What’s cooking in Czech for English speakers?
We have been working on our second version for a few months now. All of the changes we have been making so far have to do with making the start of the course more approachable. A few of my colleagues are active in the forums and pay attention to what most confuses our students. In no particular order, we have been addressing the following:
- Too many synonyms for boy and girl too early. Version 2 will have only kluk and holka for a long time.
- Confusing words. For some reason, our users have lots of trouble telling “nice” apart from “pretty” and “handsome” on the English side, so translating “hezký” becomes an ordeal for all involved. Version 2 solves this problem by postponing “hezký” until much later in the course. Same with “další” and “jiný”. We are also deleting a word or two.
- Too many nouns being introduced without clues to their gender. In Version 2, we are maximizing the gender clues by including image exercises with the definite article in the English hint and the gendered demonstrative in the main Czech solution, which is always in the nominative. Not everything has an image available, but it is a step.
- Verb endings too confusing. Version 2 takes a big step back and slows the verb introductions down to a trickle for longer, and that trickle is more mindful of the utterly confusing nature of the Czech verb system. Instead of hoping that the users can tolerate being dragged, perhaps kicking and screaming, towards grasping the five classes of the present tense endings, we are adjusting the course to initially teach a simpler yet entirely adequate system relying on only two verb types plus the same four irregular verbs as before. This alone should make the Czech verbs much less painful.
- Too many confusing word orders being shown too fast. Version 2 will start out English-like and introduce non-English orders gradually. This means we had to kill lots of sentences and replace them with material more mindful of the fixed order language user sensibilities. Also, our intent is to support those gradual steps away from English with special segments in the skill Tips & Notes.
- Too much grammar happening at the same time. In Version 2 the skills are getting shorter and more focused. We are also undoing the damage caused by Duolingo’s taking away some course construction features during our work on Version 1, as a result of which not all of the exercises needed to teach a grammar point are reliably being shown to our users.
- Impractical sentences. This complaint is far from universal. I suspect many users like dealing with unpredictable sentences, and that if you take on Czech, you are well qualified to perform word substitutions to change quirky sentences to ones as boring and predictable as you wish. That said, we are using sentence creation for the skills under remodeling as an opportunity to include exercises relevant in practice.
- Difficulty level too high for some, unknown proficiency level for others. In Version 2, we are mindful of the CEFR levels. The first part of the tree will be strictly A1, and so we are flushing some higher-level words and concepts past the end of the A1 zone. Our real goal is to not only remove stuff from the A1 zone that does not belong there, but eventually also include all of the essential vocabulary that our sources say does need to be included. I said “eventually” because reaching full A1 requires some additional content, and we need to not get ahead of ourselves. Duolingo will subject Version 2 to A/B testing, and if for any reason our users act less happy with Version 2 than they do with Version 1 in the test, our Version 2 will be terminated, including the extra content.
- Missing Tips & Notes. We will need to update the existing Tips & Notes to reflect the changes in the course content. Work will also continue on adding new Tips & Notes to skills that currently do not have any. I am hopeful that we can use forum discussions to let some of this ripen in public before putting it in the course(s). One of the first posts will be the present-tense verb endings. Another will focus on word order.
If you want to influence Version 2, do not hesitate to comment. We will do our best to answer your questions and suggestions and update this post or create additional ones as appropriate.
To answer the more predictable question on timing: No idea yet. We do not really even have the scope of the Version 2 mods defined. This post and those it may spawn are intended to invite ongoing user input and share our thoughts that may help Version 1 users with their confusion.
Personally, I love the course and I find it extremely well thought out. I'm one of those who likes the quirky senetences a lot. They stick in my head and help me recall both the vocabulary and word order.
Although it shouldn't be difficult to remember more than one word for boy and girl, I did notice myself tripping up on those, so thanks for addressing this.
You are right. Our intent is not to remove difficult content but rather stage the difficulty increase into a more steady gradient overall and a milder one to start with. And it really will require more skills, only partly offset by their shorter length.
I am fortunately not alone in tackling this update, so take the following as only one perspective among those on the team. I think we do have to include some new content in Version 2 to make it worth the tree completion disruption for the graduates. And to make the work fun for us because muddling about in the nominative-only portion has been torture for us.
