Constructive criticism on the Russian course.
First of all, I love Duo Lingo and I am very grateful for Duo Lingo. I started with Duo not for the expressed purpose of learning a second language, but rather for the purpose of exercising my aging brain. Like a good exercise program, Duo proved to be fun and simple and required a relatively low-impact commitment. Most people know from their own experience that an exercise program that is not fun, not simple, and or requires a relatively high-impact commitment, is going to very difficult to adhere to for long enough to make real progress. (Committed athletes who have clearly defined goals would be the only obvious exceptions.)
I started with Spanish because I thought that there was a chance that I might actually be able to learn it and because it seemed to be the most practical in my life. It has been a rewarding experience and everything I hoped for. I added Russian because there are some things about that culture that particularly attract me. But it has not been so rewarding. I then added German because I took German in high school and so again thought I could make some progress, and I have.
Russian, though, continues to be the part of my exercise program that I don't enjoy, and I am thinking about dropping it. Duo says I am at level 6, but I feel that I still don't know the first thing about Russian. I would rather be at level 0, but making daily progress toward learning the Cyrillic alphabet. My feeling about Duo's Russian course is that it ramps up too fast. To an American born native English speaker, Russian is about as foreign as Chinese. I think Duo's Russian program could be improved by making it ramp up more slowly, taking little baby steps, learning the Cyrillic alphabet, and listening to spoken Russian, before trying to recognize full phrases that often don't match well with their American-English counterparts.
Thanks again, Duo, for the positive influence that you have in my life and in the world at large. You guys are doing great work!
hey donald, thanks for making this post. i am glad that you're enjoying duo & its positive influence.
i feel you about russian. in fact, if i hadn't been wanting to learn it for the last twenty years i would have dropped it a few months ago.
we have this expression in french : c'est du chinois ! meaning i don't understand anything and yes, for the longest time that's how the duo russian course made me feel too!
in fact, i am just beginning to get my footing and i started the course a year ago.
at level 6 i was definitely still struggling with the alphabet and that was after having taken several cyrillic courses on memrise. people don't seem to realize the difference between knowing the letters & actually being able to read a foreign script, let alone learn in it. to this day i can read... the words i've learned. that is it. my brain is not interested in painstaking attempts to decipher unknown words i have no chance to remember whatsoever. my retention ability is slowly getting better but it's still nowhere near what it is for the other languages i am learning.
i am using the app, that everyone says is so much easier than the website & boy, it hasn't been easy for me.
the steep learning curve didn't bother me that much since i pretty much expected the struggle & russian being hard is part of what attracted me to the language all these years ago but i definitely get how it could get too much for some.
once you begin to resent a language instead of enjoying the struggle, it's time to break up, at least for a while.
now, to tackle some of what i've seen in this thread.
i'm pretty sure donald wasn't saying russian is as hard / harder than chinese. he was saying it was incomprehensible to him. it was about his experience not about which language is technically harder. which might i add, doesn't matter. plenty of people out there for who learning chinese would be easier than learning russian, for plenty of reasons & regardless of actual difficulty.
language learning is weird like that.
now, keeping in mind that duo russian is pretty removed from the actual living language and the same can be said about chinese : i've found both chinese skill & hello chinese much easier & enjoyable than the duo russian course, so there.
i started them as a complete chinese noob, whereas i went into the duo course with some background russian knowledge.
i turned off all characters / strokes exercises and went on my merry way.
my retention for the pinyin / character combo was just as good as it was for swedish, that i was studying at the same time. i went through both apps at a good pace & without breaking a sweat.
i had the same experience with japanese. i learned the kana effortlessly & once i did i started the duo reverse tree. my basic kana knowledge paired with the chinese characters i'd learned got me to advance through the tree so fast it actually freaked me out. i kept thinking : i don't know any japanese what the heck is happening here ?
i am not saying that chinese & japanese are easier than russian.
i am saying that i had an easier time playing around with the basics & never struggled the way i did with russian while i did so.
so every time i see someone waxing poetic about how x & y are way harder than russian i just roll my eyes a lot : everyone's different, everyone learns differently & everyone's experience is valid.
personally i find responding to someone saying they are struggling by what amounts to : 'lmao, x & y are much harder that the piece of cake stuff you're struggling with' pretty rude.
in case you haven't noticed, the forums are full of the success stories of those having an easy time of it. it's almost as if the slow learners lack the confidence to post about their experience. i find it sad because they sure could use the positive feedback that yes, they are doing it right.
The problem is if you legitimately think the Russian course goes too fast, that probably means you're not doing it right. You're going too fast. Expecting that somehow you're going to learn Russian like you learned Spanish means you're going to be somewhat wrenchingly disabused of your notions one way or another. Frankly, this is a thing most of us have probably experienced, Russian rarely being the first foreign language an English speaker would study.
