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Does the usability of flashcard for learning vocab reach an end at some point?


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Kongming21

Hey everyone,

basically I have been using flashcards ever since I started learning Chinese. However now after some 3 years of studying what becomes more and more frustrating is the fact that the actual new words I add to my flashcards get less and less, however I seem to more and more frequently just add words which I have reviewed already but have forgotten again. Moreover, very often these words are different 近义词 like 获得,获取,领取whose core meaning in English is more or less the same and only the context they are used in is somewhat different. Normally when encountering words like these in a text I know the core meaning, thus understand the sentence. However when it comes to getting the subtleties of the text or translating the text I struggle and therefore add these words to my flashcards again. Still some of these words I have probably added again to my flashcards many times, but just reviewing them this way does ot seem to work. In addition this lets the amount of flashcards I have to review everyday grow by quite a large number and gives me less time to learn words I actually have never see before and need to learn for the first time.

Therefore I have been asking myself recently whether using flashcards to review for these words(those that I have reviewed a couple of times but whose meaning I am not absolutely sure about or have forgotten completely) is still the right method?

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Interesting topic.

Please tell me/us... are you using some kind of spaced repetition software like Supermemo/Anki?

My Chinese level may well be far below yours, so am in no position to teach, but I find that constant "massaging" of my flashcards is helpful, i.e. once I know the translation then modify the card in some way, maybe switch direction, test for antonym, test for synonym.

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realmayo

I've run into the same problem. I'd have three 'and/or' suggestions:

1. Ignore the problem on the grounds that it's in context, rather than in isolation, that you need to be sure of the subtleties, and that will come naturally as you read more/get more exposure to the language;

2. Research thoroughly what the distinctions are, get several example sentences, put your research, conclusions, and example sentences on a sheet of A4 and read through that occasionally;

3. Create a handful of extra flashcards which specifically test your ability to choose the right word out of the three (ie a sentence with a blank and then multiple choice options).

I believe that the thinking behind flashcards is that they work best where there are clear, simple answers so if you want to use them to test yourself on the more subtle meanings, you've got to find a way of composing a flashcard so it drills down to that precise area.

From experience I'd also urge you to make sure that you're spending at least as much time each day on reading real texts as you are on using a flashcard programme. And also, I don't think it's a good idea to have any duplicates in a flashcard deck.

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core meaning in English is more or less the same and only the context they are used in is somewhat different.

If its the context that's the issue I'ld say it's the context you've to learn. So not only a translation, a trans with context. E.g. example sentences or a fill out question. Translation flashcards are usefull, but only to an extent.

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The answer is always more exposure - so the only way to assure you'll remember is by assuring you will be exposed to them again soon, and then soon after that. Either read a certain text repeatedly or certain sentences repeatedly. Sentence flashcards would be ideal.

I personally use Chinese-course.com, which includes sentence flashcards and texts. It also lets you add notes to the word flashcards so you could just add a bunch of sentences there.

Personally I don't find myself using sentence flashcards very much because I have such an abundance of word flashcards, and of course sentences take longer to browse through. I think it might be best to wait until one feels familiar enough with enough words so that they can replace most of their word flashcards with sentence flashcards.

One useful feature of that site is that you can either go through the flashcards the old-fashioned way or show about 100 flashcards at once. Doing this with sentence flashcards slows down my computer to a point that I can't do much else, but I suppose in the longrun it'll make for quicker progress.

Actually, I would say the most assured method would be to find things you like enough to expose yourself to repeatedly. For example, I watched the animated film Feng Yun Jue (English version titled Storm Riders: Clash of Evils) last month and really enjoyed it, and have had it playing in the background frequently since.

If there is material you are sure to revisit again soon, then you don't need the words from there taking up flashcard space.

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@Kongming21

This is a very interesting topic. You mention that you have studied Chinese for 3 years. Can you give us some more detail about your level and what kinds of books you are reading? I've mostly stayed away from flash cards and have been focused on reading and re-reading of multiple textbooks and other materials. I normally don't move on the the next level of textbook until the previous level seems very easy to read. Sometimes that means continuous reading at the same level of textbooks. My guess is that perhaps your use of flashcards might be more extensive and your vocabulary has gone past your reading exposure for those words.

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imron
Does the usability of flashcard for learning vocab reach an end at some point?

At some point the end-goal for any serious learner should be to be able to use Chinese without needing to constantly revise flashcards. So hopefully the answer to that question is yes.

however I seem to more and more frequently just add words which I have reviewed already but have forgotten again.

Sounds like either your flashcard program has a poor scheduling algorithm, or you aren't being completely honest when you didn't really know the card (because you sort-of knew it), and so cards are being scheduled beyond your forgetting index. You might want to see if you can adjust the way cards are scheduled, or become more pessimistic in how you decide whether or not you got a card correct.

I'm also a big fan of constantly deleting old decks and starting again, and then regularly reading native materials to get exposure to language (see here and here for explanations of why I think this is actually a more useful way to use flashcards).

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Scoobyqueen

I still use flashcards after five years. I have developed the flashcards to involve explanations about subtleties and I always include example sentences. I think flashcards are a good way of reminding one that one should continue to practice. I have often found that being astonished that I still dont know a particular words/phrase despite that many repeats actually helps me remember it.

It is like at work, do you learn more from people telling you how wonderful you are or from people telling you that and that wasnt so good? I personally learn a lot from mistakes and this is what flashcards can highlight.

