Bad quality of learning experience with Chinese?
Hello. First of all, I am highly thankful for the authors of the Duolingo course English to Chinese. You pulled this up so quickly, set many records, I can really see Duolingo evolving even further. But doing my way through the lessons in Chinese I cannot help but think that either my Duolingo is broken or there is something bad with the learning experience. In all the lessons, I will be asked to assign a Chinese word to a character, this go back and forth, and throughout the lesson, I never know what the words actually mean that I am assigning. Very often, I also have to build pairs of characters and words I never encountered before. It is only at the end of every lessons that one or maybe two sentences or phrases come up, where the word is actually used and that I can hover over it to see its meaning. Is there something wrong with my Duolingo or preferences or is this really the way Chinese is taught? Because I find it very frustrating to deal through a whole lesson with characters and words I don't know the meaning of. One sentence per lesson is way to little to become familiar with the words and their meaning. Is it just because it is beta? Please, don't be offended by this question, I know you put a lot of effort into it and highly regard that. But still, I cannot get over this question and impression and justed wanted to ask that. Thank you and greetings, Kevin
Yeah, I agree, I feel like it would make much more sense to connect the characters to meanings and sentences, instead of just hearing the sound and doing a memory game for most of the lesson. That's what frustrated me and overwhelmed me as a new learner, and it can also make people lose interest. Definitely need more examples of actual sentences, even if they're simple, the 1 or 2 they do isn't nearly enough.
The whole pronunciation-character memory game thing can work with languages who have letters with set phonetic pronunciation, like cyrilic in russian or korea's hangul, but I think this needs a different approach.
However, I know the team worked hard on the course and it's still in beta, so I hope they keep improving it, along with the other asian languages on duo.
Yes, it is because Chinese is in early Beta. :) They will add more and more sentences along time. Don't be frustrated or disappointed, Chinese still has a long way to go. ^^ You can conquer this tree for now, but when it reaches final phase, Chinese tree will have many new sentences and will resemble other Duolingo trees more. :)
Are you sure you are answering the right question? It seems to me that the issue raised here is the fact that learning characters matched to sound without meaning is, well, obviously meaningless, but that it also can confuse learners. That is, knowing that 水 is shui3 might not be as good as learning 水，shui3, water right from the start. I am not sure that this would be solved by adding more sentences. Introducing a character actually should involve all three parts, as it usually does when learning Chinese. Would it even be possible for the course team to change this without the programmers first modifying the system? Since I already know a few characters I feel safe playing around with Chinese and Japanese here, but otherwise this would probably be a deal breaker.
[Edited to add: English is not my first language, so when I try to sound confident and correct, I might come off as cold. But just to be clear, I really do appreciate all the effort that you guys have put into this. You are the best.]
[Disclaimer: This post is meant to be constructive]
Given what you said, I feel that onus is on the learner to ensure the quality of one's own learning experience. No course is ever a "one size fits all". Even with a completed course, one's learning experience isn't guaranteed to be great the whole way through.
The Mandarin course is worse than some courses but it is also far better than some others.
IMO, for the best learning experience, users should:
report problems/alternate answer suggestions.
make use of the sentence discussions by asking great questions that may also help others/not spamming it with complaints.
make use of alternate resources such as Google search, Chinese/English dictionaries and grammar sites, and other great apps like LingoDeer, Memrise, ChineseSkill, and HelloChinese.
If one is truly interested in learning a language, the current state of any app or program won't affect one's learning.
The contributors have stated that they still have much work to do on the course. Given that we really can't look past the fact that we are Beta testers and not students studying a completed course.
I have used the report button to report duplicates and answers that have errors many times in my 84 day non stop streak, sadly nothing ever gets corrected, and no acknowledgement of my reports :(
Hi Tamuna! როგორ ხარ? =)
First of all, I am immensely grateful for this Chinese course. And I have to say it is my first time learning Modern Standard Mandarin, but I also would like to learn Cantonese, and many other Asian languages in the next future.
