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Duolingo's first Skill: Alphabet

As you can see, I've just started learning Spanish from this site. But before doing so, I had to go to multiple websites just in order to find a way to learn the Spanish alphabet correctly. Just as you all know alphabet is the foundation for correct spelling and pronunciation of a language. And If you don't know how to pronounce the alphabet of a language correctly, no matter how much of that language you know, you will still have problems regarding your pronunciation.

So I was wondering that with all the efforts and time that the contributors and the duolingo staff put into the incubation of a language wouldn't it be great if they would make an Alphabet skill lesson, with tips and recorded pronunciation for each letter?

After finishing the Spanish language, I plan to learn another language, probably French. But there is still the problem of learning its alphabet. There are so many resources on the internet that you don't know which one to trust. Because as I mentioned above, learning the alphabet badly can cause your whole pronunciation fall apart and even sometimes make you incomprehensible.

I don't know if this topic has been brought up before, but if it has, I see no reason why this idea hasn't been implemented yet. I would be really grateful to know your opinion on this matter...

P.S. : If you find yourself liking this post please up-vote so that it can be considered by the Duolingo staff.

By the way, sorry for my English.

October 1, 2014



There is actually research on this matter[1].

In my opinion, it can be downright unproductive to learn the script at the same time as the language because sometimes the script is pronounced differently and in some cases it can cause confusion.

For example, for those learning English the word "Island" may be a problem because they may try to pronounce it the way it is written. With languages such as Mandarin (I have no knowledge of), it could be a mistake. The script is overly complicated, contains many characters, and is so alien to non-speakers that it may just confuse them. It also requires more cognitive effort to learn so many things at the same time.

If I had to learn such a language I'd prefer to learn it up to a certain point without writing / reading anything, then once I'm a bit comfortable I'd learn the script.

P.S. Mandarin speakers are acquainted with the latin script because they must use it for science and other subjects. The only difficulty would be pronouncing the letter. Also some languages (like mandarin) have no alphabet, so it is better to call it a "script".


If you want to learn a language just so you could be understood and just order a coffee or ask for an address, yes, duolingo's way is preferable. But if you really want to learn a language by heart and understand and speak it the best way you can, then it's better to start with the alphabet. (for example if you want to continue your education in that language)

I'm not saying that it's impossible for you to learn a language without learning the alphabet first. I'm just saying that it is not the best way to go for it. I guess it just depends on the person's taste. But it wouldn't hurt if they added a table of alphabets with tips for pronunciation, would it? And honestly, it's not a lot of work. A few hours would suffice.

And regarding the "Island" example, there are many exceptions in most of the languages. But the sounds always stay the same if you learn the sounds you'll have no problem in pronunciation. For instance, the sounds "L" or "D" or "V" and ... always are pronounced the same no matter where they are or in what form they are. The problem with exceptions are that they are written differently, but if the person knows how to pronounce the sounds in the word "Island" he'll have no problem. Whereas a person who cannot pronounce the "th" sound in think will have a great difficulty making himself understood. (He may pronounce it Sink or Tink as most foreigners do) I'm sure you understood what I mean by now but if you didn't, all I want duolingo to do is give tips on how to pronounce the sounds of a particular language. And not all sounds require tips. When learning a language from any language there are many sounds that are the same.

So for example if Duolingo were to put a table of alphabets with their sounds for the Spanish From English course they just need to add tips and pronunciation for a few of the sounds that are pronounced differently. Like the sounds G, D(in context), V, .....

P.S. : thank you for mentioning that the mandarin speakers are acquainted with the Latin words already. I didn't know that. But, The discussion is not about the script anymore it's mostly about the sounds and pronunciation of the letters. But you are not acquainted with the Persian or Mandarin scripts, are you? so you'll definitely need an alphabet guide.


I agree that for further learning, literacy is important. The thing is that in Mandarin a single character may have many pronunciations (pinyin.info/chinese_characters).

I'm not acquainted with mandarin or Persian, but I learnt arabic script, and basic pronunciation a long time ago, and I can tell you that the pronunciation can make some people burn a fuse. The characters are have one name, and are pronounced differently:

There is also a lot of diacritics that greatly change the sound of each letter, and how long you must pronounce the character. In Portuguese (my L1) the same thing applies, the letter 'x' for example, is called "shihshi", but it can also be pronounced like "Z", like "sh", "ks", and so on.

Anyway, there isn't likely to be one size fits all, considering people's background. But the script can place unnecessary burden on someone before they even start a language, sometimes it is better to learn things one thing at a time.


