Sunday, November 27, 2016

Update on Duolingo's free language courses

This is an update to "Duolingo: Learning a new language for free," which I wrote last month. As I reported then, my free online lessons in French seemed to have come to an abrupt end. When I got to the end of the page of French lessons, there were no more lessons to be had, no new page was unlocked, and I was demobbed, so to speak, mustered out - or so I thought - and simply certified 55% fluent (which really only refers to my reading ability, not any ability to speak French) and seemingly fixed at level fourteen in the language learning game. (Duolingo imitates video games where the player reaches higher and higher levels of advancement.)

So far, so disappointing, but the key word here is "seems." There seems to be no further vocabulary available to learn, so far as I can tell. Nowhere in the existing lessons did I find "racrocher" which means "to hang up" (the phone) or the phrase "sans compter que" ("besides that"). However, I have since learned that there is more to be done at Duolingo - other than to move on and learn other languages. Duolingo encourages learners to go back over the lessons in the courses that they have already completed. Although I could go back and do every lesson over again from the beginning, Duolingo selects and thereby recommends a number of lessons to retake, which changes each day. Yesterday, I was given a surprise. I have now been kicked up to level fifteen, and my fluency has been upgraded by one percent to 56%. Evidently, Duolingo takes into account the fact that we become more fluent with practice. Just because I have completed the course, does not mean I cannot improve by retaking it. [Update, January 2017: My French fluency is now listed as 58% and I have risen to level 17, all through going back every day and repeating lessons.]

I have been supplementing my French learning experience by using other resources:

Collins "French-English, English-French Dictionary," French flashcards, Georges Simenon's novels that I took out of the nearby university library ("La Neige √Čtait Sale" ["The Snow Was Dirty"], and "Monsieur La Souris" [Mr. La Souris (The Mouse)"] and any other books about French I can dig out of my library. (Somewhere, I have St. Exupery's "Le Petit Prince." I also have a pictionary called "What's What?/ Que ce que c'est?" that gives the names of a wide variety of objects in both English and French; it's amazingly comprehensive and detailed.)

I am now taking Duolingo's courses in six other languages besides French. I am furthest along in German (level 7) and Russian (level 6), and I am also at level 6 in Esperanto. I am at level 2 in Swedish (6 % fluent) and Spanish (4 % fluent) and I am at level 2 in Romanian. Some of these courses are not giving me any percentages of fluency. Russian and Esperanto do not, while Spanish does, even though I am more advanced in Russian and Esperanto. I do not understand that at all.

In the German course, I have come to the lesson on "Nature" and to my surprise, it is not at all gung ho about an ideological environmentalist message as is the French lesson on "Nature." This might be because each language course is designed and administered by a separate team; evidently, they do not necessarily consult each other about ideological content, which I count as a good and promising thing.

Each course, in fact, seems to be run by an independent team with its own quirky predilections. The Esperanto lessons, for example, keep referencing Duolingo itself and, in particular, its mascot owl, Duo; whereas, the other courses have so far been silent on the mascot or Duolingo in the contents of their lessons.

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