Two years of Klingon lessons

tlhIngan Hol vIHaDtaH qaStaHvIS cha’ DIS = I have studied the Klingon language for two years.

A revision made 70 days later

In random browsing through YouTube, I came across this video a couple of weeks ago:

This is the video I refer to in the essay as an extra on a Star Trek DVD. If you’re even vaguely interested in Klingon, I highly recommend it.

As I watched, I realized that I made some mistakes in the original version of this essay. No one commented on them, which tells me that no one from KLI has seen this post. It may be that no one but me will ever read this again, but in the interests of accuracy and self-esteem I’ve corrected the essay for my 800th day in my study of Klingon.

Major edits are italicized. There were also many minor edits.

The original essay

This is a collection of anecdotes, tidbits, and my personal experience with Klingon.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Klingon is a made-up language.

Aficionados prefer to call such languages “constructed,” or “conlangs“. There’s a entire community called “conlangers” who make up languages for fictional cultures. Probably the most popular recently-constructed language is High Valyrian from Game of Thrones.

Klingon is certainly not the first conlang. When one talks about constructed languages, one has to acknowledge the massive work of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish, Dwarvish, and so on. There are conlangs outside of fiction, such as Esperanto, which was developed in the 1870s.

What makes Klingon unique for me is that it’s a language constructed for a science-fiction universe that I like: Star Trek.

Again, Star Trek is not the first world for which someone developed a vocabulary. Some examples:

But those attempts at verisimilitude were not full-fledged languages within those universes. Klingon includes grammar, phonetics, structure, and a world-view of the fictional Klingon society.

Contrast that with how the non-human races speak in Star Wars. They sound interesting, but they’re not speaking a language. Either they speak with a mish-mash of sounds, perhaps with a few isolated non-English real-world words, or they speak an inconsistent distortion of English.

Klingon has been described as the “fastest-growing language in the world.” That does not refer to the number of speakers, but to the language itself. The conlanger behind Klingon, Marc Okrand, adds both words and grammar to the language on a roughly annual basis. Mostly he does this for the qep’a’, the annual conference of the Klingon Language Institute.

Before going into my own study of Klingon, I’ll review its history. For me, the story of the development of Klingon is as interesting as the language.

The beginning

The first time words in Klingon were spoken on-screen was in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The words were devised by James Doohan, best known for playing Scotty. He was also an expert in dialects. He intended for Klingon to be a phonetically complex language, but that did not come across in the film. When the actors spoke the words, they sound like short monosyllables; maybe Doohan wanted the phrase to be pronounced “wuyicha” but it just sounds like “wee cha”.

Marc Okrand, a linguistics expert, was hired by Paramount to provide Vulcan-language dubbing for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; the actors had originally been filmed speaking in English. He was a natural choice to provide the Klingon language for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Okrand took those few words in ST:tPM and incorporated them into the new language. For example, “wee cha” became wIy cha’ = a shortened form of “Show display,” subtitled “Tactical” in the film.

In ST3, the actor Christopher Lloyd (best known as Doc Brown in the Back to the Future films) played Commander Kruge. Later, when Okrand talked about working on the film, he described Lloyd as enthusiastic about learning his Klingon lines. If I ever got a chance to ask Lloyd the question, I’d like to know whether he was enamored about the thought of speaking Klingon itself, or if he enjoyed the challenge for him as an actor. Perhaps it was both.

Though Okrand was on-set for much of the Klingon-language portions of the filming, there were times when the actors didn’t say the words as Okrand intended. Lloyd would say something like “I should have said wa’ yIHoH, but I just said yIHoH.” Okrand’s response: “No problem. I’ll just change the language.”

So a language evolved in real time, on a set in a lot at Paramount Studios.

An alien languge

I’m not going to be so foolish as to try to teach Klingon in this blog post. (I briefly considered writing the post in Klingon, but I’d make too many mistakes and no one would ever read it.) However, I do want to go into some elements of the language’s design.

