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Japanese - I feel like I'm only getting half of a lesson

Maybe someone can help me out, but as a first time Duolingo user, I'm getting unbelievably confused.

I'm trying out Japanese, a language I've always wanted to learn from the bottom of my heart. I know some of it spoken, enough to ask and understand some basic things while I went to Japan, but honestly, if I didn't know those little basics, I'm not sure how I would have even gotten as far as I have in the Japanese lessons.

There's strange things that keep happening in the lesson that, if I didn't have Japanese speaking friends to ask about, I never would have understood. For example, おちゃ. When I got this word, I saw "ochiya" because Duolingo had never explained what the 'smaller' hiragana meant. It happened again later with きっぷ. I read this as 'kitsupu' because I had never seen it before and Duolingo doesn't explain anything at all. Like with ocha, I had to go ask friends to explain that the small 'tsu' meant to double the following consonant. Or, I think the earliest example, was something like とうきょう, where Duolingo failed to explain what the 'u' after something meant.

This is on top of a lot of other confusing things, like getting words I need to translate before I've ever learned what they mean, or when Intro 1 suddenly started going into complete sentences when I have no idea how sentence structure works yet (as it is, I'm having some massive difficulty in that section because now I'm not just trying to learn new characters but sentence structure, too... again, no explanation of how anything works like what 'wa' is or how 'jin' works or what goes where...). It also threw Katakana and kanji in there when we hadn't studied either yet so I had no idea which was what. So any confusion that came up in the Hiragana lessons multiplied because now there's three languages thrown together.

Then came the fun of 中, which is what made me come write this. The audio says 'naka', and since it is a stand alone kanji (something I had to learn from my friends when I was so confused I went to FB to ask what was going on) it should be written as なか. ...But the written hiragana on the lessons are written as ちゅう. ....What?! Once someone explained to me the diff between ちゅう and なか when it comes to 中, I understood, but... this is what the title of this means. I feel like I'm only getting half a lesson at any one point.

There needs to be some proper explanation of things for how the language is written every so often, and please stop asking to translate vocab before the vocab has even been introduced. I don't know how the other Duolingo courses work, but it feels like there's some refinement that's needed for the Japanese courses. (P.S. - it would be nice for a place you could go and actually look at vocab you've learned once you're out of the lesson! Just a list of words and translation with audio. I've started sort of using the Tinycards with that the best I can but it doesn't match up.)

Maybe I'm the only person feeling this way, but I'm hoping Duolingo might read this as honest issues from a first time user going for one of their new courses (who had been anxiously waiting for a long time to be able for it to go live! ^_^)

October 29, 2017



You are not the only one feeling this way. I think as it is, it's difficult for a beginner to learn Japanese from scratch using only the course. The issue of multiple possible pronunciations (Onyomi and Kunyomi), the role of う, the small つ, や,ゆ, and よ, the は pronounced (wa), and other things are not explained. The course is of course still in beta, but such essential issues should have been addressed before the course release. Currently, I recommend to beginners to study the syllabary and understand the Japanese pronunciation rules before they take the course.


I´m trying japanese out as well and found some things strange. But please keep in mind that the course is still in the beta phase.


Definitely - which is why I wanted to get my issues out there so Duolingo might see that there really are some big problems they need to correct while it's still in beta.


Lingodeer. get this free app and check out the great explanations. It has everything duo does not. that being said duo is cool in so many ways. Lingodeer has helped me as a complete beginner and I hope it helps you too:) don't worry the owl will get his act together but it might be a minute.


Hi. As far as you're concerned, I think Duolingo needs to refine these issues. The problem is not with you. But when you search and ask other people, you are also exercising, and be sure, you will not easily forget those expressions and words that are now confusing to you. Regarding the kanji you read as "naka", and Duolingo has shown as "tchyu", it is that kanji have several forms of reading, and some are specific to reading an ideogram. This ideogram actually reads "tchyu", although depending on context and word, it has other sounds. But calm, this you will learn with time and persistence.


