A while ago I announced that I was going to learn Chinese, and I also did a review of Duolingo’s Chinese course praising it a lot. So consider this a part two to both of those posts.
Duolingo is great for getting you through the door, getting you into the routine of things, and making you feel like you’re making progress. The issue with the Chinese course is that once you’re through the door there isn’t much there.
I had gotten to “Time 2” and “location 2” on the drop down list which doesn’t actually look very far. I had completed 12 levels and was in the progress of 10, that’s just how Duolingo works.
In simple terms the quality of the later lessons had dropped dramatically. When you go through questions there is a report button which you click when there is a problem with a question. I eventually found myself pressing that button multiple times daily.
You would look into the comments for each question and see many people saying “reported 2018 (or 17) and still not fixed” – it just looks completely negligent. Their questions are always broken, and theirs a large number of them.
Their validation, which was excellent at the start, dropped in quality massively, to a point where you have to remember their twisted English sentence.
Due to these issues it actually felt like I was one of the only people learning Chinese on Duolingo – it’s insanely easy to see why people decide to drop off.
Every week I see a leader board of language learners who compete against each other for prizes, here you can see what language they are studying, and no one ever studies Chinese on there! It’s always Latin based languages, which I can imagine actually being good with duolingo. It doesn’t really work for Chinese.
The lack of updating is a self fulfilling prophecy in a way. They don’t update the Chinese course because there aren’t enough people however there aren’t enough people because they don’t update the Chinese course. It’s a cycle.
I can’t imagine that Duolingo actually makes a lot of money. Their gamification is good, however their in app purchases are lacking. The premium version is simply like a patreon with very limited rewards. You can have offline lessons, no ads, and repair your lost streak monthly. There is very little incentive to get it.
This means that there are likely no fluent people actually reviewing the questions. But there should still be programmers.
Why isn’t someones daily job purely devoted to fixing these errors? You don’t even need to be fluent in the language to do it in terms of English speakers. Because if English people are saying “it should also accept: “whatever they should accept”” – then it’s very easy for them to add that as a solution. It shouldn’t be difficult.
If they had one person whose job it was to go through all of these then they could be done in three months.
Let’s take the example of “我的家人最近不错” – my family has been pretty good recently is what google translate would say. However that doesn’t mean it’s the only solution.
Throughout the entire Duolingo course 不错 has been used as “not bad” – because 不 means no/not/that kind of thing and 错 means bad/wrong/that kind of thing.
So another correct translation is “My family has been not bad recently” – but it isn’t allowed. Yes “My family has not been bad recently” is allowed, even though it’s worse English since it could also be interpreted as misbehaving. How can they let stuff like this slip by for years? It’s negligent.
Even if you don’t know the language, you can know synonyms, and you can know when phrases in English mean the exact same thing and should be corrected.
It’s crazy to me that they can’t just pull up a list with the largest amounts of reported questions and fix them.
The issue is that there must be more popular language courses, and the more popular ones get more reported questions. But potentially they may disagree with the reported question, and think that it’s ok, if this point of contention is early on within a language learning course then that question will rise to the top, leading to them to never see the actual questions they should fix since they have other ones to worry about.
I think the way that Duolingo sorts their reported questions must simply be flawed. It’s not fair to other courses which have a lower number of reports because it means that course won’t be given the same chance to grow. They may be better off sorting their questions in terms of ratio. The one with the highest percentage of reports relative to the people who answered the question could be a fairer way to do it.
Anyway that’s why I stopped with Duolingo. The Chinese course just seems negligent and there are better alternatives out there.
Now let’s talk about the rest of my language learning journey so far.
I am currently in a very privileged position most language learners dream of. I have two hour Chinese lessons a week with my fluent friends. These lessons are one on one and help me a lot. They give me a lot of work to do after the lessons and in preparation. It’s actually great.
I do a small amount of hanzi flashcards, since I would rather focus on speaking and listening in the short term, my own flashcards which I create after my Chinese lessons, Chinese grammar wiki (which is a fantastic free resource), I’ve swapped Duolingo for “Hello Chinese” and I’m watching Chinese drama’s to develop my listening skills.
If this sounds like it leaves me with absolutely no free time, then you are correct.
The preparation and time commitment is likely much longer than my three teachers realise, but it’s all work I’m prepared to do and enjoy doing.
There is a methodology called “AJATT” – which is all Japanese all the time, I’ve taken that and am using it for Chinese.
The only real time when I’m not studying is during a lesson (which is still ironically studying), when I’m taking care of things, visiting friends, cooking, sleeping, or talking with friends online – but even then I still listen to Chinese music in the background – which is pretty great by the way.
I think my progress is definitely showing – however it still feels like there is a huge mountain to climb – and that despite my progress there is still a huge way to travel.
I do however need to remind myself that I’ve only been studying seriously for nearly three weeks, and my Chinese is already so much better than a Chinese two year old, who has been studying for over a hundred weeks longer.
It takes time. My friend said that if I continue like this I will be able to talk like they do in Chinese in a year. Obviously I have university, and can’t just take a gap year, and progress only continues if you keep building on it, but it’s promising.
I am still staying at University even though all my exams have ended. So this means that all my English friends have gone home and I only know Chinese friends here, so it means I am practically in China. When I walk around campus theirs only Asians, and when I hang out with friends they’re all fluent.
It’s actually such a good environment to learn languages. I am really very lucky to have the situation I currently have.
Coming straight off of exams made it much easier to study because I just replaced my revision time with Chinese time – it was simple.
Anyway, any tips or advice, please let me know. Cheers!