I wonder how many people are using the Duolingo Japanese course?
"Japanese is by far the most-requested and highly-anticipated course in Duolingo's five-year history."
I wonder, though, how many of those who requested the course are actually using it. My guess: not many at all.
Exhibit A: the Japanese club I am in has minimal activity - at its best, there were maybe four active members ("active" defined as "weekly score higher than zero"); this has dwindled to two in recent weeks.
Exhibit B: there are hardly any course-related questions / comments here in the forum (I'm not counting "when will the course come to the web" or "I finished the tree in 30 seconds" - that we've seen plenty of). You would think that in the current incarnation of the course, where there are few integrated explanations, people would ask all kinds of things.
Why do I care? I like the course, and I would like to see the tree expanded. But that seems unlikely if there is not much demand. Yes, Japanese is hard work but I would have thought that the Duolingo approach would make this hard work more manageable and appealing.
I'm trying to use it, but there are a number of problems:
Right now, I'm focusing on German to complete that tree soon (not a problem with the Japanese course, obviously).
It's only available via the app. I don't like typing lots on the phone, which limits my use.
I don't like the "select the right words from a very short list" mode of translation. It's almost never a problem to get it right even if you don't already know the answer. Typing (which requires a keyboard) is so much better for learning.
There are no course notes, so unless you know some basic Japanese beforehand (which I do, luckily) I assume you would get severely confused. This also means that it turns into all memorisation and no explanation.
The reading engine has problems. It will, for instance ask for a reading of a kanji and gives you options that make it clear that it wants one particular reading, then once you have answered that it reads a different reading as the correct answer (while saying that your selection was right). This is, presumably, a duolingo problem rather than a problem with the Japanese course as such, but it's very annoying here.
The course makes no attempt what so ever to differentiate hiragana, katakana and kanji. Unless you can tell the difference yourself (as I happen to be able), we won't learn it from this course. There's just suddenly another version of "a" and no explanation of why. Also, there's no explanation or even mention of stroke order which is important to be able to write Japanese. I realise this would be a completely new can of worms, but it should be worth at least a mention.
As others have said, things will likely change once it's available on the website.
Regarding the Japanese forum; I couldn't even find the forum in the lists even when I'd been doing the course for a while. I didn't find it until someone pointed it out to me. On iOS, even in languages which are available on the website, one cannot access the discussions from the app. If I'm on Japanese and I come back to the website, I actually have to change languages in order to be able to access any discussions, whereas when courses are available on the site, one can access the discussion mid-lesson. By the time I get to the forums, I've mostly forgotten any questions or queries I had about a given sentence, so even if I could easily find the sentence (which is not a given, I'm not sure they even appear in the forum until someone has already commented), I don't remember what it was that confused me.
Essentially, there's no easy, automatic access (at least for iOS users) to sentence discussions at the point when one is naturally looking for them. If I could access them mid-lesson, I for one would be asking questions, but given I have to exit the app, come to the website, change language, go to the Japanese forum, and use Duolingo's very poor search function to try and find it before I could even begin... yeah. I'm not at all surprised the sentence discussions are a little thin on the ground. I'd be amazed if they weren't, given the steps required to find them!
I suspect that as others have pointed out, there's a large number of people for whom "Hey, it would be cool to speak Japanese!" is not enough of an incentive to lead to "I will continue on this course that has three writing systems and no grammar explanations."
Speaking for myself: I have studied Japanese before (a very little bit, and some seventeen years ago), and I don't think it's really a language for dilettantes, which I assuredly am. I don't have a passion for the language or a need to learn it. I'm mostly interested in polishing up my hiragana and learning katakana (I love writing systems), and if I learn a little Japanese, retain basic things (like how to say "No, I don't speak Japanese!") along the way, remind myself of some basic particles, and maybe learn to recognise a few more kanji, then I'm happy.
