Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

A few observations on Duolingo’s Esperanto course

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First: Duolingo’s Esperanto course is free. For a good overview of the course structure, argot, and operation, see the Duolingo wiki, a site created and maintained by Duolingo users. Though it has no official connection to Duolingo, it is very helpful in explaining how Duolingo works.

Step 1: Sign up!
The language “skill tree”  (But: see below, Best strategy for working through the tree)
Inside Duolingo lessons
New vocabulary hints
If at first you don’t succeed…
Remember me?
But wait, there’s more!
The Duolingo community
Duolingo on the go
Looking for more info? We’ve got you covered.
See also

Duolingo lessons are extremely brief, so that you get a sense of rapid progress. (It reminds me of how War and Peace, though quite long, gives the reader a sense of rapid progress because in general the chapters are short.)

Update: After six weeks of daily use of Duolingo I had some insight into why it works (and I ahd learned a lot of Esperanto). /update

You can avoid excessive mouse use by typing your answer and using return instead of selecting words from a list and clicking “Check” and then “Continue.” I find using the return key is faster and more convenient than clicking buttons. Click the “Use keyboard” button to avoid the painfully slow process of word selection.

Duolingo uses repetition to build familiarity and quicker understanding of what is being said or written. You have the option to skip some items, but I never do. (I recall reading that Ben Hogan in playing would concede his opponent’s putts — a “gimme,” I think it’s called — for the first several holes and then would not concede any more, which increased the pressure.) I fear if I start skipping I’ll stop learning. Reinforcement is fine.

The audio (“write what you hear” for a phrase spoken in the language you’re studying) develops listening skills. This is important because the skills of reading, listening, speaking, and writing are pretty much independent, and each must be practiced to gain mastery. The speakers vary, with the same phrase being presented with different speakers at different times.

The speakers vary in clarity: some enunciate carefully and clearly. Some clearly enunciate but also speak very rapidly. One mumbles so that it is hard to hear whether he is saying “mi” or “ni” (or “li” or “ili”). One has a tendency to throw in an extra syllable, as when (say) an English speaker pronounces “grand” as “guh-rand” — this guy says “uh-li” for “li.” The extra syllables make it very hard to understand what is being said, and I tended to always get those wrong in my transcription (“Write what you hear”). The reason for the variety of accents is that Duolingo uses contributions from their students as well as professional voice actors.

The more I thought about it, the more I understand why this is good (or as that last guy would say, “uh-good”). When you are speaking with actual people, some will speak clearly and distinctly (but probably those are a minority), some will speak clearly but very rapidly, and some will mumble and mispronounce words. You, the listener, must make sense of what they all say. See this post: Oral typos and autocorrect by the unconscious.

If a speaker seriously makes an error (e.g., clearly says “de” when the correct word is “el” — and you are marked incorrect if you write “de”), you can report the speaker’s error by clicking the “Report” option that’s shown when the correct answer is displayed and then click “Audio does not sound correct.”

There’s also a “Discuss” option shown along with the correct answer. This provides a way of seeking more clarity on a particular question, and the discussions at the link often develop useful posts.

Duolingo lets you repeat the audio as many times as you want: just click the loudspeaker icon and it will say again. And (important) you can repeat the audio after you’ve been told your transcription is incorrect — thus after the correct transcription is shown. I use the correct transcription as a pony and listen repeatedly to the spoken phrase until I can clearly hear the meaning through the “noise” (as it were) of slurred speech and extra syllables. Then I listen to the audio with my eyes shut, getting the meaning purely from the audio.

One tactic I’ve learned to be effective: listen to the audio repeatedly until you have the complete sentence (in Esperanto) in mind. Only after you have the full sentence in mind, use the keyboard to enter it in the text box. Then listen to the audio again, reading along with what you entered. This will allow you to correct errors — for example, I find I have a tendency to omit “la” when I transcribe from memory, and I often mishear “ni” as “mi.”

Over time, you will improve your ability to hear and recall the entire phrase. It’s a skill, so it requires practice.

