It might be nice if Duolingo had a section of reading exercises--perhaps for those who finished their trees. I would see these as a sequence of sentences (maybe just a paragraph or two) which the student would see at all times. The questions would go through the text asking you to translate each sentence into English. This would would a lot like the current lessons, except that the only question would be for translation. There would still be lots of ways to try to translate a given sentence. It would also only go from the target language to the source language; if you wanted to go the other way, you could use the ones for the reverse course.
Unlike Immersion, these paragraphs could be carefully chosen to help people learn. By having whole paragraph (not just one sentence) there could be enough context to eliminate the ambiguity in a lot of sentences, so there wouldn't be as many valid alternate answers. Also, it would provide a natural way to drill people on the sort of thing that you find in books. For example, the passé simple in French or the passato remoto in Italian.
There is something to be said for taking the time to work through a paragraph (or a page) of text until you understand it thoroughly. Gamification might present a challenge or two, but I think it could be done. Especially if there were lots and lots of paragraphs to try to master.
I like this, Greg. And then maybe there could be a discussion area for each sentence, plus one for the exercise as a whole? Plus, it could be something I could spend my multitudes of lingots on!
Indeed, they've already managed to achieve this (to an extent) using the Duolingo test center.
The difficulty however would be in designing sentences for whole paragraphs. Since there are multiple ways to write just about any sentence. One approach could be to simply extract passages from public domain work, thereby reducing the difficulty of creating such fragments. There are also plenty of translations in Project Gutenberg and other libraries. Another approach could be to allow a student to translate, and then show them a standard translation in their L1. The points would therefore be obtained using comprehension questions.
In addition, Gamification could be added using comprehension questions in each of these reading tasks. For example, the program could ask a question about the passage, and it will tell you if the answer is wrong, but won't show you the expected answer until you pay the piper. Alternatively the comprehension questions themselves could be unlocked by lingots or XP. Another approach would be to actually unlock each reading exercise using lingots.
This is particularly important as Duolingo seems to be moving away from the immersion model, and newer language courses aren't expected to ever get immersion.
I really like your ideas, especially in adding comprehension questions.
In researching which English version of "War and Peace" I should read, I would see a lot of complaints about "bad" translations, which mean something different for language learners (who would want more literal and unabridged translations so they can match vocabulary words and grammar constructs) and literature fans (who would prefer translations that take liberties in idiomatic language or verb tenses/moods if it better conveys the author's original intent and mastery of language). It would be cool to have different professional translations of certain passages of great works compared so you can get a better grasp on what these different types of translation are.
A 5,000-word short story might be too big, though. Even a 2,000-word short-short might be excessive. Of course there do exist super short stories, but they usually rely on a gimmick. E.g. this is supposedly the shortest horror story ever written. "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door."
It doesn't have to be much of a story, at least at first; I mean, think where you start with your native language: Here comes Spot. Spot is a dog, etc. I just know that storification is supposed to be an exceptionally powerful aide memoire :)
That was the shortest and the best horror story I've ever read, thank you for sharing that ;)
Reading and understanding paragraphs in a target language, especially in the beginning of learning it, is definitely a very rewarding experience...