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stapler

To nuke or not to nuke?

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stapler

My vocab SRS (using Skritter) has 6000 words using 3500 characters. I'm getting the feeling recently that I'm not actually learning Chinese as much as I'm learning how to guess nuanced dictionary definitions which become more detailed and elaborate to separate synonyms (though that has been very useful for helping me learn about verb-objects, stative verbs, and other grammatical stuff which has actually been tremendously useful). There's also a lot of weird stuff that I have added because I thought it was interesting at the time, but I'm increasingly feeling is quite useless. In particular I seem to have developed a real love for antiquarian words that just confuse a lot of speakers until I give them a modern synonym and they go "ohhh yeah, haha, no we don't use that unless we're over 80 years old"

 

My problem is that I love watching those "numbers". I love seeing my little graph grow up. I love being able to quantify my vocabulary etc. But this is turning into too much of a time-sink and few of these words are useful for me when my current level is too elementary to make use of them.

 

I think I've already made up my mind to just nuke my account and start fresh over again, adding words from scratch, and just re-adding words if I encounter them again and have forgotten their meaning/use. Please give me some validation that this is a good idea!

 

 

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stapler

Ahh thanks for those great posts imron. I definitely feel better about doing this now!

 

The idea of books as a metric is actually a good one. I have a heap I need to read and I definitely get a thrill of adding them to my "complete" pile. In fact I might make a "completed" shelf as a physical manifestation of my progress

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imron

That's what I did.  The other great thing about books is that in the 'publishing info' page they typically have a total character count for the book (or at least all books published in the mainland have this).  Which is another great number to look at when totalled up over a year, and in my opinion it feels far more impressive to have read 3 million characters than it does to have X,000 vocab items in an SRS program.

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renzhe

At 6,000 words and 3,500 characters you should definitely be able to start branching out in to native content.

In fact, I'd say that it's long overdue!

You should be reading serious literature by now. Get a good book known not to be too difficult and go for it!

Regular reading is the best form of SRS, especially for the very common vocabulary.

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JustinJJ

I also think I'll nuke my anki deck... and then completely abandon anki.

 

I'm finding that at the point where native materials become more accessible anki becomes a very inefficient study tool. Even though I haven't added cards for a couple of months, just doing the reviews per day (would have been 5-10mins if the review count didn't blow out) seems like torture. In the past whenever I've had a habit of adding X words per day, I would sometimes be adding words for the sake of it rather than learning them properly. The result is that easy words are reviewed infrequently (so don't even need to be in the deck) and infrequently used words (i.e. those that aren't popping up in books/newspapers/speech/TV) come up often in the reviews but not in real life, which makes anki reviews extremely boring/inefficient. I'm finding that by watching the news or movies I 'review' words much more efficiently.

 

I've found Imron's newspaper vocab technique infinitely better for learning and retaining vocab. I think the part about reading and re-reading, is important. After reading a passage until it feels natural, I'll usually read the passage out loud a couple of times as well and sometimes try to see how much of the passage I can write from memory. In my view just learning a few words properly rather than glossing over a bunch in anki is a far better use of time and then the words don't need to be put in anki anyway. An added bonus is that this technique makes your reading quicker. I'm probably going to delete my anki software. If you are still considering nuking, you might want to try Imron's technique and then I suspect you'll find it hard to start using anki again and won't want to spend more than 1% of your Chinese study time on flashcards. http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/22456-fluency-proficiency-etcsome-insight-please/?p=182682

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imron

Flashcards can be a useful tool, but it's important to remember they are just a tool, and not the end goal.

The problem is that flashcards make it easy to feel that progress is being made even though that might not be the case. Sure you're doing reviews and numbers are going up, but flashcard revision is far removed from actual language usage and the incentives are usually not aligned with the skills needed to use the language.

I'm a big fan of content driven learning and in training the skills you want to have by practising them. Flashcards can play a useful role in that, but like everything, you should regularly asses whether the things you are doing are helping you reach your main goal, and if not adjust or discard as necessary.

 

P.S. If you like my newspaper reading technique, you'll probably like Chinese Text Analyser - a program I developed to help with that.

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Silent

 

The result is that easy words are reviewed infrequently (so don't even need to be in the deck) and infrequently used words (i.e. those that aren't popping up in books/newspapers/speech/TV) come up often in the reviews but not in real life, which makes anki reviews extremely boring/inefficient

I think this is a bit of a misrepresentation. Sure, the easy words come up rarely as you already know them, but one time these words were unknow/hard too and came up more frequent. This is exactly the point of SRS systems, the better you know the word, the easier an item is, the less it will be reviewed so you can spend time learning things you don't know (very well). A huge improvement over the more classic way of reviewing a paper list of words where the easy and hard words show up together.

