Could SSiW co-operate with Duolingo?

A Learners (learning) Travelogue (from the point of view of the 1 Million Speakers)

When I was on holiday in North Wales last year I went to the Llyn peninsula; it was great – absolutely charming – I was very impressed.

It was only spoiled very slightly, by my inability to do little more than say hello, goodbye and thank you in Welsh, having been brought up in Wales (south).

So, whilst there, I had a little look on t’internet (I live in Yorkshire now – can you tell?!)…

…and fairly randomly chose Duo Lingo…it had a big internet presence and was therefore top of the list – didn’t look scary…

….and so the journey began.

I would say there is no doubt that Duo Lingo gets the words flowing and certainly the Welsh juices.

After a few weeks (back from holidays) however, it starts to become clear that whilst progress is being made, I am not going to be able to speak Welsh anytime soon using Duo Lingo.

It teaches you Welsh, it doesn’t teach you to speak Welsh.

So, I have another look on the t’internet with more focus on speaking and this time find SSIW.

I had a little go at that – first impressions are: surprising approach (different to anything else); that it was quite tough(!) - but in a good way because…; I believed that I would be able to speak Welsh with this approach.

So, I started in October and am just reaching the current end of the road in Level 3 – south – very roughly 6 months later.

It has been a thoroughly enjoyable journey - I am now also attending the Leeds SSIW group gatherings to (try to) speak Welsh – great!

[ I am extremely grateful to the everyone at SSIW – founders, contributors, co-learners, everyone – who have got me to a point I never thought I would. Thank you. ]

So that’s very nice I hear you say, but what has that got to do with the Million Speakers project.

So, I got to thinking…(see part 2 below)…


…I was thinking about the Million Speakers Project from a practical level – ‘if this was a business’ how do you maximise the growth?

Of all the routes available e.g. Duo Lingo, SSIW, Funded courses, Literature – how could you maximise the number of speakers getting through?

Not just the more obvious things such as ‘how could each bit be more effective’ but looking across those components - which bits are good at getting people started, which bits actually get people over the line…what bits are ‘glue’ which hold other bits together and keep people going.

Also, more parochially from SSIW’s point of view …how could we use the strength of other components to our advantage - grab onto coat tails, potentially collaborate, line up initiatives so that they all benefit from each other’s momentum.

So, I had already seen the article in the press in English about Duo Lingo having reached a Million people having started the course….

…that is a very interesting indicator of success…(but)…

I would wish to make clear that I am a fan of Duo Lingo in what it does, I still use it daily, have finished both the previous courses and am finding the newer versions increasingly useful, as they are developed….

…however, I know from the ‘My Club’ feature in Duo Lingo ( the users are now chunked up into groups of 50 per club - each user is automatically made a member of 1 ) that about 10 people are somewhat active, of which up to 5 are very active….with people come and go.

So…a million have started but how many are still going? A million starters is good but what does Duo Lingo need help with to get the starters, to the finishing line?

So the question in this context, is how many people go on to learn it to be able to speak.

However, you have to be careful about the answer ….(whose success are you measuring?)

….based upon the people I have spoken with so far doing SSIW, a very healthy majority use Duo Lingo too….

….they have also, as I have done, swelled Amazon’s coffers, also Routledge and hopefully, deservedly, @garethrking (!)….as we have scoured books to identify and understand what is said and how to re-use these pieces elsewhere.

….no source of learning is an island in this context……and for me this is something which presents an exciting opportunity.

( Aside: I think there is a special case/ boundary condition where SSIW is used in a welsh speaking environment where one source is possible…but my thoughts are focused on getting numbers up here – this doesn’t apply for ‘most’ learners. )

SSIW has a proven capability to get people through to the point of speaking…

…what would be good for it – more people through the process?..more people in = more people out in SSIWs case…

…how do you maximise the chances of people getting through the SSIW course?..……I think the use of Skype just being introduced massively increases the chance of people to speak – that would be a major one……apart from that, the principle difficulty I found when learning was the differences between any book, any other book, Duo Lingo, what is said in SSIW, Google Translate, Trinity Geiriadur, any other dictionary, to just get things nailed down (e.g. what is the word I am saying in Level 2, challenge 19 I can’t find it in a dictionary?). Actually the fact that these things are different is only really a problem for people getting started. I see the same questions as I had appearing on the Forum, several times in a 6 month window e.g. past tense for want versus past tense for run…(+ many more)

So, I was thinking of something along the lines of:

• What if you could take Duo Lingo’s market draw and feed those people into…
• SSIW’s ability to see people through to being able to speak…
• There was documentary support for the exercises…cross referencing existing literature to the benefit of publishers….maybe addressing the ‘usual suspect’ questions….absolute basic explanation of the ‘why’ (extreme balance with content required).
• …possibly some support from the Welsh Government (even for a pilot in one area)…around e.g. a Say Something In Welsh headline….

