https://www.duolingo.com/Franois865006

I am very disappointed

I had been studying Chinese in the past years but had been getting rusty. I started again a couple of months ago with Duolingo. I was doing very well. I had accumulated 5000 gems just a few days ago.

Then Duolingo started asking for my own English translations for Chinese phrases. I consistently enter answers that are correct, but that are not recognized as being correct by Duolingo.

An example: "jia" can be translated to house or to home. In some cases, Duolingo will accept house, in some others it will only accept home.

Another example: "qing renzhen gongzuo" requires, as an answer, "please take your work seriously". It rejects "please work seriously" or "please take this work seriously" or "please take this job seriously", which are all correct answers.

Getting the correct answer has become a guessing game. I keep on having to buy more health and I spent almost all my gems in just a couple of days. English grammar allows to change the order of words (not all permutations are OK, but many are). Duolingo frequently accepts only one of several good permutations.

This is not about the exercices becoming harder as I advance. It is about Duolingo having an inconsistent treatment of answers and not recognizing many good answers.

I will stop using Duolingo if I fall to 0 gem, which may happen next time I need to buy more health.

Signed: 46-day-streak member.

September 13, 2018

25 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Katycatz

These are valuable examples and you offer lots of feedback; thank you for that! I do highly suggest that you continue to report any issues you have in the course -if you decide to continue- as it will only improve the course over time. For various reasons, changes are not always immediate but we do see the reports and care deeply about our users' experience. I'm sorry yours has been disappointing so far. Please be patient as the various language teams are comprised sometimes of just a few people. While we're so fortunate to have 300 million users, we don't yet have the resources to employ enough people to fix things immediately. Perhaps one day! We do endeavor to grow as a company and to consistently improve our course and language offerings.

September 13, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/powelliptic

There are two big issues here. The first is that Duolingo is supposed to make language learning free and fun, but in the case of Chinese it makes it a frustrating ordeal. I really enjoy Chinese but after only a single session on Duolingo I often want to not look at the language again. The second, to put it bluntly, is that you're teaching those 300 million users wrong things. Not everyone has the patience or external knowledge to know that they need to constantly second-guess what Duolingo is teaching them.

Providing feedback is the typical response people have to those who have problems but the volume of errors and their lifetime frankly make it an unrealistic solution. (I just encountered multiple errors in a single session, including an incredibly basic 9-month-old.) Sadly, the most practical advice people give to aspiring Chinese learners is when they suggest using an app other than Duolingo.

I appreciate the work that has been put into Chinese so far, but it needs a lot more before it is ready for prime time. It would be nice to see a concrete get-well plan, not hopes and crossed fingers.

September 15, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/TARDISToni

I'm afraid I have to agree with you on most of this; I addressed some of these issues in a comment below. I have been studying Chinese for over 30 years, and I have a background in linguistics, so I'm pretty confident in my abilities with the language. I was happy to see that Chinese was available on Duolingo, but I gradually came to the realization that the course is just not set up well. I'm not sure the same approach that works for Germanic or Romance languages works very well for Chinese, even if we put the entire issue of how the writing system is taught (or not, as the case may be) aside. I don't think I'd recommend Duolingo for new Chinese learners either.

Looking back on my own early days, I think Chinese is best taught in an interactive classroom environment, because learning Chinese requires a three-pronged approach, at least: (1) learning pīnyīn/romanization, pronunciation, and tones, since many of the phonetic sounds in Chinese are completely foreign to most native English speakers, as is the tonal system; (2) learning a writing system which has no alphabet, and bears almost no direct relation to pronunciation; and (3) learning vocabulary and syntax. Unfortunately, Duolingo's pre-structured, mostly European-language oriented approach to language learning focuses mainly on #3, and from what I can see, largely ignores #1, and treats #2 as pure memorization (which, to be fair, it is to a degree, but knowing the radical system is a BIG help in learning how Chinese characters are constructed). I was horrified to see comments recently from people with a Level 10 in Chinese asking, "what's a radical?" I don't see how one can honestly expect to really learn Chinese without addressing all three areas of the language equally, and I don't think the Duolingo course is doing that.