Also actually entering a phrase and word into the system and doing appropriate background research is also part of the learning process. It helps you reinforce it and think about it. Dont consider it wasted effort. But you should be looking to do less flashcarding as you get better and focus more on using the Chinese you already know.

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imron

I agree with both your points, but you can still achieve the same effect with the method I outlined in those posts.

I myself find the same thing happens with some words that maybe I've looked up many times, the only difference is I'll come across it again through reading it in context rather than through a flashcard repetition, and I'll then think "ahh, I know this word, I've learnt it multiple times before, how come I still can't remember it!" and then I'll try to remember other places where I saw it and what was happening in the story/article at the time, and then if I still can't get it I'll add it back to a flashcard pile, and drill it again. Eventually it will stick, but I'm not overly worried if it doesn't. Often, the fact that I still couldn't remember it is enough of a trigger to help me remember it the next time I encounter it.

Anyway, I'm not advocating giving up flashcarding altogether. Just for using them in measured doses, and as a means rather than an end.

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First, how come Chinese people don't use flash cards? Is it because they live in China?

Second, even with Chinese people I know who have come to the USA after completing primary or middle school, they don't need to use flash cards and they are pretty fluent. Newspapers, books, conversation and writing are no problem for them.

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Is this a fact?

From personal observation. I'm talking about Chinese people learning Chinese past say the 4th grade. I don't think they use flash cards. Also, another interesting observation is that when the Chinese are taking their college entrance exams, they are not tested on Chinese vocab whereas in the USA, students are contantly reviewing flash cards for the SAT exam.

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WestTexas
Second, even with Chinese people I know who have come to the USA after completing primary or middle school, they don't need to use flash cards and they are pretty fluent. Newspapers, books, conversation and writing are no problem for them.

I find it difficult to believe that Chinese who come to the US after graduating primary school have 'no problem' writing, because I know many young Chinese people in China (22-30 years old) who do not even have good writing. Once they graduate from school they almost never write by hand, instead using a computer or cell phone, and so they quickly forget many less common characters. For example, my tutor did not remember how to write 嗜, as in 嗜酒如命 or 嗜好, which is not a super-common character but is not an extremely rare one either. Another one of my Chinese friends did not remember how to write 肇, as in 肇事. Both had to look them up on their cell phones.

It's perfectly possible to learn a language well without flash cards, but they are probably the most efficient way to gain a large vocabulary quickly and so are very popular.

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I find it difficult to believe that Chinese who come to the US after graduating primary school have 'no problem' writing

Sorry, I meant writing using a computer. That's only if they've kept in contact with others who read and write Chinese as well. Sure, anyone can benefit from flash cards but at some point you should be getting reinforcement from reading and composition. I also sure anyone can learn more English as well. Do you flip through English flash cards every other day?

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Scoobyqueen
I'm talking about Chinese people learning Chinese past say the 4th grade

I have personally never met anyone learning their native language using flashcards.

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creamyhorror

I learnt Chinese as a second language for some years in school, and if I had started computer-based SRS flashcarding then, I bet I'd know much more Chinese now. I didn't need it for English since that's my first language, admittedly.

Right now I'm putting my little brother through Anki for his Chinese textbook vocabulary and I think it's helped somewhat. At the least, he remembers the words and their readings when he sees them again (more often than before he used it). The knowledge of how to use words in their proper context is of course not developed by flashcards; that's for his teachers to give him.

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Do you flip through English flash cards every other day?

Flashcards are for learning, and only useful to learn new vocabulary. When your language skills have reached a certain level there's little use left for flashcards. Sure, as a native there is still a lot of vocabulary that you don't know, but as you still don't know it most likely vocabulary that is not too common in your situation. So what's the point of learning it? If despite this flashcards are used they very likely are not recognised as language learning. It is more likely that it's considered chemistry, car parts, medication, etc. but strictly taken, it often is vocabulary.

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jbradfor
I have personally never met anyone learning their native language using flashcards.

Studying for the SAT/GRE. Learning o-chem. Learning body parts for Medical school.

But I agree with you that I too have never seen native speakers using flashcards for their own language for "general" learning.

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Kongming21

@jkhsu I have been learning quite intensively for three years now, and dont really use textbooks anymore. I rather read literature/newspapers. However I have to admit that revising flashcards still is the foundation of my studies and its rather 70-80 % flashcard learning and only 20-30 %.

One of the problems I have is that when reading texts(for example newspaper texts) I normally get the meaning (if it is not a very specific topic/or in the case of literature very vernacular expressions that I havent come across yet) however there are obviously words that I dont know. Then it is really hard for me to not add them to Pleco immediately. However this kind of kills any enjoyment I have when reading and therefore I still dont read enough. On the other handside I wonder whether I would improve my Chinese much if I would just read without adding words I dont know to my flashcards.

Apart from that someone also raised the question of what kind of flashcard system I use. I already mentioned that I use Pleco, but as I normally have quite a high number of cards in my deck I use a manual scoring system, where I have to get a card right twice in a row before it is "put aside", that means given such a high score that it wont come up again. Then if I forget that card I normally just put the card's score to 100 again and revise it again. This was a system that worked quite fine for me until I gradually more and more often encountered the problem I mentioned above. I know that I could just use Pleco's spaced repitition system, however I find that it is not that feasible if you have many cards in your deck and until now my way of using flahscards is to revise a high number of words everyday and as for those 5-10 per cent of the flashcards I revise on a given day that I dont remember that well, I will just revise them again(if they have not become a "learned" card yet) or the next time I encounter it and find that I dont know its exact meaning anymore.

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