difficulty learning hiragana
I think the new system the Japanese tree introduces to Duolingo for learning scripts is slick and holds great potential for other languages, too, but it's hard for me to believe it's as "fine tuned" as it could be to maximize effectiveness. I am a complete novice in Japanese, and I now feel reasonably comfortable with the first hiragana skill, this after well nigh 500 XP spent on it. I was curious to find out what that number would be; call it an experiment.
I think the existing system would be ever so much more effective if once you get to the review for the skill, the pronunciations for the letters (when the multiple choices are the romanji) were turned off and if the fraction of straight multiple choice questions were greater, thereby de-emphasizing the matching where the process of elimination can be too big a crutch.
Having also learned the Georgian alphabet completely de novo in what seemed a more straightforward manner, I think I'm heading back to what worked there: pencil and paper :)
In lieu of Duolingo supporting this anytime soon, check out memrise: it's almost exactly like what it's sounds like you want. I'd recommend learning Kana (Hiragana and Katakana) there first. Then you'll race through the Duolingo beginner tree and get onto the juicy stuff: vocab and phrases.
Note that while still in Beta, they'll be swamped with other requests, particularly from intermediate level Japanese learners wanting to brush up who are giving feedback on the accuracy of the higher tier lessons. Trust me, this will benefit you in the long run, especially since Japanese grammar (SVO) will be very difficult for a complete beginner until they've taken on feedback from the Beta users.
I'm not trying to be condescending, good on you for giving it a go!. I'm just explaining the situation and recommending other resources (there are loads of great ones free online!) to supplement your Japanese learning. Duolingo is still testing the waters with a language as notoriously difficult for English speakers to learn (yes, there is data to support that) so I wouldn't count on it as the one-stop shop for JPLT-N5 they're selling it as just yet.
The slings and arrows of outrageous beta courses are something I'm passing familiar with by this point :) I suspect, though, that the people who will be working to get all the alternate translations accepted, etc, mostly aren't the Duolingo engineers who could make the changes like the ones I would like to see in the first skills. Tweaking instructional modalities at the beginning of the tree, where I'm sure user attrition rates are the highest, has historically been an interest of Duolingo. It looks like there are a half dozen such tests going on right now. I suspect the hiragana skills will be a specific focus of such investigation in the near future if they aren't already, which I think is great. As you say, Duolingo is entered a crowded space with intro-Japanese, much more crowded than Russian, Ukrainian, or Greek, so they've obviously got every incentive to make their offering as effective and user-friendly as possible, all the more so in the earliest skills.
Thanks, all, for the tips.
Sure, no doubt they've hurtled into Beta precisely to test out some of the new systems they've developed for Japanese scripts and get user feedback to improve them. If you're struggling with the Hiragana course in it's current form though, there are a number of alternatives to bridge the gap in the meantime so you can get onto the beginner phrases. I can't comment on how well the current course teaches Kana as I already knew it begin with, although I learned conversational Japanese travelling rather than classroom grammar so I did have to test out of them rather than jumping in mid-tree.
They're definitely trying something new with the immersion in Japanese scripts. I look forward to seeing how it turns out. They're definitely quite ambitious with this launching such as tough language for English-speakers to such a large audience, as we seen with the backlash over the iOS release, it's gonna take a while to sort everything out. I'm sure it will be worth the wait :-)
My impression of the intro to the Russian course is that this is not the case there: Cryllic is optional and you can answer with the latin alphabet (although I only tried the first lesson to compare how they teach the scripts there). I'm surprised they didn't offer a similar feature to toggle for using "romaji" in Japanese as some beginner texts do but that's a flamewar I'd rather not weigh in on.
Given how teaching-writing-centric the Japanese course is, it seems sensible they didn't include a do-it-seeing-romanji option. The first tenth of the tree certainly wouldn't amount to much! ;) The transliteration option for Russian at least was a bolt-on hack job that the course creators opposed. The transliteration system is mostly a straightforward mapping that could be expressed in a handful of lines of code. Given the divergent kanji readings, "romanji-fying" things would certainly be a much greater effort.
When I learned hiragana (quite some time ago now) I used this fantastic website which uses mnemonics, for example, the character い (pronounced ee, romanized i) looks a bit like eels. Every character gets mnemonics like this to help remember them. Take a look at it if you find hiragana difficult to remember. I think the website also has the same system for katakana (the other syllabary), but don't quote me on that.
Suggesting "Remembering the Kana" (theres also Remembering the Kanji) which takes you through the hiragana and then katakana through relatively quickly.
It teaches you to read the hiragana and katakana within a week. I followed it up with android app Obenkyo (nice flashcard app) to retain it and become a fluent kana reader.
For the Kanji i also used the book and app simultaniously. Considering it tries to teach you 2000 kanji it gets truely challenging... But repetition is key. Think i currently spend 1-2 hours on kanji a week and expand my vocab with 40 kanji a week ish? Out of 636 kanji i know 309 well, 222 could use work, 84 with difficulty and dont know 21 (stats from Obenkyo). At 1 to 2 lessons a week out of 62, the kanji are truly difficult to get through, but the books method seems good and all it takes is time and repetition.
I have finished the first rtk book years ago and I can vouch for the effectiveness of its methods. Didn't bother with the second one because once you know 2000 kanji you don't need mnemonics, you just need to look at a character you don't know, learn the meaning and pronunciation and 99% of the time you will remember it.
As people said, wound up being about a week's effort to recognize hiragana pretty well. Ended up getting the boost I needed just by quizzing myself using the listings of the content of each lesson in the app. Given what a difference it made, I suppose I maintain my thesis that some tweaking of the layout of the hiragana skills would be to the benefit of learners.
I can suggest an app called Kana Mind it's out for Android and ios and it's sort of like a game, first it shows you a character like きthen give you 4 choices, only the correct one, ki, is available. As you go, choosing the right one, more choices become available. Eventually when you can use all 4 it starts using spaced repetition. Meaning the characters you get wrong are shown to you more often. The ones you get right you start seeing less and eventually not at all. That's what helped me learn kana best.
You just need to dedicate about a week to learning those and you'll be set. I personally used some mobile apps learning about 2 sets (10 kana) per day and in 2 weeks i was able to recognize them easily.