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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Kpopper4life

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 enough...lol

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 not...like, 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

44 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/crush

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!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Marie973350

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/phoenix1043

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).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/George792719

Actually it is more like 1500 characters in this course (I've counted them), and it is said 2000 of well chosen commonly used characters is enough to read a Chinese mandarin newspaper. So it is a good start. Still it takes a long time to assimilate all those characters, learning to recognize them beyond this course, especially given there are many different print styles, and the fact that recognising them does not mean you'll be able to write them from memory either. I have read that there are over 57,000 Chinese characters, perhaps more, so it's a lifelong job keeping them in your mind. I know Chinese-Western children that have grown up being taught both Chinese and English from day one, but they still have trouble remembering even more commonly used characters on occasion. I understand children born in China learn characters with an associated story for each one over the course of many years. Of course when you are learning the language as an adult and a non-native speaker, then you struggle with this for years. 10 years I would say.

One of the best things about Duolingo mandarin is that you have to learn the characters with the course, but it makes it very slow to get through each lesson compared to Latin-based languages with phonetic writing systems. Other Asian languages like Thai are also easier to learn due to a phonetic system of writing and a smaller alphabet.

I agree with Kpopper4life on the lack of acceptable English answers which is a down side for the course and it is bad education practice to be marked wrong for the course's lack of English answers. You might fully understand the Chinese, but get marked wrong for their lack of answers. This drives you mad in this course, getting marked wrong for English and not Chinese and it is a bit of a turn off. I have only one more lesson to do on this course but it I have found this very frustrating all the way through. It is punishing, unfair, and unnecessary. Learning a language is a lot easier when it can be a fun experience. I have notified the moderators on this course, but alas there are lengthy times when nothing seems to be done, even years.

My way of dealing with this was to write every question down in Chinese, English, and pinyin throughout the entire course. It's long and tedious but gives results, and you can go back and get the exact answer they want from each lesson you have done. It becomes learning from rote then and that is not the best method to learn how any language works, but it does give the opportunity to read through every sentence and practice the tones and get faster with fluency. Learning to say tones in a phrase or sentence rather than as individual words is very important if you want to speak any tonal language.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/OstenCramer

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bgrry
  • 1285

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Multifolio

¿20000 characters?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bgrry
  • 1285

There are at least 50,000+ Chinese characters. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_characters


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/OlgaBab1

Just like any other language has that many words. The thing to be amazed about is that a regular person uses 3 to 4 thousand words in everyday life. Eloquent writers have 5 to 6 thousand words in their vocabulary if I am not mistaken. I am not sure about Chinese, but Japanese requires you to know 4 to 5 thousand characters to be able to communicate normally. Only 2 thousands are required to graduate from school.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/NathanRasm

But most of those are rare variants of a more common character. The Chinese Telegraph Code is only 10,000 characters and is pretty comprehensive unless you're studying philology, epigraphy, or palaeography.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/garpike

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MaynardHogg

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/garpike

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LazyEinstein

Although, it would be nice if everyone would adopt the 24h clock. In general day-to-day life, it seems more descriptive and less chaotic.
"A.M., P.M., O'clock, etc" just seem unnecessary when the 24h clock exists. Lol... anyways... Rant over. =P


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ColeenPowe

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/OstenCramer

@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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/NolaLynch

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/bgrry
  • 1285

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/1083531311

i discovered a shortcut for learning chinese characters.i use them to replace words of my own language that have the same meaning.the known context helps me to remember the meaning of the characters.you cannot learn chinese this way,but you can learn chinese characters without much effort.after you have read a book in your own language decorated with chinese characters you will know the meaning of most of them.but not their pinyin and nothing about chinese word order.learning the chinese characters this way is easy.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RainbowUni965837

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Wadafik

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


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/KX3.

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MaynardHogg

Do you have [any] siblings?

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


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Nevin711542

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wonghongch

The chinese course answers are very specific sometimes. For instance "don't" is correct and "do not" is wrong. Should the people who set the questions/ answers take a hint that abbreviations are not good English. Most of the time I can't be bothered to complain as it takes too long and we never get an answer from Duolingo except our whinging blogs to left off steam.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Willa_Cipher

thank you for the heads up;


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Malystyrx

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/TroyCurtis1

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/LCmv11

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?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/coldnight6016

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.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MaynardHogg

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."?


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/oncexblink

man, I feel your pain since I tried to do the Chinese course for fun even though Chinese is my native language, the course literally marks you off but the slightest things.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Francois_Li

Hello, As your message is already 1 year old, I'm not sure you are still awaiting an answer. I will give you a short one, however. I know chinese too, not because it is my mother tongue (it is French), but because I learned it a long time ago (5 years in University plus 1 year in Taiwan and 6 months in Continental China). I need a refresh because I will have to use it soon. I do agree with you about the fact that you must know English very well in order to take advantage of this course. Otherwise, you may fail because you lack english knowledge even though you understand perfectly well the chinese part of the lesson. You are true too when you say that sometimes, they wait for a specific answer and don't tolerate any other one, whose meaning would be quite similar, but with a different wording. However, this is true of other courses, not only chinese. The conclusion is that in order to advance into the course, you must memorize and/or guess the wording they wish you to use. This is still possible, although somewhat annoying :-(