Perhaps, it is for this reason that I think it is the best way to learn this language from zero at the moment. I am still trying hard with sounds for every character, and learning little by little how the structure is. Sometimes I also try to compare this sentence structure with Indonesian because I have been learning the grammar since a couple of years, and still trying to recognize Indonesian phrases and sentences on the web or practicing translations with the English course in Duolingo. This is important for me, because I have already had conversations in Indonesian, mostly basics, as learning the music, and I think to add conversations with Vietnamese people, and surely Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Singaporean people too in the future.
I can agree this course is not what some speakers of Chinese would expect. But I think it is still a perfect course for me and for all the beginners.
I can also agree with you and the comment of Masato in another post:
Glad you liked the course! Our course teaches 1,000 Hanzi + 1,000 words. Please see this blog post for more details. Thanks! http://making.duolingo.com/say-nihao-to-duolingos-chinese-course
In this post by Masato, containing some graphics, I think there are more good explanations about the launching and learning method of Chinese. Here some of them:
The challenge of learning Chinese
According to the Foreign Service Institute, Chinese is classified as one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. To achieve proficiency, they estimate that it requires 88 weeks (or 2,200 hours) of in-class study – of which the entire second year is spent in China with immersion in the language.
Don’t let this scare you, though: you can learn the basics (and more) of the language on Duolingo without spending thousands of hours in a classroom or years in China. In this post, I cover how we developed the course, and the features that make it unique and effective.
Characters are the cornerstone of the Chinese writing system, and it’s the world’s oldest writing system that has continuously been in use until today. Unlike the English alphabet, Chinese characters are logograms, meaning they represent meanings and not just sounds. This means that you need to learn to recognize hundreds, if not thousands, of characters in order to become functional in written Chinese. This is certainly one of the factors that makes learning Chinese so difficult.
Our Chinese course teaches you how to recognize and pronounce nearly 1,000 important and common Chinese characters. We made the most of our newly developed character exercises – also used to teach the writing systems in our Japanese and Korean courses – for this purpose. In addition to learning nearly 1,000 characters throughout the course, you will learn Hanyu Pinyin, the standard romanization system for Mandarin Chinese, along the way.
Not all Chinese characters are the same: in mainland China (as well as Singapore and Malaysia), Simplified Chinese characters are used in writing, while in regions such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, Traditional Chinese characters are mainly used. Because a large number of Chinese-speaking people understand both, and since the majority of characters look the same or similar in both systems, you will be able to get by in Taiwan and Hong Kong if you learn Chinese on Duolingo. However, we plan to eventually add Traditional Chinese characters, too.
Thematic lessons (and a few bonuses!)
Along with everything mentioned above, our team of language experts carefully reviewed and made improvements to publicly available Chinese word and grammar lists (such as the ones from HSK). As a result, we added a significant amount of new content that reflects the modern use of the language in Chinese-speaking countries today.
(Please read all the post)
Finally, I think this Duolingo initiative to bring other writing systems is giving us the pleasure to learn other languages, as MSA (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Standard_Arabic), in the next year. And perhaps also Amharic, Thai, Tamil, and also Georgian? Why not? ;)
I'm having a lot of little problems that really irk me. For context, I grew up speaking Mandarin, so I have a bit of a foundation. I'm doing Duolingo to brush up on written characters, since I only really use Mandarin in conversations nowadays.
When trying to test out of sections, the Chinese-to-English translation is REALLY finicky. "Plane ticket" is not accepted -- apparently it has to be "flight ticket" (who even says that??) Awkward verb tenses are everywhere, especially when it comes to helping verbs (the answer was once "I take a 9:30 flight to London," which just sounds terribly awkward to me). Prepositions are basically a crapshoot ("I haven't been here in 3 years" vs "I haven't been here for 3 years"). I understand it's difficult because Chinese sentence structure inherently has elements of vagueness that the English language does not handle well, but it's still very frustrating.
