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Heartless System Better for French

I've used the new system (the one where there are no hearts to lose) for sixteen days now, and it has breathed new life into my study of French on Duolingo.

A couple of months ago, I had decided to abandon French Duolingo because it had become almost impossible to complete the review lessons. My preferred method is to complete two review lessons before attempting a new lesson, but starting with the passé composé lessons, it would take ten or more attempts to actually finish two review lessons. It was possible to eventually complete new lessons because the possible set of questions is small enough to memorize, but for review lessons, I had to make zero mistakes and be lucky enough not to miss any of the ambiguous questions.

Two weeks ago, with the new system, I resumed doing two review and one new every day. Because the new system is forgiving, it encourages me to go fast--I think I learn better if I don't carefully analyze each sentence before writing it down. If I get an "unfair" question, it doesn't infuriate me like it did before. I just shrug my shoulders and forge on. The only errors I spend any time on are the ones where I really didn't know the right answer.

Today, the first review took 53 answers before I completed it (the worst yet for me). Two of the errors actually taught me something--the rest were either Duo's fault (mostly bad audio exercises) or my own carelessness. The second review only took 19 answers, and I learned something from the one error.

This is very satisfying. Under the old system, whenever I "died," I felt that the effort to do the lesson was wasted. Yes, the total effort today was probably close to the effort of attempting 10 lessons under the old system, but it feels 100x better. Also, today was unusually difficult. Even going fast, I manage fewer than 25 on both most days, and often get perfect 17s. (Many days like this would be a sign to slow down, of course.)

Anyway, I just wanted to share this. I had complained about the French audio before, so I thought it only fair to praise the new system. I still want Duolingo to change their software to allow for multiple answers to the audio questions so homophones don't force you to guess, but the seriousness of that problem is much, much reduced.

December 24, 2014



I too love the new system. It was very frustrating to get to the end of lesson and lose the final heart and have to start over again.


I can finely finish my french and go on strecks!! I love the new system (but it's harder to get Ingots now)


I feel exactly as you. I hated the heart system and found myself just doing enough to complete my streak. I began using a wonderful iPhone app called MindSnacks for French. It is very engaging; though, I could not completely give up on Duolingo. I am completely baffled, however, with the passé composé. I hope under the new system that your experience is going better than mine.


The French passé composé is functionally equivalent to the Italian passato prossimo, so I have no trouble understanding it. My problems are mostly with Duo's failure to handle homophonic phrases. Maybe I can help you. :-)

What part of the passé composé gives you trouble? I see five things that might be challenging:

  1. Learning the participles. Knowing that parler becomes parlé but boire becomes bu can be confusing. (But no worse than other irregular forms.)
  2. Knowing when to use être vs. avoir. (Is it reflexive? Does it move?)
  3. Figuring out when the participle needs to be feminine and/or plural.
  4. Distinguishing it from the imparfait.
  5. Getting used to what it does to questions, pronouns, and pas.

I know the rules for all of these, but I'm shaky on 5 and I slip up on 2 and 3 sometimes. The reason I miss so many questions--the reason I need to miss so many--is that I want to get to the point where I apply the rules without thinking about them. That means doing them wrong sometimes, then doing them over, and continuing until the right forms "feel" right and the wrong ones feel wrong. The old hearts system was totally unsuited for this, but the new system is great.

Number 4 is a different problem, owing to someone in Duolingo's history who had a misconception about the English simple past tense. "I drank wine" could equally be J'ai bu du vin or Je buvais du vin, depending on the context, but someone at one point insisted that the latter could only be "I was drinking wine." Spanish and Italian Duolingo got this right, but French was a complete mess until a few months ago. I think it's largely fixed now, but I still find this problem in a few places.

Anyway, if any of this describes what confuses you, let me know. I can at least bring you up to my own level of confusion. :-)


You are very generous. I believe my biggest shortcoming is that I have not given it the focus it needs. To be fair, I'm in the middle of a major home renovation and all my french grammar books that I enjoy are packed away. For me the first step will be to memorize the conjugations which is usually pretty easy (again, I've been lazy/unfocused at this juncture). Number 5 is a big problem I've noticed. In a couple of weeks I'll be able to retrieve my books and sit down to business of compound past French. I would like to throw a few questions your way then, if it's alright. Cheers!


I hope you don't mind, but I am wondering who this BrainTeasers for French is by, I tried to find it in the app store but I can't seem to. >.< Thank you for your help in advance. Joyeux Noël.


I apologize, I wrote the wrong name. It's called MindSnacks. Here is the url. Let us know what you think of it: https://www.mindsnacks.com/subjects/french.


