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To nuke or not to nuke?


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  • 3 weeks later...

While I’m still unpersuaded about deleting my entire Anki deck, I have over the last couple of months improved the quality of the deck, by regular deletions.


I know Anki has a leech setting but I prefer what I’ve been doing recently. I’ll take the 500 most-difficult words, which I find by sorting the most lapses and the most reviews. With a bit of Anki-kung fu I put those 500 words into a new deck and strip them of their review-count history.


Then I go through the words in this new deck,  one by one, keeping those which I remember fairly easily and ‘re-learning’ them. Once re-learned, those survivors get put back into the main deck. Words which seem unimportant and I don’t remember easily, I just delete them.


Words or characters that are difficult because I confuse them with another – now is the time to work out what I’m confusing them with, and resetting both of those words and adding a note on the card about this. For instance I just worked out  I kept confusing with . However where there’s no obviously solvable reason why I find a word difficult, I’ll just delete it, even if it’s a fairly common word.


Because I use Imron’s Chinese Text Analyser to check chapters or other texts for unknown words before reading, I’m not fussed about deleting an important or common word: I know that this programme will constantly remind me that I don’t know it and that eventually I’ll get around to learning it again, in context. So there’s no fear that it’ll fly under the radar for long.


The reason I prefer doing this to deleting an entire deck is partly because of all the freebies in my deck. By freebies I mean words which aren’t that common but for some reason I remember really easily. I’m still a slow reader of Chinese so I won’t see these words come up in real life very often, but seeing them very occasionally in the SRS deck is enough to keep them alive and for literally just a few seconds worth of effort.


I think the nature of written Chinese is a factor here as well: seeing a character used in one word, even a not very common word, adds to my understanding of the meanings that are associated with that character, and can help when I see that character in other words, including words I’ve never seen before.


I’m on the third batch of ‘worst-500’ now and once that’s sorted – it’ll take a week or two – I’ll be done with the process for a while. Definitely been useful though, and weird how attached one can get to certain words, thinking that ‘yes I always get it wrong and no it’s not an important word, but I’ve put so much effort into it over the last year or two I’m not gonna delete it now!’ But these are the words that are the most draining and cause me to dislike my almost-daily SRS. So yes, (tactical) nuking can be healthy.  :mrgreen:

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nuke it for sure.  I do it all the time now... I just add cards based on reading - when I come across a word I don't know I throw it in the deck.  Normally the first 5 words I don't know in a reading session I put in a deck (regardless if I think that word will be useful or not).  You'd be surprised how useful words that you originally thought would not be useful end up showing up in reading.  I also limit the 5 words per reading session because I find it doesn't end up slowing down my reading.  The other words I don't know I get the definition quickly and move on with reading.  When my deck gets too burdensome and takes up more than ~3-5 minutes a day I will nuke it and start over.

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My vote is "nuke" but I was fatally conflicted about it. I always wished for some criterion (such as "Interval > X") that would let me avoid deciding what to delete. Never could settle on one. Below are some random thoughts.


Looking back at what flashcarding did and didn't do for me, and imagining where I would be now if I had instead spent that time consuming audio and paragraphs/pages/books of graded reading, and considering the consensus that has (it seems to me) slowly formed here over some years and is represented by the good advice in this thread, I could reason my way to rejecting flashcarding completely, and I did that more than once. But I always figured that all of that machinery must be good for something. The idea I had, which still seems good to me, was to use the flashcard program as a review scheduler for much larger pieces. When I tried to do this I found that the pieces should be long enough that some context is established and some story (already familiar to me) develops. Then I can say "oh yes, I already know this" and can read it through relatively easily, while with single-sentence cards I'm always trying to get my bearings (this doesn't bother anyone else?). So, one would have a text and audio collection (can't remember what that's called - the repertoire of books, poems, etc. you've read and listened to), review-scheduled by the flashcard program.


Currently, I print out a word list in ascending interval order to guide my tutor (so most of our time is spent in conversation really using the words I supposedly know, instead of getting hung up and stopping to learn too many new words). I think this has worked well. But the list need not be longer than maybe 100 words. But how would the flashcard program know that those are my worst if I don't include, say, x*100 other words which are not my worst? And *that* would require maintaining a larger deck *just* so I can extract the list. But instead of a wordlist I could present some written material covering the topic of interest and we could try to stay within that: The presence of 我,人,etc. should not be an impediment to a native, while the remaining words of interest need not really be *ordered*, right? (And this ordering is highly unstable and arguable anyway.)


