and I don't really enjoy human interaction so that was perfect for this kind of learning.

The streak is both a blessing (it forced the typically disorganized, overworked and forgetful me into a pattern of practicing every day) and a curse (when I lost my streak - more info on that in the next paragraph - I felt so discouraged that if I had not had one additional motivating factor I would have abbandoned Duolingo for good. Also the anger and pain stays with me to this day).

The fact that Duolingo changes timezones without even notifying the user of it is the most aggravating "feature" it has. When I have a lot of stuff to do (either because of work overload or because of vacation fun taking up the whole day), I do my Duolingo in the evening. And pronto, I was on holidays in a country that had a one hour timezone difference from my original one and one day I sat down to do my Duolingo at 23:20 (so I had 40 minutes to prolong my streak) and to my utter dismay I learned that I lost my whole streak. Why? Because Duolingo neglected to mention that it changed timezones. Well, Memrise can do it - every time I change timezones it asks me whether I want to update the timezone on its server (I answer "no" every time) - but apparently the Duolingo team can't wrap their heads around introducing such a simple feature...

I have really wanted my Danish streak to be unbroken between one College of Wizardry and the next one (I am a Helper at those events and wanted to learn at least the basics of the language of the second part of the organizational team - I know Polish [the language of the first half] and I know English [the language of the LARP] but I had no idea of Danish previously) and I just can't stress enough how it angered me to have it broken. And yes, I know it is just meaningless internet points but this doesn't lessen my aggravation one bit.

That brings me to the next point: streak freeze. I had no idea that I could buy it and keep it engaged "just in case". Later on (about a month or so ago) there was a day which didn't seem like a time when I could spare even 5 minutes for Duolingo so I just bought the streak freeze. Then I found some time to do my Duolingo for that day and lo and behold: I have the streak freeze engaged until now. Had I known that previously I would not have lost my streak...

Now something about Duolingo as a learning tool: I am not a good person to judge it because I know/understand a lot of languages. I am fluent in around 5 and understand easily a further 10 if not more (sometimes it's hard to say where a new language begins). However I loved the repetition and the slow, simple introduction of new topics.

I supplemented my learning a bit with Memrise (it's fun but too much repetition and the memes aren't really "memetic" so they started to irritate me at some point but I still find it's great at drilling vocabulary), Pimsleur (boring but still nice for the challenge aspect of getting the right phrase just before the prompt), Semper (this has mostly replaced Memrise as "the flashcard service" for me) and a standard grammar book (this one to be more precise). However my main learning was still with Duolingo. And I have to say that I feel I have learned a lot. However I don't think I would have learned that much (or that I would understand so much Danish) by now if I didn't know German. I have learned German a long time ago, I have a C1 certificate in it and I found relating everything in Danish to German. By now I can more or less guess a word's meaning by applying some language "laws" (those aren't real language laws - I have studied Linguistics and know the difference - but more a set of simple equations to arrive at the proper German word from the Danish one) that I loosely formulated for myself.

I started learning with the web version but transitioned to the mobile one as soon as I found out about its existence. Yes, this way I skipped all the grammar but the explanations were too... banal? skimming just the surface? for me. When I have some more free time I will find myself a nice descriptive grammar of Danish and read that one (I love reading descriptive grammar). Using just the mobile version also had that benefit that I could finally stop worrying about pressing backspace one time too many and hearing the damn thing once again (I hated this in the web version so much!).

One more thing that I dislike is the impossibility of downloading a lesson/at least solving it without internet access. I am not even talking here about such a nice idea as HelloChinese has doing everything offfline - but that would contradict Duolingo's point of keeping all the progress in the cloud - but at least accessing a lesson online and caching it (with all the answers) until its end and only uploading the result to the cloud. I commute frequently 120 km on train and more than half of this route has spotty mobile coverage (the train is going through fields after all) so I can't do my Duolingo there. And it's a pity because this would be the best time for me.

I also can't wait for Tinycards to be available for Android - I hope that eventually Duolingo will really integrate them into the whole "system". By now I more or less get the Danish grammar and I would prefer to practice mostly the vocabulary for which I guess that Tinycards would be the best. But AFAIK now it doesn't contribute to the streak/to gilding my tree.

On gilding: I tried to keep my tree gold all the time (and there wasn't even a week when I didn't have everything gold - maybe just two-three days during some holidays abroad) and I am so sad that there is no way to tell which skills will degenerate the soonest. Sometimes I have just some free time more one day and know that I won't have any more then next one. Then I could check: "oh, tomorrow 10 skills will degenerate, I could strengthen the first 7 today so that I will spend less time on them tomorrow" but sadly there doesn't seem to be such a possibility.

I also wish that the AI was a bit improved and it isn't even about the crazy/funny things it spouts out (my favourite was about eating potatoes being a virtue) - the faulty sentences it gives me are weirdly created. A human wouldn't commit such kinds of mistakes - entering a random noun instead of a pronoun or something like this. If the errors were a bit more believable, the task would be more lifelike.

