The Chinese course is frustrating

Hello, I am Chinese and Chinese is my mother tongue. Because I am basically illiterate in China (I know between 600 and 1000 characters only) and because 90% of the time I only speak Chinese with my few family members, I tried the Chinese course.

All I can say is that it's very frustrating... I tried to skip most of it trough the shortcuts to get to the 'challenging part', but it seems like I'm not good

Like, sometimes my answer is not correct because I lack English skills, (I wrote 'Do you have siblings' instead of 'Do you have any siblings'), sometimes they just want a specific answer (10am should've been 10:00), sometimes they care about capital letters and punctual marks and sometimes they don't and sometimes I really don't know why my answer isn't accepted.

What also plays a part, is that in Chinese, you sometimes don't know whether something is plural or, except when you're addressing your public by adding -men for example singular and plural look the same.

Does anyone else also experience this?

PS. No hate please, I'm just saying

February 5, 2018


There's nothing wrong with 'Do you have siblings' or '10am': report them! Also report different singular/plural English translations of Chinese sentences that are ambiguous in this respect—the course certainly accepts some such alternatives, but not all. There are also some sentences with ambiguity of tense that ought to accept a wider range of contextual renderings in English, and still lots of alternative word-orders missing.

I've also experienced inconsistent treatment of punctuation marks on various DL courses (although not capital letters), which must be a bug.

February 6, 2018

10am is, for the moment, incorrect. Style sheets differ on whether periods are necessary. Sometimes they're obligatory—e.g., i.e., and the like—but often they're just a waste of screen real estate: am, pm, mph, ppm, etc.

June 6, 2019

Style sheets are concerned merely with the house style of a particular publication/publisher. DL should ideally accept all style sheet variations: none of them is the supreme arbiter of correctness, which, in English, is really nothing more than a matter of opinion when it comes to minutiae such as whether to write '10 am' or '10 a.m.' or '10 A.M.', etc.
I have my own opinions on these matters, of course, but really I just want to see all variants in current use accepted. Saying 'ten hundred hours' ('10:00') should also remain accepted, although I can't imagine this is anywhere near so commonly used.

June 6, 2019

Hey Kpopper4life, thanks for the feedback! The time issue is a big pain for us, for many things (like "you are" and "you're"), Duolingo will handle them automatically. But for things like "10:00" and "10 o'clock" or even just "10" (along with am/pm) we have to type them all in individually, so sometimes one slips our mind and we miss it.

Regarding the siblings sentence, I just found that and you are right, "Do you have siblings?" should be a correct answer and I have added that as well as a few alternatives. We also shouldn't be testing on capitalization or punctuation, however things like apostrophes (he's, won't, etc.) might be a bit pickier, the same with the colons in 10:00. For apostrophes though it shouldn't mark it as wrong, just say that there was a typo. If it was marked wrong, it's possible there was a spelling mistake somewhere or it's a good translation that we should add to the course.

Some parts of the course have definitely been curated better than others, we're still working on filling in the gaps so please do report errors and translations when you come across them, it helps us a lot and makes it much easier to improve the course!

February 14, 2018

Hello, first of all, the Chinese course just teaches about 1000 characters, so I don't know how much you will be able to profit from it.

But I guess the question is more, how you could get as much as possible out of it.

My first suggestion would be: try to not focus as much on testing out the lessons. Do the lessons themselves and try to be proud of the many many things you already know!

Another thought on the side: It would be a great help to everybody else if you reported all the answers you feel should be accepted. As you know the course is pretty new, so they should still be actively be adding different correct answers. If you don't know why your answer was rejected, press the speech bubble to enter the sentence discussion. It took me a while to even find that feature.

A second idea: Maybe the reverse tree would be a way for you to improve your character skills. You would maybe need a dictionary in addition, and you might not catch all the characters in the HSK lists, but the challenge would be different. Just give it a try!

