https://www.duolingo.com/sturlu

Improvement suggestion: Making Duo more attractive to andvanced learners

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First let me say that I like the new crown system, and I like it even more since "testing out" was introduced. This feature offers a faster track for advanced learners to reach the more challenging tests of the higher crown levels. But I think there is still room - and the need - to improve.

So I did a little experiment: Posing as a new Duolingo user, I took the placement test "English for German speakers". I made sure to answer every single question correctly. After that, I was on level 8 and had 26 crowns (that is a little less than half of the tree).

What this means is that even if, say, Stephen Fry were to take an English test on Duolingo and he wanted his tree to be "five crowns golden" and a "25" next to his name, he would have to take many hours of tedious tests to get there.

Or, more realistically: Someone who already has a good grasp of a language, but would like to take some advanced lessons, has to gnaw their way through a lot of tests far below their skill level in order to get to the stuff that they actually need to improve.

Why is this a problem?

  • It means that Duolingo could be a lot more attractive for advanced learners. People who have already taken classes at school, college or for work etc. and want to get even better at this language. I think Duolingo could get such people to engage considerably more with the courses if you offered them a better way to advance to their real skill level.
  • It also means that Duolingo levels (crown or otherwise) don't indicate very well how good a person is at a given language. If you get an answer here in the forums from someone who is, say, level 12, this could either be a fellow learner halfway through their tree - or a fluent speaker who has completed the tree by "testing out" of everything and then stopped, having found nothing new to learn here.

How could it be fixed?

Simple. (Well, simple to explain. Probably harder to do, I'm aware of that.) Let us "test out" of whole sections of a tree in order to raise all of the skills in that section to a certain level. (Yes, this test would have to be quite a bit harder than those for single skills.)

For example: If some of my skills in a section are on crown level 3, some on 2 and one on 4, taking this test would advance all the 2's to 3. Take the next test and all the 3's go to 4, and so on. Oh, and please don't forget about the last section, which is usually the longest, and which currently doesn't even have a "testing out" feature for the first pass.

This way, users could get on the "fast lane" until they found their limit, and then take the normal lessons from there on. And a user's level would finally somewhat realistically represent their actuall skill level in a given language. Last but not least: It would be a win for Duolingo, too, because more users would have more of an incentive to engage with the existing offers.

Thanks for reading! ;-)

PS

  • Why not indicate a user's native language(s) in the forum and on their profile page? Again, this would make it easier to gauge the reliability of an answer given by this user. For example, my German level is shown as "13", because I took the reverse tree from Spanish, and it would be zero if I hadn't. This isn't hugely important, of course, but on the other hand it seems to me like something that would be fairly easy to implement.
8 months ago

21 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/TheDaisyMoon

I really like the idea of indicating a user's native language in the profile and in the forum. I have been more than once told I shouldn't comment about French because I didn't know the language... when it's actually my native language. Pretty annoying.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Don_Cristian
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The option of having the user's native language has been requested since 2013 every year and I also thought at one point it would be good, but now I just think it would make any difference. People could write their native languages in their profile bio if they want to tell it.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Cymas86

The best way to make Duolingo attractive for advanced learners would be to offer advanced material. Depending on the course, you only reach A1, A2 or maybe low B1, all very much in the beginner levels of proficiency. Also, the platform on the whole is very weak in speaking/listening, which requires users to seek out alternate resources. It would be nice if we could get projected updates on if/when podcasts will be made available in any additional languages.

An interesting but likely completely infeasible project would be "Duolingo Netflix" that specializes in native content for interested learners, to make secondary language material much more widely available. Run that alongside a platform that makes ebooks more easily accessible in multiple languages and I would stay here for a long, long time.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sturlu
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I'm with you, advanced material is always great. But that requires additional effort by the language teams, and some of them are already struggling as is. (For example, the "Spanish for German speakers" tree is pretty buggy, but the team seems to have gone mostly inactive.)

What I'm proposing would approach the problem from the programming side instead. Because if you're already good at a language, the tests for crown levels 1-4 won't pose much of a challenge. But to test out of L4, you have to actively translate into the foreign language (as opposed just clicking words, or translating from that language, which is much easier).

Therefore, by doing this, you could deliver interesting challenges for advanced learners using the existing content.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Cymas86

I'd make the argument that if you're advanced enough to test out of L4, you're probably beyond Duolingo's level anyway. But, maybe Duolingo could also encourage people to do the reverse tree as an advanced skill also.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KarenLynn11
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Cymas 86 - maybe, maybe not. I had 5 years of French in school with the last class about 20 years ago, and really haven't used it since. I find level 5 significantly harder than level 4 because there's so much more writing in French than in the lower levels where recognizing the words based on a combination of having learned them before, similarity to other languages I know and just plain logic gets me surprisingly far.

