Thursday, September 2, 2021

Duolingo Review by a Homeschool Mom

  Owl is Trademark of Duolingo, used by Fair Use
Like most homeschool parents, I want my daughter to learn foreign languages.                    

But, also like most American homeschool parents, I am not fluent enough in a second language to teach her myself.

So, I really need a package that teaches without me being the teacher. 

Ideally, a package in which I can be completely "hands off"
-and my daughter can learn without me even being aware of what she's studying.

Sound familiar so far?

Additionally, I enjoy studying foreign languages myself, and find it very helpful to have an online resource that teaches both conversation and reading and writing in a large variety of target languages. So, I have gotten a chance to have a good look at how more than one language is taught, on more than one platform. 

I have tried, and liked, several online packages for foreign languages. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Duolingo has a LOT of pedagogical advantages, and in many ways is brilliantly designed:

  • Native speakers for the audio
  • Discussion boards to answer questions as they arise
  • Notes that explain some of the grammar when needed
  • Practice that slowly and gently builds from comprehending the basic idea of a word or phrase, to writing by copying, to listening without text, to writing entire sentences, then moves on to the next topic.  
  • Review of past lessons
  • A very good free version
  • Motivation with leader boards, "Friends," and rewards called "Lingots," etc

BUT - there are also some disadvantages that a parent needs to be aware of when deciding whether or not to use Duolingo, or HOW to use Duolingo:

I have consistently found that the Duoling programs which teach foreign alphabets (Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Korean etc) do a very poor job of teaching the phonics of the target language. Often they have missing audio, poor audio, incorrect results, or very glitchy results. Despite comments in the discussion boards from YEARS ago - the same mistakes persist, uncorrected. I strongly encourage taking a few days to learn to read in the target alphabet before starting Duolingo, or you are likely to be very confused and discouraged. Most languages have simple teaching videos for reading their alphabet on Youtube. Jonathan Frate offers excellent Hebrew Reading lessons free. Additionally you might find lessons at a local Church (Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches often offer lessons in their respective languages) or Synagogue (Hebrew Reading Crash Course). 

The Duolingo courses we have tried do improve greatly after these initial glitchy phonics lessons - or I would not have even bothered with this review.

But, of greater concern:

Duolingo's creators are very proud of the fact that they promote an LGBT worldview and agenda to children & adults. 

See it in their own words at these links:

https://blog.duolingo.com/lgbtq-representation-in-duolingo-stories-and-characters/

https://blog.duolingo.com/pride-2021-meet-lgbtq-employees/

This means, that the student learns to understand and say things like "My sister's girlfriend" and "My brother's husband" But, phrases like "My brother's wife" or "My sister's boyfriend" seem less prominent. 

This also means that many of the stories to enhance learning center around a homosexual theme (I have never observed any titillating or graphic content)

It also means that sometimes terms are taught as strictly sexual or romantic which are not. For instance, in one language a word is taught as meaning "girlfriend" only. While, in the target language the word actually often refers to a daughter, a friend, or a female domestic servant. When I asked them about this in the moderation boards, they replied  that they try to reflect languages NOT as they are, but as they "should be."

This mindset also is demonstrated in many gendered expressions, in which the gender of the language is not made clear to the learner. For instance, "The Mechanic is wearing a uniform" might clearly indicate a female mechanic in a language that has a more gender aware structure than English does. But the English translation will not make clear to the learner that the gender of the mechanic is female. The pictures also will not make this clear.

Female cartoon characters might be used to speak expressions that could only be spoken by a male. Or visa-versa (to analogize to English - an adult man image might be used to speak an expression like "I am a ballerina" - and never make clear to the learner that this would be strange in the target language)

Or, a young girl, or gay man cartoon character might be portrayed as saying "I work as a Rabbi" in a target culture in which only heterosexual men are Rabbi.

Or, "I like you better than anyone else" might be the translation given of a phrase that in the studied language clearly indicates "I like you better than any other females" 

These flaws in the program can lead to confusion for the learner. 

These flaws can also have potential to lead to the learner offending others when visiting a country that uses the target language. Using female terminology to refer to a man - or visa-versa -  is still insulting in many, if not most, cultures.