Marc Okrand wanted to create an alien language. So his initial starting point was to consider grammatical elements that few real-world languages have. The biggest one was the order of the words: In English, the order is subject-verb-object; e.g., in “Torg sees Mara”, “Torg” is the subject, the verb is “to see”, and “Mara” is the object.

In Klingon, the order is object-verb-subject. That same sentence in Klingon would be mara legh torgh. This can make Klingon a bit difficult to decipher, especially since an English-speaker may not be able to tell what the sentence is about until the last word is said.

(Note that this is not “Yoda-speak.” Yoda speaks an inconsistent version of object-subject-verb.)

While in theory it might be cool to incorporate sounds that can’t be pronounced by a human mouth, the reality is that it’s humans underneath all the Klingon latex make-up. Okrand stuck to sounds from Earth languages. Klingon phonetics is much simpler than English, with no variations in how letters are pronounced; D is always a “soft D”; S is always the “sh” sound; Q is always a hard fricative in the back of the throat (the word QaQ [to be good] sounds like you’re gargling).

In contrast, consider the English word ghoti, pronounced “fish”: gh as in “enough”, o as in “women”, ti as in “action”. The point is that English letters have different pronunciations in different words, but Klingon does not. (By the way, the Klingon word for fish is ghotI’, with the gh a deeper version of the English “g” sound. There are lots of little jokes like that in the Klingon vocabulary.)

Klingon is an agglutinative language, like German: phrases are created by sticking syllables both before and after the key word. You get mouthfuls like bIQtIqqoqlIjDaq vIQallaHbe’chu’ (“I cannot swim at all in your so-called river”). The order of the suffixes matters, e.g.: jIQallaHbe’chu’ = I can’t swim at all; jIQallaHchu’be’ = I can’t swim perfectly.

Which leads to the Klingon letters:

Okrand was hired to create a spoken language, not a written one. He didn’t use International Phonetic Alphabet, because the actors wouldn’t understand it. He settled on using the English alphabet, but used capitalization to distinguish sounds instead of the English custom of capitalizing the beginning of sentences, proper nouns, and such. For example, Q is the sound I described above, but q is basically the “hard k” sound in English. Here are two videos (one and two) of a talk in which Okrand explains Klingon pronunciation.

The big problem with Okrand’s scheme wasn’t obvious until later: He used the lower-case l (ell) for the standard English sound of the consonant, but capital I (aye) for the English “short i” sound. Depending on the character font, this can make the letters hard to distinguish; e.g., can you whether it’s lI or Il a couple of paragraphs ago?


Spoiler alert for a four-decade-old Star Trek movie:

At the end of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, only one Klingon survives: Maltz, played by John Larroquette (best known for playing Dan Fielding on the TV series Night Court). Maltz is taken prisoner by Captain Kirk.

The rest of this is a conceit suggested by Marc Okrand in his book The Klingon Dictionary: Maltz was now held by the Federation. He had been part of a rogue crew, and he didn’t want to be returned home in dishonor. Instead, he became the source of the Federation’s knowledge of Klingon language and culture.

As the years have gone by and new Klingon language features are “discovered,” Okrand says it’s because Maltz has just shared some additional information.

Uber geekiness

Warning: This next part is so geeky that perhaps only Klingon-language fans can appreciate it. This anecdote was considered so obscure that it was actually edited out of a short Klingon-language featurette of Marc Okrand on one of the Star Trek DVDs. This is the video I embedded near the top of this essay. In it you can see the following Klingon phrase written on the board, but the discussion must have been cut.

In ST3, there is a sequence in which the Klingon Bird-of-Prey destroys a Federation ship. Commander Kruge is furious. He points a disruptor at an officer and says “qama’pu’ jonta’ neH!

Christopher Lloyd pronounced the line correctly. In the script, Okrand was told that the line was to be “I told you: only the engines” and set up the language accordingly.

However, in post-production, it was felt that it wasn’t clear why Kruge wanted to target only the engines. So the subtitle was changed to “I wanted prisoners.”

If you can’t guess what happened next, then you don’t know how to play the game: Okrand restructured the Klingon language in order to make those words have their new meaning.

