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Frustrations with the Japanese course...

Pronoun Whack-a-Mole

Japanese often omits the pronouns. Because pronouns can be guessed from the surrounding context of the conversation. Which is awesome in real life...and a @#$%#$%^ nightmare on Duolingo. Because there's zero context for the sentences, so you simply have to guess which pronouns are being omitted and where they belong in the sentence. This isn't an individual sentence discussion because there's just so many of them this applies to.

For example: 後ろに椅子があります.

Which is rendered as: 後ろにいすがあります.

This sentence means "there is a chair behind". That's it.

But we're meant to guess the pronoun that follows because it could literally be any pronoun. But there's only one correct answer.

And this is repeated time after time after time.

I get that in the real world this is fine, omitting the pronouns, because there's a real conversation taking place where those pronouns are fairly obvious...but there's zero context clues in Duolingo which makes this course a literal guessing game.

With the pick the tiles type questions, this is mostly fine as there's generally only one pronoun to choose from, but when it's a free typing question, the learners are screwed.

Kanji Chameleon

Some words that should be in kanji are rendered as kana, but other kanji are not, it's seemingly random which are which and it seems random when they're presented as kanji or an kana.

I get the intent of teaching the pronunciation of the kanji using the kana (though proper furigana would be infinitely better), but they're randomly thrown in. This time it's kanji, next time it's kana, then it's kana again, oh...but now it's a kanji.

Make up your minds. Present them as either kanji or as kana. Give it a few times as kana for purely pronunciation tests (what sound does this make...) but don't mix and match them in the questions.

The Hints are Wrong

If I'm not sure about the word or character I'll tap on the hint...only to be presented with a short list of kanji or kana...that simply are not present in the options below.

One example is "a little".

When I tap on that I'm given three examples. 1. す 2. 少しの 3. 少さな

That's great...except none of them are given as options to pick from in the actual question. So again, we just have to guess or go elsewhere.

And apparently the right answer is: ちょっと

But of course that's not actually listed when you tap on "a little".

So literally zero help there.

What Grammar?

There are no grammar explanations, we just have to guess. Or go outside the course to discover this on our own. Which is fine, but to pass the test that's touted in the advertising for the Japanese for English speakers...we need to learn grammar too.


I'm not posting this to bash the course or the mods. I'm loving learning Japanese, but the course as stands is frustrating in that it's almost useful. But not quite.

If these issues aren't fixed, then when this gets out of beta and runs into new learners having to deal with the new heart system...expect pitchforks and torches. As it stands, this is setting up new learners for failure, frustration, and quitting the course.

May 26, 2017



As an absolute beginner, I came into this Japanese course only knowing how to introduce myself, hiragana and katakana, and that verbs come at the end of the sentence. Without course notes like those found in the more common/large languages (french, spanish, etc.) I became somewhat lost the moment I hit the Intro lesson. Understanding the most basic grammar and sentence structure became a challenge, probably more than it should have I'll admit. Highly anticipating the addition of course notes in the future!


Adding on to your comment about the course notes: For any language, course notes are only available on the web. So when course notes are released, they'll only be on the web, making the web version much more needed for this language!


O_O THERE ARE COURSE NOTES. I've only been using the app, so I didn't even know this was available to me. Thank you!


I agree with all of the above, and despite starting as a beta tester before the iOS release, I'm finding it more frustrating at the 50% point:

  • lack of audio on nearly all the tiles after the beginning exercises - I have tried reporting all the missing audio lesson by lesson but it's still an issue.
  • hints give Kanji but no kanji in the tile options
  • new words introduced with no tips that match so you have to guess. Guessing isn't a great learning method, but it's poison when you have 5 lives on the heart system.
  • gold status fades way too fast, often in hours. Once you get to the middle of a course you just have to ignore it otherwise you will never make any forward progress. (This is true of other Duolingo courses but seems worse with Japaanese).