If you still keep getting frustrated, please don't give up on your plan to get litteracy in Chinese! This course was made for blunt beginners, who need some sentence drilling in order to get to "feel" the language, its grammar, word order etc. Obviously you don't need that, so start looking for alternatives that focus more on words than on sentences.

Sorry if I can't be of more help, but please, keep practicing. I'm sure you will find the right way for your specific needs.

February 5, 2018

I think it is the same for any course. some things are accepted and some things are not - even though they are still a correct translation. It IS highly frustrating and one of the reasons I haven't yet considered pro (among others).

February 6, 2018

Yeah, I don't think your English is the problem. It's just that the course is new, and setting it to accept all the variations of correct answers takes a long time. I've been working back and forth through the course mostly just to report problems, and it still has a long way to go, but I get notifications every day that new answers are being accepted.

The critique on the Chinese side is much more significant, and I think that in part reflects a difficult encountered by those of us who already speak Chinese. When I first started doing the course, I basically couldn't get anything right. Especially when I had to put in my own translation rather than pick words. And in Chinese sometimes they would demand the addition of words that were totally unnecessary if you are used to speaking Chinese.

I eventually got the hang of what they were doing, noticing that there was a pattern of certain ways they wanted things expressed corresponding to certain things in Chinese. And then that there were certain Chinese mannerisms that were basically always necessary when composing Chinese answers.

I'm not sure if this is a bug or a feature. In general, people have already complained a lot about how this course avoids giving explicit definitions of words, and I think if their phrase translations were as open ended and flexible as they should be, it might be even harder for people who aren't used to thinking in Chinese. Or maybe they just haven't updated enough answers. Given the flexibility of Chinese, the task of inputting all the possible answers for a single translation is mind boggling.

Ultimately, I really like the course, and the intuitive way that it focuses on teaching, without relying on explicit translations. And I think it is great how the strong memorization focus is on connecting characters with pinyin since bridging the literacy - conversation gap is probably the hardest thing for people not living in full immersion in China. But ultimately, the course represents a fairly narrow, beginner's sampling of the linguistic possibilities in Chinese. I think it will improve with time and work from all of us, but it may also always have certain limitations.

April 9, 2018

Don't be frustrated. Chinese is my mother tongue too. Even though I know a lot more characters than you, maybe 20K plus? I tried the course out of curiosity when it first came out and failed miserably at the beginning. But I kept reporting them and all my reports were accepted. Like all new courses, it needs some time to mature I guess.

April 13, 2018

¿20000 characters?

May 6, 2018

There are at least 50,000+ Chinese characters.

June 12, 2019

I found the beginner’s Chinese course frustrating because they wanted me to identify too many Chinese characters too early. I speak English and just wanted to learn a few expressions since I am going to chin and in September. Learning PINGYIN Chinese might be a better idea.

February 7, 2018

@ColeenPowe If you want to feel a bit better about knowing characters, maybe I can offer some consolation. Chances are without having practiced with native speakers, you will at least at the beginning struggle to speak clearly enough to be understood. This is where knowing characters comes in handy. If you try to say something and nobody understands you, being able to write it down - or having it written down ahead of time - is a lifesaver.

Here are two strategies that can really help you take advantage of your character knowledge to improve your communication using basic expressions.

  1. Have note cards with important concepts written down. If you've got flashcards, these already work, and you can take a few that are relevant to carry around. Quite a few Chinese people understand basic English, or are good enough at guessing from context to ascertain your meaning if you just use isolated words. But when you need to get something a little more abstract, say "I already have a room reservation" or "I would like to have this garment custom tailored" then you can write down some of the more abstract words, like "reservation" or "custom tailored" and show those cards when conversations break down. Being comfortable writing Chinese characters, even at a rudimentary level, is also a lifesaver so you can copy addresses and names of places out of travel guides. If you want to catch a cab, you often almost have to do this, because if you can't communicate to a cab driver where you want to go, they probably won't take you.

