The structure of the Italian course
Is it just me or is the Italian course structured a little weirdly. You learn conjugated verbs before you learn their infinitives and how to conjugate them or how verbs even work. You learn numbers quite far into the course but I feel you should learn them a lot sooner. All the tenses seem to be randomly placed in the course with one of the past tenses being placed at the very end and also grammar isn't really explained in the course. 'Come muore un animale?' is 'How does an animal die?' but I don't get why it's structured this way, all I know is that this is how it is. This is purely my opinion, I haven't even gotten that far in the course but when I look at the topics we learn they seem out of order. Of course, because of this maybe the order does make sense and I've just not gotten far enough to realise this and I don't mean to offend anyone here although I'm learning Spanish and French as well in school and the structure of the lessons made a lot more sense to me so I wonder if anyone else thinks this as well.
The reason that Duolingo focuses so much on death, zoos, boots, and sugar is that it wants you to get used to an irregular verb conjugation (morire) and the articles "lo" and "gli".
Once you do figure out how the ARE verbs are conjugated, it's strictly a matter of memorizing a stem and applying the endings.
Same for most of the ERE and IRE verbs.
But morire doesn't follow the normal io mor+o = moro; tu mor+i = mori lui/lei mor+e = more, etc., although they are somewhat close: io muoio/ tu muori/ lui or lei muore. So they want you to practice and memorize those before you learn the regular conjugation rules.
That's my theory, anyway, and I'm sticking to it....
It might seem weird, but actually in terms of the order in which it presents grammar topics Duolingo is organized like most language-learning books, which are set up the way they are to mimic how people learn naturally. You start by talking about your immediate surroundings (present tense), then move on to concrete, recent events in the past (present perfect in Italian), followed by more general recollections of past events (imperfect). From here you move gradually to the more abstract, requiring the subjunctive, future and conditional, etc. The infinitive is introduced after the present tense because it is used in more complex structures. We say, "I eat," before "I want to eat." This is the natural progression. Vocabulary topics usually follow this same progression from concrete and related to daily life (food, family members, etc.) to more abstract topics (religion, politics, etc.).
Look at the progression expected from a language learner between the A1 and C2 CEFR levels and you'll see that it's similar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_European_Framework_of_Reference_for_Languages
Of course, Duolingo is best accompanied by outside resources, but there is a logic to the order. : )
Luis von Anh, the founder of Duolingo, wrote this when asked about adding more explanations of grammar and verb rules, or new vocab lists with each lesson:
"The very honest answer is that I, personally, don't like vocabulary, grammar or verb conjugation. My dream in life is to be able to teach you a language without you needing to read textbooks about indirect objects. In fact, I consider the use of grammar to be discriminatory against those who unfortunately didn't have a very good education in their own native language (which is the majority of the world's population). I think slapping 30 pages of grammar before every lesson is the easy way out -- instead we should strive for something that everybody can consume."
While I am of course a huge fan of Duolingo, I think that LvA is dead wrong and that learning the rules of grammar, syntax and verb formation as you go along is incredibly helpful when beginning a new language, and this is even more true for people who had not had much education than for those who have already studied languages in school. You do not need 30 pages of grammar before each lesson, just a few lines of simple teaching and examples.
You are far from alone in your viewpoint. One of my issues with DL is that you have to go it alone. I remember been completly unaware of are ire and ere verbs at the very beginning. So I had no idea why mangiano wasnt mangono, in keeping with other verbs learned at this point. Hence, forced into buying books, going back to school, etc etc Its been said many times, never use DL as the only method to learn. Its a great way to learn what to go away and learn, if that makes sense. An English speaking Italian native is a trillion times better than all the apps put together. Each and every one of them have told me that some of the tenses are pointless to learn, because they are very seldom used, reason been, They find them very confusing and difficult as well.
I am torn between both styles of learning.. I find DL to be frustrating, yet in using the by using the practice sessions extensively, I can reason my way through most phrases. By taking a formal Italian class, and using textbooks, the grammar makes more sense, but it is boring. I found a DL .pdf on one of the threads that helps a lot, since it corresponds with the Lesson structure DL uses - very helpful.
I am an Italian-raised American who was never taught the language, but certain words and phrases are familiar to me, which helps. I am also working with my 9 yo grandson, who moved with his parents to Italy, and is learning by immersion in the community and school (plus native-Italian tutoring.). I find that he was more confused by DL, especially since they are in Naples and much dialect is used.
No easy answers. These discussions help.
