We have recently seen Duo trying to improve this section but there are still some problems. Many of them stem from carry-overs from accepting a simple past tense translation instead of the french Imperfect Past. The several past tenses in French are not equivalent and are neither used the same way nor do they translate in English to the same words. At the risk of beating this issue to death, here are the five criteria for using the imperfect tense:
An action was going on in the past at the same time as another action
An action was going on in the past when another action occurred
An action that a person did habitually in the past
A description of a mental or physical condition in the past
An action or state of being that occurred in the past and lasted for a certain length of time prior to another past action.
The problems come about here with the use of brief sentences which often do not meet the conditions for use of the imperfect tense without trying to imagine some scenario where it could work. We have rich imaginations and can suppose that some (unspoken) action may have been taking place that justifies the use of the imperfect tense, but often, the passé composé would be a better choice.
You are very kind and I thank you for the compliment. My exploration into the world of French centers around Duolingo although there are many valuable tools available on the internet which are indispensable. I have numerous books which have been helpful, especially Barron's 501 French Verbs. Here are just a few of my favorite on-line resources:
Here are examples of each of the uses of l'Imparfait de l'indicatif:
An action was going on in the past at the same time as another action. Example: Il lisait pendant que j'écrivais = He was reading while I was writing.
An action was going on in the past when another action occurred. Example: Il lisait quand je suis entré = He was reading when I came in.
An action that a person did habitually in the past. Example: Nous allions à la plage tous les jours = We used to go to the beach every day.
A description of a mental or physical condition in the past. Example: Il était triste quand je l'ai vu = He was sad when I saw him. Quand ma mère était jeune, elle était belle = When my mother was young, she was beautiful.
An action or state of being that occurred in the past and lasted for a certain length of time prior to another past action. Example: J'attendais l'autobus depuis dix minutes quand il est arrivé = I had been waiting for the bus for ten minutes when it arrived.
Source: Barron's 501 French Verbs
As usual your knowledge is very gratefully received, but I have a question regarding a nuance. In English , 'I used to make' and 'I was making' carry different meanings. Yet the imperfect here is translated as 'used to' in a number of cases. Is there a distinction? ' I used to make cakes when you came to visit.' and 'I was making a cake when you came to visit' are quite different in English.
The English simple past can almost always have "imperfective aspect," depending on context. "I made a cake whenever I felt like it." That's still the English simple past, but it clearly needs the French imperfect. "I made a cake and then I ate it." That clearly needs either the passe simple or the passe composé. (If you really want single sentences: "When I felt sad, what did I do? I made a cake.")
Duolingo needs to accept the English simple past as a translation for the French imperfect in all ambiguous cases. Accepting the past continuous is okay (I was making a cake) but that's really just another way of signalling the context. The real truth here is that Duolingo should have chosen examples that contained more context in the first place, since we don't learn as much from ambiguous examples. (Again, it's not ambiguous in the French; it's the English that's ambiguous.)
In the absence of any context, the most natural translation would be that of an action that was taking place at a time in the past, i.e., You were making a cake. Having said that, note that the imperfect tense is usually used when the action was occurring and then it was "interrupted" by another action. Because of this, the first action is sometimes referred to as "continuing" or "lasting", which means that it was not an instantaneous or point-in-time action, but one which was in progress at some point in the past. It then forms the basis for saying, (and while that was happening) something else happened. Example: Nous regardions la télévision quand elle est arrivée. = We were watching television when she arrived. The first action is in imperfect past because it was in progress (continuing/lasting) when the second action occurred. The second action is in Passé composé because it was a point-in-time action that occurred while the first action was taking place. You could also have two actions taking place at the same time; this would require the imperfect past tense for both actions. Example: Je regardais la télévision quand elle lisait un livre. = I was watching television when she was reading a book.
As to Duolingo's sentence above, it is not a correct use of the Imperfect to refer to a single action in the past, ongoing or not, such as, "Il lisait un livre." In such case, the Passé Composé should be used. It has been a challenging process to introduce reforms to such issues in that incorrect or seemingly arbitrary use of tenses has been in place for some time. It is tedious and requires much understanding and patience on both sides of the issue. While changes are taking place, there will inevitably be times when someone will complain, "You have always accepted this answer before and now you say it is wrong. What is going on?" The answer is that we are trying to make a repair to the vehicle while it is in motion. These challenges are not small and are complicated by the fact that a specific verb tense in French does not necessarily correspond directly to a specific verb tense in English. This is quite a deep subject and I apologize for the length of my comment.
I think, N6ZS, that it would be WONDERFUL and wonderous to have Lakhota language and Navaho and some others begin to be part of such a format. There are a few speakers left and Lakhota which I have some time into is a wonderful language with infixes. And since it is not based on latin but is not diffucult to feel ones way into, because it is a VERB language rather than a THING language with infixes, that it will fascinate and give a really new perceptual experience to people that I myself value above others. The french got along quite well with many tribes and they seemed in many ares to by sypatico. If you think there is interest on line to provide that service to native people who had their languages taken in boarding schools with punishment for using them during "mainstreaming", then there are several people I could find who might suggest moderators for this. I studied with a Lakota man who spoke 23 languages enough to translate some for the government. He spoke basque. It is a brain joy to learn on ones own with friends like this. At a Tayospaye workshop with a communications expert, I met a man who was the very last speaker of his language. He seemed so lonely. He had world he could hardly invite someone into with ease. All in his head...nobody to share it with.
This is a great idea to help preserve dying languages and continue to teach others the language!
Please let us know how this goes Marie, if you talk to Remy and the Duolingo people. I will follow this conversation.
They even may be able to get a grant in the USA, if they need funds to create these by organizations try to help preserve these languages, or just crowd funding.
Thanks for encouragement. First I will check out interest with a couple of people. It's there if one can find it. The benefit is to young Lakhota or Native speakers who want to learn their language more fully or in the first place after being discouraged from using it at a crisis point in the last century.
This has helped clear up a lot of confusion I had with the difference between passé composé and the imparfait. Thank you! This is clearly a subject worth more study as obviously all the past reading I have done has not brought out the fine points you just did. Merci beaucoup !
You just need some practice in "tuning your ear". They really are quite different. "Faisiez" has a distinct "z" sound in the middle; "faites" has a distinct "t".
http://www.acapela-group.com/ Choose a French voice - I like "Bruno". Put Vous faisiez; vous faîtes in the box and click on "listen!". Try different voices. You may notice that "Antoine" pronounces "faîtes" with two syllables. I'm told this is a southern accent in French. .
The Larousse Dictionary differs with you. Among the hundreds of uses for the verb "faire" are included:
- [ - repas, café] to make, to prepare
- [ - gâteau, pain] to make, to bake