Through and done with French

Yesterday I finished the French with golden leaves. I started with French and Duolingo in general on the 6th of February this year. A little after that I added German and then later I finished English for Dutch and now I'm doing Dutch for English.

At times I dropped French completely. For example earlier this summer I focused my energy solely on learning Dutch. That, however, was not the only reason why I set French aside. It also has to do with the quality of the course.

What was good

I started studying French about 20 years ago. There have been gaps of several years when I have done nothing to improve my French or even keep it where it is. In fact, I had a four-year gap just before starting Duolingo.

Duolingo has been great at refreshing my memory, waking up the dormant abilities. I learned but mostly re-learned a lot of words and gained confidence in forming sentences. I noticed this, and so did the teacher, when I went back to university and took a French course.

In late June this year, I also noticed that practicing with a timer can be a great confidence booster. Of course I made a lot of mistakes but practicing with a timer is a lot like speaking in real life. I found very useful before my trip to Paris.

I would also like to say that I have never had any problem with the audio (apart from the occasional 'œuf' and such). The audio is very clear and realistic in my opinion, when I compare it to the news of Français facile or any other French.

What was bad

Ok, here we go. Like I said, some of the reasons I haven't been French all the time have to do with the course itself. In my opinion there are four shortcomings of the course: errors, lack of depth, bad English, and confusing sentences.

First the errors. I still can't get over it that Duolingo will take a heart from you if you don't think that "excusez-nous" is a good translation for "excuse me". What bothers me is that this mistake has been around probably from the beginning and reported an uncountable number of times. Not to mention the several cases of listening exercises where Duolingo doesn't accept homophones elles/elle etc.

A kind category of errors but more I think a lack of depth is apparent with teaching verb forms. In another post I have already lamented that half of the sentences in future tense lessons actually teach modal verbs and therefore one's understanding of it remains thin. In other verb forms (imperfect, subjunctive, passé composé) there could be more exercises to go through more both regular and irregular verbs.

I have studied elementary Japanese with a Japanese teacher and elementary Russian with a Russian techer, and I can say that in teaching a language knowing the source language is a skill that is at least as important as knowing the target language. In the French course there is too much bad English. On the hand it is frustrating to have one's translation be rejected because of that. On the other hand it confuses people so that they do not know what they have just learned or what they were supposed to learn.

The previous problem sometimes occurs with the last one of my gripes, confusing French sentences. It seems, for example, that to date no one still knows what "impose-toi contre elle" really means ( More importantly, with the high number of faux-amis, it should always be clear whether a French word corresponds or not, and generelly or specificilly, to an English word. It seems that sometimes there is less carefully considered pedagogy and more trick questions for the sake of trick questions.

In summary

I'm now at a point where I have moved on to other means of learning French. It is in part thanks to Duolingo, in another part due to it. I have benefitted from the French course but it saddens me that I cannot advertise to my French teacher at the University. I'm afraid that in a group of French learners, Duolingo will cause more disappointment than delight.

I am under the impression that the state of the course is partially "unfixable", at least by those who work on the language and not the computer code. I sympathise for them but it doesn't mean that someone out there shouldn't get their act together.

Thanks for all the fish

August 8, 2014


Whilst I agree with most of your gripes, you are forgetting the big picture. Part of the frustration and headscratching of learning these things - or lamenting bizarre grammar, like "they gave them their lemons" - is that its all a learning process. Even if it means that in the end you have to find a better way to suit your level. But at the bottom of the learning curves are those that have nul point experience and will find this program exceedingly useful.

One of your points should be a great observation for many learners to consider. You should know your "source" or home language! I've stopped counting the number of times I've come to the realisation that my knowledge of English grammar isn't what I thought it was. So, using this method, you are also learning more about your own language. This in itself is another benefit you should mention.

For those reasons I definitely think you should recommend it to your tutors, because at that level (i.e. in a French class) it is supplementing learning in an accessible way.

