https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

My technical review of the Arabic course

Greetings. I'm a native speaker of Persian, which shares the same script and the same coding challenges as Arabic. I'm looking forward to having a Persian course in Duolingo and the Arabic course can help us see where we are and what we need to improve. I'm myself a web developer and well aware of the difficulties in developing apps for right-to-left languages. So, thanks Duolingo team for what you've done so far for Arabic :)

Edit 2019-07-01: I created a custom theme for Duolingo Arabic to address some of the issues discussed here.


  • The font size translates into 19-44 pixels (varies from question to question). I've been helping people learn Persian for many years and I know these sizes aren't large enough for most learners. For a native speaker, even 15 pixels is enough but learners need much larger fonts. Browser zooming doesn't help much. Advanced users can use browser extensions like Stylish to customize the look but that's another story.

  • No font has been specified for Arabic. Duolingo is using DIN Round for Latin script, which is a modern beautiful font but for Arabic, they have left it to the default font found on the user's system! On Windows, this means Times New Roman, Segoe UI or Arial. None of them are optimal! As for Persian, Tahoma used to be the preferred system font but we're in 2019 and now, there are better fonts for Arabic and Persian. Noto has good fonts e.g. Noto Naskh Arabic. For Persian, I highly recommend Vazir. Vazir supports Arabic too but Arabic and Persian are typically written in different styles. You can witness this, for example, in Arabic Wikipedia vs. Persian Wikipedia.

  • Specifying a font makes Arabic texts look the same across different operating systems just as it is now for Duolingo languages written in Latin script.

  • Modern fonts like Noto or Vazir, render diacritics better and make texts more legible for Arabic learners.

  • Modern fonts support more weights e.g. 500, which is actually the default font weight in Duolingo for Latin script. Most system fonts don't support this weight and texts are rendered as 400. An Arabic/Persian text having the weight 500 looks more elegant and legible.

  • Sorry, this one is too technical: instead of inline CSS (span dir="rtl" style="font-size: x"), please use a CSS class both for styling and also indicating the language e.g. class="rtl lang-ar" or class="rtl lang-fa" (Hebrew is also rtl but it has a different script. That's why I think it's necessary to have lang-x classes). Arabic/Persian texts usually need a higher "line height". If we have a CSS class, we can define the line-height in a CSS rule rather than repeating it inline for every instance (style="font-size: x; line-height: y"). A CSS class also allows advanced users to use tools like Stylish to customize the look and feel (and share it with others).

That's it for now :) I'll update this post if I notice more points.

June 29, 2019

63 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Verbenaceae

I hope this thread gets to Duolingo!

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AliAkbar295441

Sorry out of topic, but i really want to know: what is the name of the flower in your profile picture?

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/garpike

The original artwork seems to be this, which appears to be an ox-eye daisy.
I was hoping it would at least turn out to be a member of the Verbenaceae, but no such luck...

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Tat846374

stunning...and others on that link...thanks

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/shchrchrt

Looks like aster

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/-.Edwin.-

Oh, finally a really good and "at the point" review about how to improve the Arabic script, rather than the usual complains that no offer any solution.

As a learner, a wannabe linguist and a wannabe coder, thanks a lot, Ali! A bunch of lingots for you!

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

You're welcome :) Thanks for the lingots. I created a theme that fixes the font problems. You can find it here

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/-.Edwin.-

Really nice! Thank you!

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JohnJohnNL

I felt thrilled with the Arabic course becoming available. My huge compliments for the team!

And indeed, I experienced the need for better legibility in some cases. E.g. in one case I could not even see a short a-vowel dash without magnifying the text by a large percentage.

مع أطيب التحيات

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Libertad54

I think exactly the same. Thank you for the course and help with legibility if possible.

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/giovannico325125

I would like to see a Persian course too!

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/gregg732286

Yes, as would I! I wrote Duo about that sometime ago and they curtly replied that they had nothing in the works, as if it weren't an important language.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

You can still learn Persian online. Here, I've provided an introductory course, vocabulary lists and a verb conjugator. If you want to learn Persian in more depth, Easy Persian is the best place. I think every language enthusiast should learn Persian. Both because of its linguistic value and its uniquely rich literary heritage, which isn't much available in translation. It's a hoard of treasure that one must discover and enjoy its gems.

July 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Alpha882105

Excellent advice. I hope they will enlarge the fonts for Arabic. I appreciate that a native speaker of Persian admits that for foreign learners the script is to small. Sometimes some native speakers of the languages that use this script take it as an insult.

