Grammar, Grammar, Grammar and more grammar.
Ok, so I've been here for a while and I know the pros and cons about learning a language with Duolingo. I'm perfectly aware of how much sucks Duolingo in the listening field, but I'd like to speak about grammar.
So basically, I am quite frustated at the moment, because my mother has been using Duolingo for about 2 years. She has finished the tree, she redoes the lessons every now and then, but her English really SUCKS.
I mean, I know the level she should get to is about A2 or B1, but she doesn't know how to write simple sentences and makes mistakes that only people just starting English would do, but in her case, she has spent 2 years studying English in Duolingo.
Leaving the Mexican Spanish dialect aside (that causes problems and frustrations with every Spaniard I have met in Duolingo) She is now 67, so she is not a young person, she hasn't been studying since she was 14 and she doesn't know how to write her mother language (Catalan). I had to teach her what an adjective is, what a verb is, and so on. She seems to understand that now. Can it be that she just sucks in languages and that's all?
Maybe. But she speaks two languages already, so she already has this bilingual structure in her mind. and her pronunciation in English, which is maybe the hardest part, is AWESOME. So what is it, then?
She started an English course in an adult education centre, but she is now quitting because she finds she's learning nothing there. She gets stressed very easily under pressure, so studying on her own seems to work much better. She uses "el Inglesito" youtube channel, where she learns all the phonetics, and Wordreference to check up words. She used Memrise for some time, but Duolingo has been the only tool she used 2 years straight. Yet, her grammar sucks.
So last week, my mother-in-law (who is in the fifty-somethings), and is really really clever, who is learning Portuguese and English in Duolingo for about two months now, chatted with me doing these awful grammar mistakes. She reads English and I think her Speaking and Listening isn't really bad because she communicated very well with the bartender when she came to visit us in London two years ago. But again: different person, same problem: Grammar. She had this very elementary doubts and I thought: How can this happen??
If you see my profile, you'll notice that my primary focus in Duolingo is German. Along with English, is the language I spend most time studying on. I started Duolingo around 3 o 4 years ago, and I finished the tree about 2 years ago. I got to a point where I felt I needed some change, cause I didn't feel like advancing anymore, so I thought about enrolling to the Goethe Institut, and try physical language classes once again. I had the test, and by my surprise: I got a A1.1 level as a result. Ok, so yes, I haven't spend the same amount of time than the past two years on Duolingo, but what? a A1,1? It's not what you expect after so much time inverted in Duolingo.
I felt really depressed on my way home, and even though I knew the speaking would rest points, the teacher told me I got a A1 level leaving the speaking aside. Anyway I enrolled to the A1.2 level and yeah, it was more or less easy, got 90% on tests, but I did practise a lot of speaking and listening, after that course, I understand much easier the Duolingo phrases. and believe it or not, in a A1.2 level, I learned grammar I never learned in Duolingo before.
So, my point is, I think Duolingo has a lot of potencial, but I think Duolingo is missing a big part of the cake. Duolingo's forte is consistency, which is what Memrise doesn't have at the moment thanks to the multiple amateur courses and the really bad search engine (although Memrise is working on her own courses now). But consistency is what made my mum used Duolingo for two years in a row. Consistency is what made me used Duolingo for four years now.
That after so much time, you find yourself and relatives suck so much in grammar, may be because of personal reasons, or may be not. I think Duolingo has been doing great on what it has. But grammar, I think, needs way more attention. There are people, that need to be taught the grammar theory, that they need to understand that, otherwise they will never make a phrase by copying what it's being shown in Duolingo. There are people that just work this way.
The hard part is already been made. Which is this, this website, to people look at it and make them practice everyday. But please, please, put some explicit Grammar exercises and so we can understand why that works that way. Notes are not enough. Sometimes even I don't see them. Especially with German, it's very important to have your grammar sticked on your mind.
Uff, sorry for this long reflection, I just needed to post it.