For people who are doing it just for fun and to learn a few sentences, it may work out okay. But if you want to seriously learn the language, I would seek out a classroom environment, if at all possible. There may be other online sites or pre-packaged methods for learning Chinese, such as Rosetta Stone, that may be more successul, but I just have no experience with them, so I'm not the one to ask. But I really don't think Duolingo is the best place to learn Chinese, certainly not as a single source. It's already flawed in the way it's set up, and then the translation problems, as raised in this topic, just add to the confusion. This is probably why the attrition rate of Chinese language learners is so high here. Perhaps someday, I might look into joining the team to see what I can do to help. But I'm afraid volunteering might just lead to answering questions and complaints about the translations in the comments section, and sifting through the reports, and that is a poor substitute for actually improving the way the course is structured. (No offense intended towards everyone who has put in a lot of work on this course; We appreciate your efforts!)

September 15, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/KennyHolst

As someone who had started with Rosetta Stone, I can share a perspective on that. I could go into detail but honestly I just could summarize it by saying it has its own set of advantages and disadvantages which are different from Duolingo, but comparable in net magnitude. At the end, it's still not a good single resource for Chinese.

However, I'm saying that before accounting for the one last major advantage it has - which is the online tutoring. The system is pretty awful and that would make it really hard to actually use if you don't have a flexible schedule, but assuming you can go out of your way or plan ahead, you can get a lot of sessions in, and that in itself would make the program a really good deal, if you just compared its cost to that of traditional classes or tutoring.

September 17, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/TypeLuo

There was this one weird thing with my brain where I accidentally just entered pinyin whenever it asked me for an English translation. :P

September 17, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/DestinationVoid

Katy, The fact that some parts of the course are substandard is not the only source of frustration. The other inability to make the course better. If you look at discussion on some the sentences, you'll notice that people keep reporting the same issue over and over.

Don't get me wrong. I do understand that people reviewing reports might be overwhelmed by their volume.
The thing is that Duo isn't fully utilizing the power behind its user base. Give your users more options to contribute and instead of complaining about various problems, they will fix them by themselves!

September 18, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Katycatz

You're right about reports not being answered in a timely manner. And that is a shame but is something we're working on improving over time as we grow as a company. And you're also correct in assuming that the sheer number of reports -due to having 300 million users- is quite high for a company our size. And we deeply appreciate everyone's patience as we roll out updates for courses. Japanese in fact is on the short list of languages that is in the works, actually.

The suggestion that we use our very large user base is a great one but please don't forget that going that route also requires a lot of bandwidth and resources we don't have at the moment. Allowing users to assist in improving, changing, or adding to lessons would mean that we need a team of people at Duolingo managing those users and overlooking their work to ensure it's up to our standards. It's a fantastic idea in theory but one that we have decided won't work for us at this juncture.

We want to grow, I promise you that! And we want to offer the best language learning tool with the most languages in the world; I can also promise that. And it's not lost on us that we aren't (yet) perfect but we're doing our best in a precise and thoughtful way.

September 18, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Son-.-Goku

Being that this is a free website created by volunteers there are bound to be mistakes, especially in a language like Chinese that is much different than that of English. All we can do is report it to the contributors. I know that the Indonesian course use to be horrific and that after looking at the comments on individual questions the contributors are actually adding correct phrases. From there point of view they had to find extra time in there life to sit down and do this work for free trying to make as few errors as possible. And unless they are native English speakers they are going to under stand much fewer ways to translate. So report and help them learn English better and in return they can help all of use learn all these beautiful languages better as well. Good Luck!! Don't ever give up.

But if you do, try lingo deer, I use it with duolingo for Chinese because they are much more developed but I love duolingo and wish to support them too.

September 13, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/yah511

Keep reporting. I have the same experiences and I report them every time. Every few weeks (sometimes months), I get a couple of emails saying that issues that I reported are now accepted answers.

September 13, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/BafouillCharabia

Wich email do you use to contact them ?

September 15, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/yah511

I don’t email them. I just use the Report button after the exercise, usually check the option for “My answer is correct” (or however it appears), and then they send a notification via the email I signed up with that the answer is now accepted. It might take a few weeks or months for it to get accepted, but I have had a steady stream of those emails going back a few months now

September 15, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/S0R0USH

The report button sends them the problem. If they fix it, Duolingo emails you to let you know that the problem(s) have been fixed.

October 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/waikong

Unfortunately, i agree with you, Chinese needs to go back to beta, it's not really ready as it is.

September 16, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/PhilipDai

I agree. I am fluent in Chinese and I can't help the translations because it is out of Beta and I can't join the team of editors. It is very frustrating.

