Learning Ukrainian: progress report #5

The lessons are starting to become uninspired/uninspiring. My guess is that Duolingo had to rapidly hire some Ukrainian speakers and no one had the time to write thoughtful, well-vetted lessons. So we get sentence after sentence with only small variations in vocabulary and content.

Anyway, here is my progress this week:

That was this week. Total words I’ve learned so far: 988. Actually, I don’t know whether they are counting different forms of the same word as different words; I assume not.

Other complaints for the day (maybe I’m just feeling grumpy):

There’s too much multiple choice. Often it’s easy to find the correct answer by being strategic without actually knowing anything. For example:

So here we have a choice of only two words in either order, so only two possibilities. One begins with a capital A, so it’s definitely not a “hard exercise,” as they claim.

More generally, the choices rarely give two or three options in the same category. So, if it’s clear from context that they want a color, there will be only one color among the choices! Likewise if they want a month, or a profession, or a language. Or if it’s a pronoun, they rarely offer more than one form of the pronoun in question, so the user isn’t even challenged to identify which is the correct dative form or whatever! This is just plain sloppy pedagogy. They also don’t have semantically related words, which would at least pose a little bit of cognitive challenge. For instance, instead of offering the Ukrainian words for won and lost, they will offer won, potato, Thursday, porridge, and speak.

All in all, it’s too much like learning Latin—except that I loved learning Latin! If they’re going to use that model, they should at least give thorough explanations of the grammar, which they don’t. It’s all piecemeal. I have no problem with learning inductively through stories, but they have no stories! Coming back to the issue of learning Latin, even that can be taught creatively in a way that challenges thinking rather than mere memorization: in one of my years of teaching Latin (yes, I taught that too for three years, after the regular Latin teacher retired) we used the great series of books Lingua Latina, which entirely consist of stories in Latin, with occasional explanations in Latin, but no English!

Everyone once in a while Duolingo does provide a useful explanation. But then they sometimes go overboard with irritating detail. For example:

They could have said all of that in six words!

Finally, for some unaccountable reason Duolingo has dropped their discussion boards, at least for Ukrainian. So it’s no longer possible to talk about why a certain form is the way it is, or to get the informed opinion of a native speaker about the best way to translate a given English phrase into Ukrainian.

I’m not quite ready to give up on Duolingo’s attempt to teach Ukrainian, but I’m close.

Categories: Linguistics, Teaching & Learning