There are even inconsistencies within Duolingo's teachings themselves. For example, Duolingo says the "又... 又...." structure should be translated as "both ... and ...." Easy enough, except in the actual practice portion, my translation of "both tall and fat" for "又高又胖" is marked wrong. The correct answer? "tall and fat," with no both. Seriously?
I'm also concerned about how useful the lessons actually are. I'm breezing through them because I already know what the characters mean, but the lessons don't actually test character/meaning combinations alone, only character/pronunciation. If you're trying to learn Chinese from scratch, this style of learning will probably leave you confused.
Finally, I have a small nitpick about the audio. In general, I think the audio is great. However, I'm concerned about characters that have multiple pronunciations. The only one I've run into so far is "得." Usually, it's pronounced as "de," which is the one recorded in the audio; however, in the context of "you have to do blahblahblah," it would be pronounced "dei3." The audio still pronounced it as "de," which would be incorrect in that situation. Hopefully there's a way to fix this, as the current audio is misleading and incorrect.
Overall, thanks to the Chinese course developers and Duolingo team for their hard work! I understand this is still the beta, and it's always difficult to capture the nuances of two languages when trying to translate between them. Hopefully the course continues to become more polished over time, and happy learning to all!
Hey uwaaa! Thanks for the feedback! Yeah, you must be in the latter half of the course as we've still got a bit of work to go with adding alternative translations there. And a lot of times we just never really thought about it and it's not until we actually see how others are translating it that we realize those things.
We don't always use the same translation for the same structure because it's important to see that that's not the only way to translate it, but we do try to accept all alternatives. I'm sure you will come across quite a few correct answers that are marked wrong as you go through the course, especially since you already speak Mandarin and won't need to focus quite so much on our given translations, but if you submit your answers it makes it much easier for us to come up with all (or most, at least ;) ) possible correct answers.
Also, i just added a ton of alternatives for the 机票 sentences and changed the default translation, as "flight ticket" to me sounds weird as well. Hopefully you won't have as many issues with that lesson anymore, at least!
Yo crush! Good to see you guys are paying close attention to these discussions. I think Zylbath, uwaaa and others have raised a very valid concern. Learning the pronunciation of individual characters without their meanings, then being asked to translate sentences with those same characters is frustrating for those who are new to Chinese. There are some in here who are suggesting that newbies start elsewhere, then come back to try Duolingo's course later. That isn't what Duolingo wants for their new Chinese learners is it? This seriously needs to be addressed.
I love the Chinese course, but Chinese isn't new to me. I'm about 80% through the tree at the moment; however, as I moved through the tree I couldn't help but wonder how in the world someone without prior experience was expected to translate sentences without being taught word meanings first. If this was my first crack at Chinese I might have thrown in the towel early on.
You guys deserve a lot of credit. You've done a tremendous job! Please listen to your new learners in here.
When being asked to translate sentences with the new characters in them you should be able to hover over the characters in the sentence to get an idea as to what they mean. I believe this is how other courses generally work as well, no? The way it is set up is that we first have to present the pronunciation for the word and then provide sentences for that word. We've also got image exercises for a good number of words but apart from that there's no actual section to add definitions for the individual words, and when the image tests get shown depends on Duolingo.
If you think being able to hover over/click on the words isn't enough, i can bring it up with the other members of the team to see if there's anything else we can do.
I think the one thing that’s missing though is guidance on sentence structure, with other courses in the drop down there is a guide to word order (we don’t have any languages in common in duo lingo or I would cite a specific examples) but if you look particularly with the idiom section should for example with most of the Duolingo courses they have a table that has a for example four horizontal columns with the character you are selecting populating one of the boxes to know where it goes in the sentence.
That sort of guidance might help a lot of the early learners like myself due to the dramatically diffenet work order compared to English if that helps.
I haven’t seen it be used anywhere in the early lessons yet but am only a few in so maybe it’s there and I just haven’t hit it yet but I would help a LOT with the early frustration without a massive change I think?