I appreciate you guys taking the time to listen and improve the course, however I don't want the course becoming too easy. I'm fine with most of the words and nouns etc. I can sometimes get confused with ending but that's about it. I would actually like to see more words in the introduction tree (for example more masculine, feminine and neutral words to learn in addition to dalsi, vino, auto, more, namesti etc.) Basically I just dont want this course to become too easy I guess. Dekuji a dobrou noc!
I would say that the opinions are especially split on the start of the tree. For example, have a look here.
We ended up deciding that the initial lesson on greetings generated too much user angst for the limited benefit of vocabulary it made available for building the subsequent skills, so we scaled back on the greeting piece of it. And the isolated, verbless noun phrases in the gender row challenged many people's ability to remember stuff. But throwing in two simple verbs in that part of the tree (je and jí) livens it up and makes it feel like much less of a chore.
But then instead of dumping in all those verbs in the Animals and Food skills, we are actually sticking in another gender row, to present the accusatives of a bunch of gender-segregated nouns, with only three verbs split between the three gender skills, and taught form by form.
And I am proud to say we managed to use one of the most famous Czech sentences ever in the neuter accusative skill:
Máma má maso.
I like the course like it is now. Czech is not an easy language and you cannot make it simpler than it is. For me the first lessions were not a too high hurdle. But later, all of a sudden, things got complicated, because too many new things were introduced at once. The chapter "Family" is such an example. To make maller pieces is a good idea. Another good improvement will be gender hints. What I would like, if it is possible in Duolingo: A list of all the new words of a lession. Alle nouns with gender, all verbes in infinitive form. Something else what could help: A list of recommanded references. There are many useful hints, but hidden in discussions until now.
Thank you for all your work.
With the tools available to us, the list of all new words in each skill can only be done by typing it into the Tips & Notes. Right now the length limit for each skill's Tips & Notes is 5000 characters. In the early skills of Version 2, we are generally limiting the number of new words to 28 per skill. If we do these word lists as tables with translations and basic grammar info for each word, it could take maybe 30 characters per word, or close to 900 characters. In some skills that is no problem at all because all they are really doing is teach vocabulary.
But we often have a grammar reason for including the skill, which means the Tips & Notes should explain the associated grammar. And one of the most confusing things about Czech, its mysterious word order "rules", require an ongoing, sustained effort to break the English speaker's resistance to deviating from the way word order works in their language. So many skills need to introduce or train Czech word order features, and that apparently requires explanations and examples that also belong in the Tips & Notes.
This competition for Tips & Notes space is another reason for breaking up the larger, complex skills.
Thank you for all your hard work, I can only admire how much time you spend helping others. I'm just beginning the course and I'm learning and re-learning the language after a few years in CR. If it would be possible or not to much effort on your part, I would really appreciate to add hints to certain words. For example when introducing new vocabulary, by adding clues - mi, ma, f, n // sg. pl. // impf. prf. etc. Is that something that would help others..?
Wow! I had no issues with the beginning of the first skill tree, but I remember struggling in the middle of it. And now I feel like I have a fuller grasp towards the end. I think the course is great, I only use the mobile version unfortunately.
Multiple translations of boy/girl was a bit confusing at first!
Good day! If you make changes in the Czech language course, please change the view of the theoretical part of the course. It would be more convenient if the text was not in two columns, but in one. And second, please replace the gray font to black. For myself, I got out of the situation, I copy text and change the brightness of the font, but now reading on the screen is not comfortable. Thanks in advance.
I'ld love to see some tips and notes about "li" as in "Změníš li něco řekni mi o tom" (a recent correction I got), I've also seen neboli and nebo-li but I have no clue what they exactly mean and if there is a difference how the "li" is added "li", " li" (space before "li") or "-li". And just from looking at the names of the skills, I don't know if there is even a dedicated skill for it.
This "-li" is a weird conjunction that means "if" (so it is a very formal alternative to "jestli"). We teach it in Future 2 with a bunch of perfective verbs. That skill is in the part of the tree without tips. It always attaches to conjugated verbs with a hyphen, and those verbs almost always are the first word in their clause or sentence. Your example would have been "Změníš-li něco, řekni mi o tom."
