Let's talk between users
Reading some of the posts I realized that most of the people want the same, become fluent enough to have a simple conversation, so as far as there are british learning spanish, mexicans learning english, etc it would be great to have some extra help.
Particularly, I was thinking in a new type of exercise as "real translation" or "bonus round", which would involve an easy task like "Tell (...) which animal you like most and why" or things like that, so we can all practice. It should be volunteer, at least at the beggining, but I think that this way we could learn a language better and faster, and so our translations would be better. There are many different ways to do this, so comment if you have any good idea.
Thanks for reading!
It is impossible to learn how to hold conversations in a foreign language using Duolingo as it is currently implemented. Doing so involves actually communicating with other people speaking the language--which is impossible using Duolingo.
Duolingo works by presenting its learners with foreign-language texts and asking that they be translated into English. The most that this can do is build translation skills. And building translation skills is Duolingo's principal objective since it offers its language instruction at no cost and asks its students to reciprocate by translating real text from the Internet.
There is also a great gap in the syntactical and lexical knowledge offered by Duolingo in its instruction and the much greater complexity to be found in the actual texts from the Net that it asks its students to translate.
To tell the truth, Duolingo should really be considered just one resource among many to be used by language students, who will have to consult special tools covering pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
Languages are incredibly complex systems, and it takes a long time to learn them really well. Studying them can be profitably compared to learning how to play a musical instrument. It is not all that difficult to gain an elementary knowledge enabling a budding musician to play simple songs. But learning to play an instrument really well demands a lot of what for many people is really boring practice!
This pretty much sums up my feelings on Duolingo. It's a great tool, but one has to admit that ultimately you're learning how to be an entry-level translator. I absolutely agree with you that to become an actual speaker of the language (the part that matters, really), you absolutely need to practice speaking. Duolingo is great to have in one's language toolkit, but by no means should it be used as a standalone resource.
Technically this might prove difficult to implement. The way the spoken practice works currently (as far as I know) is that your recording is scanned to see if the pattern matches that of the sentence you're meant to see. There is NO margin of error other than pronunciation.
Don't get me wrong, what you suggest sounds really interesting! :) But who would correct this exercise? I don't think to software could handle that, at least not in its current state.
Well, I wasn't thinking about real time conversations, just written messagges. And you're right about the difficulties, but the possible corrections were meant to be done by the native speaker (who you would trust as better than any machine). I know it wouldn't be perfect every time, but in fact neither is language. This would be some extra training, so you could achieve a more real knowledge of the language.