Is it possible to redesign the start of each section, so that it starts with the Tips & Notes rather than the lessons?
I believe a lot of people forget about the Tips & Notes, which makes each lesson more difficult than it needs to be.
I also think it would be helpful if the Tips & Notes actually contained a short list of the new characters that are introduced in the lesson, complete with pinyin and meaning. It would remove a considerable amount of frustration.
Thanks for explaining. Hopefully those who are having difficulties with the course will read your explanation or realize on their own that they can hover/click/tap on the translation pages to get definitions for the words.
Maybe you guys can open a new thread and explain some of these details about the course.
I actually like the way the Chinese course is designed. Note, I might be biased because I have some knowledge of Chinese. When I see a character I can remember its meaning first but I am sometimes uncertain about its pronunciation. I like that Duolingo is putting a lot of emphasis on matching the shape and pronunciation.
Also I think that learning the meaning of individual characters is unhelpful. Take one of the first words you will encounter 认识. I’m not even sure what these characters mean individually and I don’t think it matters for beginners.
A better example is 加拿大. You’ll probably need all these characters, but it would just be confusing to memorize their meaning at the stage where they are introduced.
Tip, if you use Chrome you can install the Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary extension which will give you the meaning of each word or character you encounter.
Agreed. Congrats to the team for their hard work in bringing this to life, but I think that the basic Duolingo engine needs some serious modifications to make east Asian languages tenable. It's no fault of the course writers, but the basic site design needs accommodations for Chinese and Japanese. This is a job for the developers.
For some context, I am an advanced intermediate Japanese speaker/writer. I have a vocabulary of probably about a thousand kanji. I'm accustomed to the trials and tribulations of learning Chinese characters, in computerized lessons.
And I find the lesson structure of the Chinese tree so far immensely frustrating. I'm only on greetings 2. In both names and greetings, I am asked to define characters I've never seen before. Some of them are names, so they have no definition, and no definition is given for some of them in the mobile dropdown definitions. I can sometimes complete an entire lesson without any clue what a character is, only how it sounds. But with the names, we aren't even given the readings of some of them before being asked to give them in English, so I just have to make a wild stab in the dark, fail the response, and read the answer, in order to learn. This is backwards.
I don't have an issue learning vocabulary on the fly in European duolingo courses, but with logographic languages, it's just not the best way to structure lessons. In European languages (learning as an English speaker), when given proper nouns, such as names, they typically stand out because the names are familiar, or they're capitalized, and so forth. Not so with Chinese (or Japanese) where names are comprised of characters that also mean things as words (in most cases). Name recognition is a unique challenge of these languages.
In another reply in the thread, someone says, we have to slog through a few basics to be able to start really learning. Yes, I agree that this is true, but I still have to be told what these characters mean in order to be able to use them, and so far I'm finding it a bit of an uphill challenge to learn more than how the hanzi are pronounced. It's not me, it's a design flaw.
On a similar note, it is unacceptable at this point that the basic code design can't, or doesn't, accommodate readings for characters in the dropdown definitions. In hanzi/kanji, we need to reference more than just the meaning. (There are audio examples in most cases, but slow audio is not available and it's not easy to identify how to spell a word from the sound of a robot who speaks quickly.)
Again, no shade to the Chinese course contributors. This is a job for the web developers, to modify the framework to better facilitate learning logographic languages. In the mean time, I'll keep slogging through. I am excited to see how the Chinese and Japanese trees develop.
There was an article in Forbes when Japanese came out that half the Duolingo team spent some six months modifying the code to even allow Japanese to be on Duolingo (and that was before all the additional work to get it to the web). You've tried the Japanese course. You know what it's like. This is just Duolingo kanji times ten - pretty much exactly what anyone with familiarity with the Japanese course should have been expecting. If anything, the hints here are less confusing and more useful. All those interminable-with-a-mouse matching exercises are how you're supposed to learn the pinyin. I'm definitely no expert in Chinese, but I think the audio is pretty clear. There are sounds that are hard to distinguish for an English speaker: retroflex affricates with phonemic aspiration contrasts, for example. Would pinyin help? Undoubtedly, but probably better to get to work hearing the unfamiliar contrasts.