But, in addition to academic confusion, or giving offense to native speakers, there is a greater risk: that our children might be deceived by the active promotion of these moral choices. It is important for us to love everyone - no matter what their moral choices. But, allowing an online platform to encourage our children to follow those moral choices is a completely different matter.

Since foreign languages are often studied by homeschool students without parental involvement, the product designers at Duolingo take advantage of this parental absence to influence children to accept their ideas. 

Duolingo now advertises that they have reached the milestone of teaching foreign languages to more Americans than our Public Schools do - that is a LOT of influence over young Americans! Not to mention the many other children around the world who study on the Duolingo platform.

And, make no mistake, the increase in promotion of  LGBT ideas in recent years does influence the number of young people who elect to adopt this behavior:

https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

In addition to these matters, you will also find other lesson topics as Ouija boards in some lessons or stories. And "Spiritual" vocabulary lessons are depicted by a Halloween-worthy ghost, not by any appropriate religious imagery for the target culture.

So, what can a homeschool parent do in light of this knowledge?

1. If you do choose to use Duolingo, contact Duolingo, and let them know your feelings on this matter. It has recently become a publicly traded company, so their board of directors may be contacted through social media.

2. If you do elect to use Duolingo (as we do), have family discussions about these representations in the platform, and use these lessons as conversation starters. Make sure you check in with your child's learning, and are aware of the ideas being presented. You might consider watching this movie as a family In His Image (it has some mature content, so be sure to preview). Discuss how you can love LGBT people - without endorsing or adopting LGBT behavior.

3.  If you wish to study a Biblical language, I'd encourage this site instead Mango Languages Biblical Greek as it is devout, reverent, and accurate. They also have Biblical Hebrew, though I have not tried that yet Mango Languages Biblical Hebrew. The monthly fee is very reasonable, and it is also free through some public library systems. Also Jonathan Frate offers excellent Hebrew Reading lessons free. He also offers additional Hebrew lessons for a fee, but I have not tried those, and cannot speak to their content.

4. Pray for those who work at Duolingo. The Bible makes very clear the danger they are currently in by seeking to have influence children in this way. "It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble." (Luke 17:2) Pray for them to come to know God and His Love.


*Duolingo Owl is a Trademark of Duolingo, used here by Fair Use for purpose of a product review.

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Powerful or Powerless?

 

 

 Powerless or Powerful? (Source*)
As the coronavirus lockdown began last year, I could feel the walls closing in around me. I watched the
news and saw stories of heroic first responders going out to save the world. Grocery store workers, postal workers, and yes, even trash collectors had an important job to do.

 

I, on the other hand, had orders to help by doing, well, nothing. There were even memes to the effect, “For the first time in our lives, we can save the world by lying on the couch watching TV. Let’s not mess this up!”

 

But, being home doing nothing doesn’t really feel good. Human beings have a basic need to be productive, to give. For all of history, the disabled, the elderly, and even prisoners have struggled with this too often thwarted desire to contribute, but it’s a fairly new experience for me, except during times of illness.

 

I tried to think of things I could do to help the world in this desperate situation. Every outlet seemed closed off to me, because of the risks that I might unwittingly contract and spread a virus that no one could see.

 

When Holy Friday came, I listened to the 12 Gospel readings from a new vantage point. Yes, listening to streaming services is different. But also, I was different, and I heard differently this time.

 

I had always previously dwelt on the physical sufferings of Christ – the sufferings that are so often emphasized in movies and books. I had thought of the pain of the nails, the length of the thorns, the difficulty breathing, the cut of the lash. I’ve always been a little surprised at the near silence of the Gospel about these vital details. The Gospels barely describe Christ’s physical sufferings, though they were undoubtedly severe. Instead, this sort of description is quite common in the Biblical accounts, When they had crucified him” (Matthew 27)  or  “ . .  .they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” (John 19)

 

But, this year, for the first time, my attention was drawn to something Gospels seemed to emphasize more than the physical sufferings. Words.

 

Some words are incredibly cruel:

 

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:39)

 

and

 

“He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.””(Matt. 27:48)

 

Other words convey unimaginable blessing of love & care:

 

“Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26, 27)

 

After hearing many, many such words read in the course of Holy Thursday evening, I developed an opinion. That while the physical wounds of Christ are not described in nearly as much detail as I would expect, but the wounds caused by words are described in much more vivid detail that I might have expected. And, the Blessing conveyed by words is also depicted in detail. Perhaps there was a lesson there that I was missing all these years? Maybe the Scriptures are painting for us clearly the power of words – power to heal or to hurt – power that we as Christians all too often underestimate.