September 17, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/KennyHolst

Is it not accepting contributor applications? It appears to: https://incubator.duolingo.com/apply/zh-CN/en

September 17, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/ZizhanWu

I'm not sure if it is okay for me to say, that Duolingo, in my perspective, is a site for learning languages for FUN! FOR FUN! It kinda acts more like an approach for you to spend your spare time, like Facebook and Twitter. If you really want to learn something for serious, I strongly suggest you purchase some Chinese textbooks, even AP Chinese textbook would work!

September 17, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/BafouillCharabia

I would hope that BIG THANKS to you, will help to forget this bad moment. I'm surprised : We have to give gems to help improve the system ? It should be the other way, you should get gems when you help. That's strange. But for sure, try to find a direct contact with them (or don't loose your time here and get enjoy the life in another way). Also, maybe they can give you back the gems.

And for the "inconsistent treatment of answers", that's true that I learn their typical answers. So I answer what the machine wants, not my own way to say it correctly.

... and sorry for my unperfect english.

Goog luck for all :) :) :)

September 15, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Tuxfriend

Hopefully, that gem stuff won't turn up in Android and on PC (web browser) any time soon. Having to buy health would discourage learning for me!

September 19, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/YuliaTikho

Hi, Franois! You could, perhaps, ("If I were you..." :-))) to offer as a volunteer to sort out these "lesson with serious work" problems, to prepare list of correct answers. This is just neutral suggestion, an option/challenge, I didn't mean to be boring or whatever. Enjoy your Chinese studying anyway.

September 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/TARDISToni

While I don't disagree with you about the questionability of many of the English translations in the Chinese course, I don't understand this reference to "buying health," or how it's managed to take your 5,000 lingots so quickly. I've never encountered anything like this in over 6 months of studying 6 different languages. What are you referring to, please?

September 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/Procellis

Most users of the iOS app have the health system where they are awarded gems instead of lingots. It also means that they cannot progress through the course at the speed they want to if they make too many mistakes (lose health). They instead have to spend their gems on new health.

September 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/TARDISToni

Ah, I see. I use the Android app, so I've never encountered that issue. I have resigned myself to the fact that sometimes, you just have to temporarily memorize (or write down) the exact answer that the course wants - even when you know it's not the best answer, or your answer is equally acceptable, or sometimes the English translation is even wrong! - in order to avoid an incorrect answer the second (or third) time around. It's disappointing and deflating, but we have to remember that each new, separate translation has to be inputted by hand by a moderator; Duolingo can't actually understand us, and know if our alternate translation is right or wrong. And the moderators and programmers are plagued by more requests to add alternate translations than they can handle, so getting a new one added takes a LONG time.

I think those of us who have previously studied Chinese prior to Duolingo definitely have an advantage in this course. I can't even imagine trying to actually learn Chinese from scratch with what basically amounts to memorizing flashcards. Duolingo doesn't teach the radical system, or even what a radical is! And I think that's a terrible shame. I'm not even sure how pīnyīn is taught, since I tested out of many of the initial lessons. I'm glad I'm using it just for brushing up, not for actual new language learning, and I pity those who are trying. I will also admit that the low quality of the English translations - and likewise, the lack of flexibility in accepting alternate syntax/word order in the Chinese sentences - means I use the Chinese on Duo much less frequently than the other languages I'm learning. I've studied Chinese longer than any other foreign language, save Latin, but it's lagging way behind in my levels for just this reason. (The translation quality problem happens to some extent with almost every language I've tried on Duo, but other courses seem to handle it better.) It just isn't as enticing, or as much fun to learn. In a way, I think the language is intrinsically just not well-suited to Duolingo's programming/approach to language learning; it feels like someone's trying to put square pegs into round holes at times. The fact that Chinese is so different from English means that it needs to be approached differently, at some point, than your average European or Romance language.

Thanks for the reply and explanation, and I wish good luck to the OP. I hope you can overcome this problem, or find another Chinese learning site that better suits your needs! Giving you a lingot, even if it may not help. :)

September 14, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/betarage

I now use a different app called lingo deer for Chinese i still do some Chinese on duolingo because i prefer to use duolingo on my pc but i need more if i want to learn Chinese i need more than just duolingo

September 16, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/TypeLuo

Yes, this sometimes happens. It might just be a glitch with the randomizing system, hopefully they change it soon. But you don't need to buy more health! You could just practice to regain health.

September 17, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AG.Mans

omg yeeeeees i know what you mean! i feel you

September 19, 2018
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