I've breezed through some Duo trees. And I've been on course to hit level 25 at around the same time I would finish others. Figuring out that pacing for each individual language is a big part of the battle in getting the most out of Duo.
Incidentally, I find the idea that the app is universally easier than the website somewhat ludicrous, probably propogated by those who haven't attempted a non-Romance or Germanic language on here. I find new lessons in Hungarian essentially impenetrable on the app.
i don't think it goes too fast but i am definitely pacing myself and taking it slow. i expected the struggle, so it's ok. also i was terrible at german for years before i fell in love with it & built my way towards reading fluency. i know how to make it through the tough parts.
yeah, most of the posts i've seen complaining about the app being too easy sure weren't from people learning vietnamese or hebrew. the app is also is godsend for the reverse trees. so helpful.
If you're using the app, no wonder you find Russian a struggle - as far as I know none of the apps have Tips & Notes, is that right? The Russian course is by far the most dependent on Tips & Notes. You definitely want to use the website version if at all possible.
i like that about the app actually. i have enough experience learning grammar heavy languages like german & latin to know what works & doesn't work for me. wiktionary has declension charts & wikipedia has enough about russian grammar to get me through the tree. once i am done i will review the whole thing paying much more attention to grammar in general.
It just seems really weird to me to try to learn the grammar without making use of the grammar explanations, when the explanations are right there convenient for you. Whatever works though.
Well actually, I have way more than twenty years of language learning behind me, which includes learning Russian to an honours degree level from scratch in four years, alongside an entire year group of people doing the same, as well as having experience teaching English to Russian speakers, so yeah, I have a pretty good insight into the difficulties of learning Russian.
That said, I have no idea why this long rant was aimed at this post in which I didn't even mention Cyrillic. So I don't know where that came from. My query was merely that saying you find the app hard when you're neglecting a bunch of the resources provided for you seems strange. You appear to be replying to a completely different post...
i apologize for my pretty passive aggressive answer. it wasn't aimed at you & if it feels i'm answering a completely different post i suppose it's because i'm more reacting to the tone of this thread in general, which got under my skin.
i also wasn't pitting my language learning skills against yours. i am well aware that you're a more experienced, more qualified & more successful language learner / teacher than me and i respect the hell out of that.
the reason i referenced my own experience is because without it, this is the kind of discussion that would have made me feel like i would never get anywhere with russian so i better give up.
i have seen this particular struggle condescendingly dismissed several times before. stop complaining about the alphabet, it's easy. well, it's not easy for everyone it's not easy for me.
so far it's not the grammar side of things that's been hard
the arbitrary russian learning standard this thread has set is completely bogus
you or anyone finding cyrillic to be the easiest part of learning russian does not make cyrillic the easiest part of learning russian per se
brains are unique. someone else out there will sail through the grammar parts that stumped you but they will struggle with the alphabet in a way you never did
this arrogant attitude dismissing the idea of anyone actually & seriously struggling with cyrillic needs to go.
establishing familiarity with a foreign script takes time.
when will this foreign script stop feeling like a barrier preventing me from absorbing & retaining the language at the pace i'm used to? i often wondered while i ploughed through the tree.
for hangeul it took me 16 months
at the 12 months mark with russian i can say i am finally getting there but my brain still shies away from stuff like испытывающий жажду, rejecting it as overwhelmingly foreign & impossible.
i have 20+ years of language learning behind me
my brain took to greek, chinese & japanese like a duck to water while needing a lot more time to process cyrillic, hangeul & hebrew
different people struggling with different things in a different way, a shocking concept apparently
I think you've misunderstood the meaning of the statement that learning the alphabet is easy. You mentioned earlier that you can read the words in Cyrillic... that you know. Absolutely. I think it's because learning to read Russian as written is very difficult that experienced learners of Russian speak with one voice that, well, you better get started. Certainly, learning the letters is a very different thing than reading Russian easily — or sounding out words easily. That's where the ancillary point about the difficulty of other Latin based languages comes in: just because an English speaker knows the English alphabet hardly means they can go easily sound out Hungarian or Polish. I can certainly attest that my eyes glaze over at non-Duolingo lesson Hungarian. And, yes, certainly my eyes glazed over at Russian for a very long time — even well after knowing the great majority of the grammar. And this was true despite having to pass a quiz on the alphabet in my first four days of Russian learning.
I don't think our brains really process letters individually in languages we can read easily. We essentially process words as well-constructed pictograms. Knowing the letters doesn't get you that. Knowing a language does. This thread hasn't really touched on that 2nd point in my reckoning (other than everybody agreeing that, yes, Russian is a much harder than more commonly studied languages) but the 1st.
