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The New Japanese Course

I should start by saying that I am extremely happy that Duo has put out a Japanese from English course.

Here are a few first impressions after three days of working with the new Japanese from English course, during which I tested out at level 7 and progressed to level 8. (I had worked in Japan for a number of years but was very rusty after 20 years away from the language).

Unless you are familiar with the various types of questions Duo asks, it is likely that you will make some mistakes on the test and exercises that have nothing to do with your knowledge. The test resulted in a level where I knew all the vocabulary, grammatical forms and kana and kanji that were used, but for me it was a good place to start a thorough review.

I find myself pushing the "My answer was correct" button much more often than I do in Spanish. The Duo folks apparently have not had time to build in many of the alternative translations or alternative word orders.

My biggest disappointment is that you never get to speak. There is no voice recognition. (I wish you had to do more talking in Spanish, but no talking in Japanese is a real drawback. Hopefully they will add this soon.)

Another disappointment is that there is only one pronunciation for some of the hiragana (ha/wa, wo/o, he/e), regardless of how they are used.

Also, there are some strange pronunciations of kanji (on yomi versus kun yomi or vice versa (on yomi is said to be the original Chinese pronunciation and kun is the native Japanese pronunciation).

In the exercises where you pull up boxes to translate something from English, there are some strange and unnatural combinations of kana, particularly for verb endings. It is possible that this is helpful if you are a complete beginner, but if you have any background, the mechanics of piecing verb endings together this way is a distraction. It would be better if the entire verb ending were in a single box.

Duo has done a good job of limiting the use of romaji. It seems that romaji (English alphabet) is used only when a kana is introduced and it seems like kanji are only introduced using kana. This should speed up learning overall.

Some vocabulary seems a bit strange. For example, Duo seems to attach "iro" (color) to many of the colors that I have never heard from native speakers. Murasakiiro (purple), midoriiro (green), pinkuiro (pink), orangiiro (orange). Maybe the usage has changed, but I suspect that native speakers would not attach 'iro" to these colors as Duo does.

So far everything is in the plane polite form. But, to understand responses to your questions and to understand what is going on around you, you need to at least be familiar with the informal form used by friends, families, and within work groups. It also doesn't hurt to know a few of the formal expressions. Hopefully some of this will show up soon.

I am curious what others think about the Japanese course.

May 29, 2017



The course has only just entered beta phase (although it's arguable that it hasn't even reached that far yet, as it's only been released on a sub-platform and their incubator page still says it's at phase 1...). I imagine the Spanish course has been around a little bit longer and is not still in beta testing phase...

I hope too that they will add voice at some point.

The audio issues you've encountered are meant to be reported in the report feature, so that they can get fixed. I almost always have the sound disabled to listen to music, so I haven't noticed any of those problems at all.

The whole pull boxes thing itself on the apps is silly anyway. It's one of the main reasons I don't use the apps...

I agree that the いろ thing is a bit odd for how strongly it demands that you to use it. But we can keep sending "My answer should be accepted." reports to get valid alternative answers added.

I also agree that most of the content is in standard polite form 丁寧語(ていねいご). Usually you can answer with plain form and it will work though. And you can always try responding with honorific 敬語(けいご)or try different using a different regional dialect 方言(ほうげん). If you report it as "My answer should be accepted.", maybe they'll approve it as an acceptable alternative answer.

It does contain some slightly more formal expressions like「こちらの方はどなたですか。」But yeah, from what I've encountered so far, it doesn't cover much of a range of formality levels at all.

After finishing the Japanese from English tree, you could try your hand at the reverse tree (English from Japanese), which is a fully released phase 3 course. It should follow from the Japanese tree pretty nicely. ^^


I hadn't thought of doing the reverse once I finish the tree...I'll probably do that when that time comes now, great idea!


Is the Japanese language course for English speakers still in beta? I reached level 16 already and I saw that there are less topics on Japanese course compared to other, for example Chinese where there are many topics to be learnt.


