Duolingo just ENRAGED Welsh people.


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Duolingo Welsh has recently been making the rounds in the news, in what’s basically a battle between culture and business. And as someone who has a tiny bit of track record of putting my hot takes on Duolingo Welsh out there in the world, here is my two pennies’ worth of what’s happening. Welcome to Rhapsody in Lingo. I’m Israel, and I just got back from a very early flight. I’m absolutely knackered, but it’s so great to be back filming right here again. So lately, I’ve been seeing the same thing all over my corner of social media, and actually in lots of mainstream media as well, concerning…well, you guessed it: Duolingo Welsh. What’s happening? What’s being said is that Duolingo, the company, is what’s called ‘mothballing’ the Welsh course on the website, which, as we all know, is a gamified platform for us to learn languages on our own using an app. What that means is they will no longer develop that course, aka I don’t know, update it, add new content, or fix things, and so on, as opposed to how they’ve been doing that for however many years, especially in terms of fixing things. Because I’m in one of those…actually multiple of those Welsh learner groups, and all the time, I see people reporting errors with what answers should or should not be accepted. And with a language like Welsh, where the dialects are pretty much valued, and there’s not one standard, there’s so many possibilities that they need to keep adding. And they have been changing things as well; more on that later. So now, they’re pausing all of that, and that’s caused an absolute uproar in…well, the same groups that I’m in, which also spilled over to a Senedd petition, and then over to mainstream media, like ITV, BBC News, and all those different British news outlets, and basically it’s a huge deal now, even though people on Instagram are still complaining about ‘why is this news?’ Obviously, this all is very upsetting, as someone who has been doing Welsh on Duolingo for quite a while. But my first reaction was: that’s not very characteristic to announce something like that. That’s very negative. Like Duolingo has been adding and taking away features. Most of them are pretty controversial: some people are divided on whether the new things are good or bad, like the infamous path that we have talked about quite a lot on our Cantonese podcast. But they only announce something so ceremoniously when they really think it’s a good thing. But now, stopping or pausing the development of a course…that is pretty negative. I actually can’t find where they really announced it; I only can find the news outlets that have covered it. I think it was nation.cymru that started with it, but obviously they had the spokesperson talking about it. So either it has become a much bigger deal than Duolingo were expecting, or it’s always been an afterthought for them, so they could just announce it and think that they would not get backlash, like all the other changes that they’ve made. So a bit of background here about how Duolingo courses are made. So I’ve been using Duolingo since the early days, when the interface was much squarer, less vibrant, the owl was way more stoned than it is now, and I remember the day when they announced the Duolingo Incubator. That’s a scheme where contributors and volunteers can apply to work on a new course, and then they have a system for them to design the course and make sentences and so on and so forth, and eventually they have a beta and release a course as something that people can learn. So a lot of courses you see now are made during that period. I remember wishing to contribute to the Cantonese course as well, but that didn’t work out, and now they have a Cantonese course for Chinese speakers. But I digress. But at some point, I’m not sure when, they decided to ditch all of that stuff, and centralise power within Duolingo itself. So instead of having volunteers applying to work on the courses, they started working with people and paying them to continue maintaining developing the courses. Hence in the beginning, there was talking about developing the course. But the Welsh course is quite a unique one: instead of working with individuals to work on the course, they worked with the National Centre for teaching Welsh. So if you don’t know, the Welsh language is being actively promoted by the Welsh government, who wish to have a million Speakers by 2050, and one of the ways they’re doing that is to have a really centralised system for teaching Welsh and organising courses. So for example, I recently started an intermediate Welsh course, which is delivered online by the University of Aberystwyth. They do things like that. And then they have like centralised textbooks, they all follow the same syllabus no matter where they teach and learn Welsh, and Duolingo plays into that. Well, before Duolingo change into the current path system, when they still had the tree, the National Centre who developed the Duolingo course actually made each chapter and section, each skill in the tree correspond to things in the centralised textbooks. And literally within