I would briefly add that many of the travails you mention are unfamiliar to me, having mostly done the course on the web. I have seen no completely missing hints. Although there were some that required recall of e.g. a gramatical concept to piece together, and some that might have been less than perfectly matched to the relevant characters. I concur that I don't know why they introduce new characters in the match character to pinyin word bank exercises.
I felt similar to start with, but I noticed reading the "Tips and notes" section before starting the lesson actually gives you a fairly good idea of what to expect.
When it doesn't cover a character, I just think of it as them reducing the parts I have to learn - they're focusing just on pinyin to hansi, taking out the 3rd part of what it means, and that'll get added once I get the first two parts properly under my belt.
I RECOMMEND READING IF BEGINNER!
I did a big long post about this but it didn't go through so here is a shortened version in a comment.
Being a beginner in Chinese I found the Duolingo course unhelpful very quickly for me as a beginner so I tried HelloChinese. HelloChinese is a great source and I recommend starting there. I also recommend reading textbooks in Chinese, here is a link to a list of books in the Chinese language group. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9QDHej9UGAdQ0k4MXF0SXdTcGM The course also isn't very good at teaching you characters. I recommend going here for characters. https://dictionary.writtenchinese.com/ Why should you learn characters? Chinese dialogue varies greatly and is incomprehensible from one end of China to the other so learning written Chinese will make your Chinese more global.
My idea of procedures for learning Chinese: 1. Look at grammar books. Online textbooks work but see if your library has any Mandarin books. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9QDHej9UGAdQ0k4MXF0SXdTcGM 2. After looking at the books begin HelloChinese. This is a great resource and helps your pronunciation and writing. 3. Begin Duolingo. Make sure you learn how to write each word as you learn it, this is something that you need to stay on top of! https://dictionary.writtenchinese.com/ 4. Practice PRACTICE PRACTICE 5. Once you feel you've done what you can with Duolingo and HelloChinese start playing with memrise and other sites to get more and more vocab!! 6. Practice conversational Chinese as much as possible. It does not hurt to begin this process sooner. ( I haven't seen any much I imagine there are conversational Chinese quizlet decks)
I agree with most of the things you say, and I want to point out to "Make sure you learn how to write each word as you learn it". For myself, what I've found to be immensely useful is to use the web browser version of Duolingo and NEVER use the word options when completing a writing in Mandarin exercise. This way I learn both the English sentences and Mandarin sentences without the aid of "multiple choice". An exercise takes maybe 3-4 times as long but I can now text in Mandarin and talk to strangers in HelloTalk.
I suspect a big reason they were able to get this course out so quickly is that so much of the focus is on teaching character/pinyin correspondence. Algorithms handle that task pretty well, presumably. It takes human effort to write and translate sentences. Fewer sentences: less work. I wouldn't be surprised if they go on adding (actual) sentences over time.
That said, there are more sentences in the unit reviews (i.e. "Strengthen" button). If you blaze through just doing the lessons, you'll miss a lot of what's there. This is always true for Duolingo, but it may be even more critically true for Chinese. Maybe it's not so much the case for Greeting 1 and Numbers, but there are certainly sentences to puzzle out in Name. Of course, this brings its own challenges. The hints have presumably gotten a good deal less attention, for one.