No, it's technically out of beta now. They've posted that they're in the planning stages for an expansion. Obviously a lot of work goes into that, all the more so if they're planning (as one would hope they are) to be a bit more attentive to including an adequate batch of alternative translations from the get-go.

The Japanese course has fewer skills and a smaller vocab inventory than most, but the new Hindi one has even fewer and a vocab a good deal smaller, for instance. That said, I think each of the skills in the Chinese tree covers a very tiny, delimited chunk of the language while in Japanese each one tends to include more variety.


As I’m progressing through (and nearing the end of) the tree, I’m finding that I’m sending “my answer is correct” reports less and less.

It’s probably a function of two things: 1) I’m getting used to the kind of answers the course creators are looking for and 2) early on I sent two or three “my answer is correct” reports but then said “oops” when I later figured out my answers were marked wrong because Duo was trying to test something specific and although my answers may have been technically correct they weren’t correct in terms of what the lesson was trying to stress.


Kimojima, Thanks. I have definitely seen questions where Duo was looking for a specific answer but another answer is also correct. In the Spanish course, Duo has sometimes added acceptable answers. I suppose they will eventually reach that point in Japanese. All in all, I think this Duo Japanese is off to a good start. It is certainly far better than what I experienced 35 years ago with company provided tutors who used romaji text books with lots of arcane grammar.


You really can't compare the spanish course to the japanese course. The japanese course has been released 12 days ago, while the spanish course is here as much as time as Duolingo, since it's one of the first courses there was, or maybe the first. That means that the spanish team had a lot of time to update the course and improve it based on users' report. The best help you can give the japanese team is to keep reporting, because then they will be able to see the things that are missing in the course, thus improving it for the android and web users.


shirel.tai, I am sure Duo will continue to look at the reports and adjust the answers they accept. The biggest issue by far has nothing to do with accepting answers. It is the poor sound for listening and the lack of voice recognition, which makes it impossible to practice speaking. Until speaking practice is available the Japanese course will be of limited value.


To be honest I'm always surprised when veteran users have good things to say about the speech recognition exercises. I've only ever done them for Russian, and then only briefly before the system showed itself to be wholly inadequate, but its ability to distinguish correct from incorrect utterances seemed minimal.

The poor sound is harder to deal with. The only options generally are to use what the TTS generates or just disable the audio. In extreme cases, they've ditched the TTS and gone with a native speaker. I would doubt Japanese will amount to an extreme case.


You seem to have quite the background knowledge. Are you contributing to the course also? If not, I think you would be a great addition. Teaching other people is often a great way to cement the knowledge in your mind and you may remember things long since forgotten.


I've never seen a "My answer was correct" button. One thing i noticed is some of the English is weird. Like "Can I get some tea?". Sounds kind of rude. Most people would say "Can I have some tea?". It makes me cringe every time they make me type "get some".


If you type "Can I have some tea?" and Duo marks you wrong, there should be a box at the lower left of the screen where you can click "My answer is correct".


Yeah I've never seen that box.




Thank you. Can you recommend the best method to input the Japanese characters? Which keyboard can I buy and do I need to use an IME?


To type Japanese on a computer, you can use any old standard keyboard. Don't need to buy a new one at all.

Just go on the language settings in control panel on Windows and add Japanese and, for the Japanese input method, Microsoft IME.

Then, on the language bar, switch to Japanese and set it to "Hiragana" あ option. Then type something like this:

k o n n n i c h i h a

(which will automatically look like this)



Thanks, are you using this method for this course?


Yes. I use Microsoft IME whenever I need to type Japanese anywhere on my computer, so I use it on Duolingo too.

However, I don't type it in that way I described to you...

