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Effective ways to learn vast vocabulary and retain it in Longterm Memory


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Apollys

SRS + Dedication.  Every day.

 

Bonuses:

 - Make sure each word is initially contextualized in some way in your mind (i.e. you saw it in a sentence on a tv show, or you found an example sentence online or from a dictionary)

 - Recognize you're learning a web of information not a list of information.  If there are 5 things in your web connected to one word that can remind you of its meaning/pronunciation, you only have to have a 50% recall rate of each connection to surpass a 95% recall rate of a single memorized fact.  (Practically this means understand radicals, components, individual characters not just words, and look for connections to what you know everytime you encounter something new.)

 - Make sure your mind is focused and present, not wandering while you go through the motions of studying.  Mix up your study routine if it helps. (Maybe some days you write the words on paper. Maybe sometimes you try to invent a sentence and say it aloud for each word. And so on.)

 - Remember SRS is wayyy more effective if you do 30 minutes every day than 2 hours every 4 days.  So don't burn yourself out studying two hours a day for a month then take the next month off completely, because you would have been better off just doing 30 minutes a day the whole time.

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Sreeni
On 3/23/2021 at 2:02 PM, Apollys said:

 - Recognize you're learning a web of information not a list of information.  If there are 5 things in your web connected to one word that can remind you of its meaning/pronunciation, you only have to have a 50% recall rate of each connection to surpass a 95% recall rate of a single memorized fact.  (Practically this means understand radicals, components, individual characters not just words, and look for connections to what you know everytime you encounter something new.)


the concept of web and list of information is quite useful. Could you please pls elaborate/help how to benefit from web type of information. 

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Sure, let me give a very simple example off the top of my head.

 

Suppose you are trying to recall how to write the character pronounced "chéng" that means honest.  You try to recall it directly but just thinking of the definition and sound is ringing no bells in your mind.

 

But, since you learn Chinese as a web of knowledge, not a list of individual data points, you remember that this character shares a component with the very common character of the same pronunciation, chéng, such as in the word "chéngwéi".  When you hear "chéngwéi" in your head, it triggers the character 成 to appear in your mind.

 

Next you know you need to add a radical to this character, and since honesty has to do with talking, you half-deduce and half-recall (final paragraph elaborates on this idea) that the radical should be the one about talking.  But you don't recall how to write that radical immediately, so you think of some very simple words that might use it.  How about "shuōhuà," the word that just means to talk?  Perhaps even in this moment, you forget how to write one of those characters, but you do remember that shuō is written as 说.  This gives you the radical that you're looking for.

 

Finally, you utilize one last important concept to verify your conclusion: production is always harder than recognition.  So you have used your web of knowledge and some logical deduction to arrive at a candidate answer: 诚.  When you see this character, your mind should now emit a little spark of recognition.  If it's incorrect, you will feel some discomfort or confusion upon looking at the character instead, and this suggests maybe you have an incorrect component or need to rearrange some of the parts.

 

The idea here is that you can forget all sorts of individual pieces of information and still recall the information you need by utilizing the web of knowledge and the meaningful relationships between different pieces of information.  The classic example I like to use for this, which has nothing to do with Chinese, will be included in a spoiler below.

 

 

My personal example, which arose from some reflection on my high school math:

 

Spoiler

Q: What is the derivative of sin(x)?

 

I never memorize this directly.  But I also am 100% sure I could always give you the answer immediately even if you deleted almost whatever information you wanted from my mind.

 

So I start with the idea that since a derivative is the slope of a function, the derivative of sine will have to be another periodic function with very similar properties, and this basically reduces it to cosine or negative cosine (if these don't work out, I can try others after).  So I remember the sine function starts at zero and goes up, so its derivative must be positive.  Cosine starts at 1, so the answer should be cos(x).  I can check that this answer also makes sense at pi/2 (90 degrees) where sine flattens to turn downward and cosine hits zero.

 

But suppose someone deleted the pictures of the sine and cosine graphs from my head.  Well, even without the pictures I would be able to recall some very rudimentary facts like sin(0) = 0 and cos(0) = 1.

