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Duolingo French audio quality

It seems that the French audio consists of strings of audio snippets (badly) edited together. Long sentences are often indecipherable as there are none of the pauses that a human speaker would naturally insert at the end of phrases or clauses. Instead the audio chunters on with all the posody of a machine gun. Using the slowed down version is not alway a help as the audio is badly edited and the words can sound as if the speaker has a mouthful of marbles. Duolingo has the potential to be a fantastic learning resource. It might serve Duolingo better to consolidate and improve the programs it already offers rather than seeking rapid expansion into new languages offerings.

April 26, 2014



To everyone complaining about the audio quality, please keep in mind that Duolingo uses a speech synthesizer. The sentences you hear are neither manually recorded nor edited. It is a computer program that has learned to automatically pronounce any sentence from thousands and thousands of high quality audio samples recorded by a native speaker.

The voices that Duolingo uses are pretty much up to the current standard. Most likely they have bought the voices from some company, and most likely it isn't cheap to let millions of users use them for free. Also research in speech synthesis is still ongoing. Until now, nobody in the whole world has a speech synthesizer that would pronounce every sentence 100% natural like a native human speaker would. So don't blame this on Duolingo. :)

Somewhere on the forums, I read that Duolingo once even tried to have professional voice actors speak the sentences, but then people actually liked it less.

It's easy to say "The voices need to be better!!", i want them to be more natural too, but this isn't exactly an easy problem.

Actually I'm very much interested in how they are going to solve this for the less popular languages, because there speech synthesizers are either horrible or non-existent :D


I don't think it's as much an issue of complaining as it is of giving feedback. It is interesting that the audio quality varies a great deal from language to language.

That Duo offers any audio at all is a pretty big deal. You're right, we cannot expect it to be perfect, and I don't think most people do.

I'll be very interested to hear the audio for the Russian course once it's up and running! Meanwhile, those of us who use Duo can also be using films, TV shows, podcasts and other non-machine native sources for listening practice.


Yup, I agree. :)

The difference in quality between languages is less because of the languages themselves, but more due to the (lack of) available training data for them.

Meanwhile, you may want to play around with this :D


This is currently among the best commercially available speech synthesizers. Just compare Indonesian in this to Google Translate, for example. Even if you don't know anything about the language, you'll hear what i mean :)


Wow, that is cool! Thanks for the link! One more place to go and play lol. It's probably a good thing they limit it to 140 characters. :)


Yes, I agree with pmm123 ! That is cool ! Thanks for sharing :) And thanks to ALL of you behind the scene that help make such a wonderful resource. It is a FANTASTIC job you all do !


Yes, it is by far the best. Too bad they don't offer free tools (other than this sample) like google translate. And of course, none of those language apps can really afford to pay them. From what I heard, even Google wouldn't pay them. That's why google get stuck raiding them for talents and creating a second rated product. But I'm not complaining, google translate is free. With google's money, they will surely improve.....if they don't kill it like many of their projects.


I used to find the audio on the Italian course (my main course) particularly bad compared to, say, French and Spanish, and would often lose a 'heart' because I couldn't tell the difference between a basic thing like 'il' or 'un' in the middle of a long sentence!... But rather than hinder my progress it has actually helped! I now listen far more intently AND I've grown to love the familiarity of the voice, after 9 months of DL :)


How come the french audio is rubbish when the other languages I've studied are good-to-excellent? Italian is excellent, imho. I confirm that the same expressionless female french voice is used on another french learning app that I use. The same problems there : sibilance. The 's' sounds hiss. In a pro studio singers use a screen to avoid this. It is most regrettable, even tragic, that the beautiful french language is not displayed in a high quality way.


I have the exact same experience as you here. Italian and Spanish in Duo are crystal clear, but French is extremely muddled and hissy, impossible to understand. It's funny that it's bad on simpler sounds like 's', but fine on trickier sounds for humans like the guttural 'r'.


What does quizlet.com use for speech? It's speech amazing, the quality is really head and shoulders above everything else I've heard. I don't believe they use recorded speech, as you can type in whatever you want, and it's said beautifully (in english, anyway, I don't think I'm qualified to evaluate the quality of the other languages used on that site).


I didn't know about quizlet.com, so I thought I would give it a quick try and the French audios are actually pretty good! There is no comparison whatsoever with those from DL. At least, based on the ones I heard on DL and quizlet.com.


Indeed, their English and German audio sounds surprisingly good! I wasn't aware of that. They only have audio for a few major languages though, no Hindi, Indonesian, Irish etc.

