Having trouble with lack of context in Japanese lessons
Duolinguo is a great tool for refreshing my memory on certain things but it seems like in the Japanese lessons, it rarely gives you context for the characters your learning, and will often make you learn what sound they represent without telling you the meaning of the character.
It's not that great for people who are starting out with zero prior knowledge. It does some odd things like teaching you how to tell time before teaching you numbers so that it's hard to infer structure. If I didn't already know numbers in Japanese it would have been very confusing.
It also teaches you Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji in a kind of jumbled fashion. It doesn't go into stroke order or what kanji radicals are and gives only the most basic overview of how small kana work so it makes it difficult to know how to correctly pronounce something just by reading it.
I like this app as an interactive flash card exercise, but as far as Japanese goes it's not that great and definitely isn't comprehensive. I know that they've only recently added Japanese and there's bound to be some flaws but they seem to be trying to teach Japanese to English speakers very similar to the way you would teach a closer language like Spanish or German and the format just doesn't work very well.
The Japanese course is currently not sufficient for a beginner starting from scratch and without external resources. I agree with you that the meaning for the kanji should be included, but in the meantime, please take a look at the start up resources I included in this post (click on this gray text).
For stroke order, I recommend the Yamasa Institute online dictionary. Click on Kanji on the left to go to the kanji search page, where you can copy and paste kanji, then click on the search result to get the animated stroke order for that kanji. You can do the same for hiragana and katakana, by clicking on Kana on the right of the homepage.
There's a lot in your post here! Thanks for sharing your concerns!
I also share your concerns with context. Context would be harder to fix, but I think it would be do-able in the long-run. If I were programming things, I could imagine that I could add extra fields in the database to allow specification of context on specific exercises. The context could take different forms: a sentence or two leading up to the given sentence, or perhaps an image.
I am not as concerned with some of the other points you brought up. IMHO stroke order isn't necessary to be fluent at reading and typing Japanese, and it's a lot of work to learn. I also think that the mixing of Hiragana, Katakan, and Kanji in a "jumbled fashion" is actually an asset, because it reflects the way these writing systems are used in real Japanese writing in the real world. I'm not sure if the problem of order of when they teach time vs. numbers, is as big a concern as the lack of context.
I do however agree with you that the small kana aren't adequately explained. I have seen people posting being very confused, in the forums, about these things, so it's obvious to me that many people have trouble with this.
I think adding context could not only help Japanese, but all courses. This is something I started thinking about idly when I started doing Spanish and German...and it seems even more centrally important in Japanese<--->English courses because of the different ways these languages rely on things implied by context, i.e. the lack of context is worse in these courses because of how Japanese frequently omits subjects whereas English almost always includes them.
I agree with you, and to be honest, I've found many programes dont give you enough context to infer the structure if words or sentences. Usually that kid of thing comes from a ton of combing japanese forums online and rarely from any programs like this. Such a shame, especially when japanese is a million miles away from english and the more you understand about structure and the makeup of words, the more you can build in your own with the language. Hopefully there is something that can be done to improve this. It is great to finally have japanese on here though! :)