 

But furthermore, suppose someone deleted all the numerical information that sin(0) = 0, cos(0)= 1, and so forth, from my brain.  Well I just go back to the unit circle, remembering that sine corresponds to y and cosine corresponds to x, and I can see that sine therefore starts and zero and increases to 1 at 90 degrees, while cosine starts at 1 and decreases to 0 at 90 degrees.

 

But suppose I forgot about how the unit circle works.  Then I would go to my physics knowledge, where we do a lot of computations by breaking forces and velocities into x and y components.  The experience with all these equations and calculations would remind me that x corresponds to cosine and y corresponds to sine (when the angle is measured in the "standard" way).

 

But suppose someone deleted all the physics knowledge from my brain!  Well, I'd still be okay, because I can think back to trigonometry basics in which I learned that given a right triangle, the cosine function is related to the adjacent side, and the sine is related to the opposite side.

 

Okay, let's suppose they deleted that information from my brain.  Suppose even the sheer definitions of what sine and cosine are have vanished.  Surely I must be in trouble now.  Nope!  I remember the law of cosines, which is easy to remember because it's just an extension of the Pythagorean Theorem: c2 = a2 + b2 - 2ab cos(C). For a right triangle, this must reduce to the Pythagorean theorem, therefore cos(90 degrees) = 0, so cosine corresponds to x in the unit circle.  Or, if my unit circle knowledge is gone, that means cosine corresponds to the adjacent side in a right triangle, because one can imagine a right triangle with the angle in question almost 90 degrees, which makes the opposite and hypotenuse side very long, and the adjacent side almost zero.

 

And I could keep going on and on.  Suppose you deleted the Pythagorean theorem and the law of cosines.  Maybe the law of sines too just to be safe.  I'd go to basic trigonometric identities like double angle formulas and sum identities.  Suppose you deleted those, I'd use the fact that tangent equals sine over cosine, but tangent is just slope which is rise over run, or y/x.  And on I go...

 

You'd pretty much have to delete every single piece of information related to trigonometry plus a solid chunk of my physics knowledge, so that I no longer have any clue what a sine even is anymore.  Only when I no longer have even a single hint of what a sine and cosine is left in my knowledge web, will I finally be unable to answer the question.

 

This is an extreme example because math is the paradigm of a knowledge web.  The only "information" that actually exists in mathematics are a few basic axioms and then the definitions for whatever terminology we create.  Everything else is just the web of logical deductions that follow from those axioms.  However extreme this example may be, the concept can be applied whenever learning almost anything in life, and Chinese is fantastically well-suited to this knowledge-web approach.

 

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somethingfunny

Or in other words, all supposedly “higher-level” thinking such as “problem-solving skills” or “critical thinking”, are ultimately based in knowledge and knowledge recall.  This is why it is wrong to deny school aged children access to knowledge-rich curriculums and fob them off with alternatives like “project-based” or “discovery-based” learning.

 

For more information on this web-of-knowledge idea you can read about schema.  Your mind works by creating links between pieces of information. That’s why people who know more stuff are more creative - they are able to make new and exciting links between the things they know. 

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See also the graphs made by @hskalan Alan Davies at https://hskhsk.com/graphs which show the connections between words that use the same character or component.

 

1901227360_Screenshot2021-04-06at13_35_46.thumb.png.3e46e35861f449d11c6b42a9abd6d7e2.png
 

This is based on HSK levels, and once you get to 4 or above the graphs become harder to read, but I think the lower levels are useful and interesting anyway.

 

Also I noticed in another thread recently that @imron mentioned a preference for learning 2-character words rather than single-character words using flashcards. Again, using the power of associative memory. 

 

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@ApollysThanks for the detailed explanation of web learning. 

 

23 hours ago, Apollys said:

When you hear "chéngwéi" in your head, it triggers the character 成 to appear in your mind.

 

成 is completed. Which variant of chéng is honest?

 

from my Anki

成 chéng completed, finished, fixed, OK

诚 chéng sincere, authentic, really, truly

 

i encountered chéng multiple times, while reading and remember it as “completed”. 诚 = sincere I made connection earlier, but lost..

 

 

21 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

For more information on this web-of-knowledge idea you can read about schema.  Your mind works by creating links between pieces of information. That’s why people who know more stuff are more creative - they are able to make new and exciting links between the things they know. 

 

great incite. Thanks for the link and sharing

 

@mungouk thanks again for sharing the sample network image for web thinking

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