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Unfortunately, Duolingo does not have a Chinese for English speakers course.

However, there is a English for Chinese speakers course. In other words, there is a course where people who speak Chinese well can learn the English language.

How useful is it to study Chinese using Duolingo's English for Chinese speakers course? Can I learn Chinese reasonably well from this (as far as a language can be learned well from Duolingo)? I already learned the basics (including pronunciation) from a qualified teacher a few years ago.

  • 2
    I think it's a bad idea to use any course in the reverse direction, unless you really have no other learning materials for the language (which is certainly not the case for Chinese). But if you insist, here is something relevant (though it's for English and Dutch, which are closely related; you'll surely have much more problems with English and Chinese): duolingo.com/comment/3614205 – michau Oct 7 '16 at 22:46
  • There now is English to Chinese Duolingo course: duolingo.com/course/zh/en/Learn-Chinese – Tommi Brander Mar 5 at 6:39
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I actually find the reverse courses very useful. I have worked with the reverse courses in many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.

Perhaps my experience is different because I am experienced with language learning and have a good sense of how I need to approach learning a language to make it work. Chinese and Japanese would be my fourth and fifth languages, respectively. For German, Spanish, and Portuguese I did the "forward" courses first and then went back to the reverse courses for extra practice.

For the Chinese course in particular though, I want to emphasize, the course is not good as a standalone course. You need to master Pinyin and pronunciation before and get a good input method set up before starting the course. Learning Pinyin and pronunciation are hard. I recommend consulting multiple sources. I also recommend starting to listen to some Mandarin Chinese probably several months before you start trying to learn. Don't just listen passively but listen actively, paying close attention the sounds and tones and structure. Keep in mind, it's not just the tones that make Chinese hard, the consonant sounds are VERY different from English. Don't be deceived by things written as familiar letters like "d", "t", etc. There are significant differences for many of these sounds, from English.

I also recommend getting feedback from native speakers on your pronunciation. I'm on a university campus that has an English language school for foreigners associated with it, so I encounter numerous Chinese people nearly every day, in my daily life here. But if you don't, then try connecting with language partners online.

Once you get to the point where your pronunciation is good enough that you are understood accurately like 99%+ of the time when you read words out loud to native speakers, and when you can accurately write down the Pinyin (and tone) for a word when a native speaker speaks it clearly and slowly, then you're ready to proceed.

I found that when I was at this point, the reverse course was actually pretty straightforward. The input method I use, like a keyboard layout but more involved, allows me to type in pinyin and then select characters from a popup. You won't learn how to properly draw the characters, but if typing and reading is all you want, it's fine for that.

I have found that the lack of grammar lessons is actually an asset rather than a hindrance. My experience is that a lot of language learners get stuck in the "book learning" aspects of grammar but can't actually hold a conversation. With the reverse course, you're learning more like a child...you're thrown in, surrounded by the language, and forced to figure it out on your own.

People have told me that Japanese grammar is devilishly hard, and it is certainly radically different from English, but I've found that taking the reverse course is teaching it me much more thoroughly and easily than any straightforward lesson scheme ever has taught me anything. I am quickly surpassing the abilities of people with a year or more of classroom instruction, after only a few months of study.

Chinese grammar is much easier, at least to me, it seems much easier.

If you want an extra boost, between learning the pronunciation and starting the reverse course, there are two excellent smartphone apps: Hello Chinese (my favorite) and Chinese Skill (a very similar one that is also good). I started both before I started the reverse course, and I completed about 2/3rds of Hello Chinese before starting the reverse course.

As a final note, I'm surprised at the negativity towards DuoLingo in this thread. I've found DuoLingo immensely helpful, and for me, it was much more useful than classroom learning. I studied German and Spanish in school, a few years of German, then went to Germany. Later when I went back and started doing Spanish on DuoLingo, I found that after a couple months, I had learned more than I ever did in school. It translated to real-world ability too. I found myself understanding conversations in public, between native Spanish speakers, much more easily after doing only a few months of DuoLingo (before anywhere near completing the course).

Maybe different people learn best in different ways? Or maybe I just know how to get a lot out of a tool like DuoLingo? But I personally have found it the single most useful resource. The only caveat is that with the reverse course in Chinese (or Japanese) you need to rely on a lot of external tools to get you started. In Chinese in particular, the pronunciation is a beast, so I'd budget much more time than you expect, and be patient with yourself...and make sure to check your pronunciation with native speakers to ensure you're doing it correctly! That's the missing piece of the puzzle when most English speakers try to learn Chinese.

Good luck, whatever path you take!

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Interesting question! I've never thought about using reverse language courses to try to learn a language, so I tried it out. Since I'm fluent in Spanish, I tried out Duolingo's English for Spanish speakers course to see what I could observe.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • You'll be seeing a lot of the same words over and over again. For example, for every exercise that says "Translate xyz" will drill in the word for "translate" into your vocabulary. Because of this, you'll find that you'll come to learn a lot of words not often found in daily conversation (unless you're a linguist.)
  • The reverse course won't teach you any grammar so don't expect to learn any. You'll need to find a reliable grammar source you can refer to often regarding things like grammatical gender, sentences structure, and so on.
  • You'll get some decent effects of immersion if you do decide to take the reverse course. For one, all of the menu options will be in the target language, so you will have some initial difficulty. Once you get used to it, however, it's not a major obstacle.

Basically, if you do decide to do this, expect to only a learn a large amount of vocabulary and nothing more. Having a grammar/pronunciation guide on hand is necessary, and learning IPA is helpful as well. Immerse yourself in books and television in your target language.

  • 1
    "You'll be seeing a lot of the same words over and over again. For example, for every exercise that says "Translate xyz" will drill in the word for "translate" into your vocabulary. " Actually, well, that isn't exactly true. I've also been using duolingo with English and Dutch instructions, so I know by now what everything means. But even though I've learned a lot of Chinese words, I have no idea what translate is in Chinese. I just recognize the assignment type. – wythagoras Oct 8 '16 at 6:54
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To be honest, personally I don't think Duolingo is useful at all for learning languages. That is, even if it had a Chinese for English speaker course, it wouldn't help you much at all. You'd be best spending your time elsewhere, on a more systematic approach, because it can be a huge timesink with little reward.

I finished all Duolingo courses on Spanish, Portuguese and German. But I still couldn't understand much Spanish when I arrived in Chile and had to resort to other means for learning. I'm also learning German now with other means. I feel Duolingo had mostly just provided me with introductory materials (with the potential risk of messing up everything about grammar, which is actually very important). I think the time could have been better spent, e.g. following a better structured textbook series.

Remember, the true aim of Duolingo has never ever been genuine language instruction, but providing data for machine translation. Its incentives just don't necessarily align with a true language learner's incentives. It is all hype without substance and they're probably just doing a good job in controlling PR and media reports. I find their claim that they exceed traditional university course's efficacy simply ludicrous.

Source: I am currently studying for a degree in Computational Linguistics (Natural Language Processing) and I have DELE C1 certificate in Spanish.

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Interesting. I have tried to learn Chinese by use reverse language course. I thought:

  • You can learn that, but it is hard.

  • You need to master Pinyin, but Duolingo will not help it.

  • You cannot practice pronunciation by use Duolingo.

So this is not suited for learning Chinese.


I think Duolingo is not suited for learning Chinese, because I think Duolingo is hard to help to learn Pinyin. If you are using iOS or Android, I recommend to use HelloChinese. That resembles Duolingo, but you can learn Pinyin by using that.

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