I don't think that grammar theory is necessarily as important as you think, but I do agree that it's possible to get through a Duolingo tree while acquiring minimal production skills in your target language. It's a little depressing to see people announcing that they've finished their German tree with phrases like "Ich kaputte mein Deutsche baum!". (I don't intend any mockery of other learners' language errors here: the fault lies with Duolingo.)
It used to be better. In the old days, there was more translation into your target language, and a "three hearts" system rather than an infinitely forgiving progress bar. It was harder and I'm sure it resulted in more users quitting, but it produced much better results for the (relatively) few who were willing to put up with it. But of course Duolingo is a commercial entity, and I'm sure it makes better business sense to teach ten million people to A1 level than one million people to B1 level. Unfortunately, Duolingo's goals are not always the same as our goals.
The standard advice is "do the reverse tree", and I strongly endorse it. This way you actually get some practice constructing sentences in your target language. Some suggested non-Duolingo resources for improving production skills: lingvist.io, clozemaster.com (using the type-in option, not multiple choice), Michel Thomas audio courses. (MT courses are only available with English as source language, as far as I know, so unfortunately not an option for your mother. The German-from-English one is definitely worthwhile, though.)
"It used to be better. In the old days, there was more translation into your target language, and a "three hearts" system rather than an infinitely forgiving progress bar. It was harder and I'm sure it resulted in more users quitting, but it produced much better results for the (relatively) few who were willing to put up with it. But of course Duolingo is a commercial entity, and I'm sure it makes better business sense to teach ten million people to A1 level than one million people to B1 level."
It would be so nice if they could make those features optional. I don't know how practical or realistic it is but having options that make learning the material harder or easier will be able to satisfy both the serious & fair-weather learners, ultimately holding on to more users.
Most lessons have quite a few grammar notes before you start them. Just scroll down and they're right there.
These aren't available on the app version, so if people you know are using that instead, then I'd recommend the web version to them.
I know about this notes. When I first started learning German there weren't many. But there is no way to integrate them unless you learn them on your own. Because the exercises sometimes put new vocabulary or vocabulary that you don't remember at the moment, it distracts you from the main point, which would be to practice uniquely grammar. Because of that, a lot of people (I'm including myself) don't pick up all the grammar points.
I just think that there should be lessons as good as the ones that teach you vocabulary. If you have to look it up elsewhere, then this website is not good enough. (again, not saying that Duolingo is bad, just saying they could perfection this grammar points instead that building this vocabulary cards when people are using other apps for that already, then again, it's their choice)
I agree that Duo is good at keeping us coming back every day, and that it doesn't serve all our needs, but my way of dealing with that has been to go elsewhere when I needed to. Before I found duo, I knew there were things I wanted to understand better, but I wasn't sure what they were. As I worked through different trees, I would realize "Ok, I don't really understand that very well" and I'd look up the grammar points on other sites. Even if you don't know where to look, describing a specific issue and plugging it into a search engine will uncovers some great resources. So a main thing Duo did for me was to show me what my questions were. I didn't really need them to answer all the questions - the internet is a big place. Also, the sentence discussions often have some great information in them. Have you encouraged your mother to look at those?
One other thing: I wonder if you mother might enjoy this series of lessons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3s3IJtcbmElist=PLeA5t3dWTWvt6SGn1PpNkhzsV4cN7ZfLT
The rest of the series doesn't have video, but I think it's a very compelling program: gets the student thinking and speaking.
Whenever someone asks me wether Duolingo is worth it or not, I say that it is. But I also say that it's just not enough. I mean, one should not see Duolingo as the main way of learning a new language, but as a guide. This website is perfect for you to get in touch with basic language structures, vocabulary and only.
We all know that Duolingo provides us a lot of sentences that either don't make any sense at all, or that we won't ever use in a real life situation. So, in my point of view, one's foccus here should not be the actual act of studying a language, but only learning it.
Whenever I face a new structure that I don't understand, I look it up on my grammar or even google it.
I take face-to-face German classes and use Duolingo (and other resources such as Memrise) to refresh vocabulary only.
Then it's really sad to use Duolingo or Memrise just for vocabulary where I think it could do way more. But I'm afraid that you have a point there.
