Learning Turkish with DuoLingo

A very brief overview of DuoLingo: Duolingo is an online learning practice that makes extensive use of reading, translating and dictation to teach grammar and basic vocabulary as you progress through “skill sets” and earn points.  The English-Turkish version has just been released in Beta. Also accessible through the Free App. A good review of the Duo program (not just Turkish) can be found here.

DuoLingo for Learning Turkish: For the past two months I’ve been running through the DuoLingo Turkish course to review and finesse my Turkish skills.  I’d actually waited about…only a year… for the Turkish for English Speakers course to come out in Beta and, when it did, I was rather surprised.

DuoLingo is rather different than other online language websites and apps in that it is entirely translation-based. There are no “lessons” or vocab lists.  Every course is created by non-employee volunteers (for the Turkish course this was a Turkish linguists PhD fellow and a few native English speakers fluent in Turkish).  And it’s run like a game, with fun sounds for every correct answer, points for completing skill set components, and a green cartoon owl which you can deck out in fun costumes once you rack up enough points. 

start duolingoHow it works: When you start a language you can choose to either start at the very beginning, or take a placement test. You then move through “skills” (each skill has 1-7 components) by translating sentences, transcribing audio, connecting vocab pairs, and choosing the right form of a word for a blank.  When moving through the skills you can hover on words for definition and short grammar explanation.  Organization of skills sets mimics the way a child learns language, starting with basic phrases, pronouns, nouns, present tense, simple adjectives, before gradually moving up to more complex grammatical features and complicated tenses or sentences with multiple subjects or actions.

dolingo home page

Duolingo looks deceptively simple.  I’ve reviewed my way up to level eight.  The sentences I see are ones I studied half a year ago.  And yet, when I translate them from English I have to get them exactly right. Forgot that accusative? It’s wrong.  Generalized and translated it into the present continuous? Wrong. Wrote “eat a sandwich” instead of “eat the sandwich”? Wrong. God, I wish all my Chinese students learned English through this program… Because, while the exactitude required can sometimes be annoying, it also creates great language practices and teaches you to consistently not be sloppy.  Producing something that a native speaker could probably understand isn’t enough.  You have to produce sentences exactly as native speakers would express themselves.

duolingo turkishThrough there is one problem… Because the Turkish for English Learners Course is still in Beta, not all of the acceptable alternatives have been added to the answers base.  For example, “My mother and aunt…” was counted as wrong while “My mother and my aunt…” (which just sounds awkward in spoken English) was correct. There’s also still some inconsistency concerning how literate translations should be – an issue where English and Turkish commonly use different tenses to express the same idea (Turkish uses the present continuous far more than English).

Who it’s For:  The casual 10-minute-a-day language learner, complete beginners interested in understanding grammatical structure, elementary-intermediate language learners who want to solidify and sharpen their language skills and learn to produce perfectly correct content

DuoLingo Absurd sentences

From DuoLingo French

  Who it’s Not For: Tourists who just want to pick up a few useful phrases for their trip.  A lot of the sentences used are pretty irrelevant – I know how to say “The ducks are eating sandwiches in the park”, but I really doubt I’ll ever use that.  A DuoLingo for Daily Life or DuoLingo Tour Edition would be great. Unfortunately for you, that’s not what this program currently offers.

What DuoLingo is Not: An all-inclusive course that will teach you the basics you need for natural, everyday conversation.

What DuoLingo is Great For: Understanding the linguistic structure of the Turkish language, practicing grammar concepts, fine-turning your language skills

How I’d Recommend Using It: Don’t rush through.  Seriously, the faster you ‘learn’ a language, the less you retain. I go through about one “skill” a day; for new language learners I’d say one skill component to one skill is about optimal.  If you’re reviewing, do a bit more.

And definitely do pair DuoLingo with other language learning resources – podcasts (like Turkish Tea Time), a conversation-focused textbook (like Orhan Dogan’s Starting Turkish or Concept Language’s Take Away Turkish), or a practical guide book like Dogan’s Turkish Phrase Book and Dictionary.  Write down new vocabulary and study them with Memrise. If you’re interested in a more grammar-based approach that also incorporates natural dialogue, here’s a free PDF of Teach Yourself Turkish that nicely expands on the material covered in DuoLingo. As with every other language learning resource, this isn’t a one-off that will teach you everything you need to know.

If you’re interested in learning Turkish on DuoLingo – create a profile and give it a try! You can also read a longer overview of the Turkish course on the DuoLingo forum here.

For more Turkish language learning resources, check out my Turkish page here.


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