Ragdoll Learns Japanese!


This week my mind has been absolutely blown. I’m 2 weeks in, and I think I’m more or less back to where I was when I stopped studying the last bunch of times – which means that a considerable amount more knowledge than I ever realised was still packed away in my head. Which is obviously awesome.

I said I was gonna quick-review some resources during these posts, and I’m going to. This week, the review spot goes to 2 resources for reasons that will become obvious in a moment.

First up is the globally known DuoLingo.

If you’re reading this, you probably know about DuoLingo already. It’s a website that teaches a number of languages by making you learn words, then sentences over and over until you know them by heart.

DL is  – or at least *used* to be – squarely in the “because we say so” style of teaching. What this means is that you would learn a sentence, probably with some new piece of grammar, and you’d say “Cool! Thanks Duo – now why does it work like this?” and DL would always respond “Because we say so”.

Seriously, there was almost no explanation apart from in the user discussion areas about any of the content provided. You just learned it by rote and hope to god there were no nasty exceptions waiting to mess you up (which of course there were!)

I’m thrilled to see this is changing somewhat. Not a great deal, but each section does at least have an extremely brief explanation as to what is going on. It’s not much, it certainly doesn’t answer many questions, but it’s better than it used to be. Plus the user discussion sections are flooded with questions and answers from other users.

What is it good for? 

Memory. I’m just over half way down the tree so far – which I hasten to remind you is waaaaaaay further than most people will get in 2 weeks, I just have lots and lots of prior study to back me up. I’m definitely remembering the material well. It’s sinking in, and when I’m not lazy or clumsy I get lots of answers right. It certainly feels like I know a whole bunch! Way more than I felt like I knew the last bunch of times I’ve tried to learn.

Reading. I’ve actually been quite impressed with the way DL handles the written language. It introduces hiragana immediately, bringing in easy-to-read vocab and sentences and building up until you can read it. Then it introduces katakana, and continues with the vocab. Finally, it starts introducing kanji VERY slowly. Some of them it introduces directly, others just appear at random and I have found myself on several occasions staring at a multiple choice list of words to build a sentence and thinking “I wonder if that’s the right kanji to use here”. I don’t know how useful that is to absolute beginners, but to me, that was a really nice way to do things.

Anything bad about it?

I’m not sure how much I can remember independently. If you asked me right now to come out with some of the sentences Duo quizzes me about I’m not completely sure I could get them all right, even if I could on the app. I don’t know why this is.

Gamification. Seriously, some people find this helpful, but to me this nearly destroyed my mental health. Every user gets stuck on a leaderboard, the top 15 or so getting promoted to the next level. I was #1 in the bronze league and got put in silver, where I shot up to #1 again. Then a few hours later, I get a notification. “You have lost your #1 spot”. I wasn’t having that. It’s only a few dozen XP difference after all. So I did some more. Me and this other user went back-and-forth like this for 3 days before I realised that firstly it wasn’t helping me learn and second it was upsetting me…really messing with my peace of mind. Studying wasn’t fun anymore, it was a competition, and that SUCKED. So stopped, and finished in the #2 spot. I’m not in the gold bracket, and I’m going to study however much I want to, and try and ignore it. It’s not worth the hassle.

How do you rate it?


It’s a great app, definitely useful and definitely helps me feel like I’m understanding – I’m just not sure that I do. No, scrap that, I KNOW I don’t understand it fully, but as far as DL goes, that’s the point. It wants you to USE the language, rather than trying to dissect it.


I was going to review TextFugu today instead of DuoLingo, but I can’t and I’ll tell you why. Back in the day, TextFugu was new and fun and offered a different approach to learning Japanese. Simple explanations, humour, and most importantly, it linked to FREE RESOURCES to help you study. The main one being ANKI, a piece of flashcard software. It was pretty cool.

So why am I not reviewing Textfugu? For 2 reasons:

  1. It’s not been updated in *literally* years
  2. ANKI *has* been updated constantly

What this means is that every single ANKI list in Textfugu is now COMPLETELY INCOMPATIBLE with the current build in ANKI. That means every piece of vocab, every example sentence, every SINGLY kanji list provided by Textfugu cannot be used anymore. So you can’t actually study it without remaking the whole list. It SUCKS.

So now I have to use something else to teach me the nuts and bolts! Woo…


So there. Another week gone, and my brain is feeling stronk!


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