Why Duolingo’s Sentences Aren’t Useless

I’m on day 35 of learning Norwegian with Duolingo, and I have to admit that it has gotten frustrating at moments. A lot of the time, I look at the sentences in a lesson or review session and think to myself, “When am I ever going to use this?”

My favorite example of this so far is this gem: Hvor er mine seksten rein? Or in English, “where are my 16 reindeer?” Entertaining, but not necessarily practical. There are many hundreds of similar sentences in Duolingo, and so it’s not particularly surprising when reviews of the app tend to include complaints about a lack of immediately usable material.

I think the complaint stems from the fact that a lot of language learning programs and books often focus on providing a base of useful phrases for various situations, and then build vocabulary and grammar lessons around this. Duolingo seems to employ the opposite method. Instead, you are given a bunch of vocabulary and grammar, and then tasked with fitting this in to a series of strange translations. Not for everyone.

However, I don’t think we should write off this method just yet. These sentences may not be totally useful, but they certainly provide valuable templates. For instance, with the above example, you essentially learn to ask where things are, and can replace “sekesten rein” with “to katter” (two cats) or just “bøker” (books).

The sentences can be modified to fit your needs, and doing so further reinforces the structure, and vocabulary, at least for me. I often find myself babbling away, reusing Duolingo sentences with whatever new vocabulary I’ve learned while in the shower, or making tea, or doing laundry. It becomes a fun little supplemental challenge!

Secondarily, strange sentences often just add a bit of levity and fun to the learning process. The Norwegian course is completely full of pop culture references and humorous little bits that are both engaging and entertaining. I might not need to know how to say “winter is coming,” or “I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket,” but it sure is fun seeing those pop up. I’m definitely a little more motivated to do more reviewing, knowing that there are some little jokes and references buried within the lessons.

Granted, this may not be helpful for everyone, and many of you may still prefer to be given  a full list of sentences that can be used out of the gate, but it’s definitely worth considering that there is potentially a method behind this sentence madness.

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4 thoughts on “Why Duolingo’s Sentences Aren’t Useless

  1. Duolingo’s sentences is one of the reasons why it’s hard for me to stay interested in using the app. It’s not that I don’t like the sentences, but like you said, they’re not very practical. For example, one time when I was doing a Spanish lesson, they had me translate the English sentence, “The final moment is mine.” lol Maybe they have sentences like that so that, like you also said, we’ll use the sentence structure we’ve learned and exchanging nouns and pronouns. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! The first time I tried learning a language, I found it really frustrating to not be able to say anything meaningful at first. Or really, for a while.

      It’s still kind of a challenge sometimes, because it would be nice to at least have a few useful go-to sentences that we can remember.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree! While I quite familiar with the basics of Spanish now, Duolingo still helps strengthen my sentence-building skills, although it doesn’t help much with new sentences lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think if you are a beginner, or working to a tight deadline for a trip, Duolingo is a nice addition for vocab but not entirely practical. The best thing about it is that it teaches you that language is like building with lego and all the bits of information you learn can be swapped and changed however you like. I still find it really helpful when learning italian (intermediate level) and german (beginner) now I know the basics.

    Like

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