So, she would have my repertoire (whatever it's called), would thumb to a page and start talking, and I would (ideally) recognize the topic and begin talking back on that topic. And so necessarily - unless I've memorized the material verbatim - the conversation would be an original construction. We're doing this with wordlists now.


Ideally, maybe, this repertoire would be written by me (and corrected by her). So, I would agonize over reading and writing at home, and then with the tutor I would raise this already-known material up to the listening-speaking level. It would be like *writing* little graded readers. Here is some good news: the vocabulary and grammar would naturally be at my exact level, and I could choose the new words and the storyline. Yikes, that would be a lot of hard work! :-) 

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But how would the flashcard program know that those are my worst


The thing is, I'm starting to think that if the 'worst' really are quite bad, they shouldn't be in the deck at all, those are the ones that should be nuked (tactically!).


A gentler way to do this if you use Anki is once a week to get it to show you a list of all the words you got wrong in the past 7 days: you can list those words by those with the highest number of reviews at the top -- they'll tend to be the most problematic and there may well be 10 or 20 there to delete or at least extract from the deck and re-learn.


When my deck gets too burdensome and takes up more than ~3-5 minutes a day I will nuke



For me, I can spend 20 minutes a day on a deck and it doesn't feel burdensome, but I guess everyone has different tolerances for different types of study. Also I'm stuck in an office most of the day starting at a computer screen waiting for stuff to happen, which means I have plenty of time to spare for flashcards.

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  • 1 month later...

As a bit of an update, deleting all my was a great idea. I can see how that it had become a kind of procrastination tool for me because SRS'ing words is actually quite easy; it's low mental energy compared to listening to Chinese, speaking, reading even etc. I don't get tired of it and can do it for hours. And that's the problem. I was burning up so much time churning through large SRS queues that I wasn't doing anywhere near enough other Chinese. I think hardcore SRS only works with enough free time in a day so that you can do everything else. Unfortunately with work I just don't have that kind of time. I still add words into SRS and review them, but if feel the SRS is taking up too much of my time I delete and start again. I actually find the process of re-adding the word really helps me memorise it again too, rather than mechanically hitting "know" in the "SRS trance".

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  • 3 years later...

I admired this thread four years ago but wasn't able to changed my habits.

After a break from studying for two years or so I'm trying to start again, but this time concentrating on listening comprehension first.



Make sure you're doing plenty of reading (which acts as repetitions anyway) and you won't need to worry about deleted words you didn't know.  The useful ones will reappear soon enough and the useless ones you can just ignore.


I guess this works in listening mode too. Am I missing anything?



I was thinking about using (a sentence based listening comprehension program that is popular here) to "hold my hand" for a while, to help me get started again. And I was thinking that I would, later, take the materials I studied before and convert them into that form, and approximate that kind of system in Anki.  But if I take this thread seriously I would not study sentences but whole books (all of whose words I have already known in the past), or chapters, or at least the whole "dialogue" portion of podcasts, etc. Assuming I can handle that, that's what this thread implies, right? It would give me a reason to go ahead and restart using those books I already learned, instead of a new program's sentences.


Then (as my thoughts continued four years ago),  Anki could still be used as a review scheduler: the front could have a play button (and probably a title and duration), and the requirement is that I listen and understand every word (in some cases ignoring some low frequency words, as one other post here suggested), either peeking at the text if necessary or looking up, and then grading the card accordingly. Or, if the media itself will remain outside of Anki, the front of the card could just say "Listen/Read X movie, book", etc. So, Anki would just be a review scheduler for larger items, and this would implement the ideas in this thread (in listening mode). Could use it to schedule reading too of course.

Or, for consistency's sake, and so I can listen/read everything in a more full-featured player if needed, *every* card in Anki could be just the title of what to review, without bothering to add the media itself. Could avoid most of Anki's features that way, to avoid getting over-involved in it *this time*.


Any comments? 

I wrote of it before on the forum but never so close to that other idea, that larger pieces "...act as repetitions anyway...".

Hope the post makes sense.


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2 hours ago, querido said:

I guess this works in listening mode too. Am I missing anything?

I don't think you're missing anything.  The same principle should apply.


2 hours ago, querido said:

that's what this thread implies, right?

For me, the core idea behind this is to consume content you are interested in, and use that to guide your vocabulary learning.  Use Anki/SRS as a tool to help with that, but don't be controlled by it, or afraid to abandon 'learnt' words when revisions start to take more time than actual consumption of content.  If you are regularly consuming content and adding words you don't know, it's also ok to regularly clean out your decks.

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