The method I described, "romaji input", is the most popular way among Japanese people and foreign learners of Japanese. This is where you type Roman alphabet letters (romaji) and it automatically turns into Japanese syllabic symbols (hiragana/katakana).

k o n n n i c h i h a ⇒ こんにちは

What I use is a different method called "kana input", where each kana has its own key (more or less). So instead of typing two keys K O to write こ, I just press the こ key (which is the "B" key on an English keyboard).

B Y I A F ⇒ こんにちは

(Although I actually use something more complicated than that... That one is the normal kana input layout called "JIS Kana Input". What I use is called "NICOLA Thumb Shift Kana Input", where you have to press keys with your thumbs at the same time as with your fingers.)

You can ignore all this though. I'm not suggesting any of these things definitely work better than normal romaji input. Kana input has some very big downsides too.

So I'd just forget all this and use romaji input mode like normal sensible people. ^^;


what about typing kanji?


Type kana, press space. If you make your readings correct, the correct kanji will probably show up. If not, hit the space bar a few more times. If still not, check the kana or the reading.


Google IME is much nicer than the Windows one. http://google.com/ime


I used Microsoft IME on Windows 98, Me, XP, and 7.

But then later on I switched to Google IME, because it was easily better than the outdated version of Microsoft IME used by Windows 7 (Microsoft IME v10.1, which was virtually unchanged from all the way back on Windows XP...)

I used Google IME for two years or so, and then also carried on using it when I updated to Windows 10. I liked Google IME a lot!

But I realised the Windows 8/8.1/10 version of Microsoft IME (version 15.0) had lots of improvements putting it about equal with Google IME. And there were a couple of features that Microsoft IME had that I missed (mainly the "No Conversion" mode option). The recent Windows 10 Creators Update has given further improvements to the IME too.

So now I've been back on Microsoft IME for nearly a year and prefer it. But it depends which version of Windows you have:

  • For people on Windows 7 and below, I'd definitely recommend to get Google IME instead.
  • For people with Windows 8 and higher, it doesn't matter too much either way. ^^


The Japanese course is only available on the I-phone/I-pad. The way this course presently works, you do not need a key board. At some point Duo needs to add keyboard input. For now the pull up boxes work and there are enough of them so that it is hard to just guess.


Thank you. Hopefully it will also be available for Android and other touchscreens soon!

[deactivated user]

    I am a total beginner to duolingo as well as Japanese but here are my first impressions to the Japanese course: 1. thank you to all the contributors! The course keeps me motivated and I am eager to understand more. 2. however it is not yet clear to me why I am studying certain expressions without deper follow up. 3. sometimes certain words or expressions have no voice record connected when you have to select sentences. 4. in General it would be great to leave comments or suggestions directly in the app rather than posting here.

    In General i really enjoy studying Japanese with Duolingo. Maybe I just have to study further to understand better why certain words or syllables have been studied at which point in time.

    Again thanks to all, Frank


    My vocabulary bank is still quite small, but I have already put in the effort to master kana before starting this course. I really wish there was a test-out purely for kana that didn't require using vocab; I'm not sure at this point that I'm willing to slog through all the kana sections to get to more new material. (I may just stick with Spanish and French on this platform.)


    I started using this a few days ago. I tried testing out of some of the levels and it kept saying my answers were wrong. After reading the comments, I didn't know how new the Japanese courses were. While I appreciate the release, I'm not a fan of switching levels of formality. I believe it's a disservice to non-native, beginner learners to have questions and answers switch between levels of formality. Also, there are so many ways to provide a correct answer and it seems that duolingo's base is still very limited. However, I'm looking forward to the continuous improvements to the courses.


    I think it’s best benefits are: grammar practice around forms like に は の で が 、 漢字 use, listening and pronunciation practice . It’s a bit like doing scales in music. In and of itself you don’t learn a language this way but it’s a useful addition to building your capabilities. In the old days we would probably write more and it would be good to have the later option of writing your own sentences rather than constructing them from provided choice boxes. But I think for the technology and price it’s about right.

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