Don't turn Duolingo into a game!
Don't turn Duolingo into a game!
Dear Mr. Von Ahn,
These last few days turned out to be very turbulent for the Duolingo community. All of a sudden the vivid and lively space where Duolinguists used to communicate turned quiet and empty. There was no possibility to start a sentence discussion, to write to a fellow learner, to ask the course moderator for advice, to follow the progress of friends… and there was also no Immersion. We, the users, felt like we were placed into a vacuum, and vacuum is fatal for such a communicative activity like learning a language.
Yes, there was a lot of talk around Immersion and we understand the reasons behind it. It does not come along with your concepts anymore, it does not bring you a penny and the brilliant idea of “translating the internet” has failed according to expectations as one can’t translate the internet. Translation is not just a mere substitution of words, it is more about interpretation of thoughts and ideas, and forming them in a way that a person with a different cultural background would appreciate. Translation means human communication, permanent exchange of views, agreements and discussions. It is something you can’t replace with finest artificial tools, at least not yet.
The same applies to language-learning. There are many cute and bright things which may simplify it a bit, but you seem to give way to illusion, these tools should be the clue to language. At the end of the day, learning is still learning. Learning a language means to reform your own personality, to be able to think and act according to another mentality, to imply a different self – things which one gets only while communicating with real speakers. Till now, it was possible through discussing the language tasks, through messaging in personal streams, through wonderfully organized language-themed forums.
And the same goes for language-teaching. A language wants to be explained, it is not a Lego box and not a smartphone to be used intuitively. A language is a living organism, and like everything alive it requires more or less detailed study. For a teacher, as well for a course contributor, it is the greatest pleasure to explain how the foreign language works, and a positive feedback from a learner is the best reward for a contributor. You seem to see the language like a puzzle which consists from smaller pieces like lexemes, and the main tasks of the contributors is generating as much of the most universal pieces which are more likely to produce a decent puzzle. This task does not require any creativity, in fact it is not even teaching but rather mechanistic work on dead material. As already mentioned, a language is alive, one can’t just sew it together like Frankenstein’s monster and expect it to breathe.
We, the Duolingo community, are highly concerned about the way Duolingo is going to develop. We love this site, we have met amazing people here, have made unique experiences, and have found friends. We don’t want it to be a sterile commercial game for random users who use it for a week and then forget it, we don’t even want it to be considered a game. Therefore we ask you to reconsider your view of Duolingo. Remember, that there are plenty of sources which provide their users with flashcards, game elements and pure vocabulary learning. It was the immediate contact to the language through mentoring and communication which made (the old) Duolingo to stand out.
Hence, here are our suggestions.
1. Reactivate the Sentence Discussions and the Activity stream as soon as possible, even if temporarily at the expense of DuoBots and Clubs. DuoBots and Clubs are less relevant to language learning, moreover the Clubs have not found any acceptance by the majority of users.
2. Pay more attention to the browser version of Duolingo. There are plenty of users which don’t even know that Duolingo is actually a website where one finds a lot of relevant information and many helpful fellow learners.
3. If it is not possible to restore Immersion in its previous format, think about an alternative solution. At least give the Immersion community time to back up their unfinished work and to find ways to reorganize themselves. There are people who were working together for months and you have just cut off any possibility for them to find each other.
4. Consider the quality of users over quantity. It does not bring much if the main audience of the site will consist of bots, trolls and schoolchildren who were forced by their teachers to earn a certain XP amount per week.
5. You insist that Duolingo should be free of charge, and that is great. There are plenty of users though who are ready to pay for their Duolingo access provided they would still enjoy the quality of learning. Any crowdfunding action would bring you more acceptance than the gamification items meant to attract the users.