It's just that I thought that DUolingo wanted to be one of the primary sites to learn languages, not just vocabulary!.
I'm pretty sure one can sort of have a grasp on the grammar in written form but completely fall apart when going to speak. Maybe time to spend more time there?
If you and your relatives haven't worked through the web-version reverse courses, that's the obvious place to look Duolingo-wise. Of course while making many basic errors, it might not be too easy. But that only means the space for improvement is clear.
From the beginning Duo said that it was not going to be like school, with a lot of grammar, but would teach inductively, a learn from your mistakes approach, the way you learned as a young child. The problem is, we are not young children. But if you want grammar, go to a site like www.studyspanish.com or get a grammar book. Older learners usually like to learn the way it is done in school.
There really should be more practice producing language, otherwise how many notes there are, the information won't stick.
I thought: How can this happen??
Do your mother and mother-in-law have any interest in grammar, or are they interested only in being able to converse in English? If they’re not interested in, say, the difference between the present participle in “She is swimming” and the gerund in “She enjoys swimming”, and the people whom they speak to in English aren’t bothered by any grammatical mistakes that your mother and mother-in-law might make, then they might view learning English grammar as potentially helpful, but not necessary.
Have you looked at the English from Spanish course here? (I haven’t.) Does the content of that course include examples of particular grammatical points which your mother and mother-in-law haven’t mastered yet?
I purchased a Grammar for Dummies book on my kindle. It really helped me. I read a chapter in the book and follow up with Duo.
That's a really interesting post and I'm going to try to answer you as clearly as possible. I'm going to speak about linguistics, so sorry in advance about the jargon.
First of all, what you are calling Grammar is in fact Morpho-syntax, that's pretty common to mix the two words since the latter is technical. Generally, I don't mind people saying "grammar", but here, it's an important point.
I think the problem with your mother is that she's not educated. Maybe you think that's not a problem since she's already bilingual, but it is, since you don't really know if she's able to understand the structure of a language. In other words, you can be bilingual, or even polyglot, and still sucking at languages. You can even suck at your own language. For instance, French native-speaker just suck at spelling and conjugation. I will explain the reasons that makes it possible, don't worry.
On one hand, Duolingo focuses on Morphology rather than Syntax. Remember I said Grammar is Morpho-syntax, well Morpho-syntax = Morphology + Syntax. You can say that Morphology is the study of conjugation or declination. Basically, it's how from a word, you can construct others which are related somehow to this word. You can take the word eat in English and derive from it a bunch of other words (eats, eaten, ate). It's also related to their use (forming plurals, conjugated in the past, perfect,...). Syntax is more about word-order in a sentence. More technically, we prefer to speak about the functions of words according to where they are in a sentence and their morphology. For instance, I have told you that. Here I is the subject, have told is the verb, that is the direct object and you is the indirect object. You can notice that since the 1st person of singular is the subject, you can't say Me have told you that or My have told you that even though "me" and "my" also refer to the 1st person of singular. You can also notice that have told is the verb to tell conjugated in Present perfect which means that action is in the past but somehow related to the present. See how Duolingo doesn't teach all that stuff? Maybe it does with the Grammar Tips, but it's clearly not enough. I don't know why it's not in here, but I think it's mostly because all that stuff is booooooooooooooooooring. I personally love it, but when I speak about why we can't say this or that to my friends while referring to theory, they tend not to care.
On the other hand, Duolingo doesn't contain production or comprehension modules. It's typically based on learning a vocabulary set and translating stereotyped sentences. Per see, it's not really that bad, but coupled with the lack of syntax theory, it gives something like what your mother is experiencing. Let me explain why. As I said, most people find theory boring, so when you teach a language, you make them read, write, listen and speak, different kinds of materials. While they are doing so, and since they didn't care about theory, they will make mistakes... a lot of mistakes. If you correct systematically the mistakes they make while explaining thanks to the theory why it's a mistake, they will do less and less mistakes. That's how you're supposed to learn your mother-tongue and that's the method Duolingo pretends to give. Unfortunately, adults don't like to be systematically corrected, especially in front of others, and I think that's the reason your mother didn't want to follow a course. Moreover, Duolingo can't let us produce freely a speech or an essay, and it's more based on translation than comprehension. So by making mistakes in Duolingo, you don't learn a language, you learn how to translate from and to this language.
