Translation:Today is Sunday.
Ok. I just learned something that answered my question and I thought I should put it here as well in case anynone is interested.
All the characters in the sentence are first tone but there are special rules when you pronounce them in pairs as it is the case almost always in spoken speech. (See for example https://www.yoyochinese.com/blog/learn-Mandarin-Chinese-with-Yangyang-tone-pairs-language-hacks )
BUT. There are some Chinese words that comprise of three characters instead of just two and in that case things change again. In the phrase "今天腥期天" the three character word "腥期天" instead of being pronounced as 1-1-1, is pronounced as 1-1-neutral. (Unfortunately I cannot remember the link for the site where I found that information)
I hope that helps anyone having the same question as I did.
Be careful not to use the character "腥", which means "fishy smell".
I don't think it's accurate to say that "星期天" is 1-1-neutral. Sometimes the third tone in this series might drop a little, but not to the extent of a true neutral tone. (In fact I don't hear any drop when I play the audio on this page, which is the female voice.)
But it's even more likely that in colloquial speech you'll hear 1-neutral-1. This is partly because the speaker wants to emphasize the important information, i.e. what day of the week it actually is, and that information is specified here by "天". Also, in some Mandarin varieties "期" is second-tone, not first, which makes it even easier to drop it to neutral.
I wouldn't rely on Duo's TTS. It's pretty good most of the time, but sometimes it's wrong, and it doesn't account for the nuances of colloquial speech.
I've also heard of a couple of those tone rules where some of the tones in pinyin change depending on the words before it. I've got confused when Duolingo would, for example, pronounce two vocabulary words both with 3rd tone marks and apply the tone marks given instead (I believe?) changing the first word with a 2nd tone (I think i may be off on that)
One of the few things that I dislike about Duolingo is that they frequently use the same sentence/scenario twice in a row but just in different exercises (e.g. before this question, I had to form the same sentence above, but with flashcards). Don't you all prefer if Duolingo adds more variety to their exercises?? (Honestly, a couple of these sentences are not really useful in the real world)
:) One time when the Japanese course was still super new, I got the same question 20 times in a row. It was a rare glitch, but I thought it was funny.
Since the French and Spanish trees have recently changed, I've been counting how many new sentences are in each skill. There are about 55-60. I haven't counted in the Mandarin course... But I assume there are probably that many. If they seem repetitious, it must be because you have gotten very good. :)
As for the sentences not being useful in the real world, you are right. But that's okay with me because I'm not memorizing sentences, I am memorizing patterns and grammatical rules so that I can make my own sentences. I am hoping we get some silly ones later in the tree, because those are very memorable. I teach French, Spanish, and Japanese, and I can tell you my high school students absolutely love the silly sentences, and then we can springboard off of those and make even goofier ones.
So you bring up a good point about repetition... I always tell my students that repetition is the key to success. And also that repetition is the key to success. Yes, sometimes it is mind-numbing, but in order to get the vocabulary and the grammar intrinsic, you do need to memorize. I even give my students the test answers to memorize before the exam. "What's the worst thing that's going to happen if someone asks you what your favorite food is and you have the answer already memorized because I asked you on a test?" Answer: You can start to have a conversation.
So my only advice to you is that if you are finding the questions boring, hang in there, or test out of the skill, because we will be challenged enough later in the tree. Since I'm already fluent in Japanese, I couldn't stand the numbers section, so I tested out of it. But I am taking my time on Health 1, because I don't know how those words are pronounced in Mandarin and the grammar is very different.
You know what I am REALLY looking forward to? When Duolingo adds Stories to the Mandarin course. Vocabulary is SO much easier to learn when it is in the context of a story. That would give us all a lot more variety. :)
Hang in there, fellow learner!