The whole effect is like being a rat in an experiment - is it possible to learn a language without seeing a list of the words I have learned, without grammar notes, and without hearing words pronounced? Not really.

I'm finding workarounds using external resources, (Google, Wikipedia, other Japanese sites, mobile apps) which I did not have to do for other languages on Duolingo.


I have a problem learning sounding for new vocabulary. Since there is no "turtle button" (speak more slowly) for this course the voice goes rapidly along -- maybe you're able to catch the correct pronunciation of new words, maybe not. For me, some of the consonants are easy to confuse. It would be great if the new vocabulary words at the start of each lesson (there are usually seven of them) had click-to-hear capability. I feel I'm learning written shapes and not words. At this point I have completed 75% of the course and am looking forward to repeating it with a textbook for increased comprehension. I really didn't expect to get more than an appreciation of Japanese from a Duolingo course. I do feel that I'm getting that, plus considerable more. But not having the web notes makes me feel that each unit/module is based on a different topic's vocabulary and not a grammar feature. It appears that I'm making little or no progress in understanding grammar -- at least it feels that way. In any event, bravo to the course and its developers. It's certainly not an easy job to pull this course off!


I usually "cheat" by tapping each symbol in the sentence 1 at a time if the audio of the whole sentence is too fast. :)


Report these problems. That is the best way you can help to the course and to the people who are developing it.


The example of "Little" is particularly difficult. It could be handled differently but it is an edge case, in fact one that I discussed with a native speaker very recently. It is very ambiguous in english since little can be used as an adjective or an adverb.

少し is an adverb: "a few" may be a better translation.

ちょっと is also an adverb but more accurately translates to "a bit". This is also more causal as in ちょっとまって "wait a sec". Duolingo could pay more attention to casual and formal language but let's leave that digression for now. Their usage overlaps but there is also a difference in how they are used for "countable" and "uncountable" concepts.

小さい is an adjective: so it is "small".

Note that "little" can be used in all 3 of these cases in English and you can give these translations as Kana or Kanji, casual or formal/polite forms (sorry my Keigo is rubbish). So yeah it's a tough problem to accurately give hints for this. I wouldn't expect this to be fully addressed any time soon. In fact, I think their Japanese to English hints are generally better and is their focus at this point.

Until then, edge cases like this (or the Aziz Ansari interview that actually lead me to looking deeper into this) are a good opportunity to discuss Japanese with other learners, native speakers, or look around online (theres a Japanese StackExchange as well as forums here).


Yes, the course seems to be far from ready and aside from the issues you mentioned, there are much more issues, which makes the learning difficult and even partly impossible (pronunciation issues, writing issues etc. pp). That´s why they do not publish it to all users, I think.

Sadly I do not have access to the web version, where I could perhaps more precisely inform them about the issues on every question (yes, on nearly every questions are issues) and when I take a look at the course progress, it is still 68% ready and still not in beta stadium.

So if you can, report the issues in every question directly as much and as good you can, so that they can improve the course for all.


A big problem I have with this is that there are no explanatory texts on things like grammar rules, which is a general problem with the mobile app.

For my French learning, I will usually do vocabulary heavy chapters on mobile, while studying the grammar heavy chapters on the web app, it's just infinitely better - more explanations, access to the dictionary...

I'll never understand why the mobile app is so dumbed down, but I guess I'll just have to learn from context for now and deal with the scraps and bits the iOS app throws at me...


Honestly, I'm disappointed with how the tree turned out. Not much grammar seems to be taught and only 100 kanji are taught as well.


I will say that 100 kanji is still a lot better than the measely 3-4 kanji I'm starting off with, but since that's fewer than most Japanese first-graders learn, it's still rather disappointing.

They'd really better continue to expand this course.


Not really a good comparison, since a Japanese first-grader would already be fluent in Japanese.



A child wouldn't even have to start recognising a single kanji until they were already pretty fluent in the language. In this course, we are introduced to kanji far too early. We are supposed to recognise a character with 19 strokes when we are literally only just learning basic greetings. That's absurd! It's all back to front.