Cyrillic is easy. Russian grammar is hard.
"This arrogant attitude dismissing the idea of anyone actually & seriously struggling with" russian grammar "needs to go".
There are three genders and at least six cases, for which not only pronouns but adjectives, adverbs and demonstratives have to change their endings.
Verbs have aspects which means that for every english verb you need to know two russian verbs. Four if you include directional verbs.
However, I am enjoying it. Vive la diference!
people don't seem to realize the difference between knowing the letters actually being able to read a foreign script, let alone learn in it.
While agreeing fully with you — the fact it's in a different alphabet unquestionably makes decoding and learning any individual Russian word harder than it would be if Russian were written in the Latin script, people also tend not to have tried reading anything like this before deciding they'd like to give Russian a go. Whether the jump from English to that or from that to Russian is bigger I'd call an open question.
I actually find Polish (unfamiliar ways of pronouncing Latin letters) harder to internalise than Russian (mostly new letters with their own sounds) - and that is before tackling the truly imaginative Polish grammar!
I agree - I loved it when I started learning Russian that I could just switch to Cyrillic rather than having to decode a different system of using Latin letters. I think after Russian, when I had a better grasp of the new, Slavic sounds that were previously unfamiliar, then the languages that use the Latin alphabet weren't too hard to get my head around, but I find learning a new alphabet easier than dealing with massive consonant clusters and digraphs that don't quite make sense in my head!
(I think Hungarian is more difficult than Russian in this respect, it's very phonetic but the pronunciation is often very counter-intuitive for a native anglophone, especially given the Hungarian course is one of those with limited audio. Granted, I decided Hebrew and Hungarian at the same time was a really foolish idea, so I haven't had a lot of practice at it, but I honestly think I'd find it easier to grasp if it had a different alphabet rather than s = sh and sz = s, for example, which is completely counter-intuitive for me 8-p LOL)
I rarely participate in internet discussion forums, because, like Forest Gump's mother famously said, "...you never know what you are going to get." The Duo community, it seems, is no exception.
Thank you to everyone who offered constructive advice.
To those of you criticizing my ludicrous perspective, the attainability of my goals, my fortitude, my perseverance, etc. - not as helpful.
My initial comment was titled "constructive criticism on the Russian course," because, in my opinion, born out of my love for Duo Lingo, the Russian course could be improved. I am not sure how my opinion, or any opinion that wants to improve Duo out of love for Duo, could be so radically wrong. But, I am certain that my opinion stinks as much as anyone else's.
For those of you who offered other resources for learning the Cyrillic alphabet, thank you. I might look into some of those resources. But, my comments were about improving Duo. There have been many other options for learning Russian since long before the internet even existed.
My goal, as I stated in my initial comment, is not to become fluent in Russian as quickly as I can. My goal is to exercise my brain. I like Duo because Duo provides the exercise program that I am looking for. I just feel that the Russian portion could be improved. I am a father. I remember countless hours of songs and games and fun while my child learned the English alphabet. It would be nice if Duo provided that same level of introduction into a language as foreign from my own as Russian. There is, built into Duo already, a method for more advanced students to skip this primary level of introduction if they want to, but for me, it would be just the right place to start.
Since this is a personal opinion about how Duo's Russian program could be improved, it seems that relevant comments should be limited to comments that agree, comments that disagree, or comments about other ways in which users feel Duo's Russian program could be improved.
Then I, uh, agree, I suppose.
It is not that teaching the alphabet is not necessary, it is that it will not be implemented in any foreseeable future.
If you're doing Duolingo only to exercise your brain and because you love duolingo, and you find the Russian course unpleasant, by all means drop the Russian course! One of the wonderful things about duolingo is that it offers us a way to sample a large range of languages. If you want to continue using duolingo as your fun mental exercise, why not try a couple lessons in a bunch of different languages and see which one appeals to you? Who knows, maybe you will even find Esperanto interesting... shameless plug
For immediate help, try the DigitalDesign site (mentioned in a new Discussion) for Russian. They have a game for learning the alphabet: http://www.digitaldialects.com/Russian/Russian_alphabet.htm. (The "tverdiy znak" for ъ just means "hard sign", i.e., don't palatalize It's a silent letter.) I still recommend a textbook by professionals used to explaining the differences between Russian and English to English-speakers.
Russian is tough at first for English speakers, far more than Spanish or German. Don't be surprised if it's slow going, but it does get easier after a while. Duolingo is a great tool, but it does help to use other sites as well.