 

I’d been meditating on this theme of the extreme importance of words since Holy Week.

 

Here in my home, my hands were largely bound. I could offer physical help to almost no one. On the other hand, my tongue – for better or for worse – was loosed. I fouid myself communicating with distant friends by the internet, or by telephone – or even by letter – in a way I haven’t done in years. And, verbal interaction with my family is also increased from pre-pandemic times. Sometimes that was a good thing. Sometimes it is not.

 

I noticed that in the world around me, everyone was communicating more, but with the heightened anxiety from world events and personal stresses, the increased communication could be either a blessing and a curse.

 

As time moved on, I was looking to Pentecost. Reading the Biblical account this time, once again I again noticed something that I had previously not fully observed. In Acts 1, Jesus promised, “ . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. . .” Then, in Acts 2, the Power comes – quite dramatically, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind, and with Tongues of Fire. And, what was the first fruit of coming of the Holy Spirit in Power? I realized that once again, the miraculous occurrence was words. Mere words. Miraculous words that each heard in his own language, but still, words. The amazing Power of the Holy Spirit was manifest not in spectacular deeds, but in words. Granted, physical miracles would come later, but the first manifestation was words.

 

It was very tempting for me in times of isolation t despair, and think, “I can do nothing important, I can only talk to people.” Or in contrast to think, “I only said a few words, I couldn’t have possibly done much harm.”

 

But, truly, in this season of Pentecost, we need the Power of the Holy Spirit to give us strength to use the remarkable power of words for the Glory of God - whether isolated or not.

  

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

 

*Photo Credit: "Isolated cumulonimbus" by otrow_photography is marked with CC0 1.0 

 

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Monday, April 26, 2021

What is Happening to the Church?

What is Happening to the Church?
What is Happening to the Church (Photo credit*)

Recently, I’ve been observing two contrasting realities:

First, I’ve been reminded of Christian history of past centuries. 

My daughter has been watching Torchlighters Videos on Redeem TV. These animated videos tell the Saint and Missionary stories - many of which I grew up hearing. People like Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, who were martyred for their faith. People like Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward and Adoniram Judson, who abandoned everything, risking life and limb, to share the Gospel with those who didn’t know Christ in foreign nations.

I’ve also been reading A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell, and hearing about those whose lives were changed by popular events of the late 20th century like the Jesus Movement, Campus Crusade for Christ, Billy Graham Crusades, and Evangelism Explosion. I’m reminded of concepts like “Personal Evangelism” and “Bring a friend to Church Day”

 I remember in my youth, hearing about heroic missionaries, and knowing many young people and adults who dreamed of influencing their world for Christ by traveling to a foreign country, and reaching those who had never heard of Him.

As an Orthodox Christian, I've been teaching my Sunday School students about those heroes who spread the Faith without regard for their own lives, people like St. Photini, Equal to the Apostles; St. Nicholas of Japan, St. Patrick Patron of Ireland; Sts. Cyrill and Methodius, Enlighteners of the Slavs & St. Nina Patroness of Georgia.

In contrast, I’ve also been witnessing a steady stream of disheartening news and commentary about our world, and the prevalence of Faith among Americans. The Gallup organization recently notified the world that American “Church Membership” has fallen below 50% for the first time in American history – for a current count of 47%

https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx

Even more alarming – the Gallup poll counts Synagogue and Mosque members as “Church Members” in their article (!) – so rather than 47% as reported, actual Church membership must be even lower. Not to mention, that even those counted at "Church Members" may not be devout.

When I travel around our country, and observe multiple states and religious denominations, I see things that concern me even more. I’m not talking here about one Parish or one town, or one denomination – I see this nationwide, across all denominations and Christian groups - even on the internet where people gather from all creeds and places.

In the Churches, I see fewer and fewer children or young adults. I see empty pews, and sparsely attended Bible Studies.

Clergy tell me that their members with advanced degrees in secular subjects don’t know even the most common Bible stories. If they wish to make a point in a sermon about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, they have to tell the entire story, even to highly educated members. Even people with MDs, PhDs, and Masters Degrees don’t know the most frequently repeated Bible stories.  