More specifically:

• It would be fascinating to understand whether there could be exercises in Duo Lingo which cover the same material as in SSIW……(could there be specific lessons made available for Duo Lingo, for the @aran SIW North & @Iestyn Southern courses)? Obviously on the face of it this sounds tricky….however the size of the prize is HUUUGE in terms of market reach. I read with interest that the content for Duo Lingo is provided by volunteers – who must be part of the Welsh speaking community……could there be ‘conversations had’ to see what the options are? Imagine if Duo Lingo (Welsh) provided a natural path into SSIW ….and could be incorporated into their ‘good news’ story……’Duo Lingo helped achieve the 1 Million Speakers target for the Welsh Language’….imagine if a decent chunk of the next Million starting Duo Lingo started SSIW with kick start of the knowing some content.

• That there is an accompanying workbook to the Challenges – almost a ‘turn the page’ booklet - with the lessons. The content of this work book would be extremely light – capturing what is said, in written form – the simple meaning of the words, basic ‘why’ (with references to other literature on where to find it). It would suit those whom it suited. This wouldn’t have to be a ‘Routledge production’ but it could certainly reference many. On the other hand it could be a publisher led initiative – Routledge in pole - to their significant benefit in terms of pull-through sales.

• Could this not be presented as some sort of potential ‘route to success’ for a Welsh Government target which could do with a plan?…….rope in a few celebrities – Rod Gilbert plus a few others. You only have to explain the Welsh Not on national TV and you’ll have 250,000 signed up by the next day!

Does any of the above may any kind of sense or are these crazed ramblings? :slight_smile:


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There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here to think about/discuss - I’ve just taken the liberty of splitting it out into its own thread because of that… :slight_smile:

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Some of the best ways of aligning different business interests and models is to increase networking opportunities for clients or users and suppliers.

I’m not in the linquistics world and no doubt there are networking events for linguists around the world and for academia and various others, but I get the feeling that there is a growth in general interest in languages - whether it’s simply to keep the brain active, for nostalgic reasons or more practical reasons such as employment and maybe Wales should hold a general event for any and all languages and ways of learning.

A place to showcase new tools, ideas and tech toys - not so much a cultural event, but that could play a role, but a general language or communication thing? Make it broad, so occupations like speech therapists might be inclined to attend?

Many of the non-inclined might be curious and want to pop along.

Terry Matthews is building a new conference site down here in the South and a language tech conference or networking event might spark enough interest one day to fill it, especially if silicon Valley firms were attending?


Hi @garethrking ,

I am slightly nervous about asking this question having seen the slightly scary photo on the other thread (ha, ha) - I might get a knock at the door!

What would be your thoughts on an accompanying workbook to the Levels & Challenges, covering what is said, their basic meaning…and where to find out more if you wanted to. I think the lightness of the touch would be the key element here - covering just the minimum so it is ‘just an accompanyment’ - but giving people who are so inclined a route to find out more without starting from scratch.

I have found most of the answers in one book or another written by your good self (for which I am extremely grateful)…I now have quite a collection!..and I am thinking of the sort of answers you give here, in terms of sticking a reference to the relevant section. However, its not so much what you put in as what you leave out I guess.

Any thoughts?


I don’t mean to sound too negative or Luddite here (I’ve been accused of being both things many times…sometimes even by myself), but …

…my first reaction is that I would not be particularly happy for SSiW to go down this path.

Cards on the table, I do not use Duolingo, and have no plans to (= “I plan never to use it”).
I didn’t like the sound of it, and having tried it (at the insistence of a confirmed fan), disliked it as much as I thought I would. Apart from anything else, it “corrected” something that was actually correct (a kind of variation - I actually forget the details. This was in German, not in Welsh, and I’ve been studying German now for over 20 years, and this was raw beginner stuff, so I knew what I was talking about. The other thing was that, although it used audio (sounded a bit computer-voicy), it also forced me to read from the word go, which is obviously not the way SSiW works.

The use of Skype and/or Google hangout has always been encouraged, from as far back as I can remember. Maybe it’s been slightly more formalised now, but it’s hardly a new principle in SSiW-land.