Duolingo is frustrating, You are so on point. Thanks to the help of some forum members, this forum is invaluable, so your on point with that too. Its gamification approach makes it extremely frustrating if you just want to learn grammar rather than save lives and points. Each to their own I guess.
Excerpt from my stay in Italy:
"...so I can use 'mangiato' and I'll be understood?" "Yea people will know what you're saying. You could also use 'mangiavo.'" "I wasted so much time learning that other past tense."
The purpose of learning a language should be to speak properly and understand what others say or reply.
Those who simply aim at being understood can achieve this goal much more easily with the help of a phrase book, or pointing at pictures.
But this is not learning a language.
I wouldn't say it's "Duolingo" that is the problem. It's the Italian tree. For instance, the Turkish tree is much more methodical in how learners advance, and the grammar explanations are much more complete.
You learn conjugated verbs before you learn their infinitives and how to conjugate them or how verbs even work.
People learning languages from textbooks study conjugations for years and are still far from able to conjugate correctly in real time. Duolingo exposes you to real sentences, so you learn via exposure over studying conjugation charts. Best of all is probably a mix of both. You get comfortable with something through examples but then formalize it a bit with the charts, starting from a base where things are already familiar. Then the charts help you tie up loose ends.
Without conjugated verbs you can't make sentences, so it makes sense to me that they get presented before infinitives.
I am unable to express my opinion about the grammar notes provided in the individual units, which I cannot access, not having signed up to the Italian course. Instead, I am aware of the tree, which is mirrored in Duolingo Wiki's website.
I have some perplexity concerning the sequence of topics in the tree, but I also have some perplexity concerning the CEFR standards, because no teaching schedule can be universally valid for all languages. Just to mention one example, an A1 beginner should be "able to introduce him/herself". In Italian, this requires reflexive clitic pronouns (Come ti chiami? Io mi chiamo...), which are one of the toughest hurdles in the course, and when speaking to a stranger, also the formal 'you' would be important. In Duolingo, clitic pronouns are taught about midway along the tree (I can't see any unit about reflexive, though), and so is the formal 'you'. So introducing oneself is a skill that cannot be met in A1, unless learning some sentences by heart, i.e. without understanding them, which is never a good thing.
Leaving aside my own personal thoughts about the tree, if Midnight4444 complains that he/she cannot understand the word order in a sentence such as Come muore un animale?, this unquestionably means that the grammar notes about the interrogative sentence construction and/or the use of interrogative adverbs are insufficient, or lacking, or unclear.
Almost universally in modern languages courses, basic phrases like "My name is..." are learned by rote memory, far before introducing the grammar behind them. Whether that is a good thing or not, I don't know. The truth is that "in the wild," so to speak, we learn words and phrases in the order in which they are most useful to us, independently of the complexity of their grammar.
I was not on the team when they originally put together the Italian tree here, so I can't speak to how much of this was considered. I can only say how modern language courses (at least in the US) tend to be structured, which is not far from what Duolingo does.
Also, keep in mind that language guidelines (CEFR or ACTFL or whatever) are meant to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. They attempt to show how a language learner generally progresses rather than dictate how it must happen. If a language course mimics this, it is to help the learner follow the path that he or she would naturally follow anyway.
I understand that the 'modern approach' to language learning (what I sometimes call the Berlitz-like approach), i.e. "listen and repeat", often without understanding what and especially why something is being said, is undoubtly faster and less boring than striving with arid grammar.
This approach clashes with the old-fashioned method I follow. But besides one's own personal taste, what counts the most is the result.
Over the past two years, I replied to several hundreds of queries, almost constantly based on grammar issues. And most learners of Italian in DL admittedly make use of external resources, which are clearly based on grammar. This should mean something.
If a language course mimics this, it is to help the learner follow the path that he or she would naturally follow anyway.
This depends on what 'following naturally the path' means.
If it means trying to become able to communicate in a new language, I agree that introducing oneself can be a first useful step. But whatever linguistic interaction one may engage in, including small talk, implies being able to understand a reply, otherwise it is not even a conversation. You can't expect a native speaker, however slowly and simply he/she may speak, to use a single all-round verb tense, or not to use clitic pronouns, or to mangle the language in some other way for the sake of being understood by a learner. So trying to interact at a stage of learning less than advanced, in most cases, can be more confusing and disappointing than rewarding.
Instead, at early and intermediate levels, DL's exercises, which are tailor-made for the learner's skills, are an excellent resource for practicing comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation. I have sometimes read complaints about sentences deemed to be useless or meaningless (not only in the Italian course, there are whole threads about funny sentences). Who thinks this is missing the point, because what these exercises aim at is actually to teach the grammar, i.e. how to construct any sentence, not only the few ones taught in the course.