One of the results: Klingon lost its tenses. The phrase wo’rIv legh mara can mean “Mara saw Worf” or “Mara sees Worf” or “Mara will see Worf”. The timing of the verb has to be determined by context.

More movies, more Klingon

There was some Klingon in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but it was mangled in the editing, with a Klingon character saying the same phrase twice with different subtitles. This was the first lesson for us Klingon fans: some folks on the production team just don’t care. (I’ll expand on this below.)

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, we again have actors who were (according to Okrand) enthusiastic about getting their Klingon spoken correctly: Christopher Plummer and David Warner. But that’s not the main reason why that film had a major impact on the Klingon language.

In a dinner sequence, Plummer (as General Chang) quotes Shakespeare: taH pagh taHbe’ = to be or not to be. This was notable for two reasons:

  • When creating Klingon for ST3, Okrand deliberately omitted the verb “to be” from the language, to enhance its alien nature. Now the screenwriters forced him to do it. Okrand compromised by defining the verb taH = to exist.
  • A bit earlier in the scene, Warner (as Chancellor Gorkon) says, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

For a Klingon linguaphile, this has but one meaning: the gauntlet has been thrown.

The Klingon Language Institute

Marc Okrand published The Klingon Dictionary (TKD) shortly after ST3 was released. He followed up with a revised version to include the additions needed for ST5 and ST6. I purchased both editions.

Some folks with more enthusiasm and linguistic expertise than mine decided to form the Klingon Language Institute (KLI). I became a card-carrying member as soon as I heard of it. The KLI published a quarterly journal, HolQeD, from 1992 to 2004. I know these dates exactly, because I have a pile of every published issue on my desk next to me as I type this blog post.

Okrand had done what he could, but he couldn’t develop every single aspect (in more than one sense of the word) of the English language to be expressed in Klingon. Skimming through the issues of HolQeD, you can see discussions of various concepts and whether they exist in Klingon. For example (picking at random from the pile): transitive vs. intransitive verbs, pragmatic roles, whether ghaj (to have) expresses the same concept in both English and Klingon.

There was more source material than just the movies. The real profit from an intellectual property comes from merchandising. Paramount was happy to have Okrand continue to publish books such as Conversational Klingon, and to supply Klingon translations for Skybox cards and Monopoly – Star Trek Klingon. All of this became grist for the Klingon-language mill.

Of course, Okrand has a life to live outside of the Klingon language, and wisely refuses to let it dominate his time. He is careful to be sparing when answering requests for new vocabulary and clarifications of grammar. Also, he is human and sometimes makes mistakes. The “game” of the Klingon language demanded that, when possible, whatever was canonical (meaning it came from Maltz through Okrand) had to be incorporated into our understanding of Klingon.

I was not skilled enough to play this game. But it was fun to watch others do it!


Remember the gauntlet thrown down by ST6? Some folks in the KLI picked it up. Thus was born the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project. The goal: to reclaim the original works of the Klingon playwright wIlyam Seq’ISpIr from the English-language forgeries spread by the Terran Federation.

The first work was Qo’noS ta’puq Hamlet lotlut = Hamlet, Prince of Kronos. Hamlet is spelled the same in English, but in the correct Klingon pronunciation the letter H sounds like a hard “ch” as in Bach or chutzpah. That’s why you’ll also see this work with the title Khamlet, the Restored Klingon Version.

The restored version reveals the horror that was expurgated in the English version. For a Klingon, the resolution to Hamlet‘s dilemma is obvious: Just kill tlhaw’DIyuS (= Claudius). But the play is set in a castle that has settled into a nightmarish Ghormenghast-level of decay. Indeed, DaH Qo’noS wo’Daq nonlaw’ vay = Now something is rotten in the Empire of Kronos.

As a translation (excuse me, “restoration”) exercise, Hamlet posed many practical challenges, in addition to that societal one. For example, how do you translate “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” when Maltz has not revealed the Klingon words for “sling” or “arrow”?