As for your experience with the Goethe Institute, I am really surprised. Actually, I enrolled in the Goethe Institute till the A2.3 level, but I couldn't go very far in my German tree in Duolingo. Of course, I skipped most of the basic courses, but I still didn't manage to pass the most advanced courses yet. Furthermore, I did the same as you with Dutch. I started to learn it in Duolingo and then I enrolled in a Dutch school in the Netherlands, and they made me skip the whole A1 level. Of course, I'm neither able to write a text nor to make a speech, or when I do so, I know that I suck, but I'm able to read mostly everything, understand when people speak slowly and I figured some grammar stuff out so that was enough for them. Anyway, if you can afford the Goethe Institute (or any recognized language institute), don't waste your time on Duolingo, or at least use it only to practise what you learnt. I can tell you that if you stay in there until the C2 level, you will know German better than Germans (that's what happened to me in the Cervantes Institute).
Wow. Thank you sooooo much for your answer!!
What you say makes a lot of sense to me. Because of her character, my mum gets stressed very easily and forgets things very fast. Although she is clever, she gets really scared about things she doesn't know and blocks herself all the time, so me helping her and teach her more grammar is not a real option, but it looks like her working in Duolingo works, it's a pity they don't have extra lessons, optional lessons, I don't care.
In Spain (or at least in Catalonia) grammar is probably what we spend more time on during language classes. It was my forte in English and I remember spending hours in hours working on direct object and indirect object in Catalan until university (even though I was coursing a technology batxiller, Catalan, Spanish and English were mandatory). And now that helps me a lot to pick up the German grammar at the Goethe.
I suppose there's a huge difference between countries, because here in the UK people don't seem to care that much for grammar (or anything else) if they can understand what you mean. My English colleagues seem more dubious when learning the grammar points, while a spanish friend and I take us about 1 minute to process it.
I enrolled to the A2.1 course, so I'm continuing at the Goethe, I really like how they teach and the pace they have, and I think I'm learning a lot. So I recommend it to anyone who is thinking about it. With all the Brexit happening, I don't know if I'm gonna stay here for a long time, and knowing another european language could get handy any time soon.
I really appreciate your comment!
Totally agree but I'm pretty sure this is up to the volunteers more than anything else. There should really be more grammar skills beyond past/present/future, more guides & more notes on what's correct & what isn't.
More advanced grammar should also be applied more too. It seems like whenever we learn a new word, even near the end of the tree, it all too often gives you only relatively basic sentences with it. You get a skill or 2 to learn anything & never use it again in the tree which is a MAJOR problem.
There are grammar notes before the majority of lessons if you use the web version. They're very in-depth on a lot of the courses.
Read the notes to learn the theory, and then do the exercises to put it into practice. If you're not reading the notes or using the web version, then you're missing half of the courses.
I know that there are notes, but I've run into skills hoping to get a some clarity from the notes only to find there is nothing (or hardly anything useful) there too many times.
I actually find them quite difficult to locate, sometimes I don't even see there are any if there are more than six sets of exercises. And some other I find them quite long and complex.
It would be nice to put them all together so people could print them out and study them on their own
No not just irish, several of them. Over the years I've also tried spanish, italian, german, spanish for german, german for spanish as well as the english course for these languages. I feel like it's safe to say each of these courses was lacking notes when they really really could've used them.
I'm not saying these courses completely lacked (useful) notes altogether, it's just you were bound to get completely lost at certain skills because they either forgot about it or just did the bare minimum on it for whatever reason - notes for those skills would've made a world of difference.
