An open letter to Duolingo

Please make the early levels more tourist-friendly.

An open letter to Duolingo
Photo by ilgmyzin / Unsplash

Dear Duo,

I promise I am not one of the haters.

Your app has been a key factor getting me to B1 German in just over a year of studying.

I really like the spaced repetition of content. And I think that it gradually exposes learners to more complex grammar and vocabulary as you progress.

But the first units of most languages really need to be more practical. Teach basic, useful phrases that people will actually need in the target language when they visit a country or region where it's spoken.

Case in point: We recently spent a week traveling in Poland. So, instead of buying a phrasebook, I switched my target language to Polish and started the first few lessons.

So, as of now I can say:

Jestem kobietą. (I am a woman.)

On jest chłopcem. (He is a boy.)

Jem jabłko. (I am eating an apple.)

Zjada jabłko. (He eats an apple.)

Not super useful.

It didn't end up being a huge issue, because almost everyone I met spoke at least basic English, and most of the time, excellent English.

But when I visit another country, I try to learn some basic phrases to get around, do basic shopping, and to be polite.

The Duo lessons reminded me that I was taking an in-person A2 German course before I learned to spell my name with the German alphabet or count.

I think I had to teach myself to ask where the bathroom was, because that is 10 lessons in using the owl method.

Not everyone learning a language  will move to another country tbe way we did, but plenty are learning it because they plan to visit.

For Warsaw, I bookmarked this page, and made a shortcut from my phone's Home screen.

But I think the basic Duo levels should start with learning the basics: 'Hello,' 'Goodbye,' 'Excuse me,' 'Please,' 'Thank you.'

These alone will get you pretty far as a tourist.

I can't think of a situation where I would need to tell someone I'm a woman or that I'm eating an apple.

Kind regards,

Your friend with the 750-Day Streak

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Basic Travel Phrases

For anyone who is curious:

Here is my basic list of phrases I try to learn in the home language before visiting another country.

  • Hello/Goodbye
  • Good morning/Good day/Good evening - and when and how they should be used
  • Excuse me
  • Please and Thank you
  • How much does this cost?
  • Where is ... (train station, hotel, bus stop, bathroom, etc.)
  • Sorry, I do not speak (language)
  • Can we speak English?

I would also try to learn the cardinal numbers 1- 10 for shopping and food-ordering purposes.

And if you are traveling somewhere and will need to rely on taxis or Uber/Lyft, learn how to give basic directions to where you are staying.

That basic prep should keep you from feeling totally helpless in another country. If you need more than that, you can always fall back on using a translation app like Google Translate or DeepL. (We prefer DeepL or Reverso for translating German.)

Veteran travelers, what did I miss? And, am I wrong for think Duolingo could be more practical?