They seem to use a combination of speech synthesizers from several companies + their own software. This is an interesting approach actually :D


Completely agree! That summarizes what people should consider before making a complaint.


I, for one, completely disagree. One of DL's advertised aims is to help people learn languages. If they are serious about it, then they should provide good audios, and it would seem that it can be done (see Arya.Stark's comment regarding quizlet.com below). Now, I appreciate that DL is a free resource and everything, but does it mean that we should be "OK" with being offered sub-quality audios? Well, I don't personally think so.


I agree some words are very poorly recorded or heavily accented. However I usually make a comment and tick Audio problem. I hope that if enough people did this for each given word/phrase it would trigger Duolingo to review the audio.


I love the way it says 'singe'! I always think of a cartoon monkey. :)

I was talking with a French friend about this yesterday and he suggested that when learning a new language it takes a while to train your ear regardless. Like the US, there are a lot of different dialects so it's all just part of the process. Just keep listening and plugging away at it.

And as someone pointed out here, this is an amazing free resource!


yes it is very often very bad, even as a native speaker i could not understand some sentences.


Ah bon? Je me sens mieux maintenant. J'ai de la difficulté avec la compréhension du matériel audio.


C'est tout à fait compréhensible et normal, ce n'est pas encore au point.


Same here. As a native French speaker, I thought I would give DL French a go and I found quite a few sentences to be difficult to understand. Then, there is the issue of some translations not being what I would have used, etc.


Yes, the translations are sometimes wrong, but we can fix them by reporting. What are the sentences you can't understand as a native?


I honestly don't remember, it was several months ago. Also, I have, in the past, reported issues or things that I thought could be improved, and I never got any kind of acknowledgement. So, to me, it feels like I wasted my time (I guess I could have checked whether my feedback had been taken on board, but I don't think I should have to do that, not to mention that I have other things to do).


I don't think you wasted your time, they take the report into account, I'm pretty sure, it takes time, and honestly, there are more sentences on which people are complaining it's wrong, and that are right, that mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, but they really improve the courses content, I witnessed it. The only thing is that it's too long for us, because we are impatient, and I guess they're not very well-organized. But they enrolled one more course maker for French recently, and I'm certain the courses will improve a lot in the near future, Remy was just alone to do all the word, and it was too much for only one person, with all the reports... (and sometimes a lot of people who report good things)


Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate all the hard work that is being put into DL, but if it is obvious that someone is trying to improve DL by taking the time to report an issue, then the least you should do is to acknowledge that person's report (be it valid/relevant or not). Simple as that.


I have reported a couple of problems and received a courteous email advising me of the change that was accepted. That took about a week. I was pleasantly amazed.


Well, I never did. Not sure why...


Which one Breton Parano? I've not been very far in the French lesson, but as another native, I can understand them perfectly, some are very bad, but most of them, far from being perfect are understanble. A lot of beginners have problem with the language itself. When you go to the English for Spanish speakers for instance, you have a lot of beginner who say that "girl" is not well pronounced, because it's a sound that doesn't exist in their language, and you find the same for every language, and natives who post messages saying the audio is not so bad.


Have you ever tried the reverse tree? The English voice is pretty terrible, too.

Also, today I learned that the Italian one is even worse. My 8-year-old cousin is learning Italian at school so I showed Duolingo to him & his mum and helped him through the first lesson. It was awful.


As someone who is learning French and Italian. Yes.


a button for "request better pronunciation" that flags that specific sentence for a better verbal translation. ones that receive an exceptional large numbers of flags could then be re-translated or spoken by person in native language (via re-capthcha method from someone learning the inverse language) such a thing could be completely automated.....

I think the speech synth is fine for 98.5% of what i hear on there. but this method could fix those exceptions.. and really improve the quality of the experience.


Sounds like a good idea to me.


I agree with everything except the bit about how Duolingo has the "potential" to be a fantastic learning resource, ... as far as myself any others are concerned, Duolingo already is such a thing, but unfortunately, the French audio is really lacking; that we all know. Hopefully they'll figure out a way to sort it. I've had very little problems with the German one.


At first I was disappointed with how horrible the slow speech is. Compared to Spanish or German, it didn't seem to help. The slow speech consisted of grunts and noises, to my ears. But, after resorting to using the normal speech, I noticed how quickly I began to pick up on the sound of the language. I can't say I'm necessarily thankful for the poor slow speech, because sometimes we just need it, but I've been making the best of a poor situation and, so far, it's been working pretty well for me. If I'm thankful for anything, it's for the fact that I didn't just give up and think I was never going to be able to learn if I couldn't understand it.


