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Is it just me or is learning Mandarin on duolingo kind of.. bad?

Here we go, attempt #2 to post this because I got a 404 after the last time I tried posting this.

Learning Mandarin characters only with sounds and not with meaning makes it WAY harder to learn them. All the characters I know well are the ones I learned through HelloChinese. Mandarin characters are much easier to remember via their meaning, not their sounds, because characters have components like "water" or "plant" or "walking" that help hint at you what they mean, but lots of distinct characters have the same sounds.

Also, there are no listening-only or reading-only exercises. I've been cheating by muting my computer or looking away from the screen, but it seems really important to have those as "real" separate exercises.

And there are no speaking exercises or pinyin exercises, so learning to translate from English meaning to sounds/speech isn't something we learn here.

And while all Duolingo languages have the "word bank" problem where they give you a small selection of choices of the right answer, Mandarin has it way worse than the other languages I've seen. Every exercise has multiple choices. In some languages you can avoid this by going through the browser instead of the app, but not in Mandarin.

Overall, I feel like I've quickly gotten to a point where I'm really not learning Mandarin as well as I was on HelloChinese. I'm stuck craving more listening, reading, and writing exercises, and trying to look away from the screen or mute my computer to generate those exercises for myself (e.g. read the English sentence, ignore the word bank, and try to both say it and write it. It's way harder, isn't it?)

January 6, 2018



I find, I have to do the lessons many many times over and over, even the basic ones because I am learning the sounds for the characters, but because the words are not given meaning, It takes me many times to go though them to learn their position and meaning to the sentences. It would be nice to see the character ba, hear the meaning, then ask for the meaning or the sound. I thought that perhaps it's because the writers want you to learn the character syntax and meaning on your own. Now that I am getting into sentences it's even harder. On my older eyes, the characters are so tiny I have trouble discerning them at times.


You are correct, the current beta version is definitely weak compared to the more mature offerings. You can go for screen after screen in Chinese, getting the correct answers, but not knowing what the characters mean!!!!! I have a 52-week consecutive study streak, but will stop doing Chinese as of today. I just don't have time to waste on inefficient learning. I will re-start when it comes back as a non-beta, fully developed course. Good luck!


Can understand your point and I'm finding it's difficult memorize new words until you know their meaning which is sometimes unknowable from the context in the exercise where there are no hints.

I also agree that if you're going to have a character recognition component, it should not be done with sounds at the same time as this then gives away the pinyin answers.

It's a great start, but I'd also encourage the Duolingo team to perhaps take a slightly different approach to Chinese character learning as the components to learning a non phonetic language are a bit different.

One idea might be perhaps to have a stoke by stroke replay of how they are constructed (with the spoken sound) in one exercise. This would help with memorizing and give a grounding in writing construction.


I agree that it is impossible to memorise new words without knowing their meaning. I find this methode of giving untranslated words for most of the lesson and then a complicated sentence to translate at the end a very unproductive method. I hope changes are made soon.


What he said. I am matching sounds with characters jus fine but I have no clue what they mean! I'll use something else for Chinese.


I use DuoLingo on Desktop and for me, there has been an option to turn off the "word bank" and do open-ended typing. I find this hugely improves the experience.

That said, I agree with most of your other criticisms. I want to add a few more:

  • The hover-over hints are often misleading, outright wrong, and sometimes missing altogether. I've reported each of these whenever I see a problem, but they have gone WEEKS, sometimes with me reporting them multiple times, and I have yet to see a single one of them fixed.
  • The audio on hover-over for individual characters is broken. Previously, it would pronounce the character out loud when I hovered over them, and I really liked this feature, and used it heavily. It was useful both for remembering how a character is pronounced, and for practicing my pronunciation. With this broken, the course is much less useful.
  • There's no pinyin. It wouldn't be hard nor much work for them to put pinyin in the hover-over hint for each character, as well as putting pinyin next to the characters. A slightly more programming-intensive, but still easy-to-implement option, would be to have a toggle that allows you to turn on or off pinyin, perhaps only in hover-over hints or perhaps for the exercise as a whole.

Basically, I agree with the general theme of this post...that the Chinese course is bad, bad in the sense of not being anywhere near the level of DuoLingo's other courses. I would have preferred them addressing these problems BEFORE launch. Most of the serious problems are something that we users can't do anything about, and that they don't really need much help for users to fix, they need to just do it. The only thing beta testers can help out with are alternative translations...but I think that's not the only problem (nor is it the weakest link) in the course at this point.


I don't use the words bank. There is an option to type with keyboard in the browser version.


Not to mention a lot of sentences aren't even grammatical. If you said, "他读“ in China, no one would understand. You need a subject in Chinese. But in Duolingo they give you those kinds of sentences all the time. And I've also noticed that they will mark you wrong if you say, ”他念“ rather than "他读”, even though 读 and 念 mean the same thing. This is why I haven't been taking Chinese.


