Three important French lessons Duolingo should teach

Hello again, just spent the weekend and the start of this week getting my head around some French grammar aspects and I have learnt some things that I think Duolingo needs to put a proper emphasis on.

The lessons are as follows:

  1. The differences between ce and il. Note: both can be "it".
  2. The differences between "cela, ceci and ce". Note: both ce and ceci can be "this" and so can cela in spoken French.
  3. The differences between the passé composé tense, the imparfait tense and the passé simple. Note: when used with être all can mean "was".

I am not going to go into the lessons here, but really after the beginning stages of French you need to start doing these lessons. I hope this helps.

Thanks and good luck / Merci et bonne chance

July 29, 2015


These were explained in the notes section, I'm pretty sure. I can't find all of them now, but I'll update this reply with links and quotes as I do. Sorry if I can't get everything, I'm only about halfway down my tree :)

1) Still searching...

2) Ceci ("this") and cela ("that") are the formal versions of the indefinite demonstrative pronoun ça ("this" or "that"). These are used when pointing something out, referring to something indefinite (like an idea), or referring back to something already mentioned.

Ceci is usually only used when making a distinction between "this" and "that". Otherwise, cela is preferred in writing and ça is preferred in speech.

Remember that ce can only be used with être, including devoir être and pouvoir être. However, cela and ceci can also be used with être for emphasis. Cela/ceci/ça should used with all other verbs.

(Demonstatives 2)

3) Translating the past tense between English and French can be difficult because there is no simple mapping between the English past tenses and the two main French past tenses, the imparfait and the passé composé (taught in the next unit). When choosing a tense, pay close attention to what you're trying to express.

The imperfect describes situations, states of mind, and habits in the past. In a story, it sets the scene or background; thus, it often translates to and from the English past continuous tense.

A lot of confusion stems from the versatile English preterit (simple past), which overlaps both French tenses. For instance, the preterit can also be used for habits.

As you learned in "Verbs: Present 2", stative verbs (e.g. "to be", "to think") usually can't be used in English continuous tenses. When used in past tenses, they should translate to the preterit.

The Imperfect conveys three things from the past:

States or situations

Use the preterit here to describe mental or physical conditions, scenes, date or times, weather, etc. Remember that you should never use English continuous tenses for stative verbs. In the examples below, "looked", "smelled", and "understood" are stative verbs.

Actions or processes

The continuous past can be used here to set up a scene by describing an action or process.

A habit or repeated action

Note that you shouldn't use the past continuous here, but as mentioned before, you may use the preterit, "used to", or "would".

(Verbs: Past Imperfect)

July 29, 2015

Good work. People should remember as well that there are disagreements between linguists between some grammar theories, so people should not fret too much if people are saying different things - they will agree on the main points.

I would say though that I think grammar terms should be lessons themselves, not just notes. I know the theory that "we don't learn languages as children with grammar lessons", but we do - that's why we go to school!

July 29, 2015

I would agree, with one important note:

Complete your language tree, then study the grammar of the language. But continue doing review lessons! Every once in a while, you will say, "Now I understand why they do it like that!"

Duolingo is great for that reason. You get exposed to the language, and get to play around with it, even making mistakes. Then you can study the grammar, which will clarify things greatly. But Duolingo will still allow you to practice your newly-learned skills.

July 29, 2015

Thanks. I have actually just started doing immersion again after a break in order to practice my new skills! Plus it is sometimes good to mix up learning methods.

July 29, 2015

Yes, we can definitely agree on that. The grammar terms should be lessons themselves. Or at the very least, more noticeable than they are now. It would certainly help people who aren't using the desktop version of the site, since I don't think they can even access the notes.

I also tested something out for the first one. There aren't any notes about that at all. But when you make a mistake in the practices/lessons when using c'est vs il est, it explains when to use one over the other. That should be changed whenever the contributors have time to do so.

I've seen you around the discussions many, many times. You've always got something helpful to contribute, whether it's regarding your personal experiences with language or general advice. So thank you for helping make Duolingo better for all of us, despite the criticism you sometimes receive for doing so :)

July 29, 2015

Thanks a lot! I try not to be too negative, but I like sharing my progress from time to time - it feels like an achievement in itself!

July 29, 2015

I completely agree with you.

July 29, 2015

Merci beaucoup for the information. And please excuse my little "Franglish" phrase. Just trying to squeeze as much French in my interactions/conversations as possible.

July 29, 2015

Franglais is a good learning method! You can even go from Franglish to le franglais until you are eventually speaking le français ! Or la langue française (use the feminine form when using the word language).

July 29, 2015

Et c'est tout à fait approprié. Bien fait. ! << Merci becoup >> - C'est correct.

July 29, 2015

Perhaps this is in a notes section I missed, but I also think they should emphasize the difference between forming the past tense with avoir as opposed to être more. The reason is that it can really change the meaning! According to a French friend of mine, while "j'ai fini" means "I'm finished," "je suis fini" (literally "I am finished") idiomatically means "I'm dead." That's a pretty important difference!

July 30, 2015

Excellent point. I suppose what you need to do there is look at the conjugation table for "finir" and the tense you want is the perfect tense (passé composé). It says for je you need to say "j'ai fini".

But yes, explaining the difference between the two as you say is very important.

July 30, 2015

Demonstratives 2 actually has the grammar notes for celui , cela etc For me it was one of hardest lessons to do , you really do need to think in French .. the cats of my grandma NOT my grandma's cats as in English . It seems odd to me about halfway through the French tree grammar and notes disappear completely and right till the end you are just learning / repeating set phrases

July 29, 2015

I agree. It is actually "the cats of grandmar, rather than "the cats of my grandma" when saying "grandma's cats".

Les chats de grand-mère. Same when saying Hollande's house "la maison de Hollande" etc.

July 29, 2015

he said "my grandma's cats"

July 29, 2015

Oh sorry! Got confused. I am just saying to shorten it you can just say "les chats de grand-mère".

July 30, 2015

The ending is truly where the community shines through when learning why things are structured certain ways. Still, I can't shake feeling that reaching the end of the skill tree feels cold and barren. This must be what freedivers feel like.

July 31, 2015

I see someone has downvoted me. Ridiculous how anything beyond beginner level gets downvoted by some.

July 29, 2015

Don't pay attention to the curios down votes. It is often just some passing trolls. Treat them as mischievous, and don't even give them air/comments about what they are doing. As Usagi would say - it can tend to encourage them. You are having a fair and reasonable discussion about language. Have trust in what you are doing

July 29, 2015

Merci ! Très apprécié !

July 29, 2015
  • 2016

I too have found downvotes discouraging, but I try to concentrate on the upvotes and move on with my translations.

July 30, 2015

Merci. Bon conseil.

July 30, 2015
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.