the textbooks, you would see tasks telling you to go on Duolingo and do this right now, which ironically doesn’t work anymore, because now we have the path. So what’s the reason behind all of this? Well obviously, it’s money. Because Duolingo is a publicly traded company now, which means they have shareholders to answer to, they have like big Duocon events, where they announce new things like they’re Apple, and they have to focus their resources and investments on the things that make money, which, in the case of language learning, you might be able to guess, that’s Spanish, French, maybe German for English speakers. And that sort of makes sense, even though that’s a bit of a bummer. But why divert the resources specifically from Welsh, and not the many smaller languages that the platform supports? Well, one possibility is, granted, the fact that the Welsh learning community is quite united, and they were the only ones affected that actually made some noise about it. I don’t know because I’m not in the other communities, and they didn’t make it to mainstream news. But then you look at things like High Valyrian, which is the constructed language from Game of Thrones, and, well, depending on how much you’ve been looking at Duolingo social media outlets, you may or may not know that they’ve been doing quite some brand deals and cross promotions and collabs with HBO to promote the show and Duolingo at the same time, things like that. So capitalism at work here. And then you look at things like Scottish Gaelic, which actually has been said to be an excellent course, and one that I just recently started for fun. It obviously has much fewer speakers than Welsh, sadly, and presumably much fewer learners as well. Because I remember reading during the pandemic, and quickly after, about how Welsh on Duolingo was getting such a boost, and it was the fastest growing course on Duolingo. And of course, I don’t want resources to be taken away from them either. But why are they taking resources away from Welsh? Only God knows. And the owl. Unless…? So I think you get the idea of what’s happening right now. And personally, when I think about all of this, my thoughts just go to how hypocritical this all is. Because as I mentioned, they have been bragging about the Welsh learning community they have, how much they’ve grown, how industrious they are, how active they are. And if you go into the app and load up a lesson, the loading screens brag about how they support the teaching of indigenous minority languages, like Hawai’ian and Navajo, and that should, obviously, include things like Welsh and Gaelic. But at the end of the day, all they want to do is to put more money into developing new features for Spanish and French and so on. Because if any language needs more features on Duolingo, it’s Spanish and French! Yes, that was 100% sarcastic. Because if you’re used to doing those courses, you’re probably used to things like stories, and whatever bells and whistles Duolingo has added to those courses. I haven’t done them in a while. They’re amazing, aren’t they? You can talk to the characters, it’s so vibrant, it’s so memorable. If you go to any of the other smaller courses, you lack some basic stuff, like pronunciation. For example, I did Hebrew, and I was literally not taught how to read the words, except on the forum, which has now been removed. And Welsh and Turkish and other things I’ve done on Duolingo, it’s sort of just the bare bones experience, like translation, dictation, and…yeah that’s sort of all you get. When you do one of these courses, you just keep your hopes up that someday you will get more interesting things to play with, or to help consolidate the language, or use it in more ways. But basically, it never comes. You’re at the mercy of the owl…as you always are. In fact, the Welsh course has been so limited by the features that Duolingo grants them, that lots of people have been trying to make up for it some other ways. For example, Doctor Cymraeg has published I think so far two short story books, sort of inspired by or based on the story feature that other Duolingo courses have. I have both of them, I love them. And the people working on the course itself have basically been patching things up continuously, since Duolingo started changing everything so drastically. For better or for worse, the course did use to correspond to the textbooks. But ever since Duolingo changed to the path thing, they sort of lost that connection, so people have actually made a site that shows the original Skill Tree on Duolingo, so that people can go from the textbook to this website, and then get direct links to different parts on actual Duolingo. And since Duolingo removed the grammar notes, they have put all the grammar notes onto one web page for people to read, and you sort of got the feeling that this relationship was eventually going to break apart, sadly. And when it really comes down to it, it’s about capitalism, and that’s why we can’t all have nice things. Another sore point for most people within the Welsh learning community is that this decision, and especially people who support this decision, are basically disrespecting a