https://www.duolingo.com/GerardoAUS

I finished the Japanese for English speakers course. Here's my review:

I am an advanced Japanese learner (5 years living in Japan, passed the N1, took college classes with Japanese students), so I decided to give this course a shot to see how it was. Here's my review:

https://therelearner.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/duolingo-review-japanese-for-english-speakers/

What do you think?

Edit: I'll try to update it as the course grows since, as Ocarina mentioned, it's probably too early to judge.

July 8, 2017

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https://www.duolingo.com/Faisane
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Just a minor point: I don't think that breaking up words into their component syllables is necessarily a bad thing or a mistake. (You give the example that まど is split up into ま and ど in the "assemble a sentence from parts provided" exercise.)

I think it's a way in which you are made to think about spelling without Duolingo actually having to provide a keyboard, and I think it's useful.

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/GerardoAUS

Probably that would be useful if all the words were split like that, but the lack of consistency made it clear to me that it happened only occasionally and always with the same words, which seems like a recognition mistake.

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Faisane
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I don't think so: for example, this often occurs with the long-vowel words, and so I believe it is designed to make you realize / remember that, for example, it is いもうと, not いもと, or しましょう, not しましょ. Besides, I enjoy the puzzle aspect.

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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A couple of years ago there was a lengthy comment about the difficulties in building a course to teach Japanese. Specifically, it explained a number of the extremely kludgy things that had to be done to enable a from-Japanese course, in order to make it clear why they couldn't be extended to (at that time, i.e. without a lot of deeper technical changes) create a course to teach Japanese. One of those kludges was that each kana and kanji was in the system as a separate "word" so to form actual words, they were tied together using a program setting actually designed for multiple word fixed expressions.

If I had to guess, this split-word issue might result from some sort of similar kludge. Something appears to be quite different about how the Japanese course handles words than other courses. For instance, if one clicks in sentences character by character, it seems that the hint system doesn't know where certain words start and end. It seems like that shouldn't happen if each word in the language were represented as a word in the program.

So, in short, yes, some people like this feature. I suspect most don't, but regardless it's likely an un-hoped for technical issue and not a deliberate part of the pedagogy (another piece of evidence for this: no other Duolingo course seems to do anything similar, even for agglutinative languages).

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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This might be the post you are thinking of? (See Kippis comment in English--first comment in the discussion.)

From the staff side of things, the Making Duolingo Blog posted This about the Japanese for English speakers course.

I'm trying to track down that elusive post on how many staff members + volunteers it took to get the Japanese course to beta (about half of Duolingo's 70 person staff). I think it might go into some of the difficulties they faced. If I can track it down again, I'll link it too. :)

Edit: I found an article on Forbes that mentions the half of staff info. But, otherwise it mostly repeats challenges listed by the other course. Had a couple of other cool insights though. I didn't realize Hideki designed a mini course for the Hackathon, which finally kicked things into gear. THANK YOU HIDEKI! <3

July 9, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/HeyItsOcarina
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It is a well written review, but the course is still in development (alpha phase)

Many things will be added and/or changed over the coming periods of time, and will be most likely totally different by the time it "graduates from beta"

-Ocarina

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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Hard not to agree with everything you've written. I think the relatively low level of the course is mostly about the course simply being short (the only "fair" comparison as to how far the grammar gets would be Turkish, which has the next-smallest number of lessons; Esperanto also has few lessons, but it's Esperanto). I'm presuming that when Duolingo got around to doing the software back-end work to enable Japanese, they decided to get a course out fast, which they did (albeit we yet await the web version). There'll be plenty of time for tree versions 2.0 and beyond to get its length up to a more typical level. For now we've got something.

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/michi819458
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Hello Gerardo, I just looked at your blog and am curious now. Three questions for you.

