I have noticed that the number of Experts varies a lot from one language to the other. Has Duolingo allocated them in proportion to the number of learners? In other words are there twice as many German learners as French or Portuguese learners? More generally, could you share with us regular statistics on the number of learners per language (at least in percentage)? Thank you.
My guess for the "odd" distribution of Experts....Is that if we saw the job descriptions of each of the experts, it would be clear what was happening.
It seems that each language has 1 -2 language experts assigned. Then, individuals with BIG job descriptions are added to the language experts. The peeps with big job descriptions speak Spanish. One of them is Luis, creator of Duolingo. The others are also experts on the general Duolingo and/or Troubleshooting boards which presumably means they have big job descriptions, too.
I doubt the number of experts has anything to do with number of users, but rather, just that Duolingo "executives" may speak Spanish?
To improve your language lessons quite easily and dramatically, please introduce vocabulary based on word frequency lists for each language. I was introduced to the Spanish word for 'spider' quite early in the lesson sequence, which seems rather dumb as I doubt it ranks very high in Spanish frequency lists, per Zipf's Law.
It's a distribution law, essentially claiming that the k-th most frequent item is 1/k times as likely as the most likely one. Not sure whether it really applies for vocab frequencies and how that would affect duo's lessons, though. It has a lot of applications in network (graph) theory.
George Zipf did a lot of research on word frequency distribution. It would help because it simply means that a small number of words account for a disproportionate amount of usage. A simple English example is that 'chair' is a lot more useful to learn than 'neem' because the former comes up a whole lot more often than the latter. Hence, imho any language course should introduce high frequency lexical items earlier to give the learner the most bang for their linguistic buck.
OK, you surely are right about 'chair' vs 'neem'. But araña? It's on position 1610 in wictionary's frequency list: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Frequency_lists/Spanish1001-2000 That's pretty high up.
And apart from word frequency duo has more points to consider:
learning words in context helps a lot (e.g. learn animal names or kitchen related vocabulary together)
nouns are far easier to learn than – say – prepositions and conjunctions which always are very high up in frequency tables. If duo would strictly follow such tables, I doubt that learning would be much fun: Just scroll through the top of this list http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Frequency_lists/Spanish1000 and you'll see what I mean ;-)
Wataya, your reply is very interesting, and thank you for the link to the ranking of araña! I'm surprised it is that high. Yes, nouns are easier to learn than 'function words' like prepositions and conjunctions, but I will stick to my original claim that higher frequency words should be introduced earlier rather than later. There are not very many function words in any language, so given their high frequency (for most of them), I think it is extremely important to learn them early on. But of course, my original comment was about all words, including nouns, and also verbs, etc. In fact, irregular verbs (which are more difficult to learn) are irregular precisely because they are high frequency words. As high frequency words, they are more resistant to the normal influences on linguistic change; hence, they tend to diverge over time from what becomes the norm in a language.
I would like to add that frequency lists differ depending on the corpus that they are based on. A textual corpus might include different vocabulary and idioms than a corpus that is based on spoken language. I wonder whether Duolingo makes use of a mixed corpus or whether it's focussing more on written language to complement its translation service.
Seconded. I like to tell native speakers of English that the "inter-language distance" between French varieties of Canada and France is similar to that between varieties of English: American, British, Australian, Indian, etc. Then I like to startle them by saying that the "distance" between French and other Romance languages (when i get something like " but then you should get most of a conversation in Spanish or Italian", which is quite often), is similar to that between English and other Germanic languages, like German or Dutch. It is a bit mean because a lot of them don't like the idea, but i think it is a fair comparison.
Sorry about the digression