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  5. Duolingo vs. Real Life


Duolingo vs. Real Life

So, this is a question. I've been learning French on Duolingo since last October (229-day streak as of today), and I feel like I'm really getting a lot out of it. But after having learned this way, and only this way, for several months now, I just wonder how I will be able to translate this experience into real-world usage situations. It's all so entirely out of context on Duolingo. I feel that I have no sense at all, for instance, of when people say things one way as opposed to another way—which way is more formal or less formal, etc. And in general, the many different ways things can be phrased, the vocabulary—I often wonder, would I actually use this? Is this how people actually say it? Is there other stuff it would be more useful to know? And if so, how do I get that part of the language learning experience?

So I'd love to know your thoughts. Should I supplement my Duolingo studies with something else? If so, what? Or should I just keep going with it? I am after all less than halfway through the tree. Any and all thoughts would be appreciated!

May 22, 2020


[deactivated user]

    Absolutely supplement! Watch you-tubes, read online news and current affairs, find films or TV programmes (preferably not dubbed into French), read books, use grammar sites, try to find someone to speak to in person - locally if you can, but via something like conversationexchange.com if not.....


    Thanks for these great ideas! Do you know of any particular grammar sites that are good?

    [deactivated user]

      I like lawlessfrench.com - mainly because it isn't a site for linguists who get excited about analysing the grammar - just about getting to grips with it.


      I learned a day or two ago that Ms. Lawless worked for several very important sites like one for the French government and About French and then her own Lawless French. Now, as I understand it, she's with KwizIQ.com. Her sites are excellent.


      You must supplement DL. DL is a beginner program with a tiny vocab, basic grammar, and over reliance on reading and translating. To make use of a language you will need much, much more vocab (including idioms), be able to speak and understand native speakers, and to communicate without translating.

      For vocab, Memrise is a useful beginning. Pimsleur is good for speaking. But really you need a patient native speaker - ideally with teaching experience. A good class (or paid tutor) is best but a tandem can also work. However, I have tried about 10 people as tandems and only this year have I found one that works for me.


      Yes, you should supplement. If you're around halfway through the tree then you should be able to read, write, and understand some French. At that level you might consider blogs. Here are a few that I watched:

      Français avec Pierre

      Nathalie FLE

      parlez-vous French?

      Those three call themselves "intermediate". If that's too difficult you can start with something simple like watching episodes of Extr@ French

      That will help with oral comprehension, but it's at a pretty low level so if you're bored with it move on to the news or something. I watch france24 regularly.

      Here's a short video you can start with. See if you can get through it without pausing too many times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVJKHYUZ0yI

      For reading comprehension you can start with an easy, short book like Le Petit Prince. It's about 100 pages and I read it in about 3 days, in short spurts mostly on the John. These days I read Le Monde online regularly. I made it through L'étranger but that took a loooong time. I would not recommend that till you get all the way through duolingo, at least.

      If you try to watch films right off the bat you will likely get frustrated. They can be very difficult to understand. Pop songs can be hard to understand as well, but they're short. They also encourage to get your grove on, and the surgeon general has said we should be sure to exercise during this period of confinement so that's an additional benefit.

      For speaking practice there's really no substitute. You have find someone to speak French with. I usually practice with my son. He's in the 9th grade and is finish his 3rd year of French in school. He rarely asks for help because it's one of the easier classes, but since school is all on-line for him now I make it a point to have him practice with me, otherwise it would just be paperwork only. I start in the morning and continue till he gets annoyed with it. 15 or 20 minutes a day is about all he will tolerate, but it's better than none. If there's no one around you who speaks French, then teach your cat or your goldfish to speak French and practice with them. I knew a bilingual dog once. He was fairly impressive. A puertorican friend had a dog who would respond to a large number of Spanish and English commands, so I know it can be done with dogs. Not sure about cats or fish.

      For additional exercises, explained in linguistic terms, try bonjourdefrance.com They actually explain new skills using the more technical language--for example, you can type "le subjonctif" in their search and get a number lessons at various levels for practice in that skill--although there are not nearly so many exercises as duolingo. Here is an example of one of their lessons. Be careful, if you leave off any diacritical mark or punctuation mark, or misspell any word, it will be marked as incorrect.


      Youtube language teachers are awesome. I often catch myself being mesmerized by a video explaining to me how to use the basics of my own language. Is that weird? haha.

      Allow me add the channels Innerfrench and Comme une française


      Yes innerfrench is also a great podcast to practicing comprehension https://innerfrench.com/podcast/7/


      This is amazing advice. Thank you so much. I do think my dog would be open to practicing French with me.


      Yeah cats would not respond to your commands. They think they are the masters and not the other way around :D It's still interesting though how people have different ways to call them to come to you in different languages/countries.


