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  5. My first half year on DuoLingo

My first half year on DuoLingo

[deactivated user]

    First of all I'd like to thank the Duo team for their great work. It has been a great half year here. Keep it up! :)

    I began on DuoLingo on 19 February¹ this year when a friend recommended it to me. He was learning French at the time but I don't think he ever got far. When I wrote him something in French a few weeks ago he said he didn't understand that weird language. I never knew his username.

    In high school I really hated language classes. Partly because I thought we were learning the same thing thrice (English, French and German), partly because I didn't like the teacher and partly because I was more interested in science (math, phyiscs, chemistry, biology, computer science, I liked it all, and those teachers were nicer too :) ). I don't think I've learned English in school. After two years studying it, I didn't understand it at all. Luckily for me, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out which I had to read and since I didn't want to wait for the translation, I only had one choice: reading it in English. I don't remember thinking English was difficult after that.

    A year and a half ago I began to wonder if German really was that bad or if it was just me not being interested in it (and horrible teachers of course :) ), so I bought a book in German (Die Unendliche Geschichte). Being Dutch, I could read it quite easily (I've never used the German dictionary so often before, though), and I decided that languages weren't so bad after all.

    So, on DuoLingo I began with German, French and Spanish. First I learned them together but after a while I focussed solely on German. I finished that tree sometime in March. I moved on to French which I finished in April and then to Spanish completing that tree in May. By then I felt I'd seen enough trees and intented to just pracitise my German, French and Spanish the rest of the year. But, like new year resolutions, that didn't last long and in June I thought that Italian and Portuguese would be nice too. I finished Italian a few weeks ago, just before the tree got updated. Two days later I had my owl back :). E hoje, I finished Portuguese.

    Now I wouldn't say my strategy for learning languages is advisable, ie rushing down the tree. It becomes kind of a crash this way. I had the intention of practising Italian and Portuguese a level or two every time I got to a shortcut, but by the third one I just * had * to finish the tree, practise later. Rushed through it like it was an exciting novel.

    Anyway, my main goal of learning languages is to be able to read / listen in those language, not necessarily speaking them. This makes rushing through trees a little less foolish since reading and listening only require you to know things passively. Though as a result of my rushing I am not fluent in German, French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese yet.. But now I've time to practise them extensively :). I think I'll write some more 'Introductions' to like I've done for Italian Basic 1, Basic 2, Verbs Present 1, Future and Conditional (you may need to go down the discussions to find them) to help increase my understanding, practise my English and, of course, help you through the lessons.

    During this half year I've noticed some things I'd like to share with you. I've some complaints (please note that I don't mean to be harsh), some questions, a few suggestions and then some tips for other learners.


    As we like to say in the Netherlands: 'de beste stuurlui staan aan wal' ('the best helmsmen stand on the shore'). This means that it's easy to criticize other people's work, when you're not the one doing it.² Nevertheless, it is sometimes nice to stand on the shore since you can see the bigger picture and thus my complaints:

    • Sometimes when you try to hover over a word which is at the right end of the label, it will move to next line. Move your mouse to the new position and it will return to its original position. This is very annoying since you don't get the dictionary hints this way.

    • The textbox of the listening exercises is too small. Long sentences don't fit in it so when you want to review your sentence you have to scroll the text back and forth. Furthermore, the autoscroll of the textbox doesn't synchronise with my typing so my last three characters are usually out of the box. The standard 'translation-textbox' would be nice.³ :)

    • In the later skills, most often those concerning grammar, the first sentence is usually a translation, and the third is a listening exercise asking you to write the exact same sentence. This gets a little predictable over time.