I don't know Chinese well enough to recognize these problems, but I have seen many native Chinese speakers complaining about the course saying things that are unnatural or outright wrong.

How and why did they allow something this sloppy to slip through? This is perhaps more troubling to me than all the other stuff...when I'm learning a language at the early stages, I don't know how to recognize stuff like this, and the last thing I want to be doing is to learning things that are unnatural or wrong.


I think Duolingo should have started with just pinyin & the English first, & then added the Mandarin characters as an option later on. I didn't want to learn the characters yet at all, but get the language with pinyin first.

I am also making little to no progress when words are given without the English translation/meaning, which is pretty often.


it's really never the same as learning from a teacher face to face. for one over the internet you'll never be able to learn how to write with the correct stroke order or learn to say it really correctly. but its a start and at least it teaches you how to read the words and kinda say it


I recall all the other courses having the meaning, so I'm not sure why the Mandarin course doesn't have it. They might work on it sometime though.


I addressed all the problems you mention from day one by a) pasting every new character I find in my way to google translate and note its individual meaning b) note how combinations of usually two characters form a new word (i.e. 电[electricity] + 话 [words] = 电话 [telephone]) c) NOT using the audio help when duolingo asks me to recognise the pinyin name of the character in later stages (this forces me to remeber its sound) d) ALWAYS try to pronounce out loud each phrase given in the test. Or when duolingo gives me an english phrase to translate in chinese I always pronounce the chinese phrase out loud before I write it. e) ALWAYS play the audio (when available) AFTER I have made my own effort to pronounce the chinese phrase so as to compare my own pronounciation and correct mistakes or simply familiarize myself with the sound of the phrase. f) ALWAYS write the chinese phrase on my notebook as I take the test on screen. In that way all the excersizes work my listening, reading and writing skills at the same time.


Not only that, but as a native speaker who can’t read or write that well, the sentences don’t always sound natural. Some perfectly good sentences are deemed wrong because the word order or words used isn’t exactly what the program wants. That’s like saying a Texan isn’t speaking English because that’s not how a British Lord speaks....


Try using the Windows 10 app Lingvoji. You can use pen, touch, or mouse for handwriting exercises.



The Chinese Duolingo Stories (Unofficial) have been launched. Check the first 7 stories published today.


I think you can't learn chinese using just an app. It doesn't matter which app, because you need to improve a lot of skills: reading, writing, grammar, listening. I'm really grateful with Duolingo because finally I started to read mandarin, however I'm using it at the same time that I use pleco in my cellphone because I need to see the caracter in action to memorize it: I need the sound, the meaning and lot's of examples. Pleco + Duolingo is a great team I think.


I think they could make the DuoLingo Chinese course much more useful with a reasonable amount of effort. It's like they're not even trying at this point. I have seen no sign of even attempts to address any of the many shortcomings discussed in this thread...not even any of the basic bugs I have repeatedly reported. With the Chinese course it was like, drop and run...it was launched with no follow-up other than the course contributors accepting new translations (but they still aren't fixing hover-over hints, which I think at this point are a weaker link than the accepted translations).


Hi Cazort, I think you're right in the comments you've made here. Duolingo is not a good option for learning chinese starting from zero. There are two other apps that are wonderful for dealing with the tones, and chinese characters. I started with ChineseSkill and HelloChinese. However even if you finish those apps you're not close to be in an intermediate chinese level. Later I found Duolingo and I found out it helps me to continue improving my chinese level, because they study the characters itselves not the words, and that helps me understand all the connections untherneath the words. For example: 动 dong is moving if you learn 动 as an idea, when you see 动物 dong wu (animal) or 运动yundong (excercise) you can realize that those are words that have the idea of movement. If you learn 园yuan for space, you can associate 幼儿园 youeryuan (kindergarten), dongwuyuan 动物园 (zoo) with and idea of space or containing, making so much easier to put this all together. Maybe Duolingo is not the best app but it allows you to play with those ideas that could or nor become words. I think that's the beauty of it. And plus it doesn't have pinyin which make me reinforce over and over the sound the character on my mind not the seen accent. It helps me filling the gaps that previous self-leaning apps left. So I guess I'm just grateful that I can continue learning chinese and I haven't found other resource that encourage me to practice everyday towards an intermediate chinese level.


You can deactivate Pinyin in HelloChinese if you want to concentrate on the characters.


As a totally new student without any knowledge of the language, after 14 days of practice and am only up to the first lesson of 'occupations', I am beginning to be able to recognize and say characters or recite some numbers by memory. I am taking it very slow trying to learn the syntax. I have one question. Am I learning it right? Do folks say happy happy or are they just showing me 2 characters that mean happy so I can recognize them?