The Arabic script's shape is very much like Persian's. But the Persian's pronunciation of the letter is so much more easier. And about the name of the alphabets no one even learns them anymore (they are not necessary, I think). You just need to know the pronunciation. Arabic language is so complicated. They teach Arabic and English here(Iran) in schools. But the education system sucks so much that even after finishing 6 years old studying Arabic and English in school, students can't even read a simple article in any of the languages. I'm guessing the only pronunciation problem you had faced when learning the scripts of the Arabic language was with the "GH" sound as in "ghayn" ( غ ). Because pretty much every other sound exists in English. Most of the letters in Arabic sound different. But in Persian many of them sound exactly the same with no difference at all. The letters (ص، س، ث) all sound the same (all sound like S as in Sound), (ط، ت) these sound like T as in Tank, (ض، ظ، ز، ذ) all sound like Z as in Zero, (ح، ه) both sound like H as in Hello, and some others. many of the sounds are exactly the same as English. That is the reason Persian people do not have many difficulty learning English. The only Problem they face is the Th sound both in mother and think. We do not have a sound like TH in Persian. And also the positions of the tongue in the letters R and L are different from English. These are the only problems I guess.


I do not agree with you. I am learning French from this site. And I would have found a lessons about the alphabet extremely dull. But while constantly listening to the pronunciation of the phrases I eventually figured out when to use "é" and when "è". I learned the correct pronunciation of those letters by using them and I find that a lot better. (Though I really must search a link to the French alphabet song, I would love to hear that.)


The reason you find an alphabet lesson dull is because you speak English and the French alphabet is in shape very similar to the English alphabet. But for someone who speaks Languages like Chinese and Persian (myself) it's extremely hard to learn the language without learning the alphabet first. To further understand what I'm saying try to learn the Chinese language from this site without learning the alphabet. And by the way, you are actually learning the alphabet one by one in the process of learning the French language. In my opinion, they should at least add a voluntarily lessons for the alphabets of different languages.


I guess that will be course dependent. If you opt for the Spanish for English users course, alphabets as such wouldn't be that critical. Most of the letters are same with a few additional ones like ñ, ü, etc. The pronunciation of the vowels is different but its much simpler than English and can be picked from the listening skills. If one is learning Spanish form Mandarin, then it will be another thing altogether. For a native Mandarin speaker, the script will be completely new and will need additional help as such.


You are right, it is course dependent. But they can at least add a table of the alphabets with tips on how to pronounce them and the position of the tongue. It would solve a lot of problems that people are encountering day by day while learning languages. The forums are full of pronunciation questions.


Yes, I agree. THERE IS ANOTHER program for language learning that has a tab lab k ed "alphabet"


I agree with you, that for a person who doesn't speak European languages the alphabet might be necessary. If there was a course English for Chinese-speakers I would agree with you. But we are talking about courses for which one should know English (or other European languages) rather well, because it is the base language. So my disaccord remains, because you are talking about the necessity of an alphabet lesson in the course Spanish for English-speakers.
On a site note: I find your argument rather interesting, that I find the French alphabet easy because I speak English, whereas you have difficulties with it, but obviously you speak English as well. And neither one of us is a native English speaker.
By the way, I have started learning the Russian alphabet on Memrise, to prepare for the Russian for English course. That is also the reason, why I didn't continue with the reverse course.


Yeah, Remoonline said this and I totally agree with that. But learning the script isn't the only problem one faces when learning the alphabet of a new language. Here is an example of myself: I've been studying English for about 2 years now and it was only recently that I realized I was pronouncing the letters "R" and "L" wrong. I watched a lot of TV series and Movies in English and listened to a lot of songs but even these didn't help me realize that I was pronouncing these letters wrong. And all these time, I fixed a wrong way of pronouncing these letters in my brain. Now guess how did I find out about my problems: By using an Alphabet pronunciation program from this site: http://www.pronunciationworkshop.com/ . And even after knowing this it is taking me weeks if not months to change those fixed wrong habits. Now, wouldn't it be great if someone told me the first day how to pronounce the alphabet correctly? it would have saved me from a lot of trouble and frustration that I'm going through right now. All i'm saying is that they could at least put a table of alphabets with tips on pronunciation . This article sure as hell needs the be revised. But the idea behind it, in my opinion, still holds true. I would love to hear more of your ideas about this issue if you want to discuss it any further. P.S. : if you find any grammatical problems with my writings, please tell me. Thanks.


You are really humble. Considering TOEFL has a max score of 120 (though I have no clue what that means) I find 100 very impressive after only 2 years of study, though very intense. I am sure with your dedication you will reach the 120 very soon. I'm watching and reading everything that is native English in English as well, and I just started the same for French. So I searched for French series, I tuned to a French radio station, my mobile is set to French. I hope that will greatly improve my listening comprehension as it did with English and also in due time my pronunciation.
I know about Rosetta and I agree. It never help very much. So I guess I will go out and find myself some native speaker somewhere to train my French.