      Actually, there is some difference between languages for cats. I think I mentioned here when we rended a condo by the sea in France and there was an unfortunate feral cat population. Signs in places said "ne nourrissez pas les chats" or something like that. One morning we had a crowd of cats at our door. My wife was yelling, "shoo" and "go away" and "scatter" to no avail. I laughed and said these are French cats. I opened the door and shouted "Allez!" and they immediately scattered.

      I'm not saying that cats can really speak languages. It's probably just conditioned learning, like Pavlov's experiments. When they hear that sound, they know that the next thing that happens is that a shoe will come flying in their general direction, so they know that allez means "I better run away now." If more anglophones stayed at that particular condo, they might be used to hearing the English words.

      But I would agree in general that dogs are more pliable. A long history of hunting in groups and 30 thousand years of domestication, instead of a long history of hunting solo and maybe 6 thousand years of domestication, have rendered dogs more useful to humans, in general.


      Haha yeah it's a great story about the French cats :). That's my point. They are indeed used to different sounds at different places just as dogs are https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ompXYwgWl1M


      It's still possible to train them. In Russia there's a circus based entirely on cats performing. But they are a lot more independent than dogs and are not really willing to obey.


      I totally understand like, why would we need to know how to get to the station? for example. But they are teaching us these things for if we go to a (insert learning language) speaking place. The phrases they teach are common phrases for getting around and probably not for every day conversation.


      Well if you decide to go to the country where that language is spoken to try and practice your "every day conversation", you would need to know "phrases for getting around".


      I'd say that it depends on what goal you want to achieve. If you want to be able to speak with French people for basic stuff (introduce yourself, order food, do groceries, small talk about the weather...) I think Duolingo is perfectly fine.

      Now if you want to have real conversations, watch movies, negotiate at the market... I think Duolingo is great for the basics but you would need to use other ressources. I know I shouldn't advertise for other platforms here but Busuu is really doing a great job at teaching a language in an "immersive" way (a lot of details and precisions about how the language is actually spoken in everyday's life).

      And of course, listening to French songs, watching French shows/movies, being curious about new words and implementing French in what you like to do in your everyday's life is IMO the best way to progress.

      [deactivated user]

        I think you are allowed to recommend other resources. Except if you own them and are going to make money from them! ;-)


        Great to know. I DO want to go beyond basic understanding and eventually be able to really converse in French, so this is helpful.


        I try to use what I have learned in Spanish and Italian by watching spanish speakers on TV, or perhaps YouTube. There are a lot of idiomatic expressions that can be confusing, but hearing it spoken in real time helps.


        My advice is while you are using Duolingo, read the stories, listen to podcasts, and write useful phrases, words and rules down after each lesson. Read dual-language or beginner stories in French, and listen to lessons on Youtube and other language sites. Try to find someone to speak French with either online or in real life. Read French newspapers , listen to French broadcasts/radio, and watch movies with English subtitles. The biggest challenge is honing your listening skills - spoken French is often very different from what you hear on Duolingo. When you improve your listening skills, and repeat what you hear, speaking French will become much easier. Give it time. I hope you have a chance to visit a French-speaking country. Bonne chance!


        Merci beaucoup! These ideas about listening/watching elsewhere sound great. And the tip about writing down useful elements after each lesson—I'll try that!


        "Is this how people actually say it?"

        I find that Duo does supply an appropriate French way to convey a thought. But the thing about language is that there are oftentimes SEVERAL ways to say the same thing. What you develop by mastering a language is having those options to flourish in any situation.

        I think Duo provides a good groundwork from French. But you should try to have real-world, useful interactions with French to develop and push your boundaries.

        Signed, John from FrenchCrazy


        I 100% recommend joining a meetup group (obviously not at the moment). You can be amazing at duo but you won't really be able to speak the language until you actually "speak it". sounds obvious when you say it out loud. Its a weird experience at first when you are in a real conversation scenario, and it sort of feels like a step backwards because you're answers are slow and you forget simple words. but after a while you start to get quite good and everyone in the meetup group is there for the same reason as you, so no judgement is made, only encouragement and help. a lot of meetup groups are still running on zoom but I personally like the real face to face interaction.


        Duolingo helps you to build your vocabulary but you'll need to practice how to put everything together. I suggest watching shows with French subtitles so that you can see the sentence structure. I recommend Language Learning with Netflix (a chrome extension) to make your experience even more enjoyable with your preferred show.


        This is why duolingo is not supposed to be one's main (and especially not the only) source of language learning. It is just a supplement.

        You already got great advice here on specific resources that can be helpful. I would recommend to go through all the stories here if you haven't done this yet. They can serve as a great springboard to move on to listening to podcasts and watching videos. And start reading books. Begin with simple stories, maybe children's books. And then progress gradually. Don't wait till you're done with your tree to start doing all these things.

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