Since I discovered HelloChinese, I plan to finish that first and then come back to Duolingo. I’ll probably do a little Duolingo on the side while I complete HelloChinese. I do agree the Chinese course here has some huge problems. But I also like options. Duolingo being different from the other two creates a different experience of the language which is useful for learning. I mean generally I think it is good to learn characters with the meaning first but later on I think they should test without the meaning. I actually kind of liked duolingo not putting the meaning there at first but now I dislike it. It works okay for the first few skills and the first crown but it’s ❤❤❤❤❤❤ after that. Now I am going back getting my second crowns before moving further down the tree and it’s just annoying. For this reason I must complete HelloChinese first. It should only be in the last crown or two that they take out the meaning from the exercises.


The mandarin duolingo is pretty bad. It seems that all of the alphabetic languages are much more fleshed out and have a much larger variety of exercises. For the life of my I can’t understand why only Spanish has so many useful features and very widely spoken languages like mandarin are bare bones. They really should have invested more into it.


Although I am a big fan of Duolingo, and a Premium user, I wouldn't use it for Chinese. I've tried a couple of lessons and I find the method impossible. I'd recommend Chinese Skill, Lingo Deer or Hello Chinese among the free apps and among the paying apps and websites, Chinese Pod, Yoyo Chinese, Chinese from Zero to Hero and Du Chinese. I have learned a lot from all of them in the past.


Definitely agree that trying to match Chinese characters with only their sound without providing definition makes it much harder to remember the characters.

Try using Google's Translate Chrome Extension on PC. This allows you to highlight word(s) with your mouse and with one click, show the definition. Very convenient; much easier than copying and pasting into different windows.

For me, this extension has made learning Chinese on Duolingo far better.


I agree that before you start with Duolingo you need to have the preparation. I had already had basics when I started and found the course useful to memorize words and characters. However, there is no way you learn the basics from this course and that is weird


Yeah, I already knew Mandarin before I came here, and was just using this to brush up as it had been awhile since I'd used it daily. I was not impressed.

Nonetheless, I still tried to learn Japanese here. I found it immensely frustrating for both similar and different reasons. Japanese words can have different pronunciations depending on placement and use, and when you click on it in a wordbank, you often get the wrong one. Frustrating and confusing on both counts.

I also tried to go back to the Mandarin one and review a few more things (I learned before WeChat and even the internet readily existed). It seems they have improved some things, such as the accepted translations of some phrases. THe original version seemed to have English translations done by someone who was not a native English speaker, so it was often frustrating knowing you were right, and getting it wrong anyway. That has greatly improved. So has some modularity in word order. I think they still have a long way to go, but at least they seem to be working on it.


I’ve just started Duolingo Chinese. I already know some useful pinyin from BBC Active TALK Mandarin – it doesn’t do much on characters, so I want a bit of practice with characters.

I got an excellent book on characters from Kriskindl a few years ago. . . It’s called “Learning Chinese Characters” by Matthews & Matthews . . pub: Tuttle. It’s a bit “twee” in places, but you can skip those!

For example, it explains that the “GOOD” character is made up of “woman” character & “baby” character – a woman and baby together are perceived as being a GOOD thing. . . It explains that “goodbye” is the character for “again” and the character for “see” – so ZAIJIAN literally means “AGAIN SEE”

This sort of explanation really helps my visual mind.


After taking the chinese lesson, I find that my pronunciation has improved over the course. I heavily relied on the speaker icon to pass lesson. Although I can pronounce of word and comprehend chinese through listening, I think that after using duolingo, I still will not be able to have conversations with my chinese friends, which is my goal. There is limited teaching on grammar structures and I have trouble forming long sentences


My biggest complaint with Duolingo Chinese is not enough pinyin. It makes it very hard for me to remember the words. Honestly, I much prefer HelloChinese. I used Duolingo for reviewing.


The worst thing is, duolingo completely skips the writing part. Like even if you finish the whole tree, you might not even know how to write in the correct order. I used chineseskill before the chinese duolingo tree came out. It actually has things where you have to use your finger as a pencil to write the characters out. However, it does autocorrect, but better than nothing. Since i usually use duolingo on a laptop, I cant even use my mouse to write. This is better on a mobile device, but it's still not going to help you in writing. duolingo save this tree pl0x


Duolingo has never taught handwriting for any language—the learner is equally left to his own devices to learn how to write Russian, Greek, Hebrew, etc.; there is nothing inconsistent about not teaching it in the Chinese course. This is unlikely to change, as technology is making handwriting less and less important.