    • The skills of all languages are rather unbalanced in terms of difficulty, especially in later stages of the tree. In the grammar sections of, for example Portuguese Subjunctive Past, almost every sentence is different and almost every sentence is long, so it takes at least ten minutes to finish a lesson. More often than not you fail the lesson on your first try (well at least, I did), partly because it IS difficult and partly because DuoLingo doesn't accept everything that it should accept. Compare this to vocabulary sections like Portuguese Politics (which is further down the tree than Subjunctive Past) where half the exercises are to translate a word (with article), translate its plural, translate it the other way around, etc. To solve this I'd say, focus more on the core grammar concepts and less on the fancy sentences in the grammar sections. The vocabulary sections are good :)

    • Too many translations are from x to English. I know that further down the tree it would be beyond most learners to know the correct grammatical structure for a ten, fifeen word sentence on the first try but it would be nice if at least the verb skills sections have more English to x translations, so you can practise your conjugations. For example sentences like: 'I would be there', 'I thought I gave it to you' or 'It will rain today'.

    • The points you've earned learning English from another language are shown in the leaderboard, but not in your profile. So my leaderboard all-time score is higher than my profile score, which is a bit weird.


    These are the things I sometimes wonder about if I'm not doing anything in particular.

    • At the end of each lesson you get a screen inviting you to go to Immersion, which tells what percentage of the language you're learning you can now actually read. It goes up to 95% pretty fast after which it slows to down to increase a tenth of percent every five(?) lessons. I've just finished the Portuguese tree, and I finished the Italian tree a few weeks back an they are both around 97%. When do I get to 100%. Is the percentage skillpoints based?

    • Why is there such a big difference in the amount of words you learn between Portuguese (1973) and Spanish (1571)? I didn't think there was such a big difference between these languages.

    ** Suggestions

    Some suggestions to improve the DuoLingo experience.

    • Add the Past Historic to the French tree. Almost every French novel uses this tense to say who said a certain direct quote: ' - Qu'en penses-tu? demanda-t-il à Hermione. - Oh, Harry, répondit-elle d'un ton las.'⁴ Both 'demanda' en 'repondit' are in the Past Historic.

    • Add a lesson about the Diminutive to the German tree. It would explain the infamous 'Das Mädchen' and though I'm not a native German I think it is used quite a lot.

    • The skills themselves are well-ordered but the lessons within the skills seem to have been made without much thought. For example the German propositions are all mixed together even though there are four groups, one governing the genitive, one the dative, one the accusative and one the dative or accusative depending on whether there is motion in the sentence. If you don't know this, why one sentence is accepted and the other not becomes a bit of a mystery. Also in Present Verb sections all verbs seem to be put together, never mind to which group they belong, for example with French: -er, -ir (choisir), -ir (finir), -re or irregular. This makes it difficult to divine how to conjugate them.

    • I hope I'm not the only one who doesn't like to see the crying owl. Especially when I fail a lesson on the last exercise I hate to see him (and usually I hear The Smiths in the background 'You just haven't earned it yet, baby'⁵). My problem is that it just isn't very productive to have to do the whole lesson again. Some sentences I know by heart the fourth time and then I get careless, writing 'meat' instead of 'meet' or 'to' instead of 'too' or 'of' instead of 'off' and I lose another precious heart. Furthermore, most people press F5 when they've lost two or three hearts in the first five exercises. Why do people press F5? Well, Duo wants you to do 20 exercises in a row, of which 17 or more are accepted. So? Why not extend the exercise if you make more than three mistakes? Say I do a lesson and make a mistake on exercise 2, 11, 15 and (of course), 20. If Duo now gave me two more exercises (based on what I've done wrong up till now) and answered them correctly I would have done 20 exercises in a row (3 - 22), in which I had less 3 or less mistakes. Now I wouldn't have to curse myself for not F5'ing on 2 and I don't have to write all those sentences I already wrote correctly again. How many skill points should you get for this? I'd say you'd get your normal points if you passed the lesson on exercise 20. If you didn't do that you'll get a half point for each correct question, awarded when you finish the lesson. So on exercise 20 I would have had 16 questions correct and so when I finish the lesson on exercise 22 I will have 18 questions correct. 18 // 2 /= 9 skill points. Less points per correct exercise than if I had finished the lesson on exercise 20, but more than if I had to do the entire lesson again.