I am just shy of a year with duo and I can usually understand the voice without a repeat. It's not just about the sounds, but understanding enough words that the others become obvious.


That's usually what it came down to for me. Understanding enough of the sentence to make out the rest.


True, sometimes words like '' le singe '' or ''l'œuf '' are hard to understand. Hopefully the audio will improve in the future.


oeuf cracks me up every time. she sounds like a dog barking! actually I hope they never remove that... nice memories ^^


The French audio is much better than the Italian or the Portuguese. The German and Spanish audio are the best, at least to my ears. The only time it is really a problem is with the dictated sentences that we have to transcribe or translate, and even then, it doesn't happen that often.


The German audio is much clearer than French - not perfect but better.


Funny we have different asessments. For me, french (female) is sibilant, Italian beautifully phonetic (love it), and german not always how I would pronounce it !


It definitely could be better, you're right. But with some facility in listening it is quite comprehensible, with a few strange words now and then. And after all, you get what you pay for. It is kind of like talking w/ a good friend who has a speech defect. :)


I have found that the word "singe" is very weirdly pronounced. It sounds like the speaker sees a snake as she says the "i".


it's really ❤❤❤❤❤❤, I can't tell if it's "vos" or "nos" sometimes, pronunciation is really unclear in many occasions!


I played one or two sentences for my native French speaking fiance last night. Due to pronunciation and clipping at the ends of words, he was getting some of the translations wrong too. Made me feel a little better, because I"m very new to this program and I only have about a year of self-taught French under my belt. With Brainscape (an iPhone app with flashcards that uses French audio for their French Vocab app), when enough people noted that a particular word was poorly recorded or hard to understand, they could jump in and fix up the words on an individual basis. I believe they used a native speaker and not an automated program, but maybe Duolingo could look into a similar kind of fix?


It seems that Duolingo uses Text-to-speech conversion software to convert whole sentences which they then chop into word-sized bites. Hence the lack of prosody in the speech and the clipping effects.


Even using a headset with microphone I find the audio doesn't pick up all my words. Oh well. I am very thankful to be using a free tool such as this now that I've transferred over from Rosetta Stone. Merci beaucoup!


I actually hate the questions where you need to listen to the voice and then write it out. In French. When you can't understand what they said. The slow down button only helps half the time, and when I get better at pronouncing these words, I might try and see if I can become the speaker for it. Sorry if I sound like I'm bragging, I'm trying not to.


If I have tried repeatedly to understand the spoken word and I still can't get it, I sometimes use a translator app on my cellphone and make it "listen" to the machine voice. It often doesn't get it (which is not the fault of the machine voice), but sometimes it does, and it's better than just guessing, though I have done that too.


Excellent - this looks just the ticket. And there is more than just the news - lots of other stuff listening exercises etc. Je vous donne un lingo.


I would agree the audio is sometimes difficult - in a way I'm glad others finding it so and its not just me not being able to understand. If I was paying for it I might be disappointed - but as its free, overall its pretty cool..


Of course, it's free. So I suppose it's churlish of me to complain. Nevertheless, if problems are not highlighted, nothing will improve. I, for one, would be willing to help out.


I am one that thinks that it can be both free and awesome. So noticing rough spots is ok. I think it is almost there and just needs a little more oomph. The entire concept is visionary and I love the quid pro quo arrangement that funds itself without needing to disrupt our learning experience with things like advertising.


it's really bad in italian and french but in spanish the audio is very good. duolingo is continuously evolving so with a little luck we will get much better audio in the future.


You'd think it wouldn't be very difficult to get a native speaker to record all the lines DL uses.


A native speaker with what sort of accent? Think about it in English? I like speaking with an Australian accent but I suspect everyone learning it would not. And when I was young and knew German MUCH better I was laughed at in Germany for having an Austrian accent ... like my high school German teacher!


The way I see it is that the community could be offered a means to create sounds. Then, anyone involved in such an exercise would specify the kind of accent s/he has (i.e. American English, British English, Australian English, etc.). From there, it would be up to the end-user to decide which sounds (and therefore accent) they want to use.


You'd think it wouldn't be very difficult to get a native speaker to record all the lines DL uses.

No, probably not, if that's how you want to spend Duolingo's money. I bet it would be expensive.