Taking all this into account, when I got to the family skill, the first that I've found utterly incomprehensible, I didn't even manage to complete one lesson. I'm very, very slowly working my way through the other skill on the same line (I think it's the restaurants skill?), but it's a slog because I've reached the point where my previous knowledge + intelligent guesswork + being a reasonably experienced language learner is no longer enough. I can barely get through a question without needing to click on a hint. I dare say I could complete the lessons (in this and the family skill) if I used all the hints all the time, but I don't think I would learn an awful lot, and it just makes it painfully clear how much I haven't retained of previous lessons if new lessons are this painful. (And honestly, even with hints I'm sometimes guessing, because the nature of Japanese means the hints are not always that helpful, in my experience. Word order and just the structure of the language makes them still a little hit and miss when trying to construct an English sentence, and when trying to make a sentence in Japanese, if I get it wrong, I don't usually have any idea why I was wrong.)
So at the moment I'm just going back on a reasonably regular basis and gilding the lessons I have learned, which mostly amounts to matching kana with romaji, listening to the pronunciation of kanji and seeing if I can match them with kana (this is probably the most helpful thing for my purposes), and attempting to remember some vocabulary/work out how to construct very simple sentences about very basic activities.
IF I had access to the sentence discussions mid-lesson - if I was able to say "Okay, I understand this, but that has me completely flummoxed," then while I don't think I would suddenly become more dedicated to learning Japanese/a Japanese aficionado, I am sure that my mild interest plus a little help would get me further down the tree before I reached saturation/intractable confusion. As it stands, I'm simply not dedicated enough to make note of a bunch of kanji, do all the navigation to get to the Japanese forum, and ask the necessary questions to get me over that hump, and I strongly expect that on some level, this is happening with potential Japanese learners at various points in the first dozen-ish skills.
Without grammar notes, the learner has to be dedicated and conscientious enough to keep battering the sentences into their head and hope things become clear, or go and find resources to explain what they're being shown, or to jump through the hoops required to come ask about it on the forum. Honestly, the people who actually want to learn the language (rather than people who just thing "Oh, Japanese, that would be cool") are the main ones who will do that, and I imagine people who were that interested and passionate wouldn't wait for the Japanese course to come out, and would come to the course with preexisting knowledge anyway.
I'm sure when it comes to the website, when people can directly access the discussions/any grammar notes/knowledgeable people who are willing to help, then a lot more people will at least start the course. I suspect a lot of them will also then drop it like a hot potato, because Japanese is not very friendly for a casual learner, but I dare say there are also people who will get hooked, or who didn't have access to it on mobile, or for whom more direct access to discussions will help them navigate between the "Oh, this isn't so bad" and "I have no idea what is happening, PLEASE HELP ME" parts of the course. (This latter point is likely different for each learner, but I think most people eventually reach it in most languages. Mine, apparently, is somewhere around family and restaurants in Japanese!)
How many people give up on languages that are in some way alien to them (alphabet, structure, etc) even when they have direct access to help and discussion? A lot. The number of people who label Ukrainian or Russian undoable purely because of the writing system, even though Cyrillic is so much closer to the Latin alphabet than even one syllabary of Japanese is, is significant.
I'm not at all surprised that, in its current form, people are starting the course and then losing interest. Except for the people who actually have a strong passion or need to learn Japanese, that's absolutely the response I would expect.
I think there will be alot more activity as soon as it becomes available on the website! I knew people were workin' on it for months but didn't know I could already start learning on the Duo app (just found out about it by accident a few weeks ago), and I think some people if not alot are in my position (they are waiting for the course on the website because they don't know they can already try it on the app).
Japanese has yet to be released on web, and the android phone app is really buggy and slow. I would be a lot more active if I could use my laptop, which is a lot faster. The web's options are better suited for my needs, and the tips and notes that come with the fully release web version of most languages help a lot with comprehension. Word lists and the overall review instead of having to go through each and every lesson is a main reason why I'm waiting for the web release. Until Japanese is released on the web I, and many other people, won't be as active as we'd like to be.
Also: people have likely been requesting this for a while, by now a good deal of them likely lead too busy of lives to dedicate their time to picking up Japanese, especially if they already started a different language.
This is my first time using Duolingo, and I'm using it specifically because I'm trying to learn Japanese and heard that it had been launched. I'm also using several other tools to learn.