 

Infrequent words should not be in the deck, you should only add the more frequent words you don't know. If you just add everything you come across you will indeed get loaded with comparatively useless vocabulary. Off course it can be hard to judge which vocabulary is frequent/useful to learn and thus to add. Tricks might be to match the vocabulary with a frequency list of some sort (e.g. a large corpus frequency list or a frequency list created from intended reading material).

 

I can see some merit in ditching your deck and starting over, but I do see disadvantages too. Basicly you learn items half and then ditch them to forget them. Sure, they may end up back in the deck, but that may be after you forgot most of it. Personally I would prefer to only throw out those items that are 'really hard', that is the leeches. Even if items are comparatively rare, if they're ' easy' to learn why stop after learning them only half?

 

Words that don't go down, the leeches, eat up time and energy without result. Ditching those and re-adding them when needed makes more sense. By the time they are added anew you may have lost incorrect and confusing associations and new associations may have been created. Chances are it will be easier to learn the item the second time you add it.

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realmayo

JustinJJ, I don't see why it has to be an either/or for reading & SRS (and appreciate you're probably not saying it has to be).

 

They're different things and I disagree when people say that reading is SRS because it's not, it's reading. With SRS you rarely see the commonest easiest words. With reading, you see them most frequently of all. You won't learn to read by doing SRS and never reading, so if it comes down to choosing between the two, obviously you'd choose reading. And lots of people would choose not to do SRS because it doesn't suit them or their circumstances at the time.

 

And, there are different ways to use SRS, some people put in almost every new word they come across, some people spend time 'learning' everything before it goes in to the deck, some people just put a smaller portion of newly encountered or newly learned words in there. If people are saying 'omg you must use SRS it's a killer app blah blah' then sure, push back against that because as imron says it's just a tool and it's more or less useful to different people at different stages. For me, if I know I'll only have 15 mins a day to spend on Chinese for a couple of weeks , I'll choose SRS over reading every time, but that's because I know myself, I know how I learn, I know I'd rather splurge several hours 'catching up' on reading after those two weeks than spend it catching up missed SRS reviews, but again, different strokes for different folks.

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imron
Sure, they may end up back in the deck, but that may be after you forgot most of it.

Why does that matter?  Regularly deleting the deck is about taking a mindset that there's no need to remember every single word you've ever put in a deck always and forever.  It's about focusing on words you didn't know or were unsure of that you encountered recently.

 

Personally I've found the churn of unknown words that get added and re-added to be very low.

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Silent

I think it matters because learning it half, forgetting about it and learning (half) again is inefficient.

 

 

Personally I've found the churn of unknown words that get added and re-added to be very low.

If that's the case fine, the price of ditching the deck is low. My experience is that almost all of what I add is relevant, if I ditched the deck a fair number of words would get back into it in no time. There are a lot of words I only know half, depending on the context I may or may not recognize it. The number of items in my deck that are 'useless' is fairly limited. The really easy ones have no use of being in the deck (any more), but they don't really hurt as in only a few easy markings their spacing get's up to years.

 

That said, there was one moment I should have ditched the deck, that was after I developed a huge backlog. My attempts to get back on track made that I spend too much time on Anki and study became inefficient. Some of the bad habits I developed in my attempts to catch up fast still affect me now. 

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imron
The number of items in my deck that are 'useless' is fairly limited

To me, useless words are ones that I'm unlikely to come across in context over the course of maybe 6 months to a year.

 

 

There are a lot of words I only know half, depending on the context I may or may not recognize it.

 

In this case either you are not doing enough reading, or your deck has more useless words than you realise - although perhaps 'useless' is too strong and 'words that don't need to be in there at this point in time', or 'words that I'm not going to use in 6 months' is more accurate.

 

I also want to reiterate what I mentioned above:

 

you should regularly asses whether the things you are doing are helping you reach your main goal, and if not adjust or discard as necessary.

 

From your above post it appears that your deck has a large amount of partially known words that you may or may not recognise in context.  If the end goal is to be able to recognise things in context then to me this is an indication that something needs to be adjusted.  I'm not talking about deleting decks here, just saying that it might be worth assessing your study habits to find out whether they are helping you achieve your goal or whether you are just spinning wheels rather than moving forward.

 

In particular I would look at the source for new words (random lists produced by others = bad, from context = good), quantity of new words (aim for quality rather than quantity) and how much effort you are putting in to learning those words when you first come across them to make sure they have a solid grounding in your mind before adding them to your SRS queue (see above link provided by JustinJJ about reading and re-reading).

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Silent

 

In this case either you are not doing enough reading, or your deck has more useless words than you realise - although perhaps 'useless' is too strong and 'words that don't need to be in there at this point in time', or 'words that I'm not going to use in 6 months' is more accurate.

I absolutely agree I should read more and actually should be more serious about my studies and that some study habits should be changed. But then it's a hobby with limited immediate use so chinese does not really have the highest priority. Combined with the recent feeling I should get out of my head and give more priority to physical activities instead of intellectual activities.

