Feedback Welsh Course
After finishing the Duolingo Welsh course, I thought I’d give some feedback, especially seeing as it is still in the beta phase.
First of all, I want to express deep thanks to all contributors. I have been interested in Welsh for some time and just never gotten around to learn more than a few words, so I was delighted to see it come out for Duolingo and thought I’d give it a new shot.
I really enjoyed the course as well. I definitely learned a lot and while I of course still feel far from fluent, it has provided me with a basic understanding and after all that’s what Duolingo is for.
Nevertheless, there are a few points which I think still could use some more polishing:
The “zombie” exercises. I’m aware that this is not the contributors’ fault but a bug in the system. Nevertheless, from a user perspective they still are annoying at best and can cause the learner to memorise wrong things at worst. This is particularly dangerous because these sentences seem to be more common in the first half/two thirds of the course, when the learner will have less experience and thus more trouble spotting possible mistakes. One sort of zombie exercise has to be pointed out in particular, namely those which ask for a single word which appears in mutated form instead of the base. These are impossible to spot if the learner doesn’t happen to already know the root from somewhere else. As it is, the learner effectively cannot trust these exercises and has to countercheck each and every one of them if they want to avoid memorising the wrong form of the word. Due to this, I believe that solving the problem should be very high on the priority list for the Duolingo staff and I hope that my feedback maybe helps raising the awareness for the urgency.
I personally feel that there is too much repetition. Currently (December 2016) there are five lessons solely dedicated to Revision, as well as three for Extension (to be honest, I didn’t perceive a lot of difference between the two; maybe the Extension ones introduced slightly more new vocabulary?). Moreover, certain topics are introduced multiple times over the course, sometimes in somewhat unexpected places (for example commands in Comparing4), and others have, in my opinion, more lessons dedicated to them than necessary (Comparing for example has four where I think two – one for comparative and superlative and a separate one for the equative because that’s rather new concept for most learners – would have sufficed). Some items of vocabulary are also in the list of new words more than once. Of course, repetition of old topics is important to solidify one’s feeling for the language. But you can have too much of a good thing. In my opinion some of the place taken up by repetition could be better used to introduce new grammar/word fields (see below) or concentrate the information on topics which are somewhat scattered at the moment (relative clauses for example).
I think it would help to shift the focus of the initial lesson (I mean when you first do it, not the strengthening) to contain less single-word based tasks and a lot more sentences. This would help immensely to illustrate what exactly the words mean and how they are used. After all, Welsh words may not correspond 1:1 to English ones, and even if they do, it can’t hurt to see them in use. I personally am not an English native speaker and make my own flashcards to study outside of Duolingo, and naturally I use my native German as a source language there. And I would frequently run into words where there were multiple different meanings to the English translation (for example astudio → to study: 1) to learn 2) to pursue a subject in tertiary education 3) to examine, to observe 4) to rehearse (a piece of music/drama)…) and I had no way of knowing if all or only some of these meanings were valid for the Welsh word and how to use it in a sentence (for verbs for example: is it transitive or intransitive, are there certain prepositions that go with it etc). True, sometimes dictionaries like Gweiadur help, but the detailed explanations are usually in Welsh and consequently rather inaccessible to me with my limited abilities, and frequently they would have no example sentence either, or one which would be too complicated for my current level. Moreover, Gweiadur in particular is hidden behind a subscription wall and many users, like myself, may be wary of websites which make you sign up for apparently no real purpose besides getting your data. Teaching the new vocabulary through example sentences in Duolingo would be a great way for the learner to get to know the word in more detail en passant.
