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:
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.