Posts Tagged ‘German’

Why I quit duolingo.com after a streak of almost 300 days…

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

When browsing imgur.com, there are occasionally posts like “Useful websites” and the language-minded links listed usually never fail to mention duolingo.com. DL lets you learn languages for free.

I signed up to learn some more Italian. At that time the course was not available for native German speakers so I changed the language preferences to English and signed up for the Italian/English course.
DL tries to keep you motivated by giving you a virtual coin if you complete a 10 days streak, two for a twenty day streak and so on. You also get virtual coins by completing a course section.

As the title says, I had completed a streak of almost 300 days when all my frustrations on DL erupted and I deactivated my account.

Why? Several reasons:

1) Whoever builds up the examples database of English sentences to be translated into Italian is not a native English speaker so the sentences sound weird and unnatural. Apparently not all English sentences are proofread either.
This leads you to actually learn terrible English sentences by heart rather than learning Italian.

2) The sections are theme-based e.g. sports, weather, business etc. If you translate everything theme-related correctly but write “this” instead of “that”, the whole sentence is marked wrong. After a couple of innocent mistakes like that in a lesson, the time-based repetition mechanism marks the lesson as “unlearned” which means you might be an expert on sports/business/weather but you have to repeat the lesson anyway.
My way around that was to build up a database of sentences, over a thousand in the end from which I could copy the correct answers. Not the optimal way to learn a language, I know, but as I am prone to those small but costly errors, I saw no other way.

3) Per problem, there is a discussion board. Usually, the more comments there are, the more controversial a sentence is. People post equally correct answers and improvements, ask about details and such but if the moderators read those posts, they never do anything about it. Still, the community within DL is quite helpful and friendly.

4) Reporting is virtually useless because rarely ever someone acts on it. Per problem you can also write a problem report. I’ve written dozens and dozens and only occasionally got a reply. When I started the German course (as a native speaker, I wanted to see how quickly I can finish the course) I found so many sentences that were weird and wrote so many reports but I never heard anything back. And I’m not the only one… people usually post “reported on xx/xx/xx” on the discussion board and still months later, only the crappy original solution would be accepted.

5) A language is a living thing, there are dozens of correct way to translate a sentence and yet, the solution coming from a db, can only correct a small amount of typos. Same as in other languages, there are differences between German in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Why would I have to think like a German if my answer is perfectly correct in Austria or Switzerland? Imagine you taking a real-life class and the teacher would mark your answer as incorrect just because the teacher hails from a different part of a country?

6) The algorithm that chooses the problems still needs a lot of work. I’ve worked through lessons such as sports where I had to consecutively answer the same problem three times.

7) The problem databases are one-way only but not vice versa. A correct solution to a translation problem might be marked as incorrect if you put the same reply into the translation problem coming from the other language.

The good thing about DL? It’s free – that is if I don’t count the keyboards I smashed in frustration. I feel much better now that I’ve quit DL.

Cross-language oddities

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

One of the more interesting points about different languages is that sometimes words in one language mean something completely different in a different language.
In languages from the same family the meanings are naturally often just variations since the languages have the same origin but cross-family comparisons can be very entertaining although (you guessed it) they are just plain random.
Long time ago I came across the Japanese verb 塗る(nuru) which means to apply paint, to apply a ointment etc. All Japanese verbs have a -te form, in this case the pronounciation is “nutte” which in German means “whore, prostitute”.
Another example that unfortunately doesn’t work both ways is 脚気 (kakke) which translates to Beriberi, a sickness caused by vitamin deficiency. In German however, this means “shit”. Both things less than wonderful…

One more oddity is Schinken (in German “ham”). Those who know Japanese already know where this is heading… 真剣 (pronounced “shinken”). Meaning “serious, earnest”. Without doubt, ham is one of the most serious pieces of meat there is…

Do you know any other examples? Let me know!

Cheers
m.