I strongly recommend learning the alphabet before starting the course. You can look at this discussion post, which links to a couple explanations, or you can search the internet. https://www.duolingo.com/comment/11449014
Listening practice is very important. Duolingo is limited in how much it can provide, I recommend listening to music while following along with the lyrics, or reading along with an audiobook. This will also help you get more comfortable with the alphabet.
It sounds like you should work on learning the alphabet so that you're comfortable with it before trying to move much farther along in the course. If you work on it a bit every day, it should not take more than a week--it could be as short as a day or two, if you hit it right. Things should be much easier if you do.
Russian is considerably harder for an American to learn than the Western European languages - the State Department allows about twice as long for its basic Russian course as for either Spanish or German. Apparently Duolingo doesn't include learning Cyrillic early in the course, but it's not all that bad. (Years ago I TA'd first-year Russian, and it only took about a week before the kids had it down cold, and some of them were pretty unmotivated.) Most of the letters are similar to Latin or Greek - there's only a handful that will be brand new to you. Getting a Russian textbook - even something like Russians for Dummies - might be a good idea, so you have everything you need in one place and presented in an organized fashion. Duolingo is best for practicing what you're learning elsewhere.
Might I add that I found the website version of the Russian course is much more demanding in learning to manually input the Cyrillic alphabet vs the iOS version. It has helped me drill in learning to use the Cyrillic alphabet and to listen carefully to the audio in the "type what you hear" tests. The mobile versions give you too much help. I was wondering which version you are using.
However I have learned another language that uses a much more different character system (Japanese) and the Cyrillic alphabet feels like a cake walk in comparison. But I am using the review exercises repeatedly before moving onto a new step. So I do not the feeling I am in over my head. Flashcards are great for learning a new alphabet. Duolingo is only one tool in my learning toolbox. I am currently looking for what the best free dictionaries are for Russian.
Multitran - great for pro translators no doubt. For a beginner it'd be trying to navigate through a megalopolis with no map and no ability to ask directions, I'd fear.
You're kidding, right? Sure, often the simple translation a learner would probably need shows up in the most prominent position, but sometimes...
Say you're looking up the simple, well before the 2nd Duo checkpoint вилка, you get
spread (in arbitrage rechnik); fork (первые вилки в Европе появились в последней трети 17 в.); ball mark repair tool (inyazserg); fork (велосипеда); plug; bracket (при стрельбе); crutch; gab; prong; yoke; crotch (стебля, веток или дерева); furcation; wye
Ok, the answer she needs is in there, but say she clicks on the innocent-seeming first result, the everyday word "spread," the torrents are unleashed.
What can I say? English has an enormous vocabulary. And the simplest words (like spead) can have multiple meanings. This is one reason it's good to start with graded readers, complete with glossaries and marked stress positions - they simply save so much time. As for pocet dictionaries or whatever, if the learner doesn't have the particular simple meaning in mind that the author did, they get one or two simple, but often wrong, answers. A general rule to live by: go for the biggest dictionary available. Second rule: don't use a foreign word simply on the basis of its being in the dictionary - check for usage with google or yandex or somebody.
It was not my intent to hijack this thread, but thank you for the links to the translation sites. As long as the sites do not contain blatantly wrong information, like a google translation, that is what I was hoping for. Good definitions are a big bonus.
Also I have learned a new Russian word! вилка! Funny. Yes I am familiar with the problem of alternate meanings of words. It sometimes seems almost all Japanese words can have an "off" meaning. But it also could be an interesting conversation starter! Maybe too interesting...
It is these nuances and the possible insights into a culture that make learning languages fun for me.
Out of curiosity, do I write in a feminine manner? I did not think I gave any definite clues as to my gender. You are correct in referring to me as she.
I found the Russian course very difficult until I learned the alphabet outside of Duolingo. Being able to sight-read the alphabet has made the course much more possible to tackle. Try to get familiar with the alphabet first and I'm sure you'll be able to move through the course much faster.
I think the fastest and easiest way to become comfortable with the alphabet is using this website : 52insk.com Scroll down and you will find a list of cognates that will teach you each letter that is different from latin without having to study it.
I used this and in days of duolingo, I could read Cyrillic without having to stop and sound it out (except in other fonts with those big serifs, then everything just blends together). Now I'm hating the grammar instead of the alphabet.
I'm 22 skills into the Russian course, yet the only things I could actually tell you in Russian are that "someone is something", "someone has something", or "someone likes something". I've made similar progress in the Spanish course and I feel like I know so much more, but that's just because more similarities and exposure between English and Spanish.
You probably shouldn't compare the English-to-Russian course with the English-to-Spanish course because they are made with the native tongue in mind. A native Ukrainian taking a Ukrainian-to-Russian course paced like ours would probably thing it is much too slow, and they would also think a Spanish course paced like ours is much too fast. The ability you achieve in level 25 English-to-Spanish will be much greater than a level 25 in English-to-Russian, I'd Imagine.