I was in awe of the result. The book is also sitting on my desk, next to my computer, as I write this post.

Klingon on Star Trek TV

As a Star Trek fan, I watched all the series on television. As a Klingon-language fan, I usually winced when they attempted to use Klingon in a show.

For the most part, the writers simply made up words. On the rare occasions they tried to put some “Okrand Klingon” in the show, it was clear they spent no more than 10 minutes browsing through TKD.

In particular, I cringed when the great actor John Colicos, playing Commander Kor, said the word “hadibah” instead of Ha’DIbaH (H with a hard ch, the single quote is a glottal stop). Someone had looked up the word, but no one had given Colicos any guidance on how to pronounce it.

They could have paid Okrand as a consultant, or they could have turned to the KLI who would have done the work for free. Time and money prevented them.

Realistically, there was no reason for them to pay any attention to the Klingon language at all. There’s a long history in entertainment of people speaking in garbled versions of real languages. For example, consider Danny Kaye hilariously pretending “to speak a ready wit in their every tongue” in The Court Jester.

On an old TV series, I remember a scene in which both characters were Russian. One actor was native Russian speaker and the other was not. The latter just spoke random syllables in a Russian accent. The first actor put up with it, replying in actual Russian.

If a show could have someone say “Sur la too la mound voo ma tabul” and pretend that it’s French, why shouldn’t “grik grak gruk kappela” be a substitute for Klingon? A French speaker might argue that it’s not hard to get it right. I’d respond by pointing to the KLI.

As far as Klingon was concerned, the Star Trek creative staff didn’t and couldn’t care. After all, it only bothered a small subset of fans (like me).

In his book Klingon for the Galactic Traveler, Okrand provided a work-around: There are many regional Klingon dialects; some Klingons shift their speech to match that of the Emperor at the time, while others are more conservative in their language. It was clearly an excuse, and I accepted it with a fair amount of internal grumbling.

Eventually, on Star Trek: Discovery, there was accurate Klingon again, more so than in most of the movies. Qapla’!

Klingon on other TV shows

To the public at large, the Klingon language is largely a joke. It conjures the image of an SF fan who takes things too seriously. (As someone who’s obviously writing a long blog post on the subject, I can’t deny the stereotype.)

Strangely, when a non-Star Trek TV series decided to use Klingon as a joke, they generally were more accurate than on Star Trek! Often the writers would consult with Okrand or the KLI to get it right. This fits with my idea of humor: it’s funnier the more accurate it is.

For example, there were a couple of instances of Klingon spoken by an SF fan in the TV series Lucifer. Their pronunciation was terrible, but the words were correct.

The most famous case was in an episode of Frasier. Frasier (played by Kelsey Grammer) asks a Jewish SF geek co-worker to provide him with a Hebrew transliteration of a blessing he wants to read at his son’s Bar Mitzvah. Due to the usual sitcom misunderstandings, the co-worker was offended by something Frasier did earlier, so he gives Frasier a transliteration of the blessing in Klingon.

Frasier stands up and says the syllables he doesn’t understand. The Rabbi tells him that it’s meaningless garbage. But a friend of Frasier’s son tells him that it’s Klingon, and translates it for him. There are feels all around.

What makes the moment famous for Klingon-language fans is that Grammer omitted a line. But the friend doing the translation recites the whole blessing in English, including the missing line. (That actor knew all his lines, unlike Grammer.)

The producers got Okrand to provide the English-Klingon translation and transliteration. To be fair, Grammer was a Star Trek fan, and put effort into pronouncing the words correctly. So it was a mistake, but it was an accurate mistake.

Klingon and me

As you can tell from the autobiographical tidbits I’ve scattered above, I’ve been fascinated by the Klingon language since I first learned of its existence.

To be sure, this is just a casual interest. I’ve memorized a few phrases, but I certainly can’t speak the language at even an amateur level. I can understand Klingon even less. It’s a bit like knowing that French exists, but being able to say little more than “Bonjour! Comment-allez vous aujourd’hui?”

