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Old 2012-06-30, 00:37   #1
only_human
 
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I last studied Spanish back in high school in 1980 or so but started to review it again after the public opening of a cool new language learning and translation site: www.duolingo.com
(blog.duolingo.com)
Quote:
100% Free Language Education, Open to the World.
Duolingo — Jun 19, 2012
Our baby was born today. Like new parents, we’re beaming with excitement to announce that Duolingo is now open to the world. We know, we’re biased, but we think she’s a beauty. Over the past six months, hundreds of thousands of beta testers have helped us refine the service. Many waited for months to get their invitations, and we want to thank them for their patience and for the more than 80,000 feedback emails they sent us. Some of them even made us blush, like this one:

“This is probably the single greatest thing currently on the internet.”

Our commitment is to continue working towards making the best language learning service out there and to always keep it 100% free.

Duolingo started as a complete long shot inside Carnegie Mellon University. We had no idea if it was going to work, but were fortunate that many others, like our investors Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson From Union Square, Ashton Kutcher from A-Grade, and Tim Ferriss, believed in our vision and took a risk with us.

So, thank you, and enjoy!

The Duolingo Team
Pittsburgh, PA
It has social site features, e.g. followers etc., although I might not use that aspect much.

My progress is visible thus: http://duolingo.com/#/only_human
Click on the stream tab to see what I have been doing lately

One thing that makes this less boring than ordinary drills is that the site crowd-sources translations of web pages -- and people can vote on the translations. It can be fun and useful seeing what other people think of your efforts.

They accept documents for translation work. I wonder if some people here who have non-English websites might find this of use (although maths ain't just any old street talk):
Quote:
Duolingo upload center

Want to have your content translated by Duolingo?
We are now accepting applications!

Apply for an upload account
How Duolingo translation works

1. You upload a document that you own the rights to.

2. Language learners interact with it on Duolingo and translate it to the required language. It’s fast and accurate.

3. Uploading a document and retrieving its translation is 100% free, though in the future we may charge for speed and accuracy.
Currently supported languages

Spanish to/from English
German to English
French to English
Many of the phrases are spoken for listening comprehension and a microphone can be used to practice speaking (I have not tried the microphone aspect).

I started using the site right at the official public release. My personal experiences:
  • My computer sometimes truncates the beginning of spoken phrases and I need to click a button to hear them again.
  • There is a repeat slowly button for listening comprehension which I find to be very useful. I really like the tone and articulation of the spoken phrases.
  • Practicing German has started messing me up in capitalization in English at the moment.
  • I'm finding the language study a welcome distraction from dwelling on personal difficulties. When drilling on a skill section I'm completely immersed.
  • There is a lot of mouse-over help on words meanings and conjugations.

I'm using Windows 8 beta and the Google Chrome browser.

The drill pages have buttons that can be clicked for accented characters but I find that using the CapsLock.exe Spanish and German accent programs from http://www.onehourprogramming.com/ to be easier. I am having trouble with the Windows 8 language features and think these these little programs are good.

My favorite Chrome browser extension at the moment is the Google Dictionary. It can automatically pop-up a definition of a highlighted word but I find it better to turn off the automatic and double-click selection options. Instead I highlight a word and then click on the extension icon in the browser bar. It will automatically translate words and phrases too.

Last fiddled with by only_human on 2012-06-30 at 01:35 Reason: s/web sites/documents/
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Old 2012-06-30, 03:44   #2
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--------------------------------------------------------------------
We talk about language all the time in these Forums.
This thread welcomes language discussion including etymology and dialect; e.g.: What is the best British way to say "Buh Bye?"
--------------------------------------------------------------------
I'm just going to throw in some more stuff about Duolingo here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duolingo
Quote:
The project was started by Professor Luis von Ahn (creator of reCAPTCHA) and his graduate student Severin Hacker, and then developed also with Antonio Navas, Vicki Cheung, Marcel Uekermann, Brendan Meeder, Hector Villafuerte, and Jose Fuentes. The project was originally sponsored by Luis von Ahn's MacArthur fellowship and a National Science Foundation grant and is mainly written in the programming language Python.
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2402570,00.asp
Quote:
Bottom Line
Part crowd-sourcing project to translate the Web and part language-learning site, Duolingo has several incredible and unique tools for practicing Spanish, German, English, and French. Duolingo is the only crowd-source language-learning website to get it right.