  2. Pronunciation confusion among Chinese speakers is also pretty common, due to local accents. When they can't quite make another person understand what they are saying, the method they resort to most often is to hold up their left hand, and then trace a character on it with the finger of their right hand, as if they were writing it. They'll probably do this to you if you don't understand something as well, and though it can be hard to follow these invisible characters, if you can do it for them, most people will go "Ah-ha! Now I get what you were trying to say!"

Most Chinese people learn pinyin in school. But understandings of pinyin vary, and it isn't something that many people use in their daily life, especially if they come from a place with a strong accent. For example, in Hunan, they don't always pronounce the difference between F and H, and they often pronounce an initial N as L. So while the Pinyin is "Hunan" they will themselves say "Fulan." Navigating this maze of dialects is hard for native speakers, let alone people just learning. Characters provide the common ground by which everyone can figure out what they are saying, no matter what dialect they speak, so even though it can be painful, it gets better, and it really pays off, especially if you are more interested in just communicating phrases, rather than having extended conversations.

April 15, 2018

Learning Pinyin only is not a good idea. You will not see pinyin used in daily life except some road signs and in dictionaries. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts for learning Chinese.

March 26, 2018

I had been working with Chinese Class 101 and Memrise before Duo added Chinese, so I had a bit of a head start. Still, I was stunned at first to have to jump right into characters. But now, after months, I'm finding that things are becoming more natural and I can read a little and definitely hear more sentences. I continue to work on Memrise, which complements duo for me. (I pay for Memrise Pro.) Just repeating and sticking with it makes for natural improvement.

April 15, 2018

I know! Even though I'm fluent in English, my answers come out wrong even if I used a synonym of the word... but I guess the best thing you can do is report it or something.

February 7, 2018

yes it is hard

February 6, 2018

You should try the app. Most of the translation questions come with the English words and you just need to arrange them properly.

February 14, 2018

Yeah, I was really frustrated initially but have accepted it as the difference between a new course and a relatively matured course where more variations have been reported.

August 9, 2018

thank you for the heads up;

February 6, 2018

Same here, it's more of a grammar issue, though that shouldn't be too big an issue for people who are just starting to learn it. It's my mother tongue too, was kinda hoping I could improve my vocabulary with the exercises, but I guess a good old book and electronic dictionary would be faster for that.

February 7, 2018

I'm having the same challenges with the lack of nuance accepted in the English translations. I keep getting answers wrong because of things like writing "this pair of shoes" when the expected answer is "these shoes" and basic word order.

Not sure what the engine is behind Duolingo, but a bit more A.I. would be nice. Still, it's a fun course overall and I'm strengthening my skills.

February 10, 2018

yes. and I'm English speaker. My frustration is that I can sometimes lose .'health' but my friend who follows Duolingo on her Samsung phone does not lose health. I she just more accurate and clever than I?

February 11, 2018

I have also experienced this problem. It is quite frustrated that when I know the meaning but I can't express it with proper grammar. I'm Thai-Chinese, I can speak Chinese, but not quite fluent. I know Chinese characters around 2500-3000 characters ( the result came from some random testing Chinese characters knowledge website). My suggestion is that you should do shortcut exam on your phone instead of your computer. It's easier, because you don't have to write all the time, there will be more arrange characters' order part.

May 4, 2018

The English sucks, their "Correct" English answers frequently are anything but, and their feedback system needs beefing up—and automation.

I read somewhere that only the first person to suggest a particular correction gets an automated "Thank you" email. I say, keep a list and thank everyone who "voted" for it. Spread the joy!

Then again, the current policy might be deliberately discouraging feedback. "Our way or the highway."?

June 6, 2019

Do you have [any] siblings?

The nuances differ, but teaching such English subtleties is generally beyond the scope of this course.

June 6, 2019

I find the Chinese course one of the best ones developed at Duo. It nicely introduces the Hanzi characters before thumping you with sentences and does not try to rush into complex sentences too fast. In so far as mistakes - yes, but no more than other language courses at Duo.

July 17, 2019
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