Photo of chart showing katakanya characters, on my fridge door

Katakanya has joined hiragana on my fridge door

Fifteen days, usually one ‘lesson’ a day, further down the duolingo Japanese course from my post with beginner’s comments, I can say that the claimed “5 minutes a day” is optimistic, certainly for me. I did complete each of the first ten ‘lessons’ in 5 minutes or so but as they became more difficult that extended considerably; I did not time this morning’s lesson but it certainly took me 30 minutes or more. On the other hand, I thought long and hard about each question and made only one mistake.

In my previous post on the subject I wondered whether I should compare the Japanese course with one for a language In which I am reasonably fluent. Let me clarify that: I can read it without a problem, understand it spoken with few problems, but have many difficulties attempting to write it. So, I decided to do the Romanian course alongside the Japanese. In four days I have completed many ‘lessons’, certainly more than 40, with very few mistakes. And I have begun to understand the complexities of Romanian articles, singular and plural, and the use of the diacritical marks, for the first time. So far so good. I’m hoping that soon I will not be asking Petronela “is it ă, â or a in …?”

Romanian on duolingo

Romanian prăjituri

Romanian prăjituri

Cupcakes. Good for children

Cupcakes. Good for children

What is clear is that the Romanians constructing this course are heavily influenced by American English so that there are some bad, misleading translations (eg, ‘prăjituri’ is said to be ‘cup cakes’; the wonderful small Romanian cakes and pastries bear no resemblance to those silly over-decorated buns (as we would call them) which have become fashionable. In fact there is no good English word for the Romanian creations (there’s probably one in German or Austrian as they have similar things). The best I can come up with in British English is ‘fancies’ but it would be better to describe them.

As far as grammar is concerned, the Romanian course developers seem never to have heard of ‘present continuous’, which would often be a more appropriate translation than the present simple given. Admittedly, correct use of simple and continuous was usually difficult to grasp for my Romanian students as they don’t make the difference in Romanian.

Back to Japanese

I wonder if the lack of explanations is deliberate in the Japanese course. If so I think, as a former language teacher, it is rather misguided as when I first began the course many things were totally confusing. I mentioned in my previous post the overall title of the first lessons being ‘hirigana’, with no explanation of what hirigana is, was confusing to me.

Even more confusing was, having completed the hirigana lessons, I was suddenly confronted with the title ‘intro’. Only after I completed a few lessons did it become clear that the ‘intro’ was to a totally different writing system ‘katakanya’. Rather late in the day I’ve realised that ‘intro’ is probably not ‘introduction’ but ‘introductions’.

Then there’s the wonder of large and small characters and diacriticals, which change the pronunciation, meaning or both.

And I haven’t got to the kanji, the Chinese characters, yet! Or I don’t think I have. In fact I don’t really know what I have got to as I have no idea  what some of characters introduced are. But, at last, some kind of logic has begun to appear and I made only one mistake in this morning’s lesson, by deduction. As I said last time, a really good thing about duolingo is the collection of forums, populated with people who are only too willing to help. Without them I would probably have given up.

An important word of warning

Beware of the advertisements. There are all sorts of inducements to view advertisements but some are hiding some well known ‘scams’. Avoid particularly those offering ‘free trials’. They will usually eventually ask for the cost of postage and packing, thereby obtaining your bank card details, and lock you in to automatic reordering of the product at a ridiculous price. At the end of each lesson you are invited to obtain some advantage by watching an ad. I now never do. Duolingo would do itself a great favour by excluding the ‘scam’ advertisements.