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A somewhat frustrated plea to Duo re. the German lessons


I have seen posts like the one I am making now, but feel compelled to write this because I have encountered the same frustration three times this morning, which has greatly hindered my learning. The frustration comes in the form of encountering new words in the skill strengthener that I have never encountered in the past, and am expected to guess.

For example: One of the sentences I encountered was 'Er gefällt mir'. It was in the form of a fill in the blank style question, where I had to choose the correct form of 'gefallen'. Prior to this, I had never seen the word 'gefallen' in my life. There was no option to hover and find out what the word meant. Nor was there any way in which I could possibly know which form of the word was correct, other than by pure guesswork.

Another example that infuriated me was the introduction of the word 'vorstellen', which is a separable verb. I had encountered 'stellen' in a lesson, but never 'vorstellen', in which the 'vor' completely changes the word's meaning.

Now, I understand that Duo likes to challenge you by changing things up and using words in different ways. I also feel like this post might get disregarded by people saying 'Oh that's just how you learn new stuff.' But please let me get one thing straight: Being set up for failure by having to resort to guesswork is NOT a good way to learn. Three times this morning, my learning was inhibited by frustration because I was being asked to translate things that were beyond my current knowledge.

I don't really expect this to be listened to, as I have seen similar posts in the past get pretty much ignored. But if any of the Duo people do happen to care, please consider finding a way to streamline the lessons so that these irritations no longer occur. Additionally, please update the tips and notes to provide deeper, more in-depth explanations. (For example: If you're going to make us use separable verbs, please tell us how they work.)

Thank you for reading.

October 12, 2017



Being set up for failure by having to resort to guesswork is NOT a good way to learn.

Guessing wrong is not "failure". It's just guessing wrong.

Three times this morning, my learning was inhibited by frustration because I was being asked to translate things that were beyond my current knowledge.

If you ever read a book, watch a film, listen to a podcast, or talk to a native in your target language you're going to encounter things beyond your current knowledge -- lots of them. This is an intrinsic part of language learning, and guesswork is actually a very useful way of dealing with it.



Not saying that isn't true. But as I said in my response to RedAngel, it doesn't help when I'm trying to actively commit previously learned material to memory. The point, to me, is to focus on going over previous content, and new curveballs should be treated separately, at least within the context of a language learning course. Revising old content and responding to those curveballs are two different skills. The first helps you remember vocab/grammar/etc that you have studied. The second builds on that previous knowledge by introducing new concepts. Which is what I thought the lessons were for, but apparently anything goes here.


Revising old content and responding to those curveballs are two different skills.

Not to me. You're describing new material with rather loaded terminology here: to you, it's a "curveball" which induces "failure". To me, it's just a shiny new thing to add to my ever-growing pile.

In fact, in a lot of cases I don't even know whether I'm looking at old or new content. Is this a word I've never seen before, or one I've seen and forgotten? No idea, let's just guess it and see if I'm right...

apparently anything goes here.

Not just here: in my experience mixing old and new content is the norm for a language teaching system, not the exception. Practically every structured learning resource that I've used does it: Anki, Lingvist, Clozemaster, Michel Thomas, and even the classroom lessons I attended during my school days.


To put it more simply: I'm all for shiny new things. But they're new, so why are they in a section intended to review material?


That would be very boring. Fortunately, in German level 22 I still get new words and more difficult sentences during strengthening.


Ok then. I guess we agree to disagree.

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"A section intended to review material" is just your current interpretation of what that actually is. Maybe it is more than that. After all, it's not called "Review material", but "Strengthen skills".

Strenghten what?


Please take a moment and think about your skills.

Do you remember how you learned your native language? Do you remember by chance if there were two separate "sections", one for introducing new material and one for reviewing the old one?



I understand your frustration. What you discribe is part of the Duo learning system. In the beginning I was irritated, too. And my first thought was "hey, that's unfair". But nobody is biting your head off when you guess wrong or can't assume which answer is correct. There are no consequences. So this maybe not your favorite part of the lesson but it shouldn't stop you from learning. You will get ahead I'm sure.

best regards Angel



Thanks for your response. On one hand, I see what you're saying. But to me there are consequences. The consequence is that I have to interrupt a review session in order to go out of the way to teach myself an entirely new concept. Now, I'm all for learning new things. I am more than happy to take on the challenge of learning them. However, I do not expect to do so when I am revising previously learned material in order to try and commit it to memory. So I would prefer to be able to decide for myself when I'm ready to take on something new, and have these things taught in the lessons first.