I'd say it was a very worthy investment.


Investment? Well, if Duolingo agrees and has the money, maybe they'll do it.


They are making it possible for the community to create new courses, so why not follow the same approach for sounds?


> They are making it possible for the community to create new courses, so why not follow the same approach for sounds?

I don't know. But according to a recent post on the Russian discussion board, it's been nixed so far.


Don't get wrong either they did a nice work, i m only feed backing this issue so that they can improve the speech engine. I don't get bad audio often, but i remember "roi" being impossible to understand even at slow speed and also "singe" or "oeuf".

Weirdly i understand the portuguese better, and believe me my portuguese is too bad to even start thinking of watching brazilan novelas.

I would say that 5-10% of the french sentences are from hard to impossible to understand.


I don't imagine that Duolingo have any control over the speech engine. It is probably only software that they use under licence. Part of the problem is the manner in which the audio is edited, sometimes resulting in clipping or cut-off at the end of a segment.


That is also my experience with native French speakers


Except that native French speakers don't (necessarily) try to teach you French. :)


Sometimes I am confused with the pronunciation of the words, "Jolie" and "Joli"


You can't distuingish between them - they are pronounced exactly the same.


Oui, merci beaucoup :)


FWIW, "Oui" doesn't make much sense here. "OK" would be better.


I've been practicing here for almost a year. It is frustrating at first, but you do pick it up. It's also not about an individual word as much as it is understanding enough of a sentence to make any gaps obvious. At this point I can usually get it without having to relisten. I find the voice quite easy compared to some native french speakers, maybe get a good pair of headphones?

At this stage in your learning you really need to be watching and listening to french media so that you can further train your ear to hear the words.


Are there a few incomprehensible words? Yes, a few, very few. Overall, I am very pleased and have little difficulty with the voice. I am over the moon over having the ability to study and learn French so easily and accessibly. This has been a huge and important addition to my life!!! Now if there was a sentence, "the adults eat eggs" the voice emulator would be hilarious.


Votre souhait est ma commande.

Go to (http://www.nuance.com/vocalizer5/flash/index.html?PID=2190813), and in big box "Enter Text" type in what you want said. Then "Choose a Voice" and press play :) It is great fun to play !


I see what folks mean by the pronunciations not being differentiate. When I was working on the question "Tu manges une orange" I could not differ between "Je mange une orange". They really sound the same on here, but for the website being free. I really can't complain. I do use another website to work on the pronunciation, which helped me get pass the answer. Still a good website as always and Merci beaucoup for being free :)


Duolingo still hasn't fixed the est-il or est-elle audio recording...


My problem is that the audio quality varies between one session and the next. Even when hearing repeats of the same questions I heard a few days ago, they can sound OK first time round, and incomprehensible when heard later in the week. It's either the gin, or a herd of little horses ag dul thart...


On my Dell / Windows 10 laptop, in both Edge and Chrome browsers, on the initial playing of the audio, nearly 100% of the time the audio playback truncates prior to last or 2nd last word in the sentence, on both the normal and slow speed playbacks. On the second press of play, most of the time the audio will play through to the end of the sentence; occasionally it take a third press to get it to play through the entire sentence. [I don't know whether this is an issue with only my laptop, or if others are experiencing the same truncated audio.]


I know this an old topic, but it's still relevant. I read through the comments and found it interesting that some people find the Spanish audio "crystal clear". I found it pretty bad and it some point virtually useless. As I know already knew some French, I am now using Duolingo to freshen up my French and to me the audio is at least understandable, whereas the Spanish sounded more mumbled. So I guess it also depends on the level you start with. I had no experience with Spanish, but had done French in high school (not very good) and then a two-year conversation class from a native French speaker, which really helped a lot.


I am grateful for this wonderful FREE experience and am learning with glee. No time to complain.


Just because something is free doesn't mean we have to settle for poor quality. It is what it is, and you can't really complain about not getting what you paid for (not literally anyway), but it doesn't mean you can't complain about some things being not up to par. And if you're ignored, you can leave, thus taking away your “capital”.

On the other side, it's important for the DL team to know if the community feels that there is some problem with quality (which might otherwise go unnoticed or downplayed as low priority).

Duolingo may be free, but it's not a charity. And even charities shouldn't settle for giving away just anything (and I'm not claiming that Duolingo does that, I just disagree with the notion we're not allowed to complain).


So true, yes it is sometimes hard to understand. But if you want something better than free, go pay for it.

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