First, the learning curve is prohibitive. I have "given up" on Duolingo's Japanese progression three different times, and picked it up later when other tools gave me the ability to understand what was happening. Learning characters and vocabulary is fine. Being prompted to use kanji without learning kanji first is not possible. Being prompted for complex sentences is not possible. I see others on the forum here talking about "course notes", which I assume address the learning curve issue. But right now it is simply not possible to use Duolingo and maintain a progression through the levels without making extensive use of other tools. That's hardly a recipe for engagement and success.
Second, it is bizarre and infuriating that one cannot access these forums easily. How on earth was I even supposed to know there was a forum when all I get when navigating to the Duolingo website is "Japanese is not available online"? I figured out the silly workaround to get on here to see what others were saying. At the moment---presumably intentionally---the functionality and community is accessible only to people who are already familiar with Duolingo.
In sum if the course and the community are opaque to new adopters, it will not be adopted.
I wanted it, but use it rarely. I'm not a serious Japanese learner. My guess is that a lot of people requested it because they've watch anime, and want to learn it. Then they realize that Japanese is tuff to learn, and they drop it. Or they could just be working on other languages I don't know, but I had a similar experience in my Spanish clan, until I was the only active one left.
I think that where you said "Then they realize that Japanese is tuff to learn, and then they drop it." Is absolutely correct.
In my Japanese club there are seldom any users that actually use the course consistently and I'm constantly removing people for inactivity. What happens is that a person will come in like a fireball, super motivated to learn Japanese, doing about 1,000+ xp in a week purely in Hiragana. After that week I never see them gain any more xp.
Of course, I can't know the real reason for this happening, but I can take a guess, based off of the amount of times it's happened, that a new user does lessons in Hiragana, realizes how hard that is by itself, and gets discouraged when they aren't memorizing all the characters super quickly. Then maybe they decide to do a language where memorizing a new writing system isn't part of the equation so they don't feel like they failed completely at their goal of learning a new language.
If I could speak to some of these users and give a recommendation, it would be to learn the writing systems before using Duolingo. Duo's system isn't bad, but it's just not going to be enough for many people, and coming into Duo already knowing the systems just makes the first five or six lessons super easy, and you feel super great after blazing through them. I think that's a good way for a user to be able to come into a more difficult language like Japanese and start out feeling very accomplished and motivated.
I imagine usage will pick up drastically once the course has been released for web. The website is far superior to the app, so much so that it's the only thing I use unless I have no choice. Proof of the latter can be found in the fact that I didn't even know the Japanese course was available on the app until I happened to look at the incubator page, and I've been (im)patiently waiting for the course, so I think that says a lot. I know a single person's experience doesn't speak for everyone, but most (serious) Duolingo members seem to use the website.
Short answer: Because I expected the Japanese course to be just like other language courses in Duolingo. Unfortunately it isn't (yet):
I like typing rather than selecting words from a list, which would only be possible on the web. There is no web version of the Japanese course.
I also course notes e.g. in the Dutch and Spanish course I am using. There are no notes for the Japanese course.
I usually learn languages with Doulingo and Memrise. The Duolingo Japanese list on memrise is only available as an "alpha" version.
If you don't mind the workarounds there is actually a way to do the Japanese course on the web and the only option there is to type the answers using Windows Japanese input system (so basically typing the syllables for the kanas on your keyboard).
That's what I've done until now and it's not that bad. Grammar notes are of course missing but I'm studying Japanese by other means too so it's not too big of an impediment.
If you're on a Mac, go to the Keyboard section of System Preferences, select Input Sources, then the Japanese keyboard, and find the box for "Caps Lock Action". Set it to "Off for Romaji". Now you can use the caps lock key (which you probably weren't using for anything before anyways) to switch between romaji/English input and kana. If you want to keep your precious caps lock key, there should be a setting for switch input source or something like that in the keyboard shortcuts section that you can bind to something else.
I've started the Japanese course, but took a break from it because I was going to Brazil and wanted to learn Portuguese. I also want to continue learning Spanish and make sure that I don't get the two languages confused, so will do the Portuguese for Spanish speakers too. Others might be in the middle of doing other trees or have other responsibilities.
I will get back to doing the Japanese tree. As far as questions I may have had, I have generally done Google searches for written and video explanations on pronunciation and grammatical points. Are there sentence discussions available on the app? I typically use the website for all other trees except when traveling, and I've not joined any clubs. I might be more interested in the clubs if they were available on the website.