In my opinion there are too few complex sentences, especially in the second half. Even in the very last lessons, a good half of the tasks are single or compound words and of the full sentences many are just a couple of words long (“Dw i’n hoffi’r llywodraeth,” “mae ocsigen a hydrogen yn nwyon” etc.). As far as I can see, there is one main reason for this: The course contains only a handful of conjunctions, and even those that are introduced are barely used at all. Indeed, my vocabulary list contains only 9 conjunctions which I encountered during this course, most of which are rarely used outside of the lesson in which they are introduced (e.g. cyn and ar ôl, mai/taw…) and even one which can’t remember ever seeing used in a sentence (achos). In fact, it seems to me that only a(c) and ond are used fairly often. This is actually a little surprise to me because the Cwrs Mynediad which this course goes parallel to does include a few more ways of linking sentences as well as exercises on them (wedyn for example). I think it would be an enormous help for learners (and an immense feeling of improvement for little learning effort) if the course were to include more, and more varied, ways to connect sentences. Besides conjunctions like “because, although, while, until, in order to, and then” etc., this also includes the more complicated topic of relative clauses. These are of course introduced in the course in the form of sydd (and I vaguely remember the relative particle function of y being mentioned somewhere though I can’t find it any more), but as far as I can see the topic is fairly complex in Welsh because you have to use different markers depending on the role in the subclause (subject, object, adverb, possessor, prepositional phrase etc). Therefore I think this topic would deserve at least one if not more lessons specifically dedicated to them, and after that relative clauses strewn into the example sentences here and there in order for the learners to gain an intuitive feeling for the patterns.
As someone who prefers a more analytical way of learning, I greatly enjoyed the dissection of the word bioddiraddadwy and would have loved to see more similar explanations of affixes since they seem to be fairly common. I do not have any background concerning Celtic languages and so learning the vocabulary is at times a bit of a challenge. While this is of course part of the language learning experience (and part of its fun as well :D ), I think it could save learners quite a bit of effort if they were made aware of some of the more common affixes (an-, cyf-, -ydd, -aeth or -og for example) from an early point. Naturally, not everybody is like me and feels the urge to break words up into their smallest atoms. But in my experience even those that would not go and do so themselves often do appreciate the insights gained from it.
But that’s the biggest points of criticism I can think of so far. I want to stress that despite discussing negative points over the biggest part of my feedback that does not at all mean I find the course bad. On the contrary, I had a lot of fun with it and the flaws I found should not distract from that fact. Big thank you to all contributors for that! Thank you also for being active in the forums and answering the questions that we have. You are awesome! And maybe my feedback could give you some inspirations on how this already great course could be improved even more.
Thank you for taking the trouble to give this feedback - much appreciated.
The course is no longer in beta and has gone live at version 1. We are currently working on version 2 (Tree 2 in Duo-speak) and making improvements in that in response to feedback so far.
The single, pre-mutated words have now been culled and should have gone, although there may perhaps be a few still hiding somewhere.
The zombie sentence plague seems to have been cured following a Duo system-wide update several weeks ago - we have not had reports of zombie sentences since a short while after the bug fix was put in place.
Thanks so much for this review! I'm very much at the beginning of the course, but I agree that it would be nice to have (simple) sentences to introduce new words rather than several single words in isolation.
Something I do find especially good in this course is the tips and notes - and there you do find some example sentences which help in understanding the single words in the exercises.
The only thing I don't get on with so far is the use of "mynd" and "codi" as the major examples for the perfect tense, when we are still only using the first and second persons singular - I think the reason people ask "can't we say 'I went to the park' " is because they would never say "I have gone to the park" direct to a person - though they might if they were leaving a note. Also, I can only think of "have you got up yet?" in the context of it being shouted up the stairs! Whereas when we get "have you washed?", I have no problem with that. Maybe if the 3rd person singular, and the plurals, were brought in before the perfect tense we could have feasible sentences like "has he got up?" or "they have gone", rather than "you have gone" which baffles me!
Thanks for the comments.
The initial course was modeled on two Welsh for Adult courses, a family course and a mainstream one.
In the family course the perfect tense is introduced very early since it's quite useful for adults to ask children things like 'have you got up yet?', 'have you finished?' etc.
We trialed this on Memrise and it worked well.
Unfortunately when we transferred it to Duolingo we were faced with the inflexibility of the Duolingo editor where every new word has to have at least three distinct sentences associated with it and only words perviously defined can be used in sentences.
Thus the very many artificial sentences in this unit, which we were forced to create.
In the second tree we've moved the perfect tense to much later in the course in order to have a wider range of vocabulary to create sentences.
I noticed in the Govt course books they have points were it suggests a reader. I wonder if it would be a good idea mark these points in the tips. I am finding getting to each of the readers and finding I can read them really motivating as well as helping consolidate my Welsh with chunks of language above sentence level.
I found your post quite informative and well thought! I would like to add that I have not found a vocalization of the welsh alphabet. I would love to hear each consonant and vowel individually - I find the spelling exercises of new words frustrating .. i may be able to say the word, know which word I need, but I am unable to phonetically attempt to spell it !