'Say this into the microphone' questions in the Chinese course
I have noticed that with every language I've tried (besides Chinese), they have questions that say 'Say the following phrase into the microphone'. Is it possible to add such questions to the Chinese course? I feel that it would help with practicing pronunciation.
Edit: This has now been added! Thank you so much Duolingo team!
It's difficult to underestimate the importance of pronunciation both culturally and linguistically in Chinese, so I think this is a great idea, and I would 100% agree that the course ultimately needs to have it. However, I'm curious about whether or not Duolingo's software is capable of parsing Chinese pronunciation accurately. I wonder if that is why this hasn't come out yet.
In general, the speech exercises have been the most buggy on several levels. In looking at the long-running courses like French, Spanish, and German, I see these going two ways: one is where they accept almost nothing, and the other is where they accept almost everything. I suspect that it's sensitivity gets detuned when questions start surfacing where the computer simply marks everyone wrong. This is especially the case in French, I've noticed, where they struggle with compound vowels, like the oe in "oeuf" (you'll notice, even their own audio glitches when they try to play the sound).
I also wonder to what extent they are capable of parsing tones. I have seen a couple of questions in other languages where they expected me to have a rising tone at the end of a question, so on some level, they are capable of doing it, but Chinese words can have complicated tone rules. Some words have more than one tone, and the tones sometimes change in relation to those around them. For example, if there are two third tone words in a row, the first one is changed to second tone (rising) so you don't sound like a broken theremin. And you can't just do "either one" - if a word has two different tones, those differences are significant, and indicate different meanings, and if the tone shifts, that is also necessary - otherwise the sentence will sound confusing.
I don't know the limitations of their current software. I know they had to do a lot of overhaul just to make characters possible. Ultimately, I hope they manage to make this effective, but in the meantime, I've been encouraging people to focus on learning characters, since if you can write out what you want to say, everyone will understand you, even if your pronunciation is way off the mark, or they speak a different dialect.
I think they get their voice recognition from third-party providers. In the not-too-distant past I think they even changed the one they were using. I agree that many times the system is too lenient. Where maybe this is sort of alright nonetheless for a Spanish or a Russian, it could really be devastating for Chinese because people will undoubtedly be pretty far off the mark with significant frequency, and this is more likely to render something wholly incomprehensible in actuality than it might in other languages where there is a pretty phonetic writing system to guide one, and no tones.
Some longstanding errors still are there to be sure, but others have been fixed, and they have a lot more content already than the most analogous course - Japanese.
Judging from the email notifications I get when they have made a major push on expanding the accepted English translations of Chinese sentences, and this is the right priority. When the course first came out in Beta, it was almost impossible guess which precise English wording they expected. The difference now is night and day.
I'm starting to get updates on acceptable Chinese translations, which suggests to me that they have shifted their attention to that area. This has also been important for getting Chinese out of "beta" since beta is determined by how many problem reports there are per 100 users.
So I do see progress being made, but there are just some things that are clearly on the back burner...