I can only speak for myself. But i decide if the programm is alllowed to interrupt me in my learning process or not. If I'm interested in the new word I look it up or try to memorize it. If I'm struggeling with other issues in the lesson I do the task and just go on. My experience is the word will apear again and I can learn it when I'm ready for it.

Or I copy it in my vocabulary app which I train with when I've got enough time for things like new words.

best regards Angel


For example: One of the sentences I encountered was 'Er gefällt mir'. It was in the form of a fill in the blank style question, where I had to choose the correct form of 'gefallen'. Prior to this, I had never seen the word 'gefallen' in my life

  1. Now you are so irritated, that you never will forget this sentence. This is part of Duolingo's learning methode.
  2. You can even make this more useful in your learning progress by using http://context.reverso.net/translation/german-english or the App for the 3 choices in a Duolingo exercise. E.g
    . http://context.reverso.net/translation/german-english/Es+gef%C3%A4llt+mir
    . http://context.reverso.net/translation/german-english/Es+gefallen+mir



I nested this reply here as it's about the conjugation of gefallen.

Gefallen looks like a regular verb to me, so there should be little actual guesswork in choosing the correct conjugation since you've met many other regular verbs of this sort before, In this way, the strengthening exercise is just that - strengthening your response to regular verb conjugations. What does it mean? I've never seen it before either :o)

I was annoyed at meeting new stuff in what I regarded as revision exercises, but now I see it as an opportunity to learn more...and that's got to be a good thing! As I said elsewhere, and someone said here: In real life we'll meet new stuff, so let's use DL to get ready for that!


Haha. Learning via irritation. What an interesting concept.


You can turn the irritation to a creative solution. See point 2.


Thanks for the links.


Being angry about something is a fantastic and proven method for learning, so you are not agreeing to disagree: both parties are correct, since you are indeed angry, but the other party (Pentaan above) is also correct that you are, like it or not, learning the meaning of gefallen. Duolingo drives me nuts at times, but it has helped my learning of German enormously.


You're saying that it's not a good learning tool, but it did exactly what answering incorrectly is supposed to do - make you focus. You didn't know the answer, so instead of passively moving on you took the time to think about it and even write a post about it on the forum. This will likely form a memory and help you retain the meaning of the words and separable verb prefixes better than you would have if you encountered it during a "teaching" session.


Did it make me focus - yes, you have a point there.

Did it provide an explanation for separable verbs - no, I had to look elsewhere for that information. At the very least, there could be something written about it in the tips and notes. In my current lesson (Present 2) there is nothing. (I don't know about further ahead though)


I agree, it would be nice if Duolingo offered some explanation on separable verbs. I've finished the entire tree and I don't think they are ever explicitly discussed (although somebody else correct me if I've just forgotten). However, to that point, Duolingo does not claim to be a comprehensive resource. It may be unusual to quiz you on something they don't teach you, but separable verbs are so commonplace and integral to basic conversation that they wouldn't be able to provide you with many of the sentences without including them.

I think the suggestion here would be for Duolingo to provide a lesson on separable verbs. While you did have to go out of your way to find another resource for an explanation, you could argue that what Duolingo did is still a valuable learning tool. Without Duolingo presenting the situation to you, you wouldn't have learned the concept (at least not yet).

If you were learning the language naturally (i.e. through immersion), you wouldn't get to separate your time into "reviewing" and "learning." It would all be mixed together. That's something that Duolingo tries to replicate because it is effective.


Yes they did present the concept, it's just a shame they didn't explain it - especially if they are so commonplace in German. In general, Duo's been a great resource, apart from this one frustration of mine.

Interesting last point - I suppose that goes into artificial vs natural learning environment and which one's more effective.


The fact that Duolingo has not shown you something yet does not mean you don't know it - you might have come across it in your earlier studies or other lessons elsewhere. You might be able to guess from similar words and grammar you already know. So Duolingo asks: do you know this one?

It's better for your memory if you do try to figure it out first. You'll need this skill in the future anyway, when you start using the language and encountering new stuff.


This might be true if there was at least some prior knowledge. But at no point has the course ever explained (for example) the concept of verb separation. The only reason I even know how to do it is through researching elsewhere. And although I understand that you shouldn't only use Duo by itself to learn things, surely it defeats the purpose if I'm constantly having to look elsewhere for explanations that could as easily be given in tips and notes on Duo.