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/dianabilam

Yeah agree with you!

July 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BillDe

Will duolingo please make a priority out of a solution to this tiny letter sizes? This post seems to lay out well what needs to be done. It is really impossible to see the vowel markings clearly. I am reduced somethings to copying the text elsewhere where I can enlarge it. It is a shame to have all the work that went into adding the vowel markings go to waste because there is no way to display them.

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JohnJohnNL

For now, please try Control+ to enlarge, e.g. in Firefor and Chrome, or use your index and thumb to enlarge on a phone.

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Alpha882105

Sorry but can’t enlarge on my tablet using thumb and index. It is “frozen”.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Cypher922476

I don't know what OS your tablet uses, but you should investigate your Accessibility settings.

On my android phone, I went to Settings -> Accessibility, and then selected the "Magnification" option. This put a permanent button on my home row that I can press, and then tap the screen, and it zooms way in. In this mode I can move the area of zoom, or increase it with the pinch gesture.

It's worth seeing if your tablet has something similar.

July 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

@BillDe Try the theme I posted here

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BillDe

Yes. All of your comments have been great and helped a lot. My remaining problem is when I am on my android and I am just carrying a magnifying glass with me for that. Really appreciate all of your posts!

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

This has a solution too. Instead of using Duolingo's Android app, open Firefox on your cell phone/tablet and log into Duolingo. This way, you're using the Web version of Duolingo on your Android device. Now do the same process (install Stylish and my custom theme) and your problem should be gone :) The screen is smaller but it's quite like studying Duolingo on your laptop/PC

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Cypher922476

I had the same problem using the app on android, until I found a solution in another comment.

On Android devices, if you go to Settings, then Accessibility, there are a bunch of options including "Magnification". This puts a magnify button on the home bar (next to home, back button, etc). If you tap this button and then tap the screen, it will zoom way in on that part of the screen. It actually makes the diacritics readable! Then you tap the button to zoom back out again.

You can also set it to use an alternative system of triple-tapping the screen to trigger the zoom.

Hope this helps, it's been a life-saver for me. (But this does not mean that Duolingo shouldn't bother to fix the actual problem!!)

July 20, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Enes_Gencturk

I agree with you, fonts are really small for a beginner, and I think the tips are so unsatisfying. I like to learn something deeper about languages and the Arabic course can't give me these "deeper things" but I try to complete the course and then I will try to write something detailed about the course.

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

Please note that the course is labelled "beta". It has been made available so that users can test it and give feedback. There will be more lessons and tips as it grows out of beta phase.

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Boujleba

إِن شاء الله

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Famolvfox

And please make the tree longer, seems too short

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Lululipes

It's in beta though

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MareadoOtraVez

I have been waiting a while for this to launch and I'm psyched! I agree about the font size. Wasn't a big deal until I realized that it is really hard to me to get quick at recognizing the diacritical marks (hope I got that word right). I'd also love if the words were voiced as often as possible. With a new script, I constantly feel like I am trying to learn 4 things at once (letters, sounds, words/meaning, and grammar). I am hoping things click if I plow through it, but it is akin to when I was learning greek, only in greek, there aren't 4 different versions of each letter!

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

I've tackled different scripts. I understand how you feel. Focus on letters and sounds for now. Try to write some words of your native/favorite language(s) in Arabic letters (e.g. this same "mareado", "otra", "vez"). This helps letters stick better in your mind. And then, when you feel comfortable with letters and sounds, focus on vocab and grammar. Good luck!

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/zickovski

WOW I hope they will follow your tips and change the letters for bigger! Everybody complain about this size too small so maybe they will listen to us?!

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/colornbian

My man are you looking for a job lol angel.co/comuno en.comuno.org/subscribe

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

These days Iran is more isolated than ever. Can't accept international jobs because of the sanctions :( I didn't know this site. Thanks for letting me know about it. Saved its link for later when I relocate abroad :)

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Alpha882105

Sorry for that.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/colornbian

Very unfortunate, not even informal jobs? You couldn't work as a contractor or a consultant? Let me know when you are in a position to consider an offer if you are interest, you seem very knowledgeable, and it seems like you would be an invaluable addition to our team. My email is yesid@comuno.org I would love to chat with you

July 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/MJB1971

Thanks.

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Libertad54

شُكراً

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jenifer392715

Thank you for this! I hope they will increase the font size and the course length!