I'm also here to thank the creators of this course and the possibility to try it. I met Chinese language cca 1 year ago, and after a few months of very intense listening to TV shows with some English sub (please do not laugh) words started to get into my mind. So 5 months ago I decided to start study officially. Which ment to start collecting materials for study from the net. I do not go to school, I do not have any teachers. This means such courses like yours are very useful for me. But honestly, if I didn't have this few months slow studying experiences of basic words or grammar, I could not even get on with this course. If I were a real starter, I would need a translator to get the meanings, and some backup notebook to make notes. Learning hanzi is new for me, I started that line too, but didn't give enough time for that, so this side of your course us useful. Being alone I use many different methods to study, so DL is one. Please make beat to alfa, and do not forget to send an announcement. I may restart the course. :) Xiexie, Su Shan (HU)
I get y'alls point but I also want to say as someone who grew up in china for the first seven years of there life that I think one reason is because they don't want to put too much emphasize on the direct translation because the character can have multiple meanings depending on the context.
I studied Cantonese at Chinese University for 2 years (Yale method) & mostly relied on the romanization. I gained fluency & could communicate well but was fairly illiterate!!! Didn't have time for more than a few hundred characters. Anyhow, we spent the first couple of months just listening to the sounds and tones---not even relating them to characters. I appreciate learning the sounds of the characters. And yes, characters have multiple meanings when paired with others, so . . . sorry for those who want translation, that doesn't always work learning Chinese. Just absorb and be patient. Thanks for the mention of the other helps that some have given. I myself, have no problem not knowing the "meaning" immediately. Just give it time. Chinese is fascinating!!!
After my initial "OMG, Chinese is here, awesome, I love it!" phase I have to agree with you. I really don't get why there is such a focus on pinyin and assigning pinyin to hanzi.
To be honest, I think the whole redesign of the Duolingo interface for Japanese, Chinese and Korean is a big failure. There is nothing wrong with teaching Hiragana, Katakana, Hangul with Flashcards, but please NOT as part of the main language course. In fact, you could do the same with the Cyrillic, Greek and Hebrew alphabet, because, let's be honest, Hiragana, Katakana and Hangul are easy and straightforward. There is no need to treat them differently than any other non-Latin alphabet on duolingo.
I do have the advantage of having learned about 700 Kanji before — not on duolingo — and even though the Japanese and Chinese meaning of a character do not always match, so far I know the meaning of most of the Hanzi in the early lessons of the Chinese course.
Why did the course creators add an extra level of difficulty with adding pinyin to the course? Who thought that a million exercises of matching the pinyin to a hanzi before teaching the meaning was a good idea? Why use the 'new duolingo CJK format' at all? If anything, it makes learning more frustrating.
They could have used the straight-forward well-loved standard format of translating Chinese sentences to English sentences. And the TTS teaches you the pronunciation. After all, there is another language on duolingo, where the writing system only gives you hints about how a word is pronounced: Hebrew. In Hebrew, vowels are generally not written, but sometimes they are, using letters that double as consonants (ie. the letter ו can be 'v', 'o' or 'u'). Many letters have more than one pronunciation (ie. ש can be 's' or 'sh'), many sounds are represented by more than one letter (ie. 't' can be ט or ת ). So, generally, when you see a word like בבקשה (b/v-b/v-k-s/sh-h) you do have some hints for the pronunciation, but you don't know that it's pronounced 'bevakashá'. Just like ... Hanzi. And Kanji.
However, thank god, the Hebrew course is not filled with flashcard exercises forcing you to match בבקשה to bevakashá, without telling you that it means 'please'. Which is exactly what the Chinese course does. Which is of no practical use whatsoever. Which frustrates the learner. Which goes against every principle learning on duolingo stands for – teaching words in their 'natural environment', ie. sentences.
What you are learning right now is sort of the building blocks of the Chinese alphabet, called the radicals, if you will. Alone, they oftentimes don't have any meaning whatsoever. You pair them with each other to make words. For example, laoshi (Forgive there being no accents) has two radicals together; lao and shi. They connect together to make the word teacher. This comes in handy when learning things like months. Instead of the months having names they have 'month one' 'month two' because they can. One of the syllables combines for the word month, then for the specific month you connect on the number of the month.
If any of this is wrong I'm terribly sorry, I'm trying to brush up on my Chinese now aha.