A bit over two years ago, I started playing a Half-Orc Barbarian in someone’s on-line D&D game. (For those unfamiliar with D&D, a Half-Orc Barbarian is an extremely stereotypical character.) As a Half-Orc, my character can of course speak Orcish.

I decided to have a bit of extra fun with the character, and actually speak a bit of Orcish during the game. But what language do I use for Orcish? The most natural one would be Black Speech from Lord of the Rings. After all, LoTR is what gave rise to the D&D conception of Orcs in the first place.

However, Tolkien’s design of Black Speech is very incomplete compared to his design of his other languages such as Elvish. Also, I simply wasn’t enamored of Black Speech as a language.

You’ve already guessed it: I chose to use Klingon instead. It sounds harsh and guttural, as you might expect Orcs to sound.

I took out my copy of TKD and started coming up with things that a Half-Orc Barbarian might say. For example, my character’s name was Deathgrip, so I decided his Orc name was ghop Hegh (which more accurately translates to “hand of death”). I found or came up with a few other likely phrases on my own:

Attack! – peHIv!
Kill them! – tIHoH!
Die! (singular) – yIHegh!
Die! (plural) – peHegh!
Prepare to die! – yIHeghrupchoH!
Okay – lu’
Yes – HIja’
No – ghobe’
Leave! – yImej!
You are cowards! – nuchpu’ tlhIH!
I am an Orc! – ‘orqengan jIH!
Kill the elves! – ‘elvInganpu’ tIHoH!
Success! – Qapla’!
I love you – qaparHa’qu’ (lit. I really un-dislike you)

Note that the race names for Orcs and Elves (‘orqengan and ‘elvIngan) are my own invention, in analogy with canonical race names like tlhIngan, tera’ngan, verengan, and vulqangan (Klingon, Terran, Ferengi, and Vulcan).

Then I learned that, thanks to much effort on the part of folks associated with the KLI, there was a Klingon course on Duolingo. I was off and running!

I wanted to be able to come up with more things for Deathgrip to say. In particular, I wanted to encapsulate his personal philosophy: “Attack the strongest!”

Believe it or not, after two years of Duolingo lessons I’m still not sure how to say that correctly. I know how to say “That enemy is the strongest” = jaghvetlh HoS law’ Hoch HoS puS. I can say “Attack the strong enemy” = jagh HoS yIHIv. I still haven’t learned enough to say “Attack the strongest enemy.”

It might be jaghvetlh HoS law’ Hoch HoS puS ‘e’ yIHIv! = “That enemy is the strongest; attack it!” Possibly it’s reH vIHIv jagh HoS law’ Hoch HoS puS [?] = I always attack the strongest enemy. But I’m not sure that’s correct; the word order “feels” wrong compared to the rest of the Klingon I’ve learned. I haven’t yet reached that point in the course that confirms or refutes the phrase.

I could ask on the KLI forums or their Discord server… but what fun is that?

Setting aside D&D, I also wanted to learn Klingon for its own sake. The language may be made up, but Pig Latin teaches us that a made-up language can be more entertaining than a real one. Certainly I’ve had more fun teaching myself Klingon than I did when studying French in high school or Russian in college. Consider:

English: You are stupid!
French: Vous êtes stupide!
Russian: Bы глупый!
Klingon: QIp SoH!

Which one of these is the most fun to say?

I went so far as to give my cats Klingon-based names: jI’IHqu’ = I am very beautiful (aka Jiku) and Sub’a’ = a great hero (aka Shuba).

A tip for my fellow Wiccans: When I mention that I’m studying Klingon, one of the first things I hear is “Hey, Bill, why not write a Wiccan ritual in Klingon?” My answer is no. For one thing, my language skill isn’t good enough. More importantly, Wiccan culture and Klingon culture simply don’t mix. I don’t think there’s a way to express “Blessed Be” in Klingon.

As the title of this post and the screenshot show, I spent about 10-15 minutes every day for the past two years taking a Klingon lesson on Duolingo. Not only was it fun, but I began to learn a few things about grammar and language in general.