For the record: 'gefallen' was listed as a word in one of the lesson descriptions, but when I did the lesson it never appeared. Which seems rather odd.


I agree that verb separation should be described in Tips and Notes. (I wouldn't know if it's there or not, I don't follow them too closely.)


There is research that getting people to guess (and often fail) before showing the answer, boosts recall. However, most people feel that this is unfair at an emotional level.

BTW you should often be able to choose the correct firm of a verb, if it is regular, even if you are not sure what it means.


I know it can be frustrating at times. Hang in there and things will come along better with more time. I don't know an easier answer to give you.


As I understand it, learning through failure actually helps us learn better. When we get something wrong the first time, even if we don't know it, it helps us retain the knowledge of it when we finally get it right, the knowledge sticks around for longer.

Whenever I see something I don't know, I try not to mouse over the hint, but rather type it and get the error message, then I see what the correct answer is and make sure I get it right the next time. Also, that way, the Algorithm is also able to collect more accurate info on what I do and do not know.

I understand that it can be frustrating, but it is also a practical point, how else could Duolingo introduce new words? This seems the simplest way even though it is a tad sneaky.

Still, good on your for persisting, learning a language is difficult though fun, and little things that annoy can sometimes take the joy away. I for one am incredibly grateful to Duolingo, I don't care how many small things there are that are somewhat annoying, I don't pay for this service with money and this is one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal for learning a language.



Yes, I am not against failure at all; it is inevitable that we'll get stuff wrong. Perhaps it's personal opinion but to me it will always feel irritating to be basically forced to get something wrong, without a chance to learn to get it right first. It doesn't suit how I learn at all because I work much better on positive motivation.

From what I understand hovering weakens the words right? So in that sense it's still accurate data even if you hover.

Duo could always create new lessons that contain new words. That way you can learn them when you choose to rather than just have them thrown at you randomly.

Yes, Duo is overall a good learning tool and I wouldn't just stop using it because of that one thing. Good luck to you.


Duo doesn't create new lessons, the volunteers that create the courses do - and they are often busy correcting and updating the existing tree. Just for info :o)


Rereading this post after today's Italian lesson where I met lots of new words - I got one wrong when I guessed, but felt great when I guessed the others correctly :o)


I thoroughly agree with you that they should update the notes to provide more in-depth explanations. However, I think that encountering new words can be a good thing because it develops our guessing skills, which I think are extremely important. Generally, if you are a B2 in a language you are able to communicate and use it very easily. However, this means that you know around 4000 words. An adult native speaker knows around 20000 - 40000 words and chances are that he/she will use words unknown to you. I think that makes guessing a needful skill. So maybe you can see it in this way so that you do not get frustrated. Anyway, I like to think of Duolingo as a rehearsing time, that is going over what you already know and for this I think it is an excellent tool.


When using a language you will no doubt encounter words that you have not studied. The first time You will have to guess the meaning the first time. This is getting you ready for the real world.


I've run across that in my German lessons as well. Seems you have to go to Google translate to find out what the word is.


Please, don't use Google translate.
Better sources are:


Danke! I don't fully understand Duo's method(s) of teaching, & being a former teacher (of sorts) it further frustrates me. Possibly age-related problems with seeing & hearing add to the problem(s). A major problem is how do I contact Duo to tell them of my problems?

Something I like about MicroSoft is you can personally chat with a staff technician who walks you through problems. Any answers giving me direction will be appreciated, so I thank you in advance.



Something I like about MicroSoft is you can personally chat with a staff technician who walks you through problems

Possibly age-related problems with seeing hearing add to the problem(s).

You pay Microsoft before you can use their programs.
"Duolingo with advertisements" is free of charge. However, it has very helpful Moderators (unpaid volunteers!) and members.


I definitely understand this frustration, as I have experienced it multiple times as well. It can be very irritating to be presented with a question that I have not been taught the answer to. Even when I do find the answer, it is not committed to my memory, personally speaking.


I have the same problem. Today in Irish I had "Type what you hear" with previously unmet vocab. No hope to get it close the first time. It took more than 7 repeats of the word before I got it. Had I met it in print the first time, I know from experience that I would have had it in 2 or 3 at the most.

We all have different learning styles and it's difficult to cater for all of them.

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