    • I know it has been asked before but I would appreciate an endless practise mode without hearts, one point per two correct answers, awarded directly (it wouldn't be nice if your points weren't banked if your computer crashes on exercise 500).

    • Add dialogue lessons. For example (skipping the usual 'ola, bonjour, wie geht es?, sto bene' opening), an exercise could be 'Ask her how to get to the train station' 'Est-ce que vous pouvez me dire comment fair pour aller à la gare?'. This will be hard to debug, with probably more than 500 correct solutions, but it would help practising conversation so much. In good DuoLingo tradition there should be multiple paths through the dialogue (randomly chosen) and.. I'm daydreaming, am I not? :)⁶


    Some tips:

    • Write down the words you don't know.
    • Use practise every few skills (why don't you follow your own advise? O:) )
    • Don't rely too much on Duo's thoughts about your word strength. If you move really fast through the tree no skill will decay, but in my experience you wont't remember all the words you've learned.
    • You can learn multiple languages at the same time, but if you do devote a DuoLingo session to only one of them to avoid messing them up (especially if you study multiple Roman languages at the same time).
    • If Duolingo doesn't seem to accept any answer you give you should probably start looking for some grammar.
    • Practise your language outside the tree, be it in Immersion, by reading a book / newspaper or watching some movie / series. I prefer to read books I've already read in another language so I already know what most sentences mean. This usually comes down to sponsoring Mrs. Rowling.
    • You can mark-up your comments using http://www.reddit.com/r/raerth/comments/cw70q/reddit_comment_formatting/
    • Patience is a virtue, especially when you want new languages :)
    • Have fun :)

    Again thanks to the DuoLingo Team,


    August 24, 2013



    Thank you very much for this detailed feedback! The whole team is reading it, and we'll try to improve Duolingo based on it.


    ...and responding to your questions (I clicked submit too soon):

    1. The percentage of documents at the end of a lesson is based on a number of factors, and you can't get to 100% (since we don't cover the whole language).

    2. The number of words in each language depends on what we think is important to teach, which varies per language. However, we are hoping to standardize this more, so the difference should get smaller.

    [deactivated user]

      Glad to be of help :)


      you duolingo people should definitely actually make it play The Smiths whenever you fail a test. do it, do it.


      Yeah, I would like to see the Spanish word count go up :D I am not a fan of the fact that Spanish has the least words :/


      Please, start work on the life issue. :) I am new on Duolingo but I have already seen the crying owl a many times. Duolingo does not know my mother language. I want to learn German, but I often make a mistake in the English sentences and I have to start the lesson again and again. I am only doing the third level in the tree, but today I had to repeat 5-10 times to one lesson. In the end I cried with the owl. Extra exercise would be much better. But the all page is very good and useful, so I thanks to the Duolingo's team.


      An epic post, I am always floored by people from the Nederlands speaking such perfect English without any sign of struggle or becoming tired. I've never met a Dutchman that didn't make me feel like a slob at my own language...

      I just want to say to you, because you have criticised your own strategy, it is actually the exact same strategy I am using on purpose, because I think it pays off. You and I seem to have locked on to the same 'long term' strategy, and I think if you have no sense of urgent need to speak a particular language, it works very well. Sometimes, I am shocked at how easily I can understand things that I never would have understood, simply because I devote time to passively studying, and although if you threw me deep into a country I had never been, I would be quite mute, I feel confident that I could turn that passive knowledge into something active very quickly. That is an opinion based on experience, because I find myself having conversations with my German neighbours that if me from a few years ago could hear them, I'd not have the faintest clue what was going on!

      I can only have very broken conversations at this point, and I don't mind that because I am not trying to be a poet, but I think it's good to accept you have to work very hard in the beginning to prime your vocabulary, so that you can recognise words you hear even if you find them hard to recall them to say them. There is a lot of good to gain from going along the reading and listening comprehension route, because I think people in general value more whether you can understand them, than whether you can give them a perfectly natural response in their own language (I know that this is my attitude to anyone that learns English)

      Also, 'de beste stuurlui staan aan wal' - just excellent :)

      [deactivated user]

        Thank you :).