Furthermore, practising stroke order with a mouse on a screen would be an utter waste of time, as it wouldn't generate any muscle memory remotely relevant to writing with a pen. All you need to practise handwriting is a sheet of paper—you cannot learn to do it by moving a cursor on a screen any more than moving a cursor around could teach you to play the double bass.


Stroke order no, but at least making people enter characters with whatever IME they use to do so would be hugely important. Comparing Chinese to Greek, Russian or Hebrew is absolutely apples and oranges.


You can certainly enter answers in traditional; I always do. DL plans to support traditional in its entirety anyway, as mentioned in this 'blog post, although I've no idea how soon (as you say, it's not a terribly complicated procedure, so hopefully it won't take long).

Comparing Chinese to Greek, Russian or Hebrew is absolutely apples and oranges.

What is really apples-to-oranges is comparing the semi-cursive script with which Chinese people actually write with the standard script taught on apps like HelloChinese or ChineseSkill. Learning the latter will not make you be able to read or write the former, just as learning the printed forms of the Russian alphabet will not enable you to read or write Russian cursive (which is what all Russians actually use). Cursive Greek can be even worse. True cursive Chinese (草書) is essentially a unrecognisably different set of glyphs, but some of the component parts of this set pass on into semi-cursive (行書), and some differences are unique to semi-cursive. All-in-all, I don't feel that my comparisons have not been valid.


How do you enter answers in traditional characters? I never get to enter anything in Chinese by myself. I always get word blobs to choose from.


Do you not have this button? Click it and and you will get a normal text-box in which to type text using your preferred IME.

It only works on the website, not in the apps.


That's the reason, then: I almost never use the website and have never used it for Chinese, just the app. :D


The reason cursive is readable to native Chinese speakers is because they have learned stroke order. Proper stroke order is such a huge factor in being able to write and read handwritten chinese. Also, in terms of calligraphy, cursive and running scripts are not really the same as everyday chinese handwriting. Like western calligraphy, more of an art form. In the same way not everyone writes in cursive English or calligraphy all the time, not everyone writes in cursive chinese. Either way, seeing as stroke order is much more important in logographic languages than alphabetic ones, I feel like they could have invested in it for the chinese tree.


@ garpike.I am Greek and I don't understand what you mean by "cursive Greek"! In English you have capital and lower case letters (i.e. A a). It is the same in Greek (i.e. Α α). We write in these letters and no other. What is this "cursive" form of the language you refer to? If you mean individual handwriting, that is a matter of personal style and it is so in all languages, including English. Some people have more beautiful or easier to read handwriting than others but this has nothing to do with the language itself. It is just a personal style of each individual. (handwriting is usually difficult to read in all languages). I don't understand why you felt you had to distinguish Rusian, Greek and Hebrew as if they have some kind of peculiarity over other languages.


Hello; sorry, I have only just noticed this comment. Of course individuals will have their own personal styles, some of which will be a lot more cursive than others. For example, this one, which I wouldn't even have recognised as being Greek if I hadn't found it on this page of Greek handwriting samples:

My point was that DL doesn't teach either handwriting or how to decipher it in any language, and natives of languages with non-Latin scripts almost always find ways of writing them that are completely illegible to learners who have studied only the printed forms.


Yeah, having people use whatever IME to type in the answers would help a lot, as would adding some kind of practice in learning the characters and radicals themselves. That's probably just not what Duolingo is designed for, probably why it took them so long to add Mandarin, and probably why it won't really work out.

Aside from that, there's a whole other version of Mandarin (Traditional) that they don't support. They could easily have just swapped in the traditional characters for essentially free. You'd still be learning mainlander expressions for everything and hearing them in that pirate-y mainlander accent, but at least you'd be seeing characters you might recognize on the street.

I mean there's only, like, 1 million foreigners in Taiwan, so I guess we're just not a big enough group to cater to.


You can enable my extension for Chrome that uses traditional instead of simplified. I had no interest in simplified because I want to read and write Chinese in to use Chinese in Hong Kong. It doesn't enable Cantonese sadly.

I am collecting Taiwanese differences in words for people want to switch on Taiwanese difference between Hong Kong 麵/麪 for noodles etc.

The extension is in beta, I have only currently done 26 lessons (10 skills), but I'm working on it literally every day.



Obviously, Cantonese would require a different Duolingo course altogether, unless you mean you want to 'speak Mandarin in Cantonese', which is possible but odd and only useful for the recitation of texts.


Can't really tell if that last sentence is sarcasm or not.


It is possible to use an IME in place of the wordbank and to enter both simplified or traditional characters.


It is? I have an IME for Chinese but Duolingo never lets me type anything in Chinese (on Android at least).


Use the desktop version -- you can always switch off the word bank and type freely instead


I can't learn by matching sounds and symbols. I find the Chinese to be useless.


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