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CalebBates14159

Hi, I understand your frustrations. I started the Duolingo Chinese Mandarin course when it first opened. At the time, I had studied Chinese Mandarin before, so I was frustrated, too. I sent in my suggestions and most were accepted and adopted. But the frustrations took away the enjoyment of the language. So I stopped studying Mandarin for quite a while in the hopes that more robust translation options were accepted. Later, I finished the Chinese Mandarin tree and it is all golden - but I am finishing the reverse tree now, and I seem to have forgotten correct word order, and now the frustrations are back. I need to spend time every day to keep things in active memory. I try to find Chinese Mandarin movies that have Chinese subtitles - that allows me to hear and read things that might not be in textbooks, or on Duolingo.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/wonghongch

I am a sixty seven year Cantonese speaking Chinese. I went to school in Hong Kong till I was 9 years old (primary school 3) and then went to boarding school in England and forgot all the written Chinese I learnt. I can speak Cantonese. I hated learning Chinese in Hong Kong because it meant trying to memorize between 5 to 10 words everyday. I retired 2 years and decided to start learn Mandarin by Duolingo last August. I think the Duolingo is far better than my primary school days and not so boring. Note that the aim is to learn and memorize about 2000 to 3000 characters by any means so that you can read a newspaper and converse in Mandarin with a native. There is no easy method of learning 2000 words but Duolingo is an easier method than the old traditional memorizing method by far. Best to stop whinging and get on with it- do the assessment quiz every month / do at least 4 lessons / 50 XP per day.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pudepied

I have just done Level 3 of Time 4 having completed most earlier lessons up to Level 5, and almost every answer I gave in English was marked wrong despite the fact that they were all equivalent to the supposedly "right" answer. I do appreciate that if every variant answer has to be typed in by hand as moderator Crush says in the top comment below, it must be very frustrating and time-consuming, but I am afraid that I am on the verge of giving up over this issue after accumulating 300 Crowns in Chinese and almost 30,000XP. I also think that the sequencing, which is I imagine a programming issue, is very suspect. Asking for an English translation or the speaking of a Chinese phrase before we are asked for a Chinese translation of an English phrase would always make more sense because although lots of native speakers seem to do the course, it isn't intended as a means to learn English. In fact because of the fickleness of the English, it actually teaches native English speakers how not to speak English because it marks so much that is perfectly legitimate as wrong (as well as sometimes giving as right something that is not, for example "How will you spend New Year's?" in the Celebrate lesson). So I feel in a real bind: I very much like and applaud the style of the courses (I've done quite a bit of Russian and German as well), but there are just too many mistakes in the Chinese and I am really finding that it's getting to me because I no longer have any idea what to answer to so many questions even when I know perfectly well what the Chinese means. One last thing: can there be some clear guidance about the position of "time words", and all variants that are right be accepted? I am particularly thinking about their relation to pronouns and verbs: 明天我看 ... or 我明天看 ...? Both? One or the other? I honestly don't know any more, even after all these lessons, and uncertainty about something so basic (even if it's just me being stupid) is really dispiriting. I am sure enormous amounts of work go into this, and I have refrained from pitching in before, but I am really at the end of my tether over this right now, so because I believe in what you are doing I thought I should say something.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/garpike

can there be some clear guidance about the position of "time words", and all variants that are right be accepted? I am particularly thinking about their relation to pronouns and verbs: 明天我看 ... or 我明天看 ...? Both? One or the other?

It's my understanding that putting a time adverbial first (i.e. making it the topic) gives it more emphasis, which otherwise might be assumed to lie with the noun/pronoun, so both your orderings are correct, but the former stresses tomorrow more. In English we'd probably use tone of voice to make such a distinction, so it's necessary for DL to accept all manner of possible translations in both directions (which, in my experience, it generally does).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pudepied

You are probably right, and it is perfectly possible that the earlier stages of the course have been changed since I did them, but the problem is that the uncertainty persists.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/1083531311

my own english is even worse than the english of the duolinguo course for learning chinese.but since learning english is not my goal I don t care. the thing I miss most in the duoliguo course for learning chinese is correct chinese pronounciation of the chinese sentences .the computer-generated artificial voice sounds unnatural in my ears .duolinguo should engage natural speakers .that would make the course much better.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pudepied

I have just moved on to level 3 of "Routine" and it is, quite frankly, absurdly difficult: there are no hints as to the required grammar; there is nothing to help; it is designed for people to fail. The antithesis of good educational practice.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pudepied

So now (in Routine 3) "I speak to my mother every Saturday on the Internet" is rejected in favour of the "right" answer, viz. "I chat with my Mom every Saturday on the Internet". I absolutely despair.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/garpike

I can't immediately find this sentence, but if the Mandarin word is 聊天, it will probably insist on 'chat'. Both 'speak' or 'chat' ought to be acceptable translations for 說話, however.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pudepied

Thanks. The sentence is in Routine 3 level 3:  每天星期六, 我会跟妈妈上网聊天 as you guessed. Pleco only gives "chat, gossip" and doesn't include 聊天 under "speak". My point is that this level of subtlety is inappropriate in a course that is supposed to be for people who are beginning Chinese, especially when so many of the constructions it gives even in Chinese are questionable and/or disputed by native-speakers. As I said in a previous post, my frustration - shared by many others judging by the long list of similar comments associated with almost every translation - is that the course succeeds in inducing uncertainty exactly where it should be instilling confidence, and while that may be understandable when going from English to Chinese, it is absurd when it leads to a situation where I don't feel that I can write anything in English and be confident that it will be accepted. Another example is that it insists in "Location 6" on the answer to "First go straight ahead" having a 你 at the start - 你先往前走,and then leaves it out from one of its own Chinese sentences a couple of questions later: 先会学校,然后先超市,最后回家 !

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