        It took me quite some time to compose this (with some help from a dictionary). DuoLingo has been great for practising English too, since I seem to tend to place adverbs in places where they belong in Dutch, not in English. Duo doesn't like that ;). As for those pesky propositions, I thought it was 'in the weekend' instead of 'on the weekend' :)

        As a sidenote, in Dutch we just say that we are from 'Nederland' (singular). Nederland is part of '[het] Koninkrijk der Nederlanden' ('[the] Kingdom of the Netherlands'), which also consists of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. So in Dutch 'Nederlanden' is the plural of 'Nederland'. 'Nederlands' is the Dutch name for Dutch. CGP Grey explained this and more quite nicely last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eE_IUPInEuc ¹

        • ¹ Small error at 1:25, it should be 'Nederlands spreken de Nederlanders in Nederland'. The passive is more natural in this situtation so I would probably say: 'Nederlands wordt door Nederlanders in Nederland gesproken'.


        Now I want to learn Dutch. Any plans to include it into duolingo? :)


        I didn't realise I had mispelled that, as a pastiche of the Netherlands and Nederland. I actually don't think I know a single country in the world that is known everywhere by the name the locals call it. Frankreich? Nemetskiy? Zhong Guo? Bharat? Nippon? 10 points if you can identify all of them ;)

        Also... isn't it 'at the weekend?', eg 'what are you doing at the weekend?' I don't even know myself anymore...


        ´at the weekend´ is used in the UK. ´On the weekend´ sounds strange to us. Also, ´over the weekend´ is used when it is something taking place for the whole weekend, like leighah said.


        I agree, on the weekend sounds weird to me too


        God help us all with prepositions. Hello, I'm from England, and 'on', 'at', 'over', 'during', 'around' 'in' and 'this' all sounds like a fine way to refer to what you are doing.... ... ...the weekend. I don't even misunderstand the question when you neglect to include any preposition. And tell anyone who disagrees that I said that ;)

        [deactivated user]

          I only know the first one :)

          Stackexchange seems to be in favor of 'for' and 'over': http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/66999/on-at-for-over-the-weekend-in-american-english


          Australians say "on the weekend". I suspect this is the case for all English speakers...


          Americans say "on the weekend" as well. And it has to do with how long something takes on your weekend.

          We say 'over the weekend' is if it is something that takes the whole weekend. "I'm going camping over the weekend." Though it is completely fine to say, "I'm going camping on the weekend."

          'For' is something we use for specific nouns. "What are you doing for Spring Break?" "We're going to my parents for Christmas." Again, 'for' is for the whole thing and means you would spend some time there. "We're going camping for the whole weekend." If you say, "I'm going to my parents on Christmas," you mean that day and just that day.

          'On the weekend' is smaller things. "I'm going to the dentist on the weekend." But using 'on' is really sort of formal or specific. Most likely in conversation it would be, "What are you doing this weekend?" "I'm going to the dentist this weekend." "We're going camping next weekend."

          Sorry this is long and possibly confusing. Hope that helps.

          [deactivated user]

            It certainly does :)


            You are truly an example to us all. Do visit my beautiful country to parler français. BUT I find Duolingo the very best self taught language learning method. I too have been doing Spanish since February and can converse and read the newspaper. All this while working and living fulltime, all this on my own terms in my own time. My only suggestion would be (and it will happen naturally as DL improves with time and the feedback of people like you) that the translations become more consitent. Sometimes I lose hearts for not being literal enough, sometimes for being too literal. It is only frustrating when I want to finish a lesson before I have to go back to work... Keep on the good work DL team, you rock. As a language teacher I can say that yours is the best beginners course I know. I have been developing online material for advanced learners of French (and yes we teach the Passé simple...) and I have nothing but admiration for all of you. Not to mention champion learners like you stefott!


            Yay! Well done for you and thanks for the advice at the bottom. :-)


            I wanted to add that a problem I have with the owl is that is doesn't explain the mistake. You have to click in the upper right to get back to showing what your mistake was. So the screen annoys me because it deprives me from learning my mistake.