And then…

Duolingo ruins everything

About a month ago, Duolingo changed the format of their Klingon language course. Or, more accurately, a change that Duolingo had been making for their other language courses finally reached Klingon.

I asked about this on the KLI forums. The answer I received suggests that the folks at KLI were forced to accept this change. While they’re working to recover from it, it will take some time.

I have no idea what the work arrangements are for the Duolingo courses of the more popular languages like French, but the people working on Klingon are all volunteers. I suppose the people who maintain the Duolingo courses for less common languages face a similar issue; for example: Navajo, Haitian Creole, and Xhosa.

What’s changed?

The change that Duolingo made appears to be one that no one likes and that no one asked for. I’ll describe it from my perspective as a Klingon student.

Prior to the change, the Klingon lessons were grouped by topic. There would be separate topics on basic pronunciation, pronouns, adjectives, animals, physics, weather, and so on. Within each topic there would be 20-30 lessons to introduce and reinforce my understanding.

For each topic, there would be a link labeled “Tips” to introduce new vocabulary and grammar. Those tips would still be available whenever I wanted to look something up. For example, if I wanted a refresher on indefinite subjects in Klingon, I’d just click on the Tips link for that topic.

With Duolingo’s new format, all of that is gone. Lessons are no longer organized by topic. They’re a sort of general mélange of questions that encompass a range of different topics and subjects. There are no longer sets of individual questions that help with practice on any one aspect.

Worse, the “Tips” are gone. Instead, there are “Guidebooks” that are supposed to introduce an overview of the broad categories of questions that will come up in the next few dozen lessons. There are no explicit indicators of what grammatical tips, if any, are explained in a given Guidebook.

As I referenced earlier, the KLI folks were not given a chance to revise the “Tips” pages into “Guidebooks” pages. There are a few half-hearted attempts for the earlier lesson groups. They don’t really teach Klingon, not in the way that the Tips did.

For this essay, I went to the first Klingon lesson and Guidebook, and tried to approach it in the same way as a brand-new student of Klingon. My immediate impression: There’s more introductory material for beginners in this blog post than there is in the current Duolingo course. There’s nothing on how to pronounce the letters; a student would have to “figure it out” solely by clicking on an icon to hear someone say a sentence.

The first Guidebook consists solely of some simple phrases in Klingon with a translation underneath. You might learn that qan tej means “The scientist is old,” but how would you know that the word qan means “to be old”, tej is the word that means “scientist”, there is no “to be” verb in Klingon, that verbs are used as adjectives, and objects come before subjects?

Trying to learn Klingon in this way would involve a lot of frustrating guesswork.

It’s not just Klingon

I had thought that Klingon was a special case. To test my assumption, I dipped into three other Duolingo language courses. To my surprise, each one I looked at had similar problems.

In my descriptions below, bear in mind that I didn’t examine every single Guidebook in their respective courses. I bounced back-and-forth between the simplest and most complex lesson tracks to get a sense of what the courses offered.


I tried the French course. Like the other courses I visited, it’s mostly drill with few explanations.

I looked through their Guidebooks for a basic pronunciation rule that I thought would be mentioned in any French tutorial, but did not find it: If a word ends in a consonant, the final consonant is often silent, except when the following word begins with a vowel. In the latter case, the consonant is usually pronounced as if it were part of that second word. A good example of this is the phrase “Comment allez-vous aujourd’hui?”

And why is there a dash between the “allez” and the “vous”? From my French courses I took in high school, I know it’s because it’s a question, but I didn’t see that in the Guidebooks.

Consider the French phrase I have above: “Vous êtes stupide!” Why is there a diacritical mark over the first “e”? Why don’t you pronounce the final “es” in “êtes”? I know that some of this is partly based on the rules of the language and partly based on the history of irregular language constructions (English is rife with them, like the “gh” in “tough” vs. “ghost”). Where is the guidance on what is regular, what is irregular, and how things work in French?

Whatever the answers are, I didn’t see them on Duolingo.

