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Adverbs: thoughts, tips and ideas

I've just finished "Adverbs: 2" skill in German and want to share some thoughts that apply not only to the skill mentioned and not only to the German course, but to some general Duolingo concepts. That is why I am posting it here. Apart from that, Duolingo general forum is the best place to attract the attention of the team. There is a topic on Adverbs here: http://duolingo.com/#/comment/11640 but it has not received any answers from the team.

Disclaimer: I don't mean to whine or to ask for help with my own problems. I share these concerns to help improve Duolingo experience for everyone. Ideas and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Learning so many adverbs in one skill is extremely hard. There is no way to figure out the meaning of most adverbs without context. "Out there" or "underneath"? "In there" or "on it"? The sentences don't help because very often the only difference is in adverbs. We peek again and again and it seems we don't learn anything.

Synonyms. I often wondered if the developers aimed to recall as much adverbs as they could to give them all. This is how we get a couple of words for "at least" (mindestens, wenigstens), quite a few words for "by now" or "meanwhile" (bislang, inzwischen, mittlerweile, maybe some others), a couple of words for "because of that" (deshalb, deswegen) and so on. Now, I respect German language and I perfectly understand that there are never exact synonyms. Every word is special and there are reasons to prefer one word to another in some cases. However, let us not forget that we are on a beginner or lower intermediate level here. Do we really need to learn so many alternatives for "meanwhile" right now? I'd say a simple "jetzt" (now) would be enough to be understood. What we are aiming at while learning is getting an active vocabulary, i.e. a set of words that we will be able to use ourselves. For that purpose, the most common words should be taught. The synonyms will come anyway with time, with reading and communicating with others. After some practice they will come out from the passive vocabulary into active usage. But Duolingo tries to cram all these words into our active vocabulary right now, and this is a bit painful.

For me, the most important in "Adverbs: 2" was to learn compound words like "darin", "darauf", "dagegen", etc. It is a really important German grammar concept; and I'd make these words the focus of the entire skill.

Idioms. Learning idiomatic phrases is important, but could there be any other way to introduce idioms rather than making learners fail or skip and then memorize the given correct answer? How on earth can one translate "This is what it boils down to" into a foreign language without being taught it first? During my months of learning on Duolingo I have come to accept that learning by failing and losing hearts is okay, but it took me quite a lot of time to overcome frustration over failing without any fault on my part. If it is supposed to be this way, there should be some encouraging messages like "Don't worry, mistakes are essential part of learning" or "This was tough, we know. Hope you'll get it right next time". I don't think it is the best idea, however. People should not "pay" with hearts for learning idioms.

Passing a lesson once is not enough. I have noticed that passing a lesson does not give you all the possible sentences with the new words. This approach is very good because we don't want to only drill some limited amount of sentences, but rather to use the words in different situations. The more sentences and phrases, the better. On the other hand, however, this very approach leads to frustration if a user does not expect to get new idiomatic phrases in practice sessions. Pure logic suggests that if you passed a lesson, you learned everything that was taught in it, but apparently it is not so on Duolingo. Therefore my tip to all my fellow learners is: pass the same lesson as many times as you need to be sure you got most of the possible sentences. This will help you avoid a lot of frustration. For the team, though, I'd like to say that something has to be done about that. People should be prepared to repeat lessons. Maybe there should be some mandatory practice sessions after every lesson. This needs research.

Practice is important. Wait, who does not know that? Of course it is. But are you sure every user is prepared to do 4, 5, 6 sessions of practice before moving to the next Adverbs lesson? It took me a few weeks to "learn" 10 lessons of "Adverbs: 2", and I'll need another week or two to practice this skill until I really remember the words. Most users would be likely tempted to cheat out of this lesson by copying and pasting translations of sentences. (In fact, I did so in my French course where some sections are just as tough. I am not even sure if I was right to spend my time on honest learning of German adverbs. Maybe I should have passed every lesson once and left this skill behind because I'll learn the necessary adverbs "in the wild" anyway.) In any case, I think it is a nice idea to have some tips section on the home page. One of the tips shown there should be "Do you know that it takes about N practice rounds to learn every lesson well?" or "You don't have to learn new lessons all the time, consider throwing in some practice" or "Frustrated with too many words you don't remember well? Time for practice!". The recommended frequency of practice could be derived from statistics that I'm sure Duolingo collects.