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

The course is a beta version. They'll add more skills and lessons and will hopefully, fix font problems too

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RB9wjS

eamal jayyid!

June 29, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Ingrid706595

I had dificults whit the size of the font too. And the zoom of the screem doesn't works well.

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/StephanVog9

I completely agree with your comments on font size. There are scientific studies which show the difficulty of reading Arabic depending on font type and font size, even for native speakers. For learners a large font and a simple font type is paramount, as many characters (esp. in the middle position) look nearly the same and are only different by number and position of dots above and below the characters, which leads to a high degree of confusability for learners.

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oinophilos

I appreciate your making these suggestions. The Arabic type is too small. I have a minor suggestion and a question. "Pretty" for "jamiil" does not work in all English situations. We'd never say "pretty weather." Duo should substitute beautiful. Also look at the verb which I think Duo writes 2aHibba for 1st person singular. Shouldn't it be 2aHibbu?

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BillDe

"Pretty" and "beautiful" both work in the great majority of the cases, and everywhere I have looked both are accepted. If duolingo were to attempt to make all word translations succeed in every situation they would not have any words.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oinophilos

I'm fine with having both accepted. In the program as I receive it, there is little choice, so one tends not to stray from the default words but accept the unnatural. To do otherwise in most of these language trees is likely to be marked incorrect. For example, here "The weather in Scotland is rainy" was not accepted, only "the weather is rainy in Scotland."

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BillDe

Funny. I would give you a laugh emo if duolingo had them. And I will steal the example for other discussions.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CobyVaknin

I confess, I stopped reading half-way through, but this guy sounds like he knows what he's talking about (for a change). I tried it, too - I've never studied a lick of Arabic before in my life and it was fun as all gangbusters, I might add - but I agree the Arabic text was a bit too small to appreciate the details of the new words. I found myself looking for landmarks in the words to discern the correct answers, without being able to fully appreciate every letter in the word. (FWIW, I haven't tried it on all devices, but if it could be boosted 3-4 pts, I think it would be perfect).

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

If you had read my post till the end, you would have seen that I had created a custom theme, which fixes the font issues :) Thanks for mentioning "reading half-way through". I edited my post and moved the solution to the top so that even half-way readers notice it :) A lingot for you ;)

July 3, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/rbembleton

Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but dir=“rtl” is needed for certain browsers (and is a standard element property). I agree that font size should still be applied with a class (probably several classes based on the different contexts).

This can still be targeted in css regardless:

.font-class[dir=“rtl”] { font-size: }

Although this obviously is only useful for browser rendering, doesn’t offer much help for users like myself who use the native mobile apps.

July 16, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BaSsGaz

You could easily write a simple script to address all of these in 30 minutes. Do it man. I'm not learning Arabic (I already speak it) and you seem to relate to learners more and would understand what they need.

June 30, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

OK :) I'll try to write a theme with Stylish. I don't know how much I can improve it though. I can only tweak what is outputted to users. A lingot for your encouragement

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Squidocide

Well said, looking forward to running into these issues. I'm just glad they started with a solid sound and script set, which was the first thing I had to learn when I attempted Arabic the first time more than a decade ago. The Russian course just throws words at you hoping you'll figure out how to read.

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Dylan_Amador

Thank you so much for sharing this information with us

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/RobertoVro15

Oh thanks friend, Shukran

July 1, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Cathy440791

Weirdly the number 3 is used as a transliteration of some non English sound in the practice lessons. There must be an alternative surely?

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BillDe

As was explained somewhere else the number 3 (and the number 2) have a history from Arabs chats in transliteration from before unicode was available. Thus this transliterations are historically rooted and it would seem weird to an Arab to use anything else.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Oinophilos

I agree. Once you get used to them those symbols are clear and accessible. I've also seen 9 used for 3ayn, but I think 3 is better since it looks a little like the actual character.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Alpha882105

This pseudo transliteration is a pain in the neck. Why not concentrate on the audio and the writing? I do not see the need to learn how to write Arabic chat with Latin letters.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pierotoni

Completely agree, a bigger arabic font is necessary. I have to do a lot of zooming in order to see the diacritics.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/NathanGuo

Strongly agree with the font size issue. I am hoping to have more comprehensive explanation of the alphabet part.

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alijsh

While we're waiting for font problems to be fixed, you can use my solution

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Kariukinji

Thanks

July 2, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SaraPastoo

Agree about the size of the letters! Please make them bigger!

July 2, 2019
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