I do not think we are ever going to have a skill dedicated to just one conjunction, however weird it may be. But I can easily picture an advanced word order review skill where it is the star of the skill. Because its weirdness comes from its massive affinity for attaching to verbs, it wins the second-slot competitions to lead the bunches of words in fun clitic clusters like "-li by se mu ho".
Over time, "-li" attached to other words and produced new ones, including jestli. But these have no hyphens and we usually do not think about their origin even if the old verb pieces are in plain sight.
Adding Tips & Notes tends to be the last step in course creation. It unfortunately competes with work on the next course version for the same set of attributes and tends to lose out because it is less fun. If there is an advanced student who would like to try their hand at it, just let us know. We are happy to accept help. The pay sucks, though :-)
Well, unfortunately I am still far away from being an advanced student, I've just got my A2 certificate a few months ago, but I love to learn about these things (even when I rediscover things like that in my mother tongue, often thanks to learning czech).
Good to know, that there must be a hyphen in my example, it didn't show any punctuation in the correction of the app.
I'm amazed to learn this about jestli! I immediately searched for "jest" and found it as 3rd person singular of být.
Thanks for your explanation!
I think most of the students that do not have gender for nouns in their native languages struggle a bit just because it's really easy to forget even their nominative versions. I've been thinking that one thing that would be very helpful is creating an independent skill for vocabulary on "gender". Maybe like a "basket of words" that we would be collecting until completion of all skills. I imagined something like a "color-coded memory card" (eg. red for feminine; blue for masculine and black for neuter nouns). In that skill icon we could associate the color to the noun and practice. Something like that helped me a lot with German words in the past.
I had just the same idea of color coded memory cards. I found a way to realize that with the open source flashcard program Anki. In the web I found a good instruction together with the code needed. I had to change it a bit, because in the example there is only for two genders. After a bit try and error everything works flawlessly. In my cards I have a field "Gender", where I fill in m,f or n. According to that field the background of the card is blue, rose or green. When the word is not a noun, I simply let the genderfield empty and the background becomes white. For whom is interested: [Anleitung] (https://chrisk91.me/2018/02/17/CSS-in-Anki-Beyond-basic-use.html)
Due to learning czech, I experienced a new weird feeling. Some of the cases create words that sound or "feel" like they are of the opposite gender but knowing their gender creates an odd feeling. For example "ten student" sounds male to me but "toho studenta" sounds female and even worse when I learned, how I had to call my czech friend by her name: "Michaelo" instead of "Michaela". I felt and still feel weird whenever I have to call her.
It will be released after we finish working on it. ;-) ;-)
No guarantee whatsoever, but it will likely be out by April 8, 2024. Hopefully much sooner.
That basically means we have no clue about the release date.
However, we are working really hard on the new tree. Slowly moving out of the Accusative waters at the moment.
As an English speaker, I love the Czech course. My grandmother wrote to her cousins there when she was alive, and I have been keeping the tradition going. I have completed the tree, and my cousins say I sound like a native when I speak. Since I speak it with my cousins, I would say I speak Czech very well. I use other resources for learning Czech, but I would say this helped me out a lot. Some of my cousins use a lot of slang words, that I am not quite familiar with.
Do you think you will be making two parts of colloquial language? My grandmother grew up only speaking colloquial Czech, so her knowledge of formal Czech was very low. I like to speak spoken Czech, and I use it more with my cousins. The older cousins I use vy. To by bylo supr, jestli to pridal! Maybe teaching like "dybych mel penize, koupil bych novy auto." (I notice my cousins take out the -k sound when they say words like kdyz, they say usually "dyz" (sorry, my keyboard doesn't allow those accent marks!)
I would love to help contribute to the course! I have some ideas to lay on the table. Of course, I do not know grammar perfectly, but I know many words, and I have a lot of ideas for interesting topics! Maybe talking about story telling like learning "when I was younger" or "when I was growing up." Maybe even topics about writing a letter.
Thank you so much and preju vam hezky vecer!!!