Perhaps your biggest mistake is treating Duo as a complete learning system. You may conquer the tree for a thousand times, yet won't be able to say much. It takes more than Duo to actually get fluent in a language. You've got the whole youtube in your hand, use it. Listen to slow Russian with corresponding English subtitles, listen to catchy Russian music (make sure to translate and memorize the lyrics), read Russian texts (the internet is full of them from beginners level up to Dostoevsky), try to find a chat pal, or maybe a video chat partner (a Russian guy/girl who needs practice in English). Only then Duolingo will serve you as a complimentary system, that makes nice practice. And keep in mind that Russian is not the easiest language for a native English speaker. It is not fair comparing it to Spanish / German.
This. For me, Duolingo is most powerful when I use it as one pillar of a multi-resource learning strategy. I usually try to pick 4-5 different "resources"/exercises and switch between them (Duo, a conversation partner, memrise, a grammar guide, another course/textbook). Maybe you could find another Russian course for beginners and alternate between Duolingo and that, for example. Learning the alphabet really well first, as suggested by others, and using memrise to solidify the vocabulary as you go could also help.
I'm having a similar issue with the Irish tree. Whereas many learners seem to complain that the sentences are "too easy," I thought it jumped up waaay too quickly for me as a complete beginner. I used other resources for a while, then adopted my current strategy: learn the skill using the app to get exposure, study the words/grammar elsewhere, then review on the website which makes me type and spell more. I do this while continuing with other resources on the side.
Of course it's up to you to find the learning strategy that works best for you! Try to remember your motivations for learning Russian, and if it's not fun/effective, mix up your learning approach!
I think Duolingo is a very good system to learn languages. It completely replaces textbook exercises which you can do only once since you write in a book.
But I think the Russian course need some more attention. After some time you find skills where the discussions on sentences differ a lot from the official answers and there is no clue on why. Sometimes i think Duos answers isn't correct and sometimes no one understands them even if they are correct.
German has tips showing what's wrong. This is a good guide for common mistakes. I would like the Russian course to implement it too.
The Russian course also has many long sentences. That's good, but usually you need to learn short sentences fist. Often three or four words from a sentence would be a good translation exercise to start with, but instead you find i later when you already finished the long sentence. It makes the course unnecessary hard.
At several occasions the sentence does not fit in the box where we type it. That's very annoying. On several occasions have i written every thing correctly except for missing one word because lack of overview.
Hear! Hear! I am in total agreement with this statement
"I think Duolingo is a very good system to learn languages. It completely replaces textbook exercises which you can do only once since you write in a book."
When I read a grammar book I never do the exercises. This is a bad fault on my part but for me Duolingo is mainly about the exercises and the pronounciation.
In that way it enhances what I learn of Grammar from books and from the Internet.
I am enjoying it immensely.
I have the same reaction, even after finishing the tree and getting to level 23 (by virtue of repeating lessons over and over, not by mastery of all the material). First, the sentences to be pronounced are often long, too long I think. Even with knowing the Cyrillic alphabet, it takes me a minute to sound out lengthy unfamiliar words, and when combined with a length sentence, it's tough.
Second, the Russian course does ramp up in difficulty rather steeply. The German course, for example, is much easier; even at 70% fluency, I still occasionally get asked short phrases. It's sometimes almost too easy.
Maybe a little more gentle learning curve on Russian would be helpful.
Yeah, I've just started the Russian course, and the support for learning the Cyrillic alphabet is abysmal. You're not even taught all the letters by the end of the lesson. If I hadn't learned the alphabet from other sources, I'd be totally lost. (And regarding the "other sources are necessary" camp: look, if your program can't teach the most basic building block of a language - the literal ABCs, or АБВs - it has quality issues.)
The first lesson needs to be dedicated to learning the Cyrillic alphabet only - the whole alphabet. Introducing vocabulary before you can even read the words is a futile venture.
What letters are missing from the first skill?
The Russian course was made before Duolingo offered any specific support for teaching alphabets. Such a system has since been implemented, but the courses that use it have other major drawbacks.
When Duolingo gets around to doing something about this, I suspect the Russian course will make progress in this area.
I don't think you necessarily need to learn the whole alphabet before introducing simple words... on the contrary, I think that would help with associating sounds to letters, especially with Russian, as it's very phonetic ("phonemic orthography") compared to many other languages, including English.
If you for some reason can't have the reference table visible while you're reading, which I suppose could be if you're on mobile... with the existing functionality, it could teach you the letters by asking you to "translate" things like "Гэ Дэ Жэ Зэ". I must say that would be of limited use though, I still don't remember the actual alphabet (in order) :) Haven't needed it for anything.