Lately I've been using the new 'test out' feature on the lower levels combined with doing all the exercises on level 5 for a lot of the skills, and I really like being able to do it that way as it saves me a lot of slogging through the lower levels. What sturlu is suggesting seems to optimize that approach, and I think it sounds like a great idea!

sturlu - yes!! So much this!

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sturlu
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Interesting idea. But there, too, you'd be starting with pretty low level words and sentences.

As to the L4/5 thing: That probably depends on the individual learner, but speaking from my experience currently working on the Danish tree: I haven't encountered any problems testing out up to L4, but the translations into Danish often still show me the limits of my knowledge. That's why I would like a fast way to get to these tests, instead of wasting my time doing stuff I already know.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/geerte13
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Agreed! I finished my French tree around level 8, and now I have to go over and over sections again for the remaining 22.000 XP in order to get to level 25. It's a mountain of work. I'm glad for the test out function, since it will now only take weeks instead of almost a year.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward
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You don't have to get to level 25, you know. If you know the content that Duolingo has to offer, then why waste your time working for level 25? Why not move on to other resources outside of Duolingo?

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Thomas.Heiss
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Hi Sturlu,

+1 vote.

Q: Has it be your experience that you are only allowed to move to crown level L1 with the intro placement test?

This has been said in other threads e.g by Pentaan, so I did not re-try for myself.

This is really ridiculous if one has an intermediate/advanced English knowledge but just wants to review grammar skills and level those - more complex ones - selectively up to L4-5.


About levels / missing last checkpoints:

My experience for Spanish on the Android (tapping intro placement test, much easier than web portal test because of many available hints; trying out my "Portuguese" language skill) was, that it can put you up to level ~9.

My test out on the DE-EN (forward) tree in 2016 was up to levels ~8-10; I can not remember exactly anymore...sorry.

Not many trees have a final checkpoint right before the last skill, like the updated A/B EN-PT tree (from June 2018) - thankfully - does it now (huge improvement!!!):

  • EN-DE (reverse, 7 available checkpoints): 20 locked/grey skills at the bottom of the tree after the last checkpoint

  • DE-EN (forward, 4 available checkpoints): 15 locked/grey stills at the bottom of the tree after the last checkpoint

..(...)..

So if many skills are still locked (grey) with the placement test, with a missing final checkpoint you can not easily test out to ~level 10.

I performed much worse (because of typing in English which is indeed sometimes a challenge) with the placement test in my reverse English tree (even I am not a beginner).

I did not pass the last two of seven (max.) available checkpoints; I would have to progress sequentially with the two missing checkpoint tests and 20 more single skill tests.

As you describe, I would have to repeat the skill tests multiple times to level-up from L1 to L3 and higher.

..(...)..

I read in other "Skill crown test-out" threads that people are not completely satisified with the tests because of missing words, no increasing difficulty level when you go through test-outs.

I only can say that the old **lesson test-out" (DuoLingo 2016+2017) was indeed challenging for me, up to the last 20th question, when I had to review/test many of my skills in the new EN-PT tree early June 2018.

I hope there are plans by staff for some improvements of the new A/B test-out with the next code iterations 2018/2019.


Any language / course user settings:

  • true beginner (learning from scratch)
  • low-mid-high-intermediate (review + grammar, fill in missing vocabulary)
  • advanced (just a prestige 2nd language flag or vocabulary/grammar review)

would be IMHO much easier to accomplish to selectively pick those (missing) words and longer and more complex sentences according to ones previous long-term learning level
.
and
.
to assist with the initial placement test in picking the "right" English questions and high-frequency vs low-frequency words depending on your previous knowledge.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sturlu
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Yes, when I took the placement test (in the web browser), 26 skills got a crown level of 1, the rest stayed at zero. I didn't make any mistakes and I finished the test pretty quickly, too (in case time is taken into account).

I haven't tried any other languages, though, but I doubt that they will be much different.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/BeCreative__
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Outside of the complications of making a test that would include multiple sections and crowns outside of the already existing checkpoints, pretty easy access to harder material can be attained just through laddering. I have gone from Spanish, to Portuguese, to French and am into Italian (though I am still within Portuguese to french too) and having to type more in target language(s) is quite beneficial. I haven't seen any concrete posts on the laddering versus level 5 crown comparison of translation material, but acknowledging their may be benefits to both — and remember the variation is good — going to a new course to type in a language being learned for a higher percentage of the time does indeed stretch Duolingos limits.

