“Dining 1" Section is So Frustrating Because Long Sentences Introduce Too Many Things At Once
I have been going through the Chinese course with only isolated frustrations...most of the sections actually seem pretty easy or straightforward, but today I got to the "Dining 1" section.
I added a deep commentary on this particular exercise/sentence, which I think is particularly bad:
I spent quite a lot of time on this section before I finally gave up. I think it's a waste of my time, and I'm frustrated that I can't progress through the course without completing this section and can't keep the course practiced without having to practice it.
Basically, I think the sentences are FAR too long, which poses problems for three reasons:
(1) The section is introducing new words in the context of very long, complex sentences. Rather than being able to practice with the words in simple sentences, and then working up to more complex sentences (and testing me on the complexity of the sentences) once I'm already familiar with the words, I'm given complex sentences
(2) There are often many different aspects of grammar being taught at once in long, complex sentences. Chinese is very different from English in a lot of ways, and so there is a lot to teach. When all these things are introduced at once, it's hard to learn these things, it just becomes overwhelming, because you only have to get one thing wrong to get the whole sentence marked wrong. For example, the sentence I referenced contains: (a) "我家人", an example of how you just say this without using 的...but this hasn't been introduced yet or tested in any other exercises. (b) It's using "去...(place)...other verb+object" construction, which is pretty complex to begin with, and which hasn't been introduced and thoroughly tested through multiple other simpler sentences / exercises, but piling this on top of the rest of the sentence. (c) it is introducing "上海" for the first time in this sentence, and using it as a modifier for "饭馆". (d) the subject has an "and" in it, i.e. "我和我家人", which isn't that hard/complex a thing but it does add a bit to the complexity of an already very complex sentence that is introducing a new word and using new or insufficiently-practiced grammar.
(3) complex sentences have more alternate wordings, which means that the vast majority of possible wordings aren't going to be accepted. The Chinese team is clearly overwhelmed and is not keeping up with reports in a timely manner...although I have had many reports accepted, I still see REALLY BASIC stuff that I reported right at the beginning of the course, going un-addressed (like hover-over hints totally missing on some words, like the numbers)
Basically, I think this section is very sub-optimally designed. It's incredibly frustrating, and is wasting my time, and I am unlikely to progress much through this course unless this section is improved.
I have no problem with introducing complex sentences...eventually...in the course, I would just prefer that the team:
(1) start simple and then build up to longer, more complex sentences gradually
(2) don't add the complex sentences until they're caught up on the reports of alternate wordings, because these complex sentences are always going to generate a ton of wordings.
One thing to note is that the problem with missing alternative wordings in English can really only be solved with the reporting function, and that requires a sentence to be live. (That's my sense of it, anyway. I don't think the wording options for one sentence can be easily transferred to another question containing a sentence with a similar phrase. I think it has to be done manually, and the contributor group is fairly small. Better for them just to respond to reports as they come in. And not all of the contributors are native English speakers, so they might not be alive to certain possibilities, or to the most idiomatic ways of saying something in English.) I've had almost 40 of my suggestions accepted so far, for both English and Chinese sentences, so some progress is already apparent.
That said, the whole Chinese course could be tweaked to be more effective, certainly. I think you're right that longer sentences can seem difficult to beginners, and I think one thing that could be done is to have shorter sentences for the first time through a lesson, and longer sentences added in for strengthening. Maybe the course will be further developed along these lines before it comes out of beta. It's not that the grammar's very complicated, but it can nonetheless seem daunting to tackle several issues in one long sentence.
However, it's not that certain things haven't already been addressed by the course by this point. The fact that 的 can be left out of 我家人 is an extension of the principle introduced in the tips and notes for Family 1, for example.
Nevertheless, I think it might be helpful to have a couple of extra lessons stuck in to deal specifically with certain grammar points, e.g. the grammar of 去. As noted, there are some grammar points dealt with already in the tips and notes, but there's definitely room for development.
As for how to get through some of the lessons in their current form, I think it's necessary, for some questions, to record the accepted sentences on a spreadsheet, because sometimes the English is unnatural or plain wrong, and therefore either impossible or just not worth it to remember. But surely this state of affairs will improve in good time.
> The fact that 的 can be left out of 我家人 is an extension of the principle introduced in the tips and notes for Family 1, for example.
This makes sense, and I figured it out (after getting marked wrong) but...it was hard for me to figure it out because I was getting marked wrong for multiple things at once.
When you get a bunch of stuff wrong, DuoLingo gives less useful feedback...i.e. if only one thing is wrong it usually gives the feedback like: "You used an extra word." and then it's clear and I can learn from my mistake. But when I was getting these sentences wrong, it would just mark the whole thing wrong and then suggest a whole sentence...making it much harder to detect what was wrong.
What you said about a spreadsheet makes sense and I'm sure I could do that if I wanted to, but frankly, it's a huge waste of my time.
