How effective is Duolingo for learning Japanese?

I’ve now hit a 100 day steak on Duolingo! Whoopie!

I will admit, I have skipped the odd day or two, and used Lingots to cover my tracks, but since the summer I’ve diligently spent a few minutes every day on Duolingo’s Japanese course.

But how good is the app for learning the language?

Just for a bit of background: I started learning Japanese in 2015. When I gained a full-time job, I stopped because having that one day less of free time meant I had to drop something. I was using a book series called JAPANESE From Zero! and I almost completed the first book.

When I started the Duolingo course, I already knew all the Hiragana characters and the odd phrase, so I sailed through the first checkpoint. It took me about 2 months to finish the whole course.

One of my friends also started the Japanese course at the same time I did. She had no previously knowledge of Japanese (apart from watching subbed anime), so started from absolute zero. She said she found it quite hard to get through those first few lessons.

I think I would have had the same problem if I had started using Duolingo with no previous knowledge of the language.

The big issue with Duolingo is that it doesn’t have lessons. It throws you in the deep end, giving you words and sentences written out in hiragana characters off the bat. You can translated the words are by clicking on them, but when you’re translating English into Japanese the app will often tell you what the word is in kanji, which isn’t helpful when all the answers are in hiragana.

I was hoping to improve my knowledge of kanji and katakana throughout the course – I feel like I’ve picked up a few new kanji characters, but my katakana knowledge is as shoddy as ever. The first few lessons on Duolingo concentrate on getting your hiragana characters up to scratch, but they don’t focus on katakana in the same way.

The course did strength my understanding of Japanese sentence structures, and having a voice speak the Japanese words to you for each new question was beneficial – it kept reinforcing in my head how the words were pronounced, and I was able to practice some listening exercises by ignoring the written hiragana characters. Unfortunately, unlike some of the more commonly spoken languages such as French and Spanish, the Japanese course doesn’t have speaking exercises.

Overall, I would recommend the Duolingo Japanese course, but I wouldn’t start it until you have a solid knowledge of hiragana characters. Learn those, and then get going. I enjoyed the course (despite some of the app’s bugs) – some lessons were really easy and I sailed through them, but some were very challenging (some so much so I vomited forth the wretched rainbow of all the Japanese profanities I know – you don’t get taught those words!).

I think I might take a break from the app for a while – until a few things in my life have sorted themselves out (you’ll learn more in next week’s blog post), or until they release some new lessons, as I’ve exhausted the ones that are there. You can get to the point where you’re learning anything new, because you can remember the answers so just type them in.

Have you started learning Japanese on Duolingo? How are you finding it?

Ps. If you are on Duolingo learning Japanese, feel free to join my club…!

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