Last fiddled with by only_human on 2012-06-30 at 04:29
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Old 2012-06-30, 16:56   #3
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Thanks for the pointer: I may well investigate Duolingo.

Just one personal observation - which I make without even having looked at the site yet:

You talk about translation of web pages and documents. While translation is a very useful skill, and very difficult indeed to do well, I believe it has only partial relevance to actually learning to understand, speak and write in another language. In language learning classes, a significant function of the pupil translating from the language being learned to the known language is to demonstrate understanding to the teacher. Translating the other way is rather more intrinsically useful in that it practises writing in the language, but it is still a somewhat contrived exercise. The best way of learning, in my opinion, is to converse directly in the language with other people, and to write your own essays in the language.

So: I hope Duolingo doesn't put too much emphasis on translations.

Now I've shot my mouth off, maybe I should now look at the site myself and see what it really does.
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Old 2012-06-30, 17:51   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian-E View Post
You talk about translation of web pages and documents. While translation is a very useful skill, and very difficult indeed to do well, I believe it has only partial relevance to actually learning to understand, speak and write in another language. In language learning classes, a significant function of the pupil translating from the language being learned to the known language is to demonstrate understanding to the teacher. Translating the other way is rather more intrinsically useful in that it practises writing in the language, but it is still a somewhat contrived exercise. The best way of learning, in my opinion, is to converse directly in the language with other people, and to write your own essays in the language.
I'm sure you're right, in general. However, there are significant exceptions.

One important exceptional case, which is not the concern of duolingo, concerns so-called dead languages. Some, such as Middle Egyptian, Sumerian and Gothic, are genuinely dead. Some are as good as dead: Coptic, Cornish, Latin, for instance. Some were dead but have since recovered --- Hebrew is the canonical example. A fourth category consists of those languages which are formally dead but for which their descendants survive in forms which are still comprehensible to some extent without specialist education. Examples of these include Old English, Sanskrit and ancient Greek.

For the first and fourth categories, I'd claim that translation is by far the most important, almost the only, way of learning the language. It's possible to converse in the second set but with difficulty because there are so few speakers. Latin is still used (and even broadcast on radio) but it's not actually that common outside the Roman Catholic church or Oxford University --- and even there it's not the lingua franca so to speak.

At this point I should declare an interest. I've been trying to teach myself Middle Egyptian for some years, with difficulty I must add, and have recently taken up the study of Latin. I would dearly like to be able to read Akkadian and Sanskrit but they are going to have to wait for another day.
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Old 2012-06-30, 18:07   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by only_human View Post
--------------------------------------------------------------------
We talk about language all the time in these Forums.
This thread welcomes language discussion including etymology and dialect; e.g.: What is the best British way to say "Buh Bye?"
This question surfaced in Da Hof forum, where I pointed out that no-one speaks British any more. Indeed, very few have spoken it for a thousand years ore more.

Based on how it's said in other Celtic languages, my best guess is that it would be something like slan leabh.
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Old 2012-06-30, 22:45   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian-E View Post
So: I hope Duolingo doesn't put too much emphasis on translations.
I entirely agree. Translation is hard; learners are not good at it. It is not a great way in and of itself to learn a language. Actual real world conversations are an important part of living language learning.

None of the language drills involve translating documents. They are normal phrase and sentence drills and multiple choice recognition. Rule tables seem to be de-emphasised but at least the conjugation of verbs is available via mouse-over if desired. Only the verb tenses the learner has already trained upon are available in the mouse-over table to simplify things.

The translation part is strictly optional and is the most social aspect of it all. Nor are you expected to get it right (see bold in quote below). It breaks the tedium of drilling and lets you test yourself and at least get some feeling of being useful. One of the reasons I never liked running track in school was that running in a circle was felt so pointless even if there were some positive results. The translation succeeds just as ReCAPCHA did in digitizing books:ReCAPTCHA Founder's New Startup: Killing Two Birds With One Stone jsb 445 days ago(my bold emphasis)
Quote:
I've seen Luis von Ahn (founder of Duolingo/ReCaptcha) speak twice about his new project (once at a CMU Project Olympus update and once at TEDxCMU a few weeks ago).