I do DuoLingo to learn a language, I'm not trying to get through this course just to get the XP or just progress in the course. If I'm sitting there taking notes on correct answers so I can get the things marked correct, that is a sign the course is not ready for me to be working on it yet.
My issue here is with prioritization. Clearly, the team doesn't have the resources to keep on top of the submissions, which is proved by me submitting things and having some of them go a long time without being corrected. If they don't have these resources, IMHO they have no business adding long, complex sentences.
It's like, yes, something will be missing or lacking with only simple sentences. But at least the course would be usable...and I'd be getting something out of it without having to sink MASSIVE amounts of time into just trying to get through a section (some of these have been taking me 30-45 minutes to get through a single lesson, and the process is frustrating and unpleasant to me).
In its current form, it doesn't feel usable to me. Like, parts of the course are not just usable, they're good, but I think the course as a whole is poor because the limitations of a lesson like this are severe.
And like, it's TOTALLY unnecessary. They could just delete the long sentences and add much simpler ones and it would be a good stop-gap measure until they get on top of things enough to actually maintain the full, complex sentences and quickly add all the alternate wordings.
Chances are, they'd have to withdraw the course for a while to populate it with different sentences, if they were to take up the idea of removing the sentences they have now.
An alternative for some learners would be to wait until the course is out of beta.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the spreadsheet idea is good for learning, and I'm not taking the course just to get XP either (or really even to learn much, personally, because I'm already pretty familiar with the language), but what I do is report my suggestion and then move on, hoping to contribute something to the overall endeavor. Once I'm through the whole course in another week or so, maybe I'll go back and make more sentence suggestions while strengthening.
Anyway, I hope the course contributors appreciate input like your commentary as well as the sentence suggestions people are providing.
I don't think they'd need to totally withdraw the course to fix this. If they went through the course and hand-picked the 50-or so longest sentences, this alone would probably fix the issue.
Like I said in my comment above, most of the course has been pretty smooth...it's just that there are a few isolated sections that are really frustrating, I think I have encountered two so far that really frustrated me intensely, and in these sections, it's really only a few sentences that are the problem.
I can't imagine it taking a lot of time to fix this. As a stop-gap measure they could replace these sentences with really simple sentences. This wouldn't take more than a few minutes per sentence. I don't really see this as taking a lot of time and effort -- this is the sort of thing that I'd imagine people being able to fix in a single day.
The problem with your proposition is that within a given lesson, sentences may show up in any order, so every learner taking the lesson for the first time will have different sentences showing up first (and not necessarily the same selection of sentences as each other either). Duolingo thus has no control as to whether the shorter sentences appear for you first or not. However, this doesn't have to be a negative, as trial-and-error being one of the most effective ways of learning new information is a well-accepted fact amongst educators and language acquisition experts.
You've probably already heard this from others, but as a teacher of Chinese as a Foreign Language, I would respectfully recommend you supplement your Duolingo studies with a textbook if you are serious about learning the language, even more so while the Duolingo course is in its present Beta-stage, error-ridden status.
I'm not convinced that DuoLingo doesn't control the order of the exercises the first time through. When I've taken new lessons it seems to display the sentences in a predictable order, and it only seems to start mixing them up by the time I start practicing things later, using the "strengthen skills" button.
If they don't have this ability, then they can program it. I'm an experienced web programmer and I have a good sense of what would be hard and what wouldn't be, and, compared to the myriad of really sophisticated things that DuoLingo already does and does very well, this would be a very simple thing to implement.
Also though, managing the complexity of sentences can already be done very easily in the context of the whole course, by simply delaying the really long, complex sentences till later sections. This is how the long-established courses do it...German for instance, most of the sentences are pretty short at the beginning but the end it's throwing some really killer, long sentences with subordinate clauses at you pretty regularly. I like this...it feels pretty natural...and I think the Chinese course could do this and it would feel like it was giving me a gentle, gradual exercise rather than being really easy (often too easy, taking less than 3 minutes to complete new sections) and then just suddenly me hitting a brick wall with a nearly-impossible section that causes me to spend over a half hour and then give up.
I'm tired of people making excuses for the fact that this aspect of the Chinese course is really really bad. I think it's inexcusably bad, it would be easy to fix in a myriad of different ways, and I have yet to hear anything convincing me otherwise.
I don't want people to explain why it is the way it is or why it would be hard to fix. I want them to fix it.
I agree with you though, that it is important to consult supplemental resources...I do that in every DuoLingo course and I have been doing it with Chinese especially (I started learning it on my own long before DuoLingo was a thing!) So I think that aspect of your comment is spot-on, even if I am not really a textbook learner. I am open to the possibility of some day finding a textbook I like, but I have yet to find a textbook I actually like for learning ANY foreign language. I focus more on watching and listening to things, reading grammar explanations online, and talking to native speakers, and this seems to work better.