The spelling mistake waiving is also surprising - sometimes it accepts straightaway wrong responses (the wrong article for example) but sometimes it rejects plain typos (pressing the button just next to the correct one - resulting in a wrongly spelled word but not in a grammactical error - or the lack of a space between words).

Having said all that, I still think that Duolingo is great - I have spread it to other people (even supposedly got an American professor addicted to learning Polish via it) and I will use it for new languages (I guess I will brush up my Hebrew next - or maybe try something new like Dutch or Welsh).

If you made it this far, I applaud you :)

October 11, 2016


pierocasamia - I've read it all and you raise some good points.

October 12, 2016

Tillykke med det!

I'm a native Dane myself and it isn't an easy language to learn.

October 12, 2016

Stort tillykke :D

October 12, 2016

Congratulations on finishing the Danish tree!

And thank you for recommending Semper.

I like the idea of Semper, but I’m so used to Memrise, making my own courses, and having off-line access as a pro member, that it would be hard to switch.

The iOS 10 update has also slowed down my iPhone 5S, so I’m reluctant to load anything that might reduce my phone’s speed even further — like sub-routines that force me to answer language questions every time I open an app.

I’d be very interested, however, in hearing more from you and others about your experiences with Semper and more about what you see as the advantages/disadvantages compared to Memrise.

October 13, 2016

I am by no means an iOS/iPhone person - I hate Apple with a vengeance and (unlike many Android fans) for an actual reason - so I am not really in a position to talk about this platform.

As to Memrise and Semper: the biggest change is in... let's call this "philosophy of use". Memrise (as far as I understand it) is a platform for what could be called courses/paths for learning. Sure, when compared to Duolingo, it is way more a flashcard service than a language course but when see as a standalone, it becomes a whole language-learning tool. This has many benefits but has one core drawback for me: I had to remember to use it. There were many days when I just had barely enough time to do my two Duolingo sessions to prolong my streak. Doing even the slightest bit of Memrise was out of question and so it was just easy to dismiss its existence out of hand.

This is when Semper comes in. The underlying idea of Semper doesn't seem to be: "let us teach you more or less all you need to know" but rather "so I heard you are learning this and that (Danish in my case) and you'd like to brush up on your vocabulary". Semper isn't a standalone tool, it is an addition - an almost unnoticeable one. I mostly don't even register the fact that I have used Semper at all - I just notice that my Danish vocabulary is steadily (even if slowly) increasing.

That is all because Semper doesn't require me to think about it - I only had to spend a moment on it back when I had downloaded it. Then I have chosen which language I would be learning (Danish), which packs for this language I wanted to master (I started with the very basics i.e. from A1 - there are 20 packs for this level and I have so far mastered the first 6) and - most importantly - with which apps I wanted Semper to be associated. I chose all the ones I use for pleasure/interest:

  • reddit
  • tumblr
  • Plants vs Zombies 2 (yes, I like games; no, I don't have much time to play but still even once a week is something in the long run)
  • and - of course - Facebook

That's all - every time I access one of those apps (and every time I unlock my phone), I am prompted to recall one word. That isn't much but it slowly adds up.

To sum up: what I like the most about Semper is that it is relatively unnoticeable and does not require me to take up on action to train the new language. It just appears out of nowhere and I learn without even meaning to.

October 15, 2016

It’s good to know that Semper is customizable and can be associated with the apps I pick rather than asking a question every time I open any app whatsoever. That’s a great feature to have.

Also, I didn’t know Reddit had its own app. I might want to check that out because I consult Reddit regularly via the Web.

The way I make it easy on myself to do Memrise every day is that I have Memrise on my phone's home screen and I have badge icon notifications enabled. So, I get a little red circle with the number of words ready for review in the upper right-hand corner of my Memrise icon when words are due for review.

It would be really difficult for me to ignore that red dot on my home screen, so it’s very effective in getting me on Memrise.

First, I make sure I do at least one round of new stuff for all of my courses and then I do my reviews. If I still have energy, I do more new stuff after everything is reviewed.

I’ve gotten to where I don’t even need to create Mems. I just have a habit of quickly creating a sentence in my head for EVERY flashcard, whether it’s a new or review flashcard. I always use it in a sentence as soon as I see the word.

October 15, 2016

i am fully danish (in real life) im only 11 years old :-)

October 24, 2016

Congrats on completing the tree ! I just started Danish three days ago and I love it, but it seems so much easier to write and read than to understand orally and speak. Did you practice your Danish in real life with Danes? Or watch movies and TV series? Two more questions: how long did it take you to complete the tree and do you feel confident that you could have a conversation with a native Dane? Tak in advance for your answers !

October 29, 2016

No, I didn't practice it - I interact with Danes all the time but in English (I did the Duolingo course mostly for fun and to be able to understand their facebook statuses). Otherwise I can hold a basic conversation but that's about it.

Then again I am not interested at all in learning languages for any kind of interaction - I just want to be able to read books in them.

November 3, 2016
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