            Two other comments:

            1. Practice seems to focus on "oldest words learned". Not "weakest" words. So more often then not I feel my time is better spend "manually" going through the vocabulary of a section that I know I'm weak on

            2. I often fail on timed practice because I'm not fast enough clicking on the letters (umlaute, accents, etc.). Is that a problem specific to PC? I'm wondering if the UI is better on mobile

            This is my first tool in learning a language. So I'm not sure if my expectations are reasonable or misplaced.

            EDIT: Formatting

            EDIT 2: With respect to #1 -- I just found you can practice a certain section! Button just above the vocabulary. That helps


            Regarding comment #2: You should try using a different keyboard layout on your computer. I never have to click on special characters because I just use a keyboard layout that makes it easy to type those characters. It's a much more seamless experience when you can just type everything you want to say. Also, I think this is the only way to do it on the mobile application. I haven't seen any special character buttons on the mobile app interface.


            Depending on your phone you can hold the letter down and it will give you the options for that letter with any accents etc.


            i tried keying in number codes but it didn't work. I thought DL just didn't recognize what I was doing... I wish DL had a helper guide for key short cuts that popped up whenever i start a new skill. (It says "shift" and then the special characters. But, i've pressed shift, alt, ctrl everything and nothing has worked. I am new though, so, going to keep trying to figure out how to make this work.)


            What works best for me is to change the language input on my computer. If you change it to English (US or US international) the punctuation marks, mainly the apostrophe I think, becomes an accent, so you simply press that before a vowel. I now use mine in Portuguese and the same things happens but just different punctuation marks become different accents. So you don't spend ages trying to work out which is which there are some guides on the internet.


            Regarding comment #2: You should try using a different keyboard layout on your computer. I never have to click on special characters because I just use a keyboard layout that makes it easy to type those characters. It's a much more seamless experience when you can just type everything you want to say. Also, I think this is the only way to do it on the mobile application. I haven't seen any special character buttons on the mobile app interface.


            It makes me sad to see the owl cry! I'll usually re-do the entire lesson just to get it through my thick skull.


            Thank you for your comprehensive and comprehensible post. You have provided some excellent suggestions for quickly acquiring a foundation in a new language.


            That's pretty awesome that you completed all those languages in only 6 months! Wow!


            Great suggestions and I particularly like the Harry Potter one. Even with my Italian still limited to present tense, struggling through a few paragraphs of that with the English open next to me has taught me many new words and given me an insight into grammar still to come - various past tenses, reflexive verbs etc..

            Definitely a great idea to use a familiar text, aimed at children, but one that is nonetheless not over-simple in grammar and vocabulary.


            Thanks for posting. I will search the italian discussions for your intros and look forward to reading them. I too sponsor Mrs Rowling, as you can download books to your kindle or whatever from Pottermore in multiple languages. I wonder if she knows how many people rely on her for language learning? ;)


            Parabéns pelo seu sucesso. Grato pelas valiosas dicas.


            Awesome suggestions that would truly make Duolingo an epic hit.


            Haha! I love The Smiths, and now I'm afraid I'm going to start hearing "You just haven't earned it yet baby" in my head after I fail a lesson. "You must suffer and cry for a longer time" thanks a lot! LOL


            I'm here for 2 days and this is the best site for learning languages I've everr seen. It's been a good experience and I hope it gets better everyday. Thanks, Duolingo. :D


            Wofw - great feedback and very detailed. I have been using DUOLINGO for 6 months as well - trying to combine it with practice with french speakers and flash cards in between a real job and the military - and have found it to be extremely helpful. Glad that it is so picky about making sure the tense, plural, and grammar is so correct - because as it builds the tree it is amazing how I see it all coming together. Thanks DUOLINGO for the fun that I am having - working towards my trip to Paris in March!


            You don't really need the special characters buttons on the mobile interface as you can load a simultaneous alternate language keyboard (at least on Android) that mostly just fills in the umlauts, accents, etc. as you type.

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