 

That said, I feel the conclusion that there are many useless words in my deck blunt. After adding vocabulary it just takes time to really learn it. At least, I don't learn vocabulary in full before adding it to the deck. And context is important, reading is just plain easier then listening as a character gives more info then just the sound. A character may have several meanings where I may only have learned/know 1 or 2 etc. The only way I'm willing to accept your conclusion is when I interpret it as I've added to much vocabulary in too short a time.

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realmayo
'words that I'm not going to use in 6 months'

 

These are the best words for an SRS deck! (...assuming you use SRS to stop you forgetting vocab)

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JustinJJ
These are the best words for an SRS deck! (...assuming you use SRS to stop you forgetting vocab)

 

 

I think that the best was to stop forgetting vocab is just to see the words in many different contexts in real life. I find that just seeing the word in the same SRS context multiple times doesn't help with instant recognition and usage of the word too well (but maybe that's just the way I learn).

 

At the lower levels I think SRS is useful for gaining a solid base of the first say 5000 words, which will be re-enforced from books, tv, speech etc, but perhaps SRS should be weaned out over time as your level improves. After that I think that using native material covering topics of interest is a better way to acquire lower frequency words - it's a more engaging process. 

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imron
feel the conclusion that there are many useless words in my deck blunt

Perhaps, but you were the one who said your deck contained many words that you were unable to recognise in context, so to me that indicates something is wrong somewhere.  Everyone has different needs and goals, but even as a hobby presumably your goal is not to accumulate a list of half-learnt words that you often can't recognise in context.  That is why I suggested assessing whether your study habits are helping you meet your goals.

 

These are the best words for an SRS deck! (...assuming you use SRS to stop you forgetting vocab)

And the worst words for an SRS deck if you want to actually be able to use/recognise that word in real life. 

 

Firstly because it's a word you're probably only going to half learn and then forget about again, secondly because it's taking time away from other more relevant vocabulary.

 

As JustinJJ mentioned above, these are words that are coming up in reviews but not real life.  This not only makes reviews less interesting, it also takes time away from reviewing things more relevant to you at a given point in time.

 

A person has a limited amount of time to study per day (maybe it's 1 hour, maybe it's 8 hours) and it's a zero-sum game in that time spent doing one thing takes away time from doing something else.  Personally I would rather spend a bit more time drilling recently encountered vocabulary to help cement it in my mind than spend time learning words I'm not going to see for another 6 months.  For those words I can happily wait the 6 (or more) months and spend more time on them when I actually encounter them.

 

I also think it's important for learners to realise it's ok to forget a small amount of vocabulary - especially vocabulary that isn't being used and that you're unlikely to encounter based on your usage patterns.  The allure of 'never forgetting anything you've learnt' is powerful, but ultimately detracts from the learning experience when time spend on 'never forgetting' starts to consume time that would be better spent on improving other skills.

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Silent

 

Perhaps, but you were the one who said your deck contained many words that you were unable to recognise in context, so to me that indicates something is wrong somewhere.

I don't see an indication that things are wrong in the statement. It just means that I'm still in the process of learning these words.

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realmayo
it's a word you're probably only going to half learn and then forget about again

 

Speak for yourself!  :D  Sure, it's a common mistake to dump rare words you don't learn properly into SRS, but once you've stopped making that mistake, you should be putting in words you have learned and don't want to forget.

 

If you're reading a bit every day, then you don't need your SRS software for the common words -- you're seeing them a couple of times every week. But you do need a little reminder via SRS on the less common stuff. That means that, six months later, when you see the word in a book, you remember it and that process of remembering helps cement the word into your vocabulary a bit more. Of course, once your ramp up your reading or exposure to Chinese, you'll probably end up seeing this word more often than six months.

 

because it's taking time away from other more relevant vocabulary.

 

This makes sense if you're on graded readers, but then if you're on graded readers then you're not encountering rare words, and if you're not encountering them anywhere then you won't be putting them into your SRS because they remain -- so far -- unencountered. 

 

Plus: most words are two characters and even a fairly rare word can reinforce the associated meanings of one of its characters, which then helps with remembering other words that share that character.

 

As JustinJJ mentioned above, these are words that are coming up in reviews but not real life. 

 

Okay, it's daft to put in words you're never going to see in real life. I get that. But there's a difference between a word you'll only see every six months and a word you'll never ever see. For the former, SRS makes sense for some people. The latter, obviously no point learning it.

 

it's a zero-sum game in that time spent doing one thing takes away time from doing something else.

 

I don't believe this is true. I can sit down and spend 5 mins concentating on SRS. And do that two or three more times throughout the day. And I'm done with SRS. But 5 mins dotted around the day spent on reading a tough novel, or 5 mins dotted around the day learning new vocabularly or characters -- no, for me that wouldn't work, it's too disjointed, I'd want 20 mins minumum at one stretch.