It's likely that many people who wanted Japanese won't be serious about it. However, others might just be waiting for the right time or for the course to be more complete and available on the web before starting. Not everyone has a smart phone or enjoys the app.
I discovered Duolingo thanks for the Japanese course actually. I was looking for some app to train with, and Duolingo came up. Now thanks to it I'm also interested in doing other courses!
The current Japanese course is... rather underwhielming and by trying other courses I really noticed why. But I'm sure it can come out great after some more polishing, and it's still a fun time killer together with Kanji Study.
I've been waiting for the contributors to finally get to the beta portion of Japanese, so I could start learning it. But, a few minutes ago, I learned that it's available on the mobile app. :) So, I'm going to start learning it on the app now. I already started learning Japanese on memrise...
Thank you, all, for leaving such detailed and thoughtful responses.
A few thoughts: yes, I too would hate to do this on a phone. I've been using my tablet (I don't even have a real computer at this point), so typing has been easier.
For those who, like me, believe in strengthening their skills via recall: by now, I have put about 1100 Duolingo sentences into Quizlet files which anyone can access. Basically, anytime I know I wouldn't have been able to produce a sentence myself, it goes into a file. I then study them English -> Japanese but of course you can do whatever you want. You can also copy them and make your own changes, e.g. add more kanji or put in spaces for readability.
Re notes that will appear on the web version: I wouldn't get my hopes up too much. I've been going back to my Duolingo French course, and there don't seem to be that many notes. What does exist is something like 200 comments underneath dubious sentences - I know Duolingo is free and a labor of love HOWEVER when things get this convoluted, it would be nice for an anointed expert to step in and clear things up.
It must be frustrating to do this course as a total newbie. I had about an N5 level going in, so I knew the basics. Therefore I have loved doing the course - it has been incredibly helpful in reviewing vocabulary and strengthening skills. Also, people on this forum have been generous with their time and expertise. (Yes, it's a little cumbersome getting to the forum but it's been totally worth it for me to push those two or three extra buttons.)
Re unexplained kanji: I do recommend external dictionaries (imiwa? has been very useful to me, for vocabulary, verb conjugations, and also kanji). Also google searches for grammar problems - there is a wealth of information out there.
So, let's keep our fingers crossed for the web version. Ganbatte!
Re notes that will appear on the web version: I wouldn't get my hopes up too much. I've been going back to my Duolingo French course, and there don't seem to be that many notes.
What's more is that there are still currently no notes at all on the web version!
It could well be that they've already written out all the notes offline and are simply going to paste them in all at once later. I know the web version isn't supposed to be released yet, so they would have no urgent need for notes to be visible online, but at the moment it just looks rather concerning to see no notes at all if the course is to be released officially on web any time soon.
I'm doing both the Japanese and Korean courses on web. I don't want to say any details about the Korean course, as I respect that it's still in alpha, but regarding this specific topic I'll say one thing: It's nothing like what we've just said about notes on the French and Japanese courses! ^_^
Have you been checking your language list on the app? Unlike how it was with Japanese, it seems we don't need to get an update for the app in order to get Korean to show up:
Hopefully you'll be able to use it very soon. But web is where the real awesomeness is anyway.
Now the course is in "beta", I'll improve my description of the notes. Here's what I wanted to say earlier:
"If Tae Kim's grammar guide were for Korean rather than Japanese, ..." ^_^
Since you had an update available, I guess you must just've been on a slightly older version at the time Korean was released earlier.
I had been wondering if it was necessary for people to be on the very latest version of the app or not. I thought it might be okay to have older versions so long as it's recent enough to have the character challenge question mode that Japanese introduced, but I guess this theory wasn't correct. :P
I'm using it and as of right now I'm on a streak of 87 days. I think the problem is how different it seems to be than the other languages. When I decided to learn spanish I was amazed at how much more you could do with duolingo. Also there's only hiragana and katakana for tiny cards and no web version
I am really enjoying the Japanese course and would love to see the tree expanded. It is only a half or a third the size of other language courses. The club I am in can't keep a high membership because of its rigorous requirements. People just seem to give up after a few days.