One of my textbooks does start with a long-winded chapter about the entire alphabet, what the letters mean, how are they pronounced in different contexts, what "palatalization" is etc. Another book just has the alphabet table and goes straight to "practice reading and writing: тема, томат, какао ...". I prefer the latter approach personally.
But... if people are having significant problems with the alphabet, I fully agree that something should be done. Isn't the course constantly in development anyway? They'll fix it when they can.
Specific constructive suggestions:
1) limit each note to ONE concept. No more than that. If there are 20-40 lessons on a topic, there's plenty of time to introduce concepts.
2) introduce a few new vocabulary words (~ 5) in each lesson, and then beat them into the dirt in the lesson (by which I mean 10 XPs' worth of practice).
This is pretty much lecturing/ teaching 101: tell people what you're teaching, then teach them, then tell them what you've taught them, and then give them practice at what you've taught them before moving on.
Have you ever thought that English might awake comparable feelings by an unexperienced Russian speaker? The English course for Russians runs in a similar tempo though :) You have happened to start a language which is not a close cognate of your mother tongue, and some difficulties are surely to expect, otherwise language learning would not be such a great challenge ;) And Level 6 on Duolingo is indeed quite a low one, in fact one can achieve it after few days of learning, so I don't see any reason to feel uncomfortable about it. Generally, one does not come further as a common Beginner level after having finished a Duolingo course. And don't forget that learning (any) language does not work properly only with the help of Duo, you have to use other sources to improve. To sum up - don't get demotivated by the numbers and statistics, have fun while learning and try to find out which learning tempo would work out for you. At the end of the day, it is still you who determinates the learning progress, not the software :)
The reaction of native Russian speakers to the English course is irrelevant in this context, frankly. We're talking about the converse here. If the English for Russian speakers has problems, that's for Russian speakers learning English to comment on.
I think the point is just that Russian and English are much further apart than English and Spanish, so that isn't a reasonable comparison. The experience of Russians learning English is relevant because they're facing a linguistic difference of equal size.
As it happens the English from Russian tree is very different from the Russian from English one. It doesn't ramp up the same way in sentence complexity I would say. To me that's a significant flaw, common to many Duolingo courses, leaving Russian speakers with less learning substance than they "ought" to have, but opinions are allowed to differ :)
I agree with you and find it interesting that you're getting so many comments suggesting that you use other sources. That doesn't really tackle the source of the problem, that is, duolingo advertises "learn a language for free", but in the case of Russian at least, it's "learn a language for free, as long as you're willing to dig through comments and/or discussion, and/or go search google and/or youtube for further assistance (hoping that you don't get bad or incorrect information that way)".
The first set of lessons is actually titled "alphabet" and it is, frustratingly, not the alphabet. It's words thrown at us in a rather haphazard manner, with multiple issues.
Some words listed don't show up. медик, for example, is shown on the cover page of lesson 1 but I've done 4 lessons (many many times for each) and it's never shown up once.
Accents are used without explaining that they're only there to show us how to pronounce the word, and aren't actually part of the Russian language. That was never explained, so I spent quite some time the first time the program asked me to spell мама looking for the accented a character before discovering there are comments on some lessons, and finding an (upvoted) comment asking what was with the accents, and another (upvoted) comment explaining what should have been explained by the course itself before it even began. Both comments being upvoted indicates this is a common problem, which is hardly surprising when the 'known' language in the course is one that is devoid of accents except on borrowed or obscure words, and even with those words the accents tend to just be skipped entirely (example, 'fiancee').
New characters are introduced with little or no explanation. ты and велосипед were both introduced with no help in pronunciation and I had to go outside for help on велосипед and haven't yet done so for ты - that is another time consuming interruption (or two) only three lessons in, lessons that ought to be self-contained.
I've continued to slog through, but let's be blunt - duolingo isn't doing any heavy lifting here. As someone else said, it is perhaps better used as practice, but as that's not what duolingo is selling, it is bound to disappoint as a product.
(Another criticism: I just discovered by doing it that voting for a comment clears out the comment field. So if this version of the comment comes off as somewhat testy or terse, it's because I had to retype the whole thing.)
"no help in pronunciation"? They're there spoken for you...