Hi, I would like to say a few words about my experience with Duolingo. First, my native language is not an option, so, being quite good at English I had to opt for English - Turkish version. Sometimes Duo marks me wrong because of the English translation (though, some native English speakers agree with me. You have to read "discussion" here is where you can find some answers to your questions. But this takes a lot of time. I agree there should be more grammar, and much more examples. My comparison with Busuu: I payed for the version, but am disappointed. First of all, the web version stopped working and I can use Busuu only on my Ipad now. Secondly, what is much worse, at the end of each lesson you get a terribly DIFFICULT dialogue, with words and tenses never explained before. This puts you off. I have struggled through this dialogues, however, with a dictionary and grammar book, but this is just not the point, is it? I have tried this Memrise course, but do not like it because of total lack of grammar, just repetition...
I tried busuu not long ago, they seemed not to learn much for the years they've been out. I completely agree with you with the dialogue and there are very few questions and they repeat the same again in the revision phase. It's actually a joke.
This is maybe the result when you get taught on an (pre-)intermediate level too short sentences, which seems to happen more often?
You can't build IMHO good grammar skills with just 2-3 words, even let it be 4-5 words, as I have seen it quite often in the Portuguese course (even though I am only 28% through), however I can compare with the EN courses.
It really was sometimes only 2-3 words like "it is ....", "He/she ....
That by the way helps me even NOTHNG to try to remember or RECALL those learned and practiced words as I would need the full context / a better story telling.
With DE-EN (89%) / EN-DE (~50%) courses I am already more down the tree, but have used all available test-out checkpoints and I had not to do do that many review excercises so far or used to press the lessons (from scratch) start button very much.
No, personally I do NOT complain too much about the DuoLingo Portuguese course which language I have to learn from scratch.
Even those "shorter sentences" are already challenging enough for me at this early stage (for a pre-intermediate and strengthening it is a different story).
It IMHO just takes too long to get to the more important grammar / tenses skills as I can not skip over occupasions, household (where I have to learn bunch of words I will not use in speaking / writing, probably never etc. fisherman, chandelier,...)....so I have the feeling to waste a bit of my time: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/20450828
DuoLingo probably also does not teach how to combine multiple nested / conditional sentences (using for each part different tense forms)??
There are no fill in the blanks excercises, like I had in an online English grammar language test (THAT is challenging if you are a non-native (EN) speaker, even with years and years of learning).
Even if you have multiple choices for those "fill in the blanks" for either given synonyms/antonyms or those different grammar (tenses) words, it can be used for demonstration in given much longer nested sentences, which you really need to understand what the meaning is about.
DuoLingo also does not give you real user longer text context stories like I have seen those in the (English) tests.
Then you would see longer sentences, nested sentences, "real grammar" applied.
Like those texts seen including audio from www.bliubliu.com.
It would probably help to have to select answers for given questions with either blanks, select from a list or whatever, to test listening/reading and the overall language comprehension if all the questions/answers differentiate from the text (not 1:1 reading relation, so this is not too easy) and can be used to show/test (real) sentences that are better constructed to fit your learning needs.
Given the above points, I could understand somehow that somebody
a) won't be able to write longer sentences / express correctly his/her meaning (incl. speaking)
b) can not use (longer) nested sentences
c) has a hard time to remember vocabulary
d) lacks knowledge in (advanced) grammar usage for the points a) and b)
Well, I may be not too long on DuoLingo to make final conclusions (e.g about the DE-EN/EN-DE sentence quality).... ....but I know what you will learn in a fulltime "Berlitz Business English" course you take 2-3 months....
The reverse course will help provide more translation into English.
The desktop version of Duo is much better than the phone/tablet version.
To have unanswered grammar questions answered, she (or anyone like you who helps her) can:
- find a good website with explanations of grammar and maybe with exercises as well, and use it when questions arise
- find and buy a good grammar book that she understands and can use, and use it when questions arise
- find someone (like you) whose English is good to help out when she has questions.
As your English is so good, can you perhaps walk her through some of the points that she finds difficult, or quiz her as she goes along, to be sure she's understanding?
Duo by itself just plain isn't enough to get anything more than the very basics. But used for daily practice and as a framework to map out what to study it can work well. But when it isn't working well, you've got to cast around for something that will supply what is lacking.