 

I think that the best was to stop forgetting vocab is just to see the words in many different contexts in real life. 

 

Definitely true, and if I lived in China or had lots of time to study then I probably wouldn't need the safety net of a long-term SRS deck. But currently, I find a deck of 10,000+ words takes only a trivial amount of time to run through each day, unless I'm adding a reasonable amount of new words, and if I'm taking time learning new words, well that's a bit different to managing long-term-learned ones.

 

These are the best words for an SRS deck! (...assuming you use SRS to stop you forgetting vocab)

 

And the worst words for an SRS deck if you want to actually be able to use/recognise that word in real life. 

 

Well we should probably agree to disagree. Imron, you don't see much use for SRS except as a short-term memorisation tool, and that's fine, but it doesn't mean that using SRS longer-term is wrong for everyone. Someone yanking out big nails from a wall might say he doesn't need the head of his hammer, he only needs its claw, and he'd be right. But he'd be wrong to say: never use the head of a hammer. 

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JustinJJ
 I can sit down and spend 5 mins concentating on SRS. And do that two or three more times throughout the day. And I'm done with SRS. But 5 mins dotted around the day spent on reading a tough novel, or 5 mins dotted around the day learning new vocabularly or characters -- no, for me that wouldn't work, it's too disjointed, I'd want 20 mins minumum at one stretch.

 

 

I just think non-SRS methods are faster. e.g. if you listened to the news (or anything of interest at your level) for 5 minutes, assuming the dialogue is spoken at 150 words per minute, you're going to be exposed to 750 words -  including words you know really well, words you have an understanding of which become more ingrained each time you hear them, some unknown words (hopefully not many if the audio is at an appropriate level) some words you just learn by listening to them in the context of the story without physically trying to learn them (but not all). I think this level of exposure is an efficient use of 5 minutes - for just 5 minutes of time you might gain exposure to 750 words which is probably a reasonable % of a deck size. 

 

Okay, it's daft to put in words you're never going to see in real life. I get that. But there's a difference between a word you'll only see every six months and a word you'll never ever see. For the former, SRS makes sense for some people. The latter, obviously no point learning it.

 

The tricky thing is knowing what words you will never see and which you might see, so I find decks naturally tend to get bogged down with the infrequent words and therefore become less useful as they grow (because those words are the ones which get failed). I think that for the 'once in six months' words, if you try the method described in this link (http://www.chinese-f...lease/?p=182682) you won't need to SRS the words because six months later there's a good chance you will still know the word, even if it's just in your passive memory and not active.

 

When it comes to forgetting words, I think it's useful to remember that when we use our native language we don't use too many 'hard' words and we do forget words, however we have all mastered the basics of our native language - i.e. can use the common words/patterns at a rapid pace without grammar mistakes etc. SRS doesn't allow us to really hammer home the basic words, but bogs us down with the less useful words which we would pick up eventually from extensive input.

 

My experience is that SRS is helpful for learning/reviewing the base words, but after that it becomes habitual (i.e. a drag on study time) -  because it worked well at the beginning the fear is that all those words you picked up will be lost if you don't maintain the SRS forever... best way to combat this is to go cold turkey with a deck delete lol.

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realmayo
for just 5 minutes of time you might gain exposure to 750 words which is probably a reasonable % of a deck size. 

 

But this misunderstands how SRS decks work: if I get 120 SRS review on a given day, only a teeeeeny number of those will be very common words. However, for real life input, most will be common. So, if you still find it useful to get exposed to words like , and so on, then that vocab-specific exposure is useful to you. But if you know those words very well, as of course you do, then there's no need -- from a learning vocab point of view -- to hear or read them 20 times in 5 minutes.

 

SRS strips those out, which makes it an efficient vocab-remembering tool.

 

SRS doesn't allow us to really hammer home the basic words, but bogs us down with the less useful words which we would pick up eventually from extensive input.

 

 

The basic words should be hammered home lots of times whenever you get exposure to the real language. The less common words are the ones you need more help with,

 

 

Again, I completely agree that reading is more important than SRS and if it's a choice between one or the other, forever, then of course I'd go with reading, would be absurd not to.

 

Also if your experience is that SRS is no longer helpful to you, then again, it would be daft to keep using it if you have better alternatives. I've certainly deleted words that I put in ages ago and no longer think are worth bothering with.

 

 

However for some people -- including me -- it's become less important what words you delete from your deck, and more important what words you put in. So it's not worth putting in less common words before putting in more common words, but, that's common sense really. In the past, if in doubt I'd only put in a new word if it was in the HSK lists. Now I've outgrown the HSK lists, I'm in a better position to judge if it's worth adding a word or not.

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