DuoLingo Chinese Section One
I just finished section one of six for DuoLingo Chinese and here’s what my experience was like.
Why Study Chinese?
I have found a few languages to be quite useful in my life. Among them are English, Spanish, and Chinese. Furthermore, I’m a bit of a language nerd and enjoy studying languages in general. Finally, from time to time, I work as an English tutor for Chinese students and my experience has shown me that it’s helpful to know enough Chinese to explain instructions for assignments to students.
I like to have some kind of a measurement for letting me know when I have reached a significant end point and for Chinese I thought of a few ways to measure what I have accomplished. I could go back to college, but that would be too costly and time consuming. So, that’s why I decided to complete all the lessons in DuoLingo Chinese. My goals are to become fluent in Chinese and prepare for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK), which is a Chinese language proficiency test.
DuoLingo is free. You will have to watch ads though.
DuoLingo teaches many of the same words that appear on the HSK exam. So, not only will I learn basic Chinese, I will also have some preparation for the exam when I’m ready!
How the DuoLingo Chinese Course is Structured
Each lesson starts with a section called Tips. It’s a good idea to check out the tips section because sometimes there are definitions for new words and characters or notes on pronunciation are helpful throughout the lesson. You don’t have to read the tips every day, just look at them until you feel you’ve got the point.
Each major section of DuoLingo Chinese is broken down into skills. Each skill covers a particular topic such as words and phrases related to family, locations, numbers, etc. You will be introduced to about five new words and characters per skill. You will also see some characters from prior skills. Each skill is broken down into five levels.
Each skill is broken down into five levels. Each level becomes progressively more difficult. In the first level, you will be introduced to new words and phrases. In the following levels, you will repeat the words and phrases so much that they may end up feeling like second nature to you.
Each level has anywhere from two to ten lessons. Each lesson has various question types.
In one type of question, you will be shown a character and an audio recording will be played. You will be given options in writing familiar to you and you must select the option that most closely resembles the sound in the audio.
Sometimes, you will not see the character, you will be challenged by simply being prompted to pick the option that resembles what you have heard.
After you have seen a few examples of a new character and the sound it makes, you will start to see questions that combine the characters and ask you to find the Chinese characters that match the audio and written words. These are flash card type questions. You will see words that resemble English writing to assist you in making sense of the audio.
In another question type, you will be shown flash cards and ask to identify a new character. These flash cards come with images that make identification easier. For example, you may be asked a question like “Which characters means ‘day of the month’” and you will see the following flashcards.
In another question type, you will be provided with audio and a sentence that uses Chinese characters. You will be asked to either type the correct translation or drag and drop words into a blank until you have filled it with the correct translation. With these question types, you can hover your mouse over the individual characters to hear how they are supposed to sound. The key word or character is usually highlighted in orange.
You can check your answer and be notified whether you are right or wrong and you will have the option to see comments and questions others have made on the particular question. This feature is useful. Most likely, anything you are confused about with regards to a question has already been discussed, however, you can post a new question.
You can also report problems with questions such as problems with audio or something else. When enough people report an error such as a translation issue, DuoLingo checks into it and they do accept suggestions. However, since translation is not an exact science, sometimes there is a good reason why a translation isn’t what you think it should be and it’s worth it to read the discussion.
Other DuoLingo Chinese Features
Word Count, Skill Decay, and Restoring your Skills
The icon for each skill you complete all the lessons for will turn gold. However, after a while the icon will appear to be shattered. This means you are at risk of forgetting what you learned and is referred to as skill decay.
How I Approached the DuoLingo Chinese Lessons
I was taking only one lesson a day for a while. It took anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. The first level of any skill always took me longer than usual because I was learning new words. After the first level, each level took less time. However, the need to learn Chinese became a bit more imminent. I started completing one skill every day. This took me about two to three hours a day.
I really emphasized pronunciation. I would pronounce each character many times until my pronunciation was close to the voice in the audio. At first, I would repeat after the audio. Once I felt I was close enough, I would say the words at the same time as the audio. I attempted to make my voice and pronunciation harmonize with and match the audio. This approach was useful, but time consuming and you don’t have to take this approach when you study Chinese. Do what works for you.
You will annoy the people around you. If you want to speak Chinese properly, you must pronounce the words out loud. You will pronounce the words repeatedly and in my experience people just don’t want to hear it. Try to find a quiet place where no one will bother you and you will not bother anyone else. If you are content to simply learn how to read and understand spoken Chinese, then you don’t have to say the words out loud and don’t have to worry about finding a quiet place.
How authentic do I sound? I was told by a few native Chinese speakers that my accent is 80% of the way there. This is, of course, a subjective measure. I was just happy they could understand what I was trying to say. The other thign I noticed is that the lessons don’t always account for regional differences. Some words are pronounced differently in different parts of China
How accurate are the phrases? So far, no one has told me that I’m speaking nonsense or in a way that is too formal or technically correct but not the way native Chinese speakers use the language. I’ve actually encountered that issue with other languages, but not with DuoLingo Chinese.
At the moment, I’m still at a very basic level, I would not count myself as fluent yet. That makes sense when I consider the fact that the HSK level one exam tests over 150 words and passing only provides an indication that a learner can continue their studies.
Test takers who are able to pass the HSK (Level I) can understand and use very simple Chinese phrases, meet basic needs for communication and possess the ability to further their Chinese language studies.
Learn more about the exam on the China Education Center site.
To anyone reading, I’ll keep you all posted with my progress and to what extent I found DuoLingo helpful!