I think you are exaggerating the difficulty here, at least based on my experience.
Perhaps this is what comes of trying to mix something like SSiW which includes no reading or writing, with something like Duolingo, which is (as far as I can tell) at least partly text-based from the start.

If people come to SSiW from either traditional text-based courses, or Duolingo, they might have a bit of a culture shock, but unless they allow themselves to accept that, SSiW won’t work properly for them.

Basically, we are asked to check in pens, paper, dictionary and grammar/text books at the door, so to speak, at least while we are doing the challenges. Concentrate on the sound, and don’t give a second’s thought to the spelling.

And if anyone is having problems, e.g. hearing “dd” as a soft “th”, there are vocabulary lists, which of course we are only supposed to look at (if at all) after completing the challenge.

The only thing an SSiW learner needs in the first course or level (and then only after getting well into it) is probably something like the OUP Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary, edited by Gareth King, which is specifically aimed at learners. There is enough in there to get you at least through levels 1 and 2, and probably 3, and the respective courses (SSiW Mk I) as well.

That plus S4C, Radio Cymru, and conversations either in person or by skype/hangout.

What else does one need?

Well, some (maybe many) want to read books or newspapers or magazines, and there are all of these aimed specifically at the learner.

If people want to use Duolingo or Memrise or Anki to increase their vocabulary, in addition to SSiW, of course they are welcome, but in my humble opinion, this should not be until at least completing course or level1, and ideally 2 and 3 as well.

Disclaimer: the person who tried to convince me to use Duolingo assured me that the desktop version was much better than the mobile app version. I’ll take her word for it (and I am a desktop user, by and large), but I still haven’t tried it to compare with the app. I suppose I might do one day.


My initial reaction is that an accompanying workbook would directly short-circuit some of the advantages of the SSiW method. I can think of a number of cases where a phrase was introduced, and I found it confusing. I was perhaps unable to distinguish the word boundaries, parts of speech, etc. But I repeated it as best I could, and then, to my amazement, two or three challenges later my mind figured out the structure. If I’d run to a book the first time I encountered that phrase, I would have gotten to the answer more quickly, but I think it would have been less firmly embedded in my mind, and I would have missed out on the unconscious brain-rewiring that is needed to become a strong speaker.


Hi Jeff,

Yes, I know what you mean…SSIW must be about speaking.

The topic has been split out now but originally I was thinking about whether there was a way of helping people who don’t currently make it through the course, as well as helping others steer round things that are known to trip people up.

I started having done a little Welsh at school, so was probably in a better place than some - although in some places this caused me confusion, ha, ha. Other people will be starting from different points…

I have a feeling that if there were a booklet accompanying a speaking exercise - I wouldn’t have looked at most of the things until I got stuck…others might draw more heavily…I guess I was wondering whether if they made it through as a result and they wouldn’t have otherwise then would that be a good thing(?)

The things I did find confusing e.g. past tense of want versus past tense of run, different forms of that, certain words I couldn’t pin down, it would have been a big help…and these are things that have been raised a few times in my six months on the forum.

Often I couldn’t quite put my finger on these things for some time…but of course eventually I found out the answer…

…and we all did, of course.

So, I guess it was an idea floated as to whether a workbook would help some people a little and others a lot.

I agree it would require great care to ensure that it was simply an accompaniment.


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Hi Mike,

I think there might be crossed wires here – apologies if I have caused confusion - or offence.

I was thinking initially about the Million speakers…
…and in that context, the headline of 1 Million people starting Welsh on Duo Lingo sounded like a good thing…

I was adding to that, that based upon my experience of Duo Lingo – in terms of the Million speakers – it isn’t going to result in someone speaking it on its own (even though I’m a fan of what it does)

It teaches you Welsh – not to speak it.

On the other hand SSIW is going to be something that results in people speaking.

So, I was throwing up the idea of whether the strength of Duo Lingo of getting people started….
…. could be channelled into the strength of SSIW, in getting them over the line – in terms of speaking.

e.g. wouldn’t it be great if 20% of Duo Lingo speakers naturally routed onto SSIW.

So this was a (maybe crazy) idea for the ‘how do we get to a million speakers’ discussion board item.



…so the idea was the other way around - sort of.

I was suggesting that there could be some lessons in Duo Lingo, that covered the material that SSIW covers.

There would have to be North & South versions.

So you could say to the Duo Lingo users at some point.

'Hey, would you like to be speaking all of this and more, fluently, within 6 months?"

I think you’d get quite a few…and they would hit the ground running.

It would a tricky thing to pull off but good for both SSIW and Duo Lingo.

