More useful sentences
OK, i may be wrong, but i feel like a lot of the sentences i'm NEVER going to use! I mean, yes, some are important, and it's learning vocab and stuff, but i'm never going to say, "My horse is drinking the milk" alright? Maybe a little more common phrases such as how to ask for directions, or things like that. I dunno, maybe it's just that i'm not there yet.
I feel that I've translated "He's eating an apple" more times that I can possibly imagine when there are other FOOD RELATED words that have only showed up a couple of times (like rice). I don't understand why I'm getting the exact same word (apple) endlessly without being able to practice the ones I don't know as well. Other than that, I can see what you're saying, but I also think it is helpful in the long run to say these types of things.
Slytherclaw, I see where you're coming from. However, what these sentences help do is teach you how to conjugate the verbs, what the grammar constructs are, etc. So, you learn how to do these things, and then you can apply what you've learned to create new sentences. Obviously, this approach doesn't work for everything - there are irregular phrases (for example, in French, "I am doing well," could be, "Ça va bien," or "Je vais bien") and things that don't translate literally. Do you see what I'm saying?
I do fairly well with grammar. What I have always struggled with when learning new languages is vocabulary. If I don't know any words, I can't form sentences, no matter how well I might be able to conjugate "to be" or "to eat." In the basics, they used apples in many different sentences "we eat" "I eat" "you eat" etc. That's fine. In practices that come after the basic lessons, they need to branch out on their vocabulary a bit more than they're currently doing.
The problem is that each learner has different vocabulary needs based on what their language-learning situation is. If you've moved to a country without much pre-study, you have LOTS of everyday words like "lock" and "text message" and "police station" that you need to know NOW. But if you're not doing that, and you're learning at home, you might have more interaction with newspapers and media than, say, a landlord who doesn't speak English. So then you need things like "table of contents" and "meeting" and "international affairs."
Sure, you should get to all of these eventually. But the order in which you need them changes drastically depending on your immediate situation. So I don't fault Duolingo for being conservative with vocabulary: it's really the learner's responsibility to find the words they need for what they want to do.
Why don't you just buy a phrasebook? Or go to Wikitravel where they have free ones?
I see Duolingo as a fantastic tool for getting your brain used to HOW THE LANGUAGE WORKS. That way, when you pick up a phrasebook, you can look at the "common set phrases" and actually understand what's going on in them, instead of only parroting them like a brand-new tourist.
The problem is that each person has a different idea of what "useful" sentences are. If you're going to visit Mexico in 3 weeks, your idea of "useful" will be different than someone who has no immediate plans to travel, but wants to read their city's local Spanish newspaper.
Duolingo is trying to strike a balance and give a pretty neutral set of vocabulary that most people will find useful, then test you with it in hundreds of combinations to get you used to how the structures and patterns of the language work. I've found that with a few exceptions (I don't really know if I needed to know the Spanish words for "tights" near beginner level...) they're pretty on the mark.
The vocabulary you really need to be "fluent" in a language is scarily large and takes a long time to develop. No website can 100% cater to your specific needs that long (yet).
I feel your pain -- But: You are currently learning basic grammar and vocabulary from a computer. Duo's goal is to get you translating the web, not conducting yourself as a tourist, and they have put a lot of time and money into developing a system that helps them meet their goals. That means we, as learners, do things that may not be meeting our goals, but Duo thinks will help it achieve its goals.
Does it take a great deal of frustration tolerance to get through the Duolingo program? Absolutely, positively yes, IMO. But is is free and thus it is on Duolingo's terms.
Are there alternatives to Duolingo, free, cheap, and expensive? Absolutely. Places with a more 'practical' approach, and perhaps less frustration. Yes.
We make our decisions based on what is best for learning not translating. Here's a recent post we wrote on our blog about our approach to education: http://blog.duolingo.com/post/41960192602/duolingos-data-driven-approach-to-education As for the sentences, we create them based on the words you already know, which is very challenging since towards the beginning of learning any language you know very few words. We want the learning experience to also be fun, so we are open to the sometimes strange and funny sentences that are created when you only know a few words. We think language sites should be free, fun and actually teach you a language, so ultimately that's what we are aiming to do here. We do appreciate feedback, so keep it coming!
Since the "strange and funny" sentences seem to garner a few negative comments, I'd just like to put myself on the record as a big fan of them. Firstly, they're a good guard against the tempting shortcut of guessing a sentence from individual word meanings. I can't just scan a sentence, see "cat", "eat", and "fish", and assume that it's going to be "the cat eats the fish" -- I have to check the cases to make sure the fish isn't eating the cat this time! Secondly, the humour helps to keep me interested: an endless procession of standard tourist phrases would bore me to death, whereas the occasional "there seems to be a tortoise in my underpants" type sentence keeps my attention quite effectively.
I respectfully disagree with this post. The people at Duolingo would probably be appalled to find out that you think of their program as frustrating. Yes, they are offering a free service, but if it is not helpful to language learners, they will lose us.
Which brings me to the purpose of Duolingo: clearly they are offering us free language lessons because they also gain something from us. Presumably this means users who can translate pages for them. So, it isn't actually free, it is more like an exchange of services. So it is clearly in their interest to improve according to the feedback from their customers. They are offering it to us on their terms; we are using it on our terms.
Although I have been using Duolingo for less than a week, I have seen that the staff are quite keen to improve the programme. So I say, keep providing feedback!
What if the users could request something to be translated and then the native and fluent speakers in the community could translate it and add it to the exercises?
E.g. I could add a couple of sentences, say, "Is it possible to travel for free in Mexico?" and "Young people are not interested in getting a job." (I would like to learn to say this kind of stuff)
Then it would be translated by the community and finally the grammar-gurus could see where these fit and they'd be added as part of the exercises.
How about it?