national language. It’s true: when people think about national languages, they usually think about the big ones, like German and Portuguese, but obviously…well, I’m not going to go into all the power dynamics here between languages, which I actually have done in another detailed talk. But the fact is Welsh is simultaneously a minority language in Wales, but also the national language of this country, and a lot of people who are learning it are not doing it for fun, like I am, but rather doing it because it concerns their heritage, their culture, and identity. It really means something personal to them. And when you take something this personal away from them, you get a strong reaction, like what we have now. Well, they’re not really taking it away per se, this course is still there, but they’re just stopping development, they’re stopping updates and fixes. But this is a strong signal that this community is not important to the company that is headed by the owl. So what next? Well, the most obvious thing is the petition that has been sent to the Senedd of Wales. I think there’s around 3,000, 4,000 signatures right now, for the Welsh government to…well, do something about it. I don’t know what they can do, because Duolingo is a company, they are not directly connected to the government. Maybe they could put funding into it? I’ve actually read some half joking, half serious conspiracy theories, saying that Duolingo is actually playing 4D chess here, by taking away resources from the course, prompting this petition, and then forcing the government to give them more money. Can’t tell if that’s true, but I think that would be quite interesting. I don’t know if this petition is going to amount to anything, but if you do support this Welsh learning community, or if you’re part of the community yourself, which, if you’re watching this video, you probably are, I recommend you do sign that petition in the description below. But in the meantime, is Duolingo Welsh still worth using? I would say yes, because the course is still complete, it’s ready for you to use, and I learned most of my Welsh so far from Duolingo, partly thanks to the grammar notes…that don’t exist anymore. Now I’m at the point where I can actually talk to people and say things about myself and join an intermediate course. So yeah, absolutely. But if you’re worried for the future of the course, then I also would recommend alternatives. For example, I have been a longtime fan of the other owl, Glossika, which is not a sponsor of this channel. And recently I’ve started picking it up again, to help consolidate my Welsh, because I think now I’m at the right point, around upper beginner, lower intermediate level, where I can make the most out of it. It’s a mass sentence method, it uses sentences, repeating sentences, to drill grammar, words, and patterns into your mind, and I think that is a good way to make sure that when you speak, things can come up fluidly, without hesitation. And I should mention that the basic features of Glossika are free if you’re learning one of those minority languages, such as Welsh, other Celtic languages, smaller Chinese languages, and so on. Well, the founder told me not to tell you that, because then they get less money, but still, I think the fact is they offer it free, so you should try it. If you like it, you can pay for a subscription. And if you don’t adore self-learning as much as I do, I do think the National Centre for learning Welsh is actually pretty good. I like their structure: like everything, every resource they provide, is sorted into the right levels, depending on what point you are at in the course. I think it sort of discourages people from doing their own learning a little bit, because you’re sorted into a very rigid structure, but still, the courses are great. They’re really affordable, because they’re funded. For example, I signed up for my current course, which was going to be 4 hours a week for the whole year, for just £90. And also, I got the early bird discount, which cuts it down to £45, which is just insane. That is what you normally pay for 2 hours of private tutoring. So no matter how good or bad the teaching is, the value is incredible. Aternatively, you can get the same course books and course content absolutely for free: they’re available to download as PDFs online; their accompanying resources, like listening exercises are all online. There’s also like vaguely Duolingo-like matching exercises and other interactive things on the same website. So I recommend you try them out. But that will be all from me. I don’t usually do news or any sort of drama on this channel, but I thought this is an unfortunate situation that is relevant to me right now that I should talk about. And I have seen lots of irritating comments on the issue, so I had to address them. I hope you check out my other videos on this channel, especially the series where I went to Lithuania to learn Lithuanian for a month. And if you like what I do, subscribe and leave a comment telling me whether you think the Welsh government is going to sort something out with Duolingo. With that said, pob lwc with the learning, and mi wela i chi’n fuan