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Suggestions for the Japanese Course

I've been studying Japanese on Duolingo since the day it was available for learning, and I've been very happy with my progress. I really like the new system of teaching characters, and it's fun to practice Japanese whenever I get the chance. However, there have been a few things that I feel could be changed to improve the course.

  1. The course is quite short. At 185 lessons, it is one of the shortest courses on Duolingo (second only to High Valyrian I believe). I understand that it teaches everything needed to pass the N5 proficiency test, but you only need to have a Japanese proficiency level of "Basic" in order to pass the N5, and a "basic" understanding of Japanese is probably not enough to get by in Japan. It's great that this course is being developed off of the JLPT, but I feel like it should teach up to at least N3 (Intermediate).

  2. There are no speaking or listening exercises. One of the integral parts of learning a language is being able to speak and understand it. However, Duolingo only teaches reading and writing in its Japanese course. While the course is filled with audio exercises, the audio is always accompanied with a written sample of the phrase being spoken. To practice my speaking and listening, I've had to resort to looking away from my phone screen while the Japanese text is being read out loud, and then repeating what the speaker said after she finishes saying it. Additionally, one of the main parts of taking the N5 is being able to comprehend spoken Japanese. I understand that it's difficult to add speech exercises to any Duolingo course, but it shouldn't be too hard to add listening exercises. I studied French on Duolingo before my trip to Quebec a few weeks ago, and one of the main reasons I was able to communicate with so many people was because Duolingo's listening exercises had greatly helped me understand spoken French.

  3. There are no exercises where the learner has to type out phrases in Japanese. Instead, users are given several words and have to rearrange them to form the correct sentence. This method is questionable in its effectiveness because the learner doesn't have to really think to be able to give the correct translation. Users cannot truly create their own Japanese with this method.

  4. Unlike Mandarin Chinese, where the majority of characters only have one pronunciation, in Japanese, Kanji can have 5 different pronunciations or more. While Duolingo does an effective job at teaching one pronunciation of each Kanji, it doesn't do a very good job at teaching the additional pronunciations. For example, the character 一 (one) is pronounced "ichi" in 一時です (It is 1:00). This is the pronunciation that is taught when the character is first introduced. However, in 一つ (one piece), 一 is pronounced "hito". Duolingo did not teach the hiragana pronunciation for the latter pronunciation of 一, leaving me confused about why the pronunciation had changed until I Googled it.

  5. Many words that could and probably should be taught in Kanji are only taught in Hiragana. Strangely, the dictionary hints often show the word in its kanji form instead of the hiragana form that is taught in the course, leaving many users confused.

  6. No desktop version yet. I understand that a desktop version of Japanese is in the process of being made, so I have no complaints about this. Hopefully, we'll see this by the end of the year.

In all, these were the main issues I had with the Japanese course. There were a couple of smaller issues that I encountered here and there, but they've largely been fixed. I understand that the course is still in beta, but it might be cool to see some of these changes get taken into consideration. What do you guys think? How else could the Japanese course be improved?

August 28, 2017



Also, with the android app there are too many places where the answer is read out loud for you. For example, when asked what is the meaning of "学校" the app reads the answer to you so all you have to do is pick what you heard, in this case "がっこう". There is no learning happening since the student / user is not required to recall the meaning. The real insult here is the time wasted getting past these questions. This is just one example, but a lot of the course is as effective and as annoying as being asked to "press the red button to continue".


I do agree that the "select what you hear" is a slight problem, but it can easily be fixed.


I'll agree with most of this. I've started the course (with some prior knowledge of Japanese, luckily), but am putting it somewhat on the back burner until it's available on the web (so I can get proper typing instead of "guess which six out of eight words are needed for this sentence") and also in the hope of getting course notes.

Yet another problem with the course as it is now is that it doesn't give any indication about what is hiragana, what is katakana and what is kanji or even (if you don't already know this) that indeed there are three different writing systems. Also, it ignores the whole bit of how to write each character properly.


Re the proper writing of the characters: I think you have to pick your battles with Japanese. For me, handwriting in Japanese is not a priority at all - I'd much rather work on listening and reading comprehension, and on being able to say stuff.

Also, there are really nice tools for stroke order available on the web - Duolingo does not have to reinvent the wheel for that.


For number 3, the app has always been like that: you have to select the words from the bottom of the page to make the correct sentence, but I don't think that kind of exercise helps you learn the language, unless you struggle with word order, which is why the website is better since you have to type the words and when you type the words, you're more likely to remember them than if you select them and make a sentence. That's why the website version is needed. Duolingo shouldn't have rushed Japanese so much, otherwise it would have more lessons and not be one of the shortest courses.


Agreed. Hopefully we'll see a Tree 2.0 at some point in the near-future.

[deactivated user]

    Agreed with the above. In addition, one of the very helpful Duolingo "go to's" for learning (for me, anyway) is the "hint" one gets by hovering over or clicking on the English that is to be translated. When that "hint" is just kanji that is NOT one of the options, (usually, but not always, only hiragana or katakana is available) the "hint" isn't helping. This happens a LOT.

    Also, small rant, having an answer marked wrong because I re-ordered the ENGLISH words is a bit silly. Example (and pretty close to what I remember), "I don't eat bread very often", would be marked wrong if "I don't very often eat bread." Word order in English is almost unimportant so please stop testing me on it.

    Lots of improvements needed but it's progress. Thanks.

    [deactivated user]

      Also, under "it would be nice", it might be good to be able to type the Hiragana/Kanji like the Japanese IME, where one types in, say, "shi-go-to", and gets the しごと or 仕事 , like one would when using the IME. Memrise has this capability on the PC, and IPAD. (Don't have an iphone so don't know if it works there, but am guessing it does if the IPad has it.) Not sure about Android and the Amazon Tablet.


      N3 would never work, this course would have to be 50 times larger. The best that can be done is N4, nothing more than that.


      Would it really be 50 times longer though? Wikipedia says that about 600 hours of study time are needed to pass the N5, while 1000 are needed to pass the N4, and 1700 for the N3. Then again, I'm no expert on the JLPT.


      The High Valyrian course is tiny. Only thirty skills.

      Learn Japanese in just 5 minutes a day. For free.