Thanks for reading this. Please forgive my English if it is not very good; I am not a native speaker.

May 1, 2013



These are very good suggestions. I found the adverb sections in both German and French overwhelming too. In addition to your suggestions I'd like to see both the adverb and the adjective sections broken up into smaller sections so I could actually get them fixed in my mind instead of repeating the enormous lessons over and over just to get some sort of learning.


I found Adverbs to be the hardest section in Portuguese (so far).

I agree about the idioms too. It is very frustrating to lose a heart the first time you see one. I wish the dictionary hint was smarter so it could work on phrases rather than single words.


In every language adverbs are hard. Period. And more importantly, learning adverbs just for the sake of learning adverbs is pointless. Who gives a damn about learning thousands of adverbs when you cannot use it in a real context? Good, I learnt what "alem disso" means, "'é dai"?

But I'm just whining here.


I don't think it is whining. Learning adverbs and idioms should be incorporated into learning of other words. The most important thing for a beginner is to learn the essential words and how to use them to express the most common thoughts, questions and answers.

Learning adverbs could be good if these were simple and straightforward adverbs like "quickly", "late", "well" and so on. In some language there are rules about adverb place in the sentence. There are also rules of forming adverbs from adjectives like "quick - quickly", "slow - slowly". It would make sense to learn these tricks in a separate Adverbs section. But learning ambiguous phrases like "with this" or "through that" is too hard and would be much more effectively done while practicing the language "in the wild", for instance in the Immersion section. I can say the same about learning prepositions: one little word can be translated differently and change the mearning of verbs in a different way. Trying to learn all the possible meanings of "off" or "with" is wasting time. It is much better to learn the main meaning of these prepositions and then gradually discover how they can change the meaning of other words.


Your English is excellent. I don't mind doing a lesson three or four times in a row, it's all practice, and what matters is what stays in your head, not how many points you collect. What I would like would be for repeat exposures to a lesson to leave out the examples you got right the first time. This would mean that getting through the lesson got progressively harder, but you would be unlikely to just fluke your way through without a good understanding of the grammar. It would also ensure that, if you were having problems, you would be exposed to all the different variants more quickly. Finally, when you get something wrong, there should be a link to pages or sites that go through the troublesome points, not just two lines saying 'do this here'. I had Latin drilled into me when I was a kid; the rote learning of declensions and cases is pretty dry, but it does give a solid platform to build on. Links to some of these discussion pages would be a good start.


I do mind doing a lesson several times in a row because I don't feel like I'm making any progress down the tree. I'm trying to win the game!:)

I do like your idea of seeing only questions you got wrong or didn't see before though. I find that I end up memorising the correct answers if I see a question too many times, without necessarily actually learning the language.


I think there is an argument in favour of learning a variety of synonyms or different ways of expressing what is almost exactly the same idea. You may not need such variety to adequately express your own ideas, but if you'd like to be able to read or understand what is being said to you, you will need to be familiar with more than one way of saying the same thing. To me, the subtler part that will then be picked up through experience is knowing when one version of a particular phrase is more appropriate than another.


I'm just talking about priorities. For instance, we have only learned present tense so far - do we need al these subtleties about adverbs right now? I've never said we don't need them at all, but learning just some really essential adverbs would be enough at this level, we could learn more subtle and advanced ones a little later.

If you read, you'll be most likely using a dictionary anyway, so there won't be much problems with synonyms. Besides, with reading you first learn the most common words because you see them more often. This is more effective than learning a lot of common and not-so-common words at once.


I agree with you. The other problem I have with adverbs as we have been learning them is that the subtle differences in meaning aren't made clear and while we will no doubt eventually pick up many in the Immersion section section at this point it can be confusing.


I do not agree with the part about idioms. The frustration really helps me memorize those *!"$. :)

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