I started with MindSnacks and absolutely love it for Japanese but when I started Spanish on Duolingo and started to compare it with MindSnacks, I abandoned MindSnacks for Duolingo. It's completely different and for me its not in a good way.


Agreed! Much less frustration involved in the new system. I love opening a lesson and having the question be "how long will it take to do this" not "will I be able to do this". I particularly since I tend to make mistakes that have more to do with get not focusing than on the actual subject of the lesson.


Me too. It was so frustrating to lose everything because of a dumb typo. And, I KNOW Le and la are "the", and Un and une are "a" or "an" but when I am in a hurry I would type the wrong thing and lose my hearts. So, guess I should just double check before continuing, right?


The trouble with doing double-checks is that you need to reach the point when you apply the rules without thinking about them. That really does mean trying to respond quickly, and that requires a system with tolerance for errors.


I'm with you.

This system is much more forgiving, less frustrating, and more encouraging. The only downside I've heard from some users is that you don't get a lingot for completing a lesson without errors now.


Agree, I used to pray I didn't have a listening question when I had 3 or so left to answering if I was on my last heart as it would be so motivating to lose and have to redo the whole exercise again. Now with this update, yes I may sometimes take 40 answers before I complete it but by then I have a better understanding on where I've gone wrong and don't have to worry about whether I'm going to lose hearts or not. The whole lingot side doesn't bother me too much.


I agree! I rarely use my phone now to practice, as the Android app has not been updated. Fewer lingots is not an issue for me...I have way more than I can use, anyway. My personal record for getting through a review session is 51, I think, but I still felt like I accomplished more than if I had failed two, three, or four lessons before succeeding.


This is awesome, I have not tried the new system yet mostly because of holidays hehe but I've seen only good comments about it. I'm sure this is one of those big, and for good, changes DL has implemented to the platform.


I definitely agree too. I feel far less disheartened now, knowing I can just keep hacking away at the lesson until it's done, rather than having to start over if I make a small mistake at the end. I'm even getting more lingots this way, because I'm finishing skills faster, haha!


That's a good one: "less disheartened".


I woud like if there were some penalties for typos of course not such strong as for other mistakes. For instance: one step back fot 3 typos. Now I can completely ignore typos and that is not good.


I think people on telephones have trouble inputting the accent marks. Duolingo might consider an option to treat typos as errors. Given the new system, I'd be okay with treating all typos in the target language as errors. Typos in the source language should still be no big deal.

  • 2805

Hm, I don't know if others have different phones, but for me it's tap and hold and I get a list of options, accents mostly. Not to mention that you can change keyboard layouts. Personally, I find this sometimes even more convenient than on real keyboards. Right now, the Android and iOS version both work with the old heart system.

I agree on treating all kind of errors (excluding typos). I actually would like if accent mistakes are punished. While others don't really care about them, I do want to learn them (may sound a bit nerdy). But with the experience bar this should be less of an annoyance than losing a heart (on the last question, as always).

I'm not sure about the source language. I guess I'm a little bit of a special case: I'm learning French (from English) but also from Spanish as a reinforcement or to "wired" French with Spanish or vice versa. Or simply to just get the elle/ella problem out of my head (typo). Here I would like to see the same penalties. Again, not an every-user problem.



Thank you for posting this, it echoes my feelings perfectly... was getting very frustrated with the French, but now I can fail until I learn. French is hard to spell!


I agree with you here. At first I was upset about the hearts going away because it would mean less lingots, but now I'm enjoying it more. There is more flexibility and time in learning each lesson. :)

  • 2805

Thanks for your post, Greg! It might have kick-started a new point of view of this whole thing. I am still undecided in a way in terms of what system is/was better. But you're making a good point.

My main point of criticism is that I tend to be more sloppy on the answers, care less about right or wrong — to a certain degree —, giving up easier on hard questions. On the easier lessons, I am indeed easy on the submit button which already has lead to a 30-question session where in fact 10 would have been sufficient (mostly stupid typos, not reading the source sentence/question carefully enough, among other "soft" errors).

I would be interested in the evaluations, as detailed as possible, the team did after the A/B testing!


I too love the new system, and for the reasons you articulated so well. My habit is also a two review to one new lesson ratio, and those reviews were indeed very hard to complete during the latter part of the tree.


Salut à tout le monde! J'ai trouvé ce site authentique pour apprendre le français. Je ne sais pas si quelqu'un l'a déjà mentionné mais je pense qu'il vaut la peine. À bientôt.



Agreed. The new system is great.


Irony of life -- who wrote such a true, big and nice article got only 19 lingot till now ( 28 Dec'14_ 21.40 UTC). but a man who wrote only one line -(but it's harder to get Ingots now) got 29 Lingot. I am just feeling the materialisticness of the world.

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