  1. did you finish the russian in 30 days journey? because I only found your documentary till day 9.
  2. do you consider japanese a level 5 language? that means you have to put in five times more effort to learn japanese from spanish than to learn french from spanish?
  3. do you think that in ten years time language apps will be the best method to learn any language?

I would like to hear your answer.

July 8, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/GerardoAUS

It's a shame that I didn't see this earlier.

  1. I couldn't finish the 30 days of Russian (not Russian in 30 days, that would be impossible! Haha) because I had to write my thesis. Then I graduated (I have a B. Sc. in Chemistry now :D) and I didn't want to continue from day 10, so I decided to stop it. I'm planning to study Russian again now after reading a book called "Fluent Forever" with very good tips.

  2. Yes, Japanese is ridiculously hard for people who speak European languages. Just to give you a hint: My English was terrible before going to Japan. Now, after five years of living in Japan and studying my major in Japanese, my English has improved a lot thanks to both the internet and the other international students here, whereas I panic when I imagine having to read one whole book in Japanese. I've studied Japanese many MANY more hours than I've studied English, yet: 1) the difficulty of having to memorize kanji doesn't let you learn through reading, which you can do as soon as you know the basics of any other European language and 2) people just think differently. Beginning with the sentence structure, to the idioms they use; you really have to learn how to "think like a Japanese person" to be able to use their grammar naturally and make sense.

  3. I think that depends on each person. I've met people that get extremely bored with apps like Duolingo or Memrise, but if they have a very good friend or lover who speaks a certain language, they naturally learn a lot from them. Maybe apps will be better then, but definitely, Duolingo, the way it is now, is not the best way to learn a language unless you really can't get yourself to try to follow a more systematic way of learning.

Cheers!

January 18, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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the difficulty of having to memorize kanji doesn't let you learn through reading

Because of completely new characters, because of unfamiliar conjugations of characters, because you don't know the pronunciation, even if you can figure out the meaning?

Duolingo, the way it is now, is not the best way to learn a language unless you really can't get yourself to try to follow a more systematic way of learning

Being sort of an understand-the-grammar person myself, I think I would point out that the Japanese course would be a good candidate for least "systematic" on the site, at least as I understand the term. The decision to arrange the entire tree thematically rather than by grammatical points was a deliberate one. Whether it's worked out as they'd hoped I obviously don't know.

There are also courses that are arranged extremely systematically on a grammatical level, easily recognizable to anybody familiar with textbook presentations of the target languages. Russian comes to mind. I've never looked at a textbook for Dutch, but the old version of the tree was already quite good, and I assume it's only gotten better with a recent big update.

Duolingo's biggest drawback from my standpoint has been a lack of target-language drilling, with the pending introduction of skill levels this at long last seems primed to change. On a reverse tree it's already easy to write more in a target language in a week than you would in an entire college semester. Soon that's going to be available without having to use the reverse tree "back door."

January 18, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Seattle_scott
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I don't know about Gerardo, but my experience was that Japanese is a level 5 language. It was exponentially harder than French or Spanish, for example. It took me several years to learn to read newspapers fluently for example. The writing adds a level of complexity that makes it a level 5 language.

2) with virtual reality and augmented reality, software and apps are the wave of the future, even if humans are involved throughout the process.

July 21, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/P_Pigly_Hogswine

I'm a few days in and while my hiragana has improved 1000%, my issue overall is it's not really teaching me as such.

Sure I'm learning through visual repetition and pattern identification, but what I'm not learning is structure or mechanics. Dakutens are introduced with no explanation as to how they change the base sound. Same with handakutens. They just appear, you say pi po pe, and you aren't taught that they're the second variant of the H column (or that there is even an H column).

I'm finding the Duolingo Japanese works much much better as a way to test yourself and improve your reading speed, but you really need something else to teach you properly. I've been watching various "Learn all hiragana in an hour" videos on YouTube as a way to actually learn the mechanics of hiragana, and it makes a world of difference.

