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Understanding new Chinese words difficult because of how words are introduced in lessons?

Howsit all.

Wonder if anyone else is finding this challenging.

When a new word is introduced, the symbol is shown and is connected with its sound and pronunciation in Chinese. However, the meaning of the word is generally only shown later on in a sentence or two at the end of the lesson where I have to put my mouse over the character to finally find out what I'm saying means (Or it is shown outside the lesson in the lessons overview).

But surely the meaning in English or a picture should be shown alongside the character as it is introduced so that we actually know what we're saying? Its a huge snag in the learning process and needs to be addressed. I'm practicing and can connect sounds with characters but I don't know what they mean!

February 8, 2018



A lot of people have been saying that. To be honest, had I not studied Chinese at school, I would have a pretty tough time with this course. I do agree it can be a bit confusing to be introduced to only the sound of each character and not know what it means. To remedy this, I pair my time with the Anki cards app. Every time I come up to a new word, I make a card in my app on my phone. Throughout the day I practice using this app since I always have my phone on me anyways. Since doing this, I understand the sentences on Duolingo better. My opinion: I think that the first skills should be the most common radicals in order to get used to the sounds. Then, the rest of it should start with vocabulary at the beginning of each lesson and end it with sentences. I think that might work out better? But for now, try the Anki thing. It helps me. :)


I liked your idea of making cards in your phone :-)


I guess Duolingo has been thinking not to put all elements into play from start to make it simple because associating the character, its meaning, its pronunciation, its tone all at once maybe too difficult for some people.

Also words in Chinese are often composed of 2 characters. A single character has its radical meaning or even several of them, but combining with another character the meaning may not be the same any more. e.g. 风 means wind, but it can also mean style; 车 means car, but it can also mean machine; and only 风车 together specifically means a windmill but not any other things. So there are also some challenges in there. When we were kids we learned words by all the characters they have, 2, 3 or 4 together each time.

But since so many users think association with a meaning from the start will be helpful, Duolingo should really take a look whether it is a more effective way.


Yes. Before I start a lesson, I copy the ideograms and paste each of them into Yabla dictionary. Then I cut a picture of the ideogram, pinyin and translation and paste it into my powerpoint. Click and take a look:


When I finaly open the lesson, half work is done ;-)

This frame is a circle completely studied, for example:



Woh, that's legit!!! Very cool way to learn. Does the colour coding according to tone in your completed study come as part of the yabla dictionary? Really cool way to add an extra layer to identify the tones.


Very true. I look up new chars in the Android Pleco app.


Actually, characters don't make any sense.It just like letters of English alphabet which can form words. In China, our elementary school students learn characters from words or sentences.


I totally agree I'm learning to connect the signs with the sounds, but mostly like a game of memory. The kind where you have a bunch of cards upside down and then you have to remember which two match. I am not learning the meaning of the signs and sounds. and without meaning they're hard to remember.


You get me, Doctor.


True that. Thanks for the suggestions of other resources DragonPolyglot - Duo has definitely been my go-to, but it seems like its time to expand!


I do agree, it would be nice to know what each character means at the exact moment they introduce the sound. I don’t like scrolling over each new word because I didn’t learn the meaning prior. But I think they emphasize sound because most people only try to learn the meaning and not the sounds too (the polyglot Lindie Botes had this problem when she decided to learn Mandarin because she learnt most of it via texting). So I would just recommend other sources such as HelloChinese, ChineseSkill, the Memrise courses and NyanChinese for further practice, Chinese may be hard to read at first but there’s far from no sources to teach it!


I have just started on this course, and agree with you. Think it would be much simpler if translation were given earlier


Learning Mandarin characters has a lot to do with memory work! Children since elementary are supposed to memorise the character strokes and pinyin.

How I do it is I get on https://yellowbridge.com/chinese/dictionary.php everytime a new character gets introduced in Duolingo, and search up the character (by using the pinyin, eg for 名 I would search ming4). It nicely provides the word's meaning along with the character strokes + pronunciation. It also gives suggestions of words with the same head or tail word (eg 名字míngzi or 著名zhùmíng) which makes understanding the use of the character easier.

I write all the new pinyin + characters down on a piece of paper along with their stroke sequence and meaning, then couple that with the way Duolingo integrates it into sentences. This way, it makes memorising/knowing the character and pinyin much easier, especially when it's being used in sentences.

It takes longer but it makes more sense, especially when one pronunciation has different characters (eg zi4 could be 字 or 自) so just memorising the character as it appears can be very confusing. Much better to learn the character, and match it with a "category" like how Duolingo does it!


But these lessons show us a bunch of Chinese characters and their pronunciation without ever telling us what they mean!


Yes, that's why I utilise another dictionary outside of Duolingo. Chinese is tricky in that way, that one character can have a totally different meaning when paired with another character. I believe the way Duolingo does it is that they are preparing learners for a more "speaking" way of learning (learning the patterns of speech and conversation) instead of actual character learning which would take a lot of memorisation and practice of stroke writing.


There's a chrome extension someone made for the Chinese course which shows the meaning along with the character.



I think duolingo should have a lesson teaching chinese pinyin first if they want to teach the sounds. My friend who takes a university chinese course was taught this first. It would make it less confusing too so words aren't introduced just for their sounds and instead we learn the sounds first and then maybe strokes and then move on to words so we can properly interpret them from there.


As other's have said, I have an extension that shows the meaning and adds some context, it also adds a bunch of other fixes to the course too


you'll need to be using Google Chrome to use it for now!


The entire set-up of the Duolingo-Mandarin course clearly shows that the developers really have no clue about didactics! Perhaps (many?) Chinese people think that it's just as easy for foreigners to learn Mandarin as it is for Chinese people to learn English ...? Yes, English is also grammatically different from Mandarin and has quite a few irregularities. But have they really never realized that the English language only has a 26-signed alphabet that you can "just" read, (although the pronunciation sometimes deviates)?

Also the whole idea - that it's good to "submerge" students in a foreign language 1) at a MUCH TOO FAST speaking speed AND 2) in a language where many sounds are alike, while 3) Chinese people usually speak very unclear (you even could say: with nonchalance), so that the student only hears a series of sounds, but cannot distinguish words - is crazy!

I have the same complaints with regard to the developers of the HSK- method, -study books and -exams. I really think there are Chinese people who can teach Mandarin well to foreigners, but THOSE have really not been involved in the development of the HSK method ...!

I also very much doubt whether the Duolingo Mandarin course is suitable for students who have never done a basic course before. I started with an HSK-2-plus level (so that I can also detect errors in the Duolingo course), but what do real beginners learn ...? In fact, a course in BETA is not suitable for them; gradually they are confronted with various adjustments, while clarity is so important to them; it takes quite a lot to always process those changes in translations (and to let go that which they have previously learned and to remember the change). The only thing I can do for them is to include pinyin next to the Chinese characters in the translation discussion: that's more work for me, but it doesn't matter.

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