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Will Chinese on duolingo show characters only?

Quick question about the Mandarin course in the incubator. Will we see both characters and pinyin? And will we have the option to turn the pinyin off and only see the characters? I think this option would be extremely useful to help our learning and give a higher level of difficulty.

September 23, 2017



It will likely be the same format as in the Japanese & (initial part of the) Korean courses, whereby characters are initially taught as romanisations (or kana spellings), and later given an English definition when they appear highlighted in a sentence later in the lesson.
I hope there will be the bare minimum of pinyin necessary to teach correct pronunciation.


That should be what the format is. And although I agree learners should move to characters as quickly as possible, the pinyin will be strongly reinforced I think as this is a typing course and that's how Chinese keyboards are used.


Thank you for the confirmation (I didn't realise that you were a contributor at first!) May I ask you whether the course will support both simplified and traditional character sets? I can't seem to find an answer to this question anywhere.

Pinyin keyboards certainly reinforce the syllables, but not the tone (zhuyin is superior in this respect, but it's only widely used in Taiwan); on mobile devices, handwriting keyboards are also quite commonly used, and I'd imagine some Duo learners will choose this option to practise writing.


What pinyin does NOT show the tone? As used in HelloChinese the tone is shown, seems sorta like Vietnamese alphabet.


When typing with a pinyin keyboard, there are no tone diacritics; the software determines the most likely character for the pinyin syllable, and there is a drop-down list of alternative characters to choose from should it be wrong.


In the meantime you can use

ChineseSkill and HelloChinese


Duolingo will HAVE to show you Pinyin with Chinese characters. If they won't, the course will automatically be garbage. I don't think there will be an option to switch between the two systems though, as Duolingo will teach the Pinyin for all the characters (most likely).


I think we Chinese people were able to live perfectly fine without the use of pinyin, like LeviPolasak said. And besides, how would you feel if you worked really hard to make something, just to hear the person you intended it for call it garbage? Personally, I wouldn't feel that great, but everyone's different.


Actually, that's debateable. China had a very low rate of literacy, and it seems to be broadly accepted that the traditional style of Chinese characters was a factor, hence the invention of Simplified. Korea and Vietnam each took different routes, creating phonetic alphabets to simplify learning and improve literacy, but it's pretty difficult to support the assertion that China got by perfectly fine without pinyin.


it seems to be broadly accepted that the traditional style of Chinese characters was a factor, hence the invention of Simplified.

Not really. Simplified has fewer strokes, so it is quicker to write; this is really its only advantage. It still consists of arbitrary glyphs and is just as difficult to learn from scratch. Furthermore, the simplified script did away with many useful etymological elements that existed to aid to the learner in order to persue fewer strokes, and many of the changes followed no rhyme nor reason.
Taiwan has and has always had a higher literacy rate than the PRC; the idea that 'simplification' had any significant effect in increasing literacy is largely discredited. The use of transliteration systems like pinyin and zhuyin as a pedagogical tool is a much more significant factor, but traditional Chinese educational methods still worked perfectly well. The reason that most of the peasantry were not literate for most of history was because they lacked the money to pay for education and they didn't need to be literate in order to continue subsisting.


Not showing the pinyin won't make it garbage. They were able to live without pinyin until the 1950's. I don't think missing the Pinyin would make it trash, it would just make it more difficult for us to see how it's pronounced.


That's beside the point. The Chinese did indeed manage without pinyin until the 1950s, but it would still be silly to try to teach Chinese characters to English speakers without using pinyin. (though as Garpike says, it's probably best kept to a minimum)


Indeed, the Chinese managed perfectly well with just fanqie for about two millennia, and they didn't even have sophisticated portable computers to electronically pronounce everything for them!


I hope (this is just my opinion) that the course will only show the character, but pinyin AND translation when they are clicked on. E.g the sentence would play audio and characters like “女人” but when you clicked you could see both pinyin (Nǚrén) and definition (woman). The reason I think this is a good idea is so that a person taking the course doesn't become too dependent on the Pinyin, and instead is challenged to remember the characters instead of just reading the pinyin on top and not really learning the characters (as this is a shortfall of some other Chinese learning apps). If you just want to speak, one can get away with just using the pinyin but I find it much more fulfilling and useful to not only be able to read and recognize characters but to know how to write them out from memory which is actually quite difficult in comparison to inputting pinyin and clicking the character you recognize, even though writing skill does not affect speaking very much... I also hope to see the pinyin on/off to be an option, but as for me, I'd always have it off. Learning to read and write would be easier if a part of the course focused purely on the radicals that make up each character, knowing one's radicals makes character memorization much easier.


Side note: Pinyin itself is made of characters too. ;)

For example, each of these counts as a written character: C 賂 2 # 갱 Φ א ص Я इ ฒ あ ホ

See http://www.ltg.ed.ac.uk/~richard/unicode-sample.html and https://unicode-table.com/en/ (this one takes a longer time to load because it's not just a sample) to get a better view of what counts as a character. ;)

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