A few things that may be of interest to the HN crowd:

* This project is currently academic in nature, funded by grants he has received. However, he does see an opportunity to monetize the product if they choose to by offering translation services to companies or organizations in the future.

* The product is currently in testing. According to their metrics, the crowd-sourced translation is as accurate a professional translator. At TEDxCMU, he showed a professional translation side-by-side to a Duolingo created translation - the two were nearly identical. Likewise, according to their metrics, the education received is as good or better than the leading language education solutions (ie, Rosetta Stone).

* He showed some amazing projections on how quickly they can translate a set of text from one language to another. I forget the exact projections so don't hold me to this, but with 1,000 users it would take, say, 3 months to translate English Wikipedia into Spanish. With 1M users, it would take less than a week.

All in all pretty amazing.
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2402570,00.asp
Quote:
When you select a card, Duolingo only gives you small snippets to translate, not the whole page. And while some of these sentences don't make sense out of the context of the whole page, there's always a link at the top to see the original source. For example, when I tried to translate a headline that word-for-word read, "Buddha Tire" (as in automobile tires), I clicked the source to see a blog post with a picture of car tires piled into the shape of a sitting Buddha. Ah ha.

As you translate each bit of text, Duolingo checks your writing against other submitted results, which you can see and rate. The site also compares your answer against the highest rated translation to give you a score (1 to 100). A good match doesn't have to be word-for-word the same, either, another reason Duolingo is a highly intelligent system.

You earn points throughout for both completing the learning modules and translating text successfully. All of Duolingo's parts are tightly knitted together in this way.

The translations I encountered were still very challenging, but in a good way. I liked trying to read real writing, rather than sentences that are designed based on only the words and verb tenses I know. Language-learning software in general faces this problem, but at least with Duolingo, you're practicing with real content.
There should always be work for professional translators (much like professional editors) but some things, either by volume or by economics, will never be practical to hire out that way.

Last fiddled with by only_human on 2012-06-30 at 23:30 Reason: spacing in quoted material. + PC magazine quote. + bold. + postscript
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Old 2012-07-01, 00:02   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xilman View Post
Indeed, very few have spoken it for a thousand years ore more.
Said by Kobolds to spelunkers?
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Old 2012-07-01, 04:01   #8
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We've been married to Wife1 for over 17 years and we never been able to figure out her native language. For something that sounds so simple it is complex beyond belief.

Plus, she talks real fast to us, and usually with an annoyed tone.



At one point, for her college degree, she had to provide proof of proficiency in a foreign language, which involved writing in the language, so she had to learn how to write from scratch. Up until that point nobody we knew was aware there was a written form. It took her about three months to figure it out.

We are still struggling with basic English!
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Old 2012-07-01, 06:03   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Xyzzy View Post
Plus, she talks real fast to us, and usually with an annoyed tone.
Blearh... What kinda marriage is that? I never could understood people talking and arguing each other and annoying all the neighbors, day and night.My wife and I, no need any talking, we understand each other by body and sign language only. I still have a sign here on the forehead...
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Old 2012-07-01, 09:32   #10
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My Chinese language teacher was emphatic that French was one of the fastest spoken languages. A brief search for comparative spoken language speeds is disappointing.

As per English, looking around I am seeing 120 to 160 words mentioned a lot with 150-160 words per minute mentioned as good for books on tape.

I have at times become impatient listening to slower Southern US speech drawling.

I have also just read an opinion that British English is spoken faster than American English. Do you denizens across the pond feel that you speak faster than US speakers?

Last fiddled with by only_human on 2012-07-01 at 09:36 Reason: s/you speaker faster/you speak faster/ (lol!)
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Old 2012-07-01, 09:38   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by only_human View Post
I have also just read an opinion that British English is spoken faster than American English. Do you denizens across the pond feel that you speak faster than US speakers?
I could believe it. They swallow more syllables. (At least thinking of the 'general'/'newscaster' American accent that I have. There are probably some other accents that are quite a bit faster and swallow-ier.)

As for French, whenever I watch a French movie, I get the feeling that they're speaking French faster than I think English. (If you're thinking "Well, duh!" then you read that sentence too fast.) At least I'm not from the South! That's the slowest I can think of off the top of my head.

Last fiddled with by Dubslow on 2012-07-01 at 09:41
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