I also didn’t see a discussion of irregular verbs, or constructions like the French pluperfect. I remember that these were particularly difficult for me in high-school French.


Even from the start, the Russian course has problems. While there is a special link for the Russian alphabet, I didn’t see the letter ы in that list, nor a description of how to pronounce it. For English speakers, that vowel can’t be picked up by listening to it; you have to be explicitly taught how to say it, and even that might not be enough. (My own pronunciation of ы and other vowels is so bad that native Russian language speakers can’t understand when I say the word жизнь = life.)

If conjugating irregular French verbs is difficult, conjugating irregular Russian verbs is a nightmare. Again, I found no explicit Guidebooks that discussed this.

Russian has declensions, which means the ending of a word changes depending its use in a sentence. A word will have one ending if it’s the subject of a sentence, another if it’s the object, yet another if it’s an indirect object, and so on. I saw plenty of examples, but no explicit descriptions.

In particular, the rules for declining adjectives that describe color are extremely complex. They’re so difficult that I’ve heard native Russian speakers switch to English because they couldn’t be bothered: Сколько стоит эта purple куртка? = How much does this purple jacket cost? There’s an explicit Duolingo Russian lesson track that includes phrases with colors, but nothing in the Guidebook to teach the rules.


For my first two tests, I used languages that I’d previous studied. For my third test, I tried a language with which I had zero familiarity.

A problem emerged almost immediately: Sometimes in Zulu, the final “i” in a word is not pronounced. What is the rule for this? I didn’t see it in the Guidebooks.


The point of the above tests is to demonstrate that my problems with the new Klingon language course are not directly caused by it being a conlang. Based on a sample size of three, these problems seem systemic across the revised Duolingo language courses.

Duolingo has their explanations for the changes. Basically the goal seems to be help people develop conversational expertise. They say they want to get people to “level B2 in CEFR“.

Yeah, I guess. Except that doesn’t apply to Klingon. Or High Valyrian. Or Latin. And probably many others. The earlier format was better for people who wanted to understand the rules so they could compose new sentences and say them correctly, rather than learning stock phrases by listening to them and never learning the rules to create them.

To put it another way, I want learn enough grammatical rules to figure out how to say “Attack the strongest!” I don’t need a series of lessons to teach me how to incorrectly pronounce “Where is the bathroom?” (By the way, in Klingon it’s nuqDaq ‘oH puchpa”e’? I figured it out on my own based on what the old format taught me. So there, Duolingo!)

What’s next?

I can continue taking the current lessons for a while, but when they hit a topic that’s completely new to me (like nominalization) I’m probably going to be lost without those Tips.

It’s been a fun two years of Klingon on Duolingo. It doesn’t look like there’ll be a third.

There are a few alternatives out there:

  • I explored switching to KLI’s members-only on-line course. It’s at a beginner level and doesn’t go very far.
  • There’s some Klingon vocabulary (but no grammar) in Memrise.
  • There’s the Hol ‘ampaS (Language Academy) run by qurgh, who is also seems to be the current guider of the Duolingo Klingon course. It’s a great reference for the material in The Klingon Dictionary, but doesn’t include the extended language as defined in HolQeD and other sources, as the Duolingo course does.

I saw a post by qurgh on the Klingon language Discord server stating that another massive volunteer effort is underway to adapt the Duolingo Klingon course to the new format. In the name of Kahless the Unforgettable, I hope they succeed soon!

My other hope is that Duolingo comes to their senses.

Until then:


Seventy days later

I continue my with my daily Klingon lessons. Because of the way the Duolingo coursework was reset, for about fifty of those days I was presented with material I already knew. Only recently have I seen any new vocabulary.

I have not yet hit the “wall” I predicted, when new Klingon grammar is introduced with no explanation.

I could be wrong; one example (mara vongmeH ghaH meSchuS lo’ = She used a meSchuS to hypnotize Mara) was structured in a way that I was not familiar with. (A meSchuS is a large wind instrument, apparently with no direct Terran equivalent.)

qaS ‘e’ wIlegh = We will see what happens.

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