Seems the lack of pronouns including possessive pronouns in Japanese and articles leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but the grading of answers does not allow for this. In the School module, some example of dictionary without an article or possessive pronoun get translated as "a," "the," or "your," seemingly at random... yet when you translate the Japanese into English and select "your" and it is expecting "a" it marks it wrong. Very annoying.


I knew nothing about the Japanese language going into this course, and only a few lessons in and feeling hopelessly lost. No real explanation as to the differences between the various scripts and I can't even look them up because after Hiragana, its not obvious as to which I am learning. Having nearly finished the Spanish course, I am really missing the photos and friendly reminders as to what the heck the words are, and more definitions would be nice! I guess I should wait for the full release. Enjoying learning Japanese overall though, its a great language.


you should definitly check out some of the decks on tiny cards. Personlly they have helped me alot.


I've started the Japanese course a few days ago and I can tell I'd be completely and utterly lost as well if it wasn't for studying for a couple years on Human Japanese and Memrise.

I wanted to really love Duolingo but the lack of any explanations and how they just throw in kanji without any pre-lessons is mind-boggling.


In general, hiragana is used for actually-Japanese words (either because the word doesn't have kanji or because the reader is assumed to be at a low reading level), whereas katakana is used for sound effects and foreign words.

This is why "Takata" is written with kanji, but "Maria" and "John" use katakana.

Definitely look at the hiragana/katakana section of this site if you're still struggling: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/category/grammar-guide/the-writing-system/

Plus, there are TONS of free hiragana/katakana worksheets online that you can print out to learn that pesky stroke order. (Seriously, there are a LOT--I even found one with Pokemon, if you're into that.)


I have just been reading this and a number of other comment threads about the Duolingo Japanese course. I am struck by the extraordinary number of whiners and complainers in the house. Everybody, you need to take some ownership for your own learning. You cannot expect everything to be handed to you in a package with a bow on top, all for free. Go buy a book. Use Tinycards, or some similar app. I have found many helpful decks on Tinycards. Make your own lists - start a notebook and write things down as you learn them. Find some other websites and add to your lists. Doing so will expand your knowledge - there is a whole lot available on the web. In the roughly 2 years that I have been on and off trying to learn Japanese, starting Duolingo in January has been a huge boost. Yes, there are things that can be better. Yes, more content will be nice when it comes. In the meantime, clearly there are people working on this. So, instead of everybody griping about the things that aren’t good enough for them, how about everybody post the things that they have found that help to supplement the scores? So, I’ll probably get a lot of hate mail in response to this but I have to say it’s been disheartening to read the amount of complaining in the forums.


If i didn't have genki 1 (considered the best non internet method to solo learn Japanese) i could never do the Japanese lessons on duo lingo.


This is a very good point. Especially the part about having to play Guess The Pronoun when translating to English. There are jokes IN anime and manga about how easy it is to misunderstand what someone is saying when you HAVE the context; a context-less sentence that you must translate with NO DANG PRONOUNS is just misery.

At least in the Level 0 version of a lesson, give us the training wheels, please.

Also, a list of particles and what they're for, either as a lesson or as an outside resource, would be EXCELLENT. I have one on my laptop, but i don't always have both laptop and phone handy to look it up when I'm on Duolingo.


The lack of context is a problem in all Duolingo courses, not only Japanese.


I get frustrated all of the time...They don't have enough staffs to work on it. Many Japanese complained in the English course forum to not to have enough Japanese phrases.


I am also dissapointed with this course. It has fallen into the same trap - giving first "useful vocabulary" instead of practising how a language works and going from basics. When I learn a language, I want to know how to count from 1 to 10 before I learn phrases like "Mr John is American". And they could and should have made a couple of lessons on katakana like they have done it for hiragana. And why is there 3 lessons in a row about time? Is it the most important topic? I had to use a lot of other sources to make it possible to make then some progress on this course here.

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