Kanji only option
Hi, I'm not sure if the Duolingo interface allows for this kind of functionality, but I would really appreciate an option to always show Kanji where appropriate. I just started the Japanese tree and I find it really difficult to read a lot of the sentences when they appear in pure Hiragana. I already know a lot of Chinese characters so easing a learner like me into reading Kanji is unnecessary. I understand that the only course available is Japanese for English speakers, and a Japanese for Chinese speakers would naturally be more Kanji heavy (I actually looked to see if that existed but unfortunately it doesn't). But it is annoying that the interface is so limited. For most of the Kanji I only need to learn the sounds. It would be a more efficient use of my time if I could glean the approximate meaning immediately and focus on understanding the grammar, rather than first figuring out exactly where word boundaries lie and what the hell the random sounds mean. Thoughts?
Japanese for Chinese speakers is actually in development. Along with Korean, German, and Italian for Chinese speakers, the course appeared in the Incubator just over a month and a half ago. ^^
Have a look at the page linked below to see the two released courses and five in-development courses for Chinese speakers:
It would be nice if more kanji were used. But, as this is a beginner course, they'd have to teach all these kanji (and I hate the kanji teaching exercises on here). Also, I find it harder too without the kanji, and I like a challenge. So I'm not really complaining. :P
Cool, thanks for letting me know! I will definitely check it out when it's ready.
I understand that it's a very hard balance to strike for course developers. Kanji is probably the most infamous aspect of the Japanese language and also what most prospective learners of Japanese dread the most, so it makes a lot of sense to me that a course geared towards total beginners in Japanese would focus on building up fluency in the Kana syllabaries before anything else. Being phonetic writing systems, they are an indispensable tool for being able to express yourself in writing if you are not sure how words are written. Coupled with context and cooperation from the reader, I imagine being understood wouldn't be a problem. However, at the same time, given the nature of Chinese characters, there isn't really a big difference between learning characters and learning vocabulary. From a memory retention/comprehension point of view, it is much easier to remember that disparate mental categories happen to have the same or a similar pronunciation than to remember that one basic pronunciation can map to different meanings. That is the power of the Chinese script, and why there isn't really a distinction between learning how to write and learning vocabulary in Chinese. Even though Japanese does not use Chinese characters quite as extensively as Chinese, it is still hugely important to develop a good understanding of Kanji. I think being afraid of them and saving them "for later" does nobody any favors. What I find especially annoying about the Duolingo course is that it introduces a Kanji but then goes ahead and writes the word you supposedly just learned in Hiragana! You can't learn characters without observing them in context over and over again, otherwise you are just memorizing a drawing with a soundtrack.
However, it isn't really my place to claim I know more about optimal pedagogical methods for Japanese literacy than the course developers. If people are uncomfortable with Kanji that is totally fine too. I just wish there was an elegant way to toggle between Kana and mixed Kanji/Kana, like a lot of Chinese learning apps have with Pinyin/Simplified/Traditional. I'm sure I'm not the only person with basic Chinese literacy that is interested in learning Japanese.
Although your concerns are valid, I think you should definitely stick to the hiragana that is taught. Many sentences that you will encounter in Japanese will be a chaotic mix of Hirigana, Katakana, and Kanji; sometimes even with Romaji thrown into the mix. Pure kanji sentences are rare, especially for beginner level Japanese speakers.
Don't get me wrong, I am not interested in getting in the habit of using any more or less Kanji than a typical native speaker. It's just that the comments for some of the lesson sentences lead me to believe that they have the training wheels on at the beginning to prevent people from getting overwhelmed. I personally resent that, because it has a detrimental effect on my ability to learn the language. The reverse is of course also true, Japanese speakers have a huge advantage learning Chinese because they are able to cold-read the basic semantic information without knowing the pronunciation. There are actually many resources for learning Chinese from Japanese, but let's assume there weren't any. Don't you think they would be frustrated if an otherwise good quality resource decided on their behalf that because they are beginners it is best that they stick to Pinyin until they get a good feel for the language? In principle, the idea is not without merit for a typical learner, but in the case of literate Japanese speakers it would be crazy not to take advantage of previous knowledge when it has such direct applications. So far the words for which I have the best retention are ones I learned from other sources and which I know the Kanji.
Please don't misconstrue this post as me venting, I still find the Duolingo course useful. Actually the only thing which I think is very user-unfriendly about the course is not being able to hear the specific readings of Kanji when hovering over words. The audio is usually not super clear, so the ability to hear/see what reading a Kanji has would be very useful.
I recommend checking out the app LingoDeer. Unlike DuoLingo, it was designed from the ground-up for teaching Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to English speakers. For the reason, it has a really wonderful interface that allows you to select how you want the characters to display. It offers romaji, hiragana, or full Japanese (or any combo of all three). So when you are just starting and don't know hiragana yet, you can set it to display romaji and get started learning Japanese right away. When you want to practice hiragana, you can either switch to it, or add hiragana in addition to romaji. And when you are ready to tackle kanji, you can added in, with or without furigana.
It is really amazing and I love the versatility.