As a result, hopefully, you’d end up with more Welsh Speakers.


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That would indeed be a great thing. I’ve done my very small bit by occasionally mentioning SSiW in the Duolingo forums, but only when it was clearly appropriate. I’m sure that has had very minimal impact. Forum posts on Duolingo scroll by and fall off the bottom pretty quickly, so it is hard to make much impact that way.

I’ve done the Duolingo course, and must say that sometimes it seems to me that they are choosing vocab that compliments SSiW. But probably that is coincidence. The basic vocabulary is going to be the same across most intro courses.

Probably the best way of accomplishing crossover would be for the Duolingo course to mention SSiW in the course notes. But since Duolingo is a commercial venture relying on people staying on their site, I don’t suppose that would fly.


If I’m right on the broad sweep of this discussion it isn’t about whether Duolingo is a great language tool or not, it’s about driving traffic towards other platforms for learning.

I have always thought that gamification and the Duolingo idea is great at whetting peoples appetites for languages. It’s fun and strangely addictive and that is it’s strength. Many of those signing up for Welsh on Duolingo had probably never heard of Wales, let alone Welsh. It creates that initial interest.

I stumbled across SSIW putting in random searches for speaking Welsh and night classes and various other things and it didn’t cross my path until a few months after I made the decision to learn Welsh. I was actively looking and it took quite some time to find SSIW - many are not actively looking and will never stumble across SSIW and that’s why I think Rich is right in imagining how to join things up. The method here is so good, that there should be over a million people just trying it out, even if they have no links or interest to Welsh or Wales.
It’s a very clever way of language learning whatever the language target.


On the book thing, I think everyone is different, and consequently they learn differently (and I guess that will always be true).

But I think that the context in which they are learning also absolutely huuuuge.

If I had someone at work, or three doors down who I could text or run me through something at lunch ( which would mean I could speak to them in Welsh regularly too) I am sure the way I would have learnt my Welsh would have been completely different…that is compleeetely different.

Actually I think one of the reasons there is a challenge with looking things up is because of one the strengths of SSIW. It doesn’t teach you a ‘standard language’ it teaches you the way people speak it - a bit like learning English plus the Jordie dialect (extreme example!)…so when you start trying to look it up in books, you are going to have to work for it!

So, I guess different people will have different experiences - I was, I imagine, more dependent upon finding an answer in a book than someone living in Wales.

My impression - which is not based upon a statistically significant sample - is that people use multiple sources to learn. I was quite surprised at the Leeds gathering how many people used Duo Lingo (for some reason I thought I was going to be unusual there but far from it) and the same text books tended to get whipped out of bags when the going got tough!

[ My reference to Skype btw was really a reference to the structured courses incorporating it - sorry about that - both of which sound like a great idea. I managed to just miss that having just finished Level 2 when announced - but I’m going to figure out how to wheedle my way in somehow! ]

As I’m typing this I’m wondering why I don’t move to Wales - life would be so much easier, ha, ha!



I think the Duo Lingo courses have got better and better. Its on the third version for me.

They have adjusted the material across the versions to accommodate Cwrs Mynediad and Cwrs Sylfaen. They are not tinkering with it, they have changed it a LOT.

I am not saying it would be easy because it won’t be - but the course contributors are volunteers (extremely efficient actually) and I would imagine, extremely committed to Welsh and supportive of a million speakers.

With Duo Lingo and SSIW it really is a ‘Jack Spratt and his wife’ situation - one teaches how to speak - the other teaches the rest. So there really is no overlap or conflict. There would appear to be a Win-Win…

But could we get to ear of the right person - do they have wiggle room?..

…but the only way to guarantee that you won’t win the raffle, is not to buy a ticket!


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Hi Toffidol, Yes! Spot on.

Your experience sounds extremely similar to mine.

…but I learned to speak Welsh ( to the extent that I do) using SSIW…

…not Duo Lingo. SSIW got me where I am.

[ However Duo Lingo helped me get started on the journey in the first place in common with a million others. ]

*Edited to reduce the amount of hate mail I’m getting on Facebook




Oh that’s goooood! :smiley:
I’m stealing that for my “phrases that will surely be handy again” department! :joy:


Hi Nicky,

Yes, I agree with what you say.

My suggestion was something along the lines of getting people who start on Duo Lingo (the much mentioned million) to finish / get speaking on SSIW - which is uniquely good at that…with a view to getting more speakers.

…so there is no sense of one or the other in my suggestion - they have strengths in different areas.


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