OK, the voice isn't always the greatest. I'm getting close to level 14 in Hungarian - same alphabet, supposedly, well except when the sound values are completely switched around - and still haven't figured out the sounds. Learning to produce sounds in your target language that don't exist in your native language is tough! And, frankly it's not really emphasized anywhere (until maybe 300 level college classes whose course titles end in "linguistics")
But there's no question that Duolingo was built for languages using the Latin alphabet. So teaching alphabets is a structural weakness, no doubt about it (and unfortunately there's no way it's a priority for Duo seeing as how probably no more than 2% of users are learning non-Latin based languages). The Greek course took a very different tack than Russian or Ukrainian, and I can attest it's infuriating for its own reasons. Every learning system has drawbacks. It is unfortunate that this particular one arises at the very beginning, but that also means that once surmounted (which, as others have noted is a task of hours or days, not weeks), it's in the rearview mirror. Here's a fun little thread that popped up on my radar screen today that might help a bit: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/11510475
You also might want to read the Tips and Notes for the alphabet skill where there's a... primer on pronouncing ы.
The best explanation for the sound of ы was one I came across on VK: "the sound you make when someone punches you in the gut" ;)
I seem to be in the minority here. I find the Russian course by far the easiest to use of the 7 that I am currently using on Duo. Note that I am not saying that Russian is the easiest language - it certainly is not! - but in terms of logically leading you through the grammar, it is the best constructed.
There are two provisos to this: 1) You need to use the Tips Notes. Learning Russian by mimicking sentence structures without explanation doesn't really work, because the grammar is too different to English. (I initially tried the course that way, because I started on the app - which didn't have access to either TN or the discussions - and got hopelessly bogged down).
2) You do really need to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before you start. Duolingo is not really set up for teaching alphabets, and having tried the way the Greek course attempts it (which muddles transliteration and translation, resulting in exercises where it is almost impossible to work out what is wanted, even when you have learned the alphabet!), I don't think that trying to implement within the existing system is really possible.
I think the largest problem is that the stuff in the beginning is very random, and not practical, especially the vocabulary. You study for hundreds of hours, and end up knowing lakes, apples and birds but unable to say "what time is it?" These tasks are also very repetitive, you'll do "is that your cat?" "is it my cat?" "is that her cat"? tens of times. I understand repetition is needed to learn the concepts but it gets to the point where it's stalling your progress because you're just inflecting the same few words instead of learning new ones. Anyway, it would be better if you could learn more "natural", conversational language as soon as possible.
One thing that bothers me is the speech synthesizer. It speaks much too fast (this should be correctable) and mispronounces some words, mostly such that it's difficult to tell which syllable is supposed to be stressed. This is probably more difficult to improve.
That said, I still enjoy the course and I can't say I agree with the OP's reasons to not like it. Why would you rather be at this or that level, you'll learn the alphabet as you go, in tandem with the other stuff. I find Cyrillic quite familiar (most of the letters are exactly the same as in Latin...) but the Russian language itself is very foreign. It's going to take time but I feel I am progressing.
My perspective might be different since I didn't start from scratch (which is why I said "hundreds of hours" earlier, that's my estimate of how long it would take if you DID start from scratch). I have no trouble with the alphabet (for those who do, wouldn't it be very simple to make an alphabet table available for reference?) and there's a bunch of other things I still remember from my earlier studies.
Kudos to the developers for what they have achieved so far.
The course is actually better now with the crown stuff, IMO. It IS very repetitive, but that's probably a virtue. I find that the best way to learn, e.g., a dialogue is to listen to it until you're ready to scream with boredom, and are mumbling it to yourself subconsciously at odd moments. It's soul-destroying, but effective.
Re natural, conversational language, try "Easy Russian" (or other languages), where native speakers interview people on the street. They must choose those interviewees who speak reasonably distinctly, which makes understanding them much easier. I find it a useful adjunct to Duolingo.
I had no idea what the crown system was even for until today.
Anyway, something seems to have changed as I have continued studying. It feels more suitable for me now, i do get new words and the exercises seem more varied. I've reached a point where it no more feels like just repeating stuff over and over again, since I'm actually learning something new (or forgotten).
How useful the course will ultimately be remains to be seen. I definitely agree with whoever it was that said that if you advertise something as "learn a language for free", don't be offended if someone finds it's not working for him and offers you advice on how to improve it.
I certainly hope people aren't spending hundreds of hours just on the first handful of skills. Duolingo doesn't work for everyone's learning style. If progress is that slow, I'd recommend some other learning modality.
If one is looking for a few useful expressions for a trip, I would certainly recommend a phrasebook over Duolingo.
Almost everyone starting any language thinks the speech is too fast and that the synthesizer is making lots of mistakes. Sure, it's not perfect, but when you're more familiar with the language, you'll likely find it was making fewer mistakes than you thought.
I know the synthesizer is bad in a number of ways, because I have hours worth of recordings spoken by native Russians (much slower, by the way) which I have listened to extensively. The synths 'ы' is particularly awful. But it's a synth, and like you said it's not perfect.