Instead, I think that to anybody who is familiar with language learning, 'following naturally the path' means learning the grammar from the basics, without the expectation of becoming able to communicate in a short time.
In another discussion, a long time ago, I had likened language learning to the making of a brick wall. The more rules you learn, the more bricks you lay. You can choose to use fewer bricks; but by doing so, the wall will be left full of gaps, and the higher it grows, the less steady it will be.
I think you're misunderstanding me. I'm talking about the order in which things are presented, not whether grammar explanations should support it or not. I actually agree with you that more grammar is necessary, and unfortunately Duolingo is not really built for this. Studies have shown that adult learners have the advantage of already being familiar with a grammar system, and not to use that to learn is a mistake. Adults can't and don't need to "learn like children," as some put it. I don't buy the grammar-free approach, though some of my language teacher colleagues do.
However, I don't think that one needs to be an expert grammarian to learn a language. Don't get me wrong, I love grammar, but you don't need to be able to diagram a sentence to understand it. Students are typically able to get meaning from sentences with grammatical structures they are not yet familiar with. They will then fill in these gaps in their own language usage, but they don't necessarily impede comprehension. Exposure comes first, perfection comes later, otherwise no one would ever talk. Give beginners a chance - they can do more than you (and they, in many cases) think. : )
I'm talking about the order in which things are presented
Speaking of the tree, one of the points I have reservations about is to introduce learners to a compound tense, such as the present perfect, before having completed the four simple tenses. I'm sure that who devised the tree has his/her own reasons for preferring this sequence (likely, practical reasons, because the present perfect is a very handy tense). But I personally think that doing so may be confusing to a learner, for a number of reasons. And the numerous queries about the use of the imperfect tense vs. the other past tenses seems to confirm my doubts (not to mention the difficulty in telling when to use the present perfect vs. the simple past).
Also cramming all the different clitic pronouns into one single unit, instead of spreading them more gradually along the tree, seems to me more weird than wrong. As a matter of fact, the clitics unit is the most dreaded by any DL learner (I've linked one emblematic discussion). Italian is already a complex language; scaring learners making it seem even more complex is quite unfair, methinks. :-)
Adults can't and don't need to "learn like children," as some put it.
Of course not!
A child who learns his first (native) language, being exposed to speakers, does not rely on any scheme, not having one already. Instead, any additional language learned at a later stage must be 'filtered' through the scheme of the first language, and the only way of doing this is by providing a conversion key to the scheme of the new language. This key is grammar. Trying to learn a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language without any grammar is like trying to play a game of chess without knowing the rules.
I agree that DL is not meant to provide very long grammar notes. But for this very reason it should avoid to squeeze too much in one single unit (as it does with clitic pronouns).
And speaking of the units where grammar notes are simply missing, DL should at least provide links to (or suggest) reliable external sources that cover the topic(s) of each unit, instead of leaving learners find them by themselves.
I can't speak for an English-speaker approaching Italian as a first Romance language, but in general I think English speakers find compound tenses easier than simple ones. (After all our native tongue has many more of the former, and they tend to "recycle" conjugated forms with which the student is already acquainted.)
Translation to/from English, unfortunately is not a convenient way to go about teaching distinctions between imperfect vs. other past tenses since English's ambiguity sort of makes a muddle of everything. Not surprising that choice yields the most questions; it yields the most questions and is a target of a great deal of focus (and source of a great deal of consternation) in real-world language classes, too.
It may be of interest to note that a primary objective of the Portuguese tree was just to break up some of the big, grammar-heavy units, in the specific case of that tree — contracted pronouns.
Yeah, we know that the clitics section is awful, and it has long been in the works to find a solution. I'm not sure whose idea it was to put them all together like that. : (
The present perfect in Italian is almost always presented before the imperfect (not just on Duolingo) for the reasons stated above, i.e., it's a much more commonly used tense. If you don't believe me, try having a conversation without the present perfect, just the imperfect. The same is true in, say, Spanish, where the preterit is almost always presented before the imperfect, despite the fact that it is considerably harder (but the present perfect in Spanish is presented later because it is not used as much). If you go by ease and not frequency, the future and conditional, for example, would be presented much, much earlier. They are needed much later, though.