I’ve noticed as I’ve progressed that I do understand more clearly what is said. My unconscious seems to be filtering out the noise and focusing more on the relevant sounds — the cocktail-party effect in action. And there’s more at work than just the cocktail-party effect: see this post: listening is active, not passive. You don’t simply take in the sounds the speaker makes, you unconsciously (as you learn the language) begin to adjust the sounds so that you start to “hear” what the speaker intended and not necessarily what the speaker said. (More at that link.)

This sounds a lot like training a neural network, and the reason it sounds like that is because that’s exactly what it’s doing: it’s training a neural network (the brain).

UPDATE on listening comprehension. Somewhere around 4 months in, I fell into a kind of depression, feeling I was not making progress. I had been completing around 100-150 XP per day, and I dropped back to 30 XP per day. This lasted for a couple of weeks, and then I got interested again and resumed my former rate. What’s interesting is that after that period my listening comprehension seemed to be significantly improved.

It struck me that the depression may have been a side effect of some rewiring going on in my brain — much as a very young child seems highly irritable and unhappy just before acquiring a new skill (such as learning to walk). I have always attributed that to frustration: the old skill level is not good enough and the new skill is too hard. But perhaps it is the side-effect of that rewiring of brain synapses that the new skill requires.

Bottom line: if you find yourself frustrated at some lack of progress, it’s worthwhile to work through that period of frustration. You may find that once you’re through, you find you are “suddenly” much better. /UPDATE

Another tip: Some exercises present an English sentence and ask you to pick the correct Esperanto translation from three options. I have found these exercises work best if I first translate the English into Esperanto (in my mind) before I look at the three options. But have the Esperanto translation already in mind, it makes it easy to find the correct options, plus I get a little more practice in translating.

The big discoveries in ease of use were keyboard entry instead of word selection and using the enter key to move along instead of clicking the buttons offered. [To that I must now add discovering the Duolingo wiki referenced above.]

UPDATE: Another useful discovery: how the lessons and levels and skills work, and a better study strategy. See this post. /update

I initially use the “Coach” setting to set my daily goal to 30 XP per day (“serious”) but increased it to 50XP per day (“intense”) and usually do 100 XP or more. Doing 100 XP  is easy: it amounts to working through the lessons to complete a level (usually 6 lessons), plus working through 3 reviews to “repair” skills that are “broken” (as shown by the gold disk being cracked).

Easy diacritics: Chrome has an extension Anstatauxi that allows easy entry of diacritics: type x following a letter that requires a diacritic and the diacritic will appear — for example cx produces ĉ, Cx produces Ĉ, and so on for the letters ĝ Ĝ  ĥ Ĥ ĵ Ĵ ŝ Ŝ and ŭ. This means you don’t have to click a button to get those characters when doing text entry in Duolingo. The extension also works in Opera, the browser that I use. Worth downloading. (And note that it doesn’t collide with regular use, since those combinations do not occur in words.) I use this extension and like it a lot.

The same capability is built into for the data entry within that course, and Firefox has similar extensions — the one I use is Ektajpu, but it’s not the only one. See also this general discussion of ways to type Esperanto diacritics.

Duolingo will also accept and score as correct a character combination using the x for a diacritic. That is, if the correct answer is “loĝi,” Duolingo will accept “logxi” as correct.

On Apple computers, you can use the Extended keyboard option. With this keyboard Option-6 produces ˆ and Option-b produces ˘ and the cursor does not advance so the next letter typed appears under the diacritic remark. With practice these key combinations become automatic.

Note the Duolingo forum for Esperanto, and especially note the first post in the forum.  (It’s a “sticky” post so that it stays first.) It consists of links to resources.

Also useful: the Facebook group for Duolingo Esperanto students. This is a useful resource specifically for Duolingo.

Also note that Aniki’s collection of shared decks for Esperanto include three decks for Duolingo vocabulary. I use both of those to lock down my vocabulary knowlege. Also, this deck provides a great number of Esperanto words ordered by frequency of use (so that you learn first the words most frequently used). I study all the decks together since Anki’s spaced repetition makes it easy. More information on Anki in this post.

Best tactics with exercises

See Useful Duolingo Tactics for the tactics that proved to work best for me.

Best strategy for working through the tree

See Maximizing benefits of Duolingo’s spaced repetition in language learning.

See also this post by Duolingo’s learning designers: What’s the best way to learn with Duolingo?

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2020 at 1:16 pm

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