Second problem I'm having is the speech can be very wonky. Rs tend to be pronounced with a firm D sound, but when you crosscheck against other videos, it's that unique Japanese R/L sound. There's also no explanation why ha is sometimes pronounced wa, or why u isn't often said aloud.

Third issue is writing, or lack of. Duolingo in no way is teaching me how to write the characters. Admittedly writing isn't as important a goal for me as reading and speaking, but writing is a great way to remember characters, and feels conspicuously absent in a learning environment.

Fourth and final issue is the sudden arrival of katakana and sentence structure with no prior learning or warning. It just suddenly appears, there's no explanation that it's now a different script. There's kanji thrown in too with no explanation. And while you can tease out the super basics, often through dumb luck guesswork, you get thrown in the deep end (for a complete novice) and are told to assemble a sentence you've not seen before, made up of a combo of three scripts, and you cannot pass until you get it right. So you go from a random bank of 40-50 words in hiragana, to being asked to construct "I am from the U.S." with no training on how to do it. All you can do is copy down the answer when you get it wrong, and retype it next time. Hardly a great way to learn.

I've ordered Genki 1 as a way to have structured learning and will continue to use Duolingo to test myself and improve my reading speed.

Duolingo is a great app and really well presented for micro goals (but come on, are five quizzes you can do in under 10 minutes really an "insane" amount of daily learning?). Just be prepared that it will show you what something is, it just won't often tell you why it is.

March 22, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/_Othique_
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It's now almost a year and a half after your wrote it and I just wanted to add that Duolingo has definitely added things to attempt to supplement the main lessons. Although there's still issues with kanji (or lack of, is more correct), they introduced listening, responding, and sentence building in the Club activities. It isn't required to "finish the course" but for those who actually want to learn the language and not just get gold stars it's definitely helpful.

End point - they're still building upon the foundations. I think it's headed in the right direction, too.

October 27, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Seattle_scott
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Good observations. I think the 窓 まど example is a choice they had to make, but I do agree about the は being pronounced as "ha" instead of "wa", and the same is true of を "o", which they keep pronouncing as "wo". I get the "ha" and "wa", because it can be pronounced both ways depending on the situation, but with wo, it's always pronounced "O".

As for the course complexity, I think they'll likely add more later.

My one comment is that the course needs more grammatical hints. The user is really left with no explanations where there needs to be some. Even in Spanish and French there are some basic explanations that are lacking in Japanese.

July 21, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
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I have heard some older, native Japanese speakers pronounce を as "wo". Though, not any younger native speakers I've encountered.

July 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Seattle_scott
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I lived in Japan for 10 years and I have never heard it pronounced "wo". I'm not saying it doesn't ever happen, but it's not something you want to teach people to say.

July 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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Is it used as the "name" of the character?

July 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/austinadachi
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it is, many japanese speakers in my experience will refer to it as "wo". you can also hear it pronounced as "wo" in songs

May 26, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Nami661410

It still is, it just has two pronunciations: "wo" and "o". It's most commonly pronounced "o" as the kana doesn't show up as a syllable in a word very often (if at all). Fun fact: there used to be more characters in the 'w' line: "wa", "wi", "we" and "wo". "wa" and "wo" still exist while the reformation of the writing system in 1900 made "we" and "wi" obsolete.

March 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/1234IzzieAv.

They are throwing in random katakana for no reason on the intros! what do i do?

April 27, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
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I think you will find that those katakana area soon after used in words. This seems to be the pattern for introducing katakana in the course. I would concur that it gives a haphazard air.

April 28, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/benceszilvagyi

I started it a while ago, because I want to live/work in Japan with my girlfriend, I hope it will gives me a basic japanese knowledge.

March 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/austinadachi
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It's extremely basic, in my opinion there's much better resources. Tae Kim's guide to Japanese and the Genki books are better to start out. You need at least JLPT N2 to work at most places in Japan and the Duolingo course doesn't even break N5.

March 10, 2019
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