However, I do hope the course moderators and creators do take note on some of your comments because, although I know a lot of moderators are working hard behind the scenes, the course should always try to improve and evolve. That way, the better the community gets in a particular language, they won't start to lose motivation to continue.

Anyway, just some random thoughts based on your post. Thanks for sharing your experience and good luck.

August 8, 2014

A refreshing critique compared with the ones from people who think completing a tree will get you to B1 or B2. DL supporters tend to become over-defensive when reacting to criticism. I think you got away with it because they ignored you. But I think you could recommend it to French learners with the provisos you have. First it is a free course which they can do at their own pace as you did. It helped you to remember vocab because of the gamified system. You want to come back for one more drill and that's not easy to do with most language drills. The later parts of the tree are awful. I finished mine just to say I finished. I certainly didn't do it to improve my french. I hope in time you would consider recommending it with the provisos you gave to French learners. It's far from a perfect system. It is certainly not the only system. There is no better time to learn languages than now with the internet. But they all have their limits. And no they probably won't get their act together as the main chant is everyone should be grateful for this free service and they have a thousand and one things to do already as well as setting up new courses. And those who work on the language are limited by what they can do on the course by those who work on the computer code.

I use this account coz they got upset with my negative comments on the discussions and blocked me. Best thing to happen. Now I just concentrate on doing the drills here. Some languages I find easier than others. I don't think there is a difficult language for everyone. If you have a motivation to learn one it becomes easier. I never liked the cult side to DL. But the drills when they aren't riddled with errors and that tends to be more towards the end are addictive.

And I know not to use phrases like impose toi contre elle. First because the French Speakers claim it doesn't make in sense in French and although there are accepted duolingo translations for this phrase that is meaningless in French as the discussion shows no one can agree on what they think the English means either though some claim to understand the French but are not themselves French Speakers.

I would recommend the course to University Level French learners purely to look at things like the discussion. Real students are meant to find better questions yes. My regards to the other dolphins from a rat observer.

August 8, 2014

You know what, you changed my mind. I will tell the French teacher about the Duolingo course, with the caveats. She will hopefully pass them on to her students so that people won't be disappointed. The idea behind Duolingo is, after all, very good.

August 8, 2014

(Lingot for last sentence. :) )

On topic, I have been recommending this course to others with those same proviso's. It's a free course, and it's not perfect, but even with the quirks and riddles the discussions in the comments often leave me with more information than the sentence/error itself.

August 10, 2014

well honestly said!

August 8, 2014

I've advertised the course to others, including teachers, under the same guise - alternative free method, more language exposure, not a standalone tool, etc etc. However, I really wanted to post in order to commend you for being at a point in your French language learning that you can confidently and constructively criticize course content (unintentional tongue twister) and add to its value. Don't overlook your progress despite your frustrations. (Extra commendation for the hitchhiker's reference)

August 10, 2014

I did deem it impolite to quote the song:

"So long and thanks for all the fish / So sad that it should come to this / We tried to warn you all but oh dear"

Oops, there I went.

August 10, 2014

I agree with the gripes. Duolingo does keep the language in your head fresh- especially when living in an English speaking country with little access to every day spoken French. This is highly addictive-even though it has its faults. With Duolingos Immersion my reading and writing is improving but I want to be able to speak fluently so I will be looking elsewhere eventually as Duo can't help in this area.

August 11, 2014

When you say you'll be looking elsewhere, what exactly do you have in mind? I'm curious because fluency is my goal too.

August 11, 2014

Apart from moving to a French speaking country which would be the best way to become fluent what are the options? 1) evening classes- often too basic unless you try Alliance Francaise but these are expensive and not everywhere, 2) become friends with a native speaker or lots of native speakers, 3 )get lessons on Skype (italki). That is about it- FSI, Rosetta Stone and Duolingo do a great job at teaching the structure of a language but I guess we all need to further our education by visiting the old kung fu language master in the woods. Keep practicing.

August 12, 2014
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.