I see more and more "nominal Christians" - people who use the label "Christian" but do not ascribe to the essential teachings of Christ and His Church.

When I hear Christians – even Clergy – discuss the current state of American Christianity, they often appear to be waving a white flag of surrender – using terms like “Post Christian,” and sharing gloomy predictions of future persecution. They talk about Churches closing, going bankrupt, or being forced by the government to violate their beliefs.All of these things are a definite possibility - IF we Christians do not pray, and obey God! But, they're not at all a foregone conclusion!

In the Early Church, when Christians were less than 10% of the Roman Empire, that small minority had a Faith in God that changed the world!

Now, we’re over 40 percent, and announcing His defeat!

Jesus said that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church , so this declaration of defeat is, of course, inaccurate.

But, there is a sad modern reality. 

Almost no one talks about how to love the more than 50 percent of Americans who are living lives without God and His Church. Those who could have a hope of Heaven and Eternity with God, but don’t. There is a lot of discussion about how bad this current trend reported by Gallup is for Christians, but very little discussion of its effect where it truly matters. What does this trend mean for those NON Christians and non-observant nominal Christians in our culture?

Meanwhile, our Churches have become experts in fundraisers & entertainment. Driving through town one day, I see an ad for a Church Barbecue. Another day I see an Easter Egg Hunt or movie night. On social media I see Baklava Sales, Festivals, Stage Plays, and Rummage Sales in various Churches all across the country. But, our actual attendance for services is getting smaller and smaller – and not just since the pandemic hit. Our fundraisers and entertainment events are full, but our pews are nearly empty!

Sadly, it has been years – maybe decades – since I heard anyone talk about reaching the lost outside their own congregation for Christ. And, I very rarely hear anyone discuss true Christian Education of Children – not entertainment or babysitting while Church is going on, or a little fun club for kids,  but a true teaching of the Faith.

I know almost no one who shares the Gospel with friend, neighbor, or colleague. Bringing a friend home to talk about the God Whom you love over coffee, or inviting a neighbor to experience a Church service with you is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

I know LOTS of people who pick fights with those same people over politics, economics, or parenting methods! So, it’s not that we don’t talk – we just don’t talk about the ONLY thing that really matters!

The fact is that human beings NEED God. Without Him, we are empty, hopeless and without a future. Without HIM, we are not living our only possible true purpose in life. As Blaise Pascal is quoted to have said,

 “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

If we fail to let others know about the Love of Christ – we are not “being polite” and “respecting their opinions,” any more than we’re being polite to the homeless person when we don’t share our food or money with them.

 What if we stopped looking at our secular neighbors as “the enemy” and started thinking of them as our “mission field?” What if we reached out to them?

 We assume that Americans who are not Christians have rejected the Gospel message, but the reality is that many Americans, having grown up in a secular public school and in less religious families, have simply never truly heard the Gospel or truly encountered Jesus Christ & His Church. In too many cases, they have only rejected an inaccurate portrayal of Christianity in T.V. shows,  movies and news. Or perhaps they have rejected the witness of those people who loudly proclaim to be Christians, while not living a life pleasing to God.

We used to dream of “going to the mission field” Now, the “mission field” has come to us!

 *********

Christ’s Great Commission has not changed.

 

Matthew 28:19, 20

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

What are we going to do about it?

 

We don’t need to travel to some foreign country to tell people about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – the mission field has arrived in our home town.We just need to step out our front door!

 

Think about this for a minute: If every Church-going Christian in America befriended one secular or non-Christian neighbor, and drew that ONE other person into the fold of the Church – in ONE year, we could become a country that was almost 100% Christian!

*********

 A few suggestions:

  •  Make sure YOU are in Church whenever the doors are open – or as close to it as you can. The Bible is very clear that a branch that is not connected to the Vine cannot bear fruit!
  • Invite a friend over for coffee or for lunch and have a pleasant conversation – and mention how knowing God has blessed your life.
  • Invite a friend who doesn’t go to ANY Church to come with you some time.

  • Offer to share a resource that might answer some of their questions about the Faith, and draw them closer to God. Here are some that I like:

If they’re not interested right now– don’t push- God has His perfect timing, and they have freedom. 

And, pray! 

God Bless!

 *Photograph Credit:"mar16" by amboo who? is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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