If you were replying specifically to my comment about "natural, conversational language", a phrasebook would be an extreme alternative, besides being very different from what I meant. Let's say you did some statistical analysis on a contemporary Russian newspaper. What would be the most common words? "koshka"? "tsirk"? "Dimitri Chernov"? That's what I meant when I was talking about randomness.
Oh, and I'm also not saying Duolingo isn't useful or that I'm not making any progress. I've used this thing for four days, I think I'm progressing reasonably well. I was addressing the entire thread/op, this is my constructive criticism.
The vocab for the course is actually based on a frequency list of Russian. The top of any frequency list is going to be almost entirely function over lexical words, so there are going to have to be some lower-frequency words just to make coherent sentences. And the preponderant objective of the early part of the tree is simply to teach the alphabet, so that calls for the usage of a different set of words than would be the case if all students came to the course with a knowledge of the alphabet (which, of course, will never be the case, and a lot definitely find it anything but easy).
That makes sense.
I guess that means there's going to be a sudden increase in the vocabulary as I progress through levels 7, 8 or something? Not ideal but it is what it is.
I don't know if it's just me, but I really don't see why people need so much time to learn the Cyrillic. Back in the day (I studied from a book) it honestly took me about 10 minutes to learn it enough to start reading. The next few days I occasionally had to check some letters but after that it was never an issue. You automatically get better at it when you just keep reading it.
I think a general guideline is that each lesson at crown level 0 introduce 7 words.
Finding where one really has to start learning (as opposed to reviewing) if you come to the Duolingo course with a bit of background in the language has, unfortunately, never been a strong suit of Duolingo. When you get there, probably the overall set-up will start making more sense. Of course, if your vocab is over the couple thousand word mark, you might well be familiar with the entire course content already.
Regarding Cyrillic, I don't think people necessarily find it all that hard once they start it. It's the actually getting started in something that seems so unfamiliar that's the hold-up.
One more thing about the synth (a bit of a sidenote). What you said about "everyone thinking the speech is too fast", is that not course-dependent? I'd imagine the devs configure the synth quite extensively for the language in question. You have an impressive list of languages there to compare.
The synth'd speech in the languages I've tried here so far differ quite a bit. The German speech is very clear, and has decent intonation and pace. The Norwegian synth generally speaks slightly slower. The Russian synth does weird things, like pronouncing 'што зто?' insanely fast, so it sounds like one word and the middle vowel(s) become unintelligible. Did I already mention that it's completely unable to pronounce 'ы'? (interestingly, there is a sound in Norwegian that's very close to that so the synth can do it...) Of course, the Russian phonology is much more complex... I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to make it as good as it is now.
A more precisely phrased statement of the point would be that I think complaints about the speech being too fast are a recurring and frequent phenomenon for just about every course that has audio. Duolingo uses off-the-shelf TTS systems. Mostly they're from IVONA: https://www.ivona.com/us/about-us/voice-portfolio/.
I don't think they can really do much if any customization. About the only thing course teams can do if the synth happens to butcher a given sentence is turn off the write-what-you-hear exercise for it. (They could also I think deactivate the audio for the sentence, but it seems they basically never deem it bad enough to justify that.) They can also try to formulate a different sentence that doesn't cause the problem. I know the Russian team reviewed every TTS option on the market and picked the one they found best overall.
I'm not an expert, but I know there are a couple of different types of speech synths. Way back in the early 80's, there was one which accepted phonemes as it's (final) input. So even if the parser interpreted the text wrong, you could override it. You could make it speak another language, you just needed to input the correct sequence of phonemes. That was cool.
You're right. When I started learning Russian (very recently) I learned the alphabet before starting the duolingo course, which I highly advise. To new learners who aren't independently working on the Cyrillic alphabet, the course is much too confusing
Definitely a slower ramp up would be beneficial. I have no problem with the Cyrillic alphabet, but the length and complexity of sentences increases much too fast.
While I'm at it, another squawk is that being off by a single letter is marked wrong. Yeah, of course, it IS wrong, but how about cutting learners just a little slack? I'd bet my life that native Russian speakers who are nominally fluent in English (e.g., the Russki developers of the course) make make LOTS of similar speaking/ writing mistakes. No one expects them to speak like William F. Buckley Jr. We accept the odd solecism.
Admitting typos or not is a matter handled by Duolingo's algorithms about which the Russian course developers have zero input in my understanding.
I don't agree with the judgement that a translation is generally marked wrong owing to being off by a single letter, but it does seem to happen sometimes. If you've inadvertently typed a different word, you're likely be out of luck, but if that's not the case, then filing bug reports with concrete examples may be of use.