Great answer, thanks :)


It's funny, I just posted a question re: one of the things you mentioned (the audio saying 'na ka' but the correct answer being 'chuu'). I'm wondering if it's a Japanese quirk or if it's Duolingo playing up!!


I went and asked friends of mine who speak the language what's up with that. When the kanji is alone, it's 'naka', but when it's combined with something else, it's 'chuu'. This was exactly what he said: "Kanji have multiple readings, 'onyomi' and 'kunyomi'. Basically, kanji have different readings for when they are standalone and when they are combined with other kanji/hiragana. For example, by itself 中 is read as 'naka' by itself, but when combined with other kanji 中型, it's read as 'chuugata' (means mid-sized/medium sized)."


As HollyButte3 mentioned, onyomi and kunyomi are important to differentiate. Some kanji can have several readings, but these are exceptional. Many other kanji have 3 or 4 readings, usually variants of the onyomi and kunyomi, but other times they are pronunciations that only occur within the kanji combination that they are part of.

When combined with other kanji 'naka' does not always become 'chuu'. For example, 中頃 (Nakagoro - near the center) and 真中 (Man'naka - the very center) . Also most Japanese names [not all] with this character would be read naka, not chuu: 中村 (Nakamura) and 山中 (Yamanaka) for example.

Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule for which reading to use, just generalizations. So, try to stay flexible when learning the kanji and consider the various possible readings.


I personally think Duo is not a very good course for a complete beginner. I don't believe in learning a language by repeatedly seeing vocabularies and patterns. Currently I am using it mainly because it is handy (I can quickly do a lesson with my Android phone anywhere) and there is a forum for exchanging ideas with other users.

You should ask questions in the forum whenever you need. I got lots of help when I took the Portuguese course (a guy called Paul Enrique was super helpful). So at first when there were not many helpers in the Japanese forum, I started to try answering questions, as many as I can, to help out. (But I am not native and my level is just so-so, I hope I didn't give misleading information.)

Fundamental questions are sometimes hard to explain in just 2 paragraphs. It is advisable for beginners to learn the basics first with other resources.

When I went to my first French lesson (a classroom course), I had the same feeling as you do now. For an Asian student, gender, conjugation, etc. also weren't anything existed in the world. But every language can be learned if we have decided to. 頑張ってください。


I don't blame you for being confused. I took 3 years of Japanese in college, and found the Duo course to be a good review, but I can't recommend it (yet) for a beginner. As it progresses through Beta, the course creators will probably add more Tips & Notes for each Skill (these are easy to miss - they are at the bottom of the page after you click on a Skill, below the Lessons). If I were you, I would wait for the Beta phase to complete, and learn hiragana in the meantime.

In its current state, I don't think the Japanese course best represents Duolingo. If you're interested in any other languages that are out of Beta, you should try a few lessons to see what Duolingo is really like. For example, I'm finding the Hebrew course to be great, with just enough grammar explanation to help me understand without overwhelming me. Even then, Duo does throw in new words. Usually, you can just mouse over the new word to see the translation, so that's their method of introducing vocabulary.

I should note that I don't use Duolingo alone to learn a new language. I supplement with vocabulary drills or flashcards. Memrise.com is a good website for the flashcard style of learning, and it has several good courses to choose from.

Oh, and the 中 kanji - as the others say, both なか and ちゅう are possible readings, but this drives me crazy on the matching exercises because the audio is wrong. The matching hiragana say one thing, but the audio says the other! I'm sure they'll fix it eventually!


I studied Japanese a few decades ago but haven't really practiced it since then. Still, when I started the Duo course, I thought I would have been totally lost without my prior knowledge. I too dislike it when Duo asks us to use info that hasn't yet been introduced (this happens in the other courses too, BTW, including Spanish, which was my first Duo course).

Anyway, friend Google can be helpful. I often have a window open to look up words to complete exercises. Also, when you hover your cursor over a word or character, you often get helpful hints. Sometimes, though, you may get hints that are more confusing than helpful...