I got to B1 with Portuguese using duolingo as a base, utilizing this method of course stacked with other relevant resources for listening, pronunciation, reading, writing, and very importantly talking, and now I am basically C1, so that is good. My french is like A2 and I can still stretch Duolingos utility —but duolingo is not a golden ticket to fluency — and I haven't even finished a french course haha. So I kind of think that laddering already does stretch things more than what you want —of course there are course limits with that though — and taking into account there may be some ok material at level 5 crowns, I would say from my use of Duolingo that laddering is quite effective.

So there is a solution for extended material....and I think after that (and really a bit at the same time) sites like Speaky.com can be big boosts and a road forward (of course it is not a golden ticket though, but it is a good bunch of bricks on the path to improving).

I don't think what you said is too crucial, but hey it would be cool to test out faster if some people want that (flexibility is good), but I can say I like the new update where it is at for the speed it can allow me to progress at haha. And like I said, laddering can up the typing in target language percentage quick and provide new content; two things that are useful. If you are looking to improve I suggest films, speaky, and laddering, and the learning process doesn't have to be overcomplicated haha, unless of course it is a very complicated language (a relative concept I know, but all the same what I say is on point with the languages I have been learning, which does include arabic, which I can say does have a little different method in terms of proportion of time investment). Anyways those are my thoughts.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/carbsrule
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It really doesn't take that long. I had completed the Esperanto tree before the introduction of crowns, and after I completed it, it was largely rewritten (v2.0 of the tree, they called it), so I lost a lot of my skills. With the test out feature, I was able to recomplete the tree in a single day.

I think the whole concept of using Duo levels to measure one's language proficiency is a bit off-base. For example, I'm only level 17 in Esperanto, but I'm quite capable of using the language - I read books in it, attend meetings conducted entirely using it, have taught a beginners' course in it, etc. In Japanese, I'm level 6 although I've studied Japanese for 8 years total and speak it every day. I'm level 1 in English, but I think I get by ;) OTOH in Russian I'm at level 14 and near to completing the tree, and I don't really have a clue how the case system, genders, plurals, etc. work together. I make educated guesses and drag myself through the course, but I couldn't actually speak Russian to save my life.

All in all, I think Duolingo is a system best suited to beginners and intermediate learners. Advanced learners really need to switch to other resources.

8 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sturlu
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By "completing the tree", did you mean crown level 1 or level 5? Because if you got to 5 from near scratch in one day, I'm seriously impressed. ;-)

As to the levels vs. skills: You're making my point. It's true, these numbers currently say very little about the user's actual language skills. My point was exactly that they would, if such users were able to test out with a reasonable time investment.

I agree on the really advanced speakers: Once you are able to use a language in conversation, you have moved past what Duolingo courses can teach you. And that's totally OK, Duo doesn't have to do everything.

8 months ago

[deactivated user]

    I totally agree with you.

    8 months ago

    https://www.duolingo.com/RoxannaUSA

    I think those are good suggestions. As to the user's native language, I just changed my user name to include my native country's abbreviation, USA. It's not a perfect solution but it would give people a good clue that my mother tongue is English.

    8 months ago

    https://www.duolingo.com/Maxim_SMWD
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    I like your ideas, but personally, I feel the top levels (24, 25 etc) are more for those who are dedicated to duolingo and have stuck with it, being it a permanent sign of loyalty as streaks are often lost. Every course I have completed I've been around level 15-18, but many others are much lower so usually you could presume one has finished the tree when they are around level 19/20ish. Although it would be a nice alternative to skip to high levels (I would love to that for Spanish as I have the ability to do the test), I personally feel that those top levels should be reserved for extreme learners who have invested time and effort for a long period of time, just my thought :)

    7 months ago

    https://www.duolingo.com/psionpete
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    On your PS you make a case to indicate your native language but you can do this already on your profile and it seems interesting that you yourself have withheld that info.

    8 months ago

    https://www.duolingo.com/sturlu
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    Well, yeah, you can put it into the status on your profile. But does anyone really look at those? I don't, but maybe that's just me ;-)

    8 months ago

    [deactivated user]

      I so agree with you! I simply want to brush up my Italian and Spanish knowledge, whoses levels are quite high, but I have to go through silly exercises. One wrong soft touch of a button and I am supposed to have answered wrongly. I am an English teacher, whose native language is Dutch... I also find it quite annoying some answers are marked incorrect as Duolingo had an American form in mind, most speakers of English do not use. I might chat to you again, but I find so many interesting discussions here... All the best, L

      8 months ago

      https://www.duolingo.com/Michalina1917

      I agree with you! I find the French course to be tedious as I have been taking French in school and am therefore testing out of all the levels down my tree. But in order to reach 25 I'm going to have to raise my levels in categories that contain stuff I already know, and that's boring. In fact it was the reason I left duolingo like a year ago :/

      7 months ago
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