Meaning should be learned at first -- Chinese characters are not the alphabet.
The current version starts from some tests between characters and sounds. Without the knowledge of their meaning, it is just like to learn the alphabet. This is boring and misleading. Chinese characters are not the alphabet. All has its own meaning.
I just think of the order below. 1. Hearing the sound, then choose its meaning or photo (with the character). 2. Meaning (in English), then choose the character (the current version have this with character blocks). 3. Match sounds and the characters (for the already learned ones; the current version have two types). 4. Longer sentences.
Here is my way of using this version. I'm now in https://www.duolingo.com/skill/zs/Time-3.
Tips and notes are good. But I always copy-and-paste a Chinese sentence to Google Translate to check its sound. Google's sound is somewhat slower than Duolingo, and they offer even slower sound by repeating. I do not rely on pinyin so largely. https://translate.google.co.jp/?hl=ja
Lesson 2 of 3 starts from A: "What sound does this make?", requesting to match the character and sound with its pinyin. Without its meaning, it is just boring. Once again, I do not trust pinyin so much. The second one shows 小. I am Japanese, so I could imagine its meaning. But for the others, that would be a step wasting the time.
Then, the lesson moves on B: "Select the correct character(s) for “xiǎo", requesting to match the sound with its character. The two of the four characters are from the type A questions just I have learned, but the other two are not. They might have appeared in the previous lessons, but there are no clues. Here I click all of the characters to learn their sounds and characters, but I need their meanings as well. Once again, 秒 is common to Japanese. For the others, it should be just frustrating.
Then, the type A comes back. The character was from the previous type B. I do not rate type A would be worthwhile to do.
Now, the lesson comes back to type B. The four characters are the same as in the first B. It is too tedious to do the same.
Then, here comes C: "Match the pairs", requesting to match the character with its pinyin. I could hear the sound after clicking the card, but still, there is no meaning. Just ridiculous. Three matches out of five are the ones repeatedly shown in the previous steps. The remaining two seems to come from already learned ones.
Another C comes. Four matches from five are the ones in type B in this lesson. The remaining one is from the type C just I have finished. It is too tedious.
The lesson comes back to type B. The four comes from the previous type C. Too slow pace. Remember, they still do not teach the meaning of each character. I will repeat: Chinese characters are not alphabets. Each character has its own meaning. There are two types of characters in the world; characters showing its sound (English) and characters showing its meaning (Chinese). It is the basics of linguistics. The Duolingo developers seem to be dominated by westerners or just beginners.
Here comes C. The five matches are exactly the same as the previous C. The progress bar is almost at its half.
Now, the lesson comes D: "Write this in English". At last, we can see the meaning of each Chinese character by hovering the cursor on it. But, the sentence is too long compared with the previous types A, B, and C. They just show only one character. This significant gap in the level of difficulty is one of the major drawbacks in this beta version of Duolingo: Chinese from English. I do not argue here on the ambiguity to match phrases between two languages. It is a common weak point in all the courses in Duolingo. Learning a language is better to be achieved without any base language. Here, English is just a disturbance.
For type D, I always use Google Translate. I copy-and-paste the Chinese sentence to Google. They offer slower sounds that are good for a learner. Checking the meaning of each Chinese character with hovering, I try to make an English sentence. I am not an English native. So, I do not care about the correctness of my sentence so much. If I failed, I will click DISCUSS to read through comments. As translations of Google Translate is not so good, the comment section is so vital to catch the nuance of the stated Chinese sentence.
The next type D has ten characters! How large it is the gap after the repeated lessons of only one character. Google Translate shows pinyin as well. I could even split the Chinese sentence into any sets of characters as I want. Without Google Translate, I could not follow this Duolingo anymore. In this routine, I fix Japanese translation in Google Translate with a help of Duolingo and its comments in the discussion. I also learn English with a Duolingo translation, or mainly with the comments by natives.
Then, here comes E:"Write this in Chinese", requesting to make a Chinese sentence with cards. The source is shown in English, however, type E is easier than type D. The one appeared is the one just learned with type D. Too easy. Clicking the card gives the sound. It is word by word. It will be better to do type E first. After I learned the sound word by word, I could follow the sound of a long sentence much easily.
Oh, the next D comes with fifteen characters with a fast pronunciation...
The next are D(thirteen characters), D(eleven), and E(four cards). Then, here comes the repetition. The most are the reviews of the failed ones: D(ten), A, D(seven), D(thirteen), D(fifteen), and D(eleven). The reasons for the failures are in my writing in English, rather than in my understanding in Chinese.
Thanks for the detailed write-up. Always good to see a different perspective well explained. As a native English speaker, I generally find exercise types D and E the easiest, D being the easier of the two. For me at least I find it much easier to recall the meaning of a character or combination of characters than I do to remember the corresponding pronunciation. It actually seems like we have this point in common, giving your built-in familiarity with many of the characters. Given the relative difficulty of pronunciation, I understand the preponderance of exercises targeting it. Even though you point to repetitiveness of the pronunciation matching exercises, I still have to repeat the exercises containing them many times in order to remember them. I guess I conclude that you're a lot better at remembering Chinese pronunciation than I am! At my level 12, I'm somewhere around Greetings 3 in the tree.
A clarification: A, B, and C type exercises are facilitated by the fact things are pronounced when you click on them. That makes them too easy in general, so I also do lessons with the sound off in settings to make sure I'm really able to recall things.
I admit learning pronunciation is very important. But, without its meaning, A, B, and C type exercises become steps to memorize a kind of noises.
I should say that pinyin is just an approximation invented just some decades ago. So, the sound should be always on. In an A type excise, I repeat to say the sound seeing the character. Click on the character and speak to repeat. In a B type excise, I speak before a click, then click to confirm and speak again. Repeat this routine for all four characters. In a C type excise, I do similar to the type B. For a certain character, I read it before a click. Then click to confirm and speak again. Making a match with its pinyin is just an extra. And I could not repeat this routine for the same character here. Moreover, this excise forces me to memorize pinyin. So, for me, it is the worst of the five types. In an E type excise, I also do similar. I read a card before a click. Click to confirm. I repeat this procedure even for irrelevant cards. Recently, hovering a character in a D type excise starts to come with its sound. Not for all of the characters, however, I again speak before the hovering. Then repeat after the sound. The pronunciation of the sentence is too fast, as I explained in the above. So I do train its pronunciation with three steps with 1) Google (slow), 2) Google (standard), and then 3) Duolingo.
I could have its meaning in mind when I speak out for types D and E, but not for types A, B, and C. That would be called "Wasted opportunity" by Menapii, saying "I would find it much easier to memorize the character and the Chinese word if I had meaning to help me and also to interest and motivate me." So, I propose to do these three later or show the meaning in each own step. https://www.duolingo.com/comment/26410434
I totally agree with you (and with the other countless posts pointing out this limitation). . Check out this extremely useful chrome extension, it shows you the meaning of characters as they come up in the lessons:
I'm having a serious problem when I can't remember the pronunciation of a character in a lesson and I'm to write it in Chinese. Sure, I can see the character from the hint, and perhaps the first time through it also gave me the associated pinyin, but later on it does not, and so I'm struck. Since I know Japanese I used the stroke order to pick a few of the characters out, but that give me no help with the one thing I need to be able to speak Chinese, the pronunciation. This is quite discouraging. I'm doing the lessons on my iPhone, FYI.