I also agree that more explanations would be very helpful.

Oh well, it IS in beta. I am working through things though, and yes, I also have a hiragana and katakana chart handy if needed. With all its challenges, I'm still happy the Japanese course is finally available, and I am making progress.

By the way, here's some info about my favorite Kanji learning/reference book (which also has great hiragana and katakana charts). It's called "A guide to reading and writing Japanese" (by Florence Sakade) and you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0804802262

Unless my old copy turns up soon, I'll buy another copy! It's mercifully inexpensive. Please note that the title is a bit misleading though - it should have "Kanji" or "characters" after its name because that's all it helps you read and write... But it does this very well.


I believe the Japanese course isn't good yet, and that's why I'm holding until it gets out of beta. I'm still in Hiragana 2 there, and keep redoing one lesson from Hiragana 1 everyday just to keep the streak going. I'm learning Hiragana from a different and much better source, which teaches us how to properly draw them (the correct order of the strokes), the few variations on each - depending on the font -, the sounds, and a lot of practice by repetition. Then we also see them in a few different words and we hear what they sound like.

Duolingo already does a few of those, but it's still lacking in others. Right now it's not good enough. I'm pretty sure they will improve these lessons soon. This was just my feedback on the hiragana lessons. I don't know anything about the other lessons yet, so can't comment.


you're supposed to learn by natural language acquisition - listening, speaking, reading, writing. thus, you shouldn't be trying to read the hiragana, including small tsu, at this stage - just listening to how it is pronounced.
Japanese is a notoriously difficult language to automate, but that's not the problem here.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I think of giving up on Japanese. I just cannot move on. It is the most difficult language to learn so far.


Wow, @Robwith1, you're already at level 16! That's amazing! I wouldn't give up if I were you. Why not take a break (maybe switch your focus to a different language for a while), and then do a review after a couple of months. Maybe by then some of the worst bugs have been resolved. You could also work with some other materials...

I remember that I got really annoyed with French, so I stopped working on it for the time being and started Italian, and, once Japanese came out, I switched over to Japanese. Once I'm done with Japanese and have turned my Spanish tree golden again, I may well go back to French and give it another go. By that time, I'm sure I'll be able to handle the issues a lot better.

I have to admit that I also get annoyed with my Japanese course, especially when they introduce completely new stuff with no explanation whatsoever, and there's really no way to guess. Their hover hints are often either not helpful, or even non-existent, depending on the exercise.

But... Just today, I dealt with an exercise that I found particularly annoying, only to discover that they would then repeat it with slight variations over and over so I eventually got it.

Another annoying part with Japanese: They often only accept one correct answer, even though my answer would have been an equivalent translation in English.

Even worse, sometimes, they require one variation (in English) for one sentence (in Japanese) and another variation for a different sentence that's basically the same except that there's a different month (or year) inserted in it. Sheesh!

But there's a learning lesson here...

I'm going to have to let go of my perfectionism and instead be okay with getting the first sentences completely wrong until I can determine the pattern... That's a good lesson for me to learn. Who knew what Duo could be good for.


Yeah exactly my question it threw me off I spent way more time doing digging and reporting it wondering what happened I looked at it like it was silent in some cases, and didn't understand why there in different positions to begin with in other cases, Im not sure how to type it but all those key characters in the comment below. Im new at this and I want to do my best because I want to see if I can actually make this part of a second lingo in my life, and possibly go for a few visits and speak at an advanced level to be able to feel the full immerse of the culture. I feel like giving it the respect I've always wanted to would be an amazing experience. (I really should be going to School but I just decided after all these years I suddenly want to) If someone's down for helping me I'd appreciate it.


nope you are absolutely correct. I took half a year of casual japanese, and decided to keep going on duolingo. If i hadn't taken that half year, i wouldn't have understood most of the things. My biggest difficulty with duolingo is that they do not introduce the kanji. I got through most of the modules until Position. The behind, in front, are really confusing without a proper lesson. I had to use other resources. Im still going thorugh, but at a much slower pace.

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