To give you an idea of what TOEFL scores mean, let's consider this: Most of the Universities in U.S. require a minimum of 80 for an undergraduate student. But top universities like Harvard require scores higher than 110. You could say I have one of the requirements for a fairly good university but not the top one. But I'm aiming there. Hope this gives you an idea of the value of the TOEFL scores.


I agree with you that it's very important to master the pronunciation (to a certain, reasonable degree) from the very beginning. It can be very difficult to change some bad habits later on. That was the very first thing I did when I started with French, some 6 months ago. Youtube worked pretty well for me for that purpose. I'm now starting to re-learn my German, and once again, the very first thing I've just did was to re-learn (as best as I could at the moment) german pronunciation with some Youtube lessons.

However, IMO, a much greater obstacle in English for having a really good pronunciation (English is a foreign language for me too) is unbelievable inconsistency between spoken and written language. The same sound can be written in many different ways, and the same written letters in different words can be pronounced completely differently. So, if you see some completely random new word while reading something in English, even if you have a very good level in English, there is a good chance that you could still mispronounce that word. Basically you have to learn to pronounce correctly every single word on its own (well, I might be exaggerating here a bit, but you get the point). This is not the case in other European languages, like French or German for example (even when it is, the inconsistency is nowhere near the one seen in English). It's actually easier to sound like a real native speaker in French or in German than in English. If one wants to master English pronunciation, I really don't see any other way other than listening to it as much as possible spoken by natives.

I have to say that your English is very, very impressive - especially considering that you've been learning it for just a couple of years. I wish you a good luck with your plans for the future and studies abroad. Cheers!


You mentioned some pretty good points. BTW, thanks for the compliments :)


Wow, you have only studied English for two years? Impressive accomplishment. What method have you used to learn the pronunciation of English? I am just curious and trying to understand the origin of your original Problem. Though it might remain a mystery for me, as my native tongue is European.
Though it is quit normal to make mistakes in pronunciation when you are foreign. Often we don't even hear the subtle differences. It took me quit some time to be able to even hear the difference in pronunciation between "Texas" (the state) and "taxes". Though written differently I am still not sure if I am getting even close to the correct pronunciation, but generally context helps ;) I have known English natives that could not hear the difference in pronunciation between the English "tea" and the German "Tee", much less pronounce it. Our ear is entrained in the sounds of our own language. If there are sounds that we don't know it takes a long time to even hear you are doing something wrong.
I would greatly appreciate a better pronunciation training on Duolingo. A speech recognition that would let you compare your pronunciation with a clear speaking native, for example. But I fear that is something we'll have to wait for, for a long time if anything like that ever appears.


Before I say anything let's note 2 things: 1.I have a strong motive as I want study college abroad. 2.My grades in school dropped a lot (From A to B- you could say) but studying English wasn't the only reason. I just hate the education system here as they force you to study theology and the books are ancient.. they've been hardly upgraded since 30 years ago.

Let me tell you all the things that helped me in the last 2 years that get me where I am:

  1. I watched a lot of Movies and TV series in English. ( 4 to 5 hours a day) 2.For the first year I've been studying in an English language institute that the teachers all sounded like native speakers.(I guess this helped me a lot in my pronunciation) 3.I simply checked all the English words that I didn't know to the point of obsession and especially practiced their pronunciation a lot. 4.Whenever I read something I read it aloud. (And I read everything in English: Articles, news, science.... just my school books were in Persian) 5.And the last thing I did recently that helped me realize my two mistakes in pronunciation was using a pronunciation workshop from this site : http://www.pronunciationworkshop.com/

To put it all together: I simply immersed myself in the English language. I do not have a single Persian site bookmarked in my browser or any music other that English in my phone. And I also try to think in English throughout the day. These are all the things I did to improve my pronunciation which of course in turn helped me improve my English in all its aspects.

I do not consider my English to be very good as my TOEFL score is 100 but I'm sure in less that 6 months from now I can get 120.

Still I'm going to continue this process to the point my English becomes even better than native speakers:D


By the way, about the speech recognition with a graph, Rosseta Stone has it. But, it simply sucks! We should wait for a long time as you said, for a good one to come out.


>If there was a course English for Chinese-speakers I would agree with you.

There is (https://www.duolingo.com/course/en/zh-CN/Learn-English-Online), although Duolingo doesn't teach them the alphabet either.


Two years later.
There is a course English for Chinese-speakers


I totally agree with your whole statement I wish Doulingo would just listen to it's users and comply with our requests:(

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