I would have found the theory of verb conjugation early on very valuable - even just present tense -ARE, -ERE, -IRE with common irregular conjugations a great help. There are plenty of online resources to help, it seems a shame DL missed it. I find I commonly refer back to Amy Chambliss' course material here: http://www.unc.edu/~achamble/present.html
I am using DuoLingo alongside an adult education class in Italian, plus I am reading simple stories in Italian, Italian songs and poems and I have bought some text books on grammar and use Reverso online as I write short essays in Italian and help a relative translate business documents from Italian to English. For me, one of the benefits of DuoLingo is that I am not worrying too much about mastering the rules of grammar but going with the sound of the words and relying on repetition. Having learned other languages in a very academic way this is challenging for me but is already giving me more confidence in speaking. In Italian conversation you can get a long, long, way only using the present tense so leaving most other tenses until late in the tree is fine with me. My frustration is with vocabulary - too much repetition at levels 4 and 5 of the most basic vocabulary, and too little up to date usable vocabulary for an adult (by comparison, for example, with French which is quickly into words related to computing).
Good point about the vocabulary. Because I am only interested in becoming fluent in my family's native tongue, I am staying with Italian. It is especially embarrassing to be an Italian citizen, yet cannot understand Italian. I am working hard to change that, as soon as possible. It is helpful to hear all of the avenues I can go down to strengthen my comprehension and fluency. It didn't occur to me that the other might approach things differently - I wish the conversations could be more relevant. I'm not sure how often I will need to tell someone that a mouse is an animal :)
I would suggest Clozemaster for vocabulary or the Memrise official Italian courses. Both are free and very easy to use. Both focus almost exclusively on vocabulary but you will be doing some conjugations as well (more on Clozemaster than Memrise). Clozemaster has swears and up to date words, whereas Memrise only has some up to date words.
I have always thought DL was missing something vital, and wish to describe it like this :- From a piano piano method of learning, DL is brilliant for the first few pianos, but then seems to take a huge jump somehow landing you on the tenth floor. Civis has mentioned about the clitic section, which on my first pass ( the older system ) didnt really give me too much of a problem. However, taking the same section to 3 crowns gave me so much of a problem that I have abandoned it. Reason been that the phrases for translation were more heavily littered with clitics and some new words never or very little seen before, such as cui coi ne. So seeing something like “Io si ne cui vi a te li ne andare sono ci” ( yes i made it up ) is almost impossible to for a beginner to tackle, when you have only advanced as far as “ Ti amo” on previous lessons. Then you get frozen out of the app because you got the answer wrong. I really like 75% of DL, but the other 25% I hate with a vengeance and it could so easily be rectified.
Generally speaking, if you are expecting to fully learn a language from one free site, you are not being realistic. There are so many great sites and youtube channels out there! Duolingo is very good but I use many other sites and find I always learn something new (sometimes something small) from each one.
This! I don't understand why people complain that a free website/app won't get them to B1 without supplementing. Of course it doesn't. Let's be honest, even something as overpriced as Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur doesn't. Not on it's own. And that doesn't mean that you have to spend money on formal classes or expensive textbooks, either.
There are so many websites, youtube channels and other apps. I also get content such as textbooks from my local library. I even got the Pimsleur course for Italian there, as well as other audio programs and stuff for French. And I thought that my library didn't have anything because I never ventured in that section.
I don't have ton of money and I'm, in all honesty, a cheapskate. The most I bought is some cute workbooks for fun and notebooks to keep track of my learning from websites, Duo and library textbooks.
Sure, it's harder to built yourself a full curriculum, but I wish that people would see Duolingo as what it is--a supplement. If you expect that you can just use Duo and it'll have everything you'll ever need--well, let's be honest, then Duo wouldn't be free anymore.
Having used all three, I think Duolingo does a much better job than Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur. What Rosetta Stone has going for it these days is access to tutoring, which you can probably get for yourself much more economically on iTalki or a number of other sites and has approximately nothing whatsoever to do with its core product. What Pimsleur has going for it is the same unredacted 1960s style it's had going for it lo these last decades. (If Pimsleur has updated anything, somebody can feel free to correct me about this :)
I find the structure just fine. And you don't have to learn the modules in sequence. I open three tabs in my browser: a) DL Italian Home; b) google translate italian-engish; and c) reverso-net italian verb conjugator. My preferred method is to go through the tree top to bottom so that I finish the same crown level in each and then start over. When I get stuck, I try patiently to figure out the grammar and meanings using the hover, the discussion, google, and (if the verb is the tricky part) the conjugator.
This is a great website. It is innovative, effective, and free. I am very grateful for DL. Once I feel halfway competent in Italian, I'll try Spanish as well - trying to keep the two separate.