anki cards – reading and writing

You know what I’ve heard an awful lot of with regards to spaced repetition software?  That using one for language study is time consuming and boring.  To the former: yes, of course it’s takes time – that’s the price you have to pay not to forget stuff.  The beauty of SRSs though is that they provide the most efficient way of remembering material.  If you want to remember anything for long periods of time, you can’t do better than an SRS.

As for finding it boring, I think are a few things you can do to make it more interesting.  As has been oft-quoted, it’s best to only use material that you find fun.  Sound advice.  But what else?  I’ve been experimenting with a number of different card-types, and it’s been more entertaining as a result – it turns SRSing into more of a game (kinda like WarioWare, if you’ve ever played that).

The sentence method has been discussed ad nauseum – so here it is in brief.  Basically, you gradually build up an SRS deck of target language sentences over the course of acquiring the language.  When reviewing, you just to read out the sentences; if you can both read and understand it, you win.  If not, you fail the card and do over.

An entire deck of this kind of card is bound to be just a little boring every now and then though, even with the greatest, most interesting sentences in the world.  Helpfully, Anki actually stores information as “facts”, rather than straight “flashcards” – with just one fact, you can make as many different types of flashcard as you want using templates (see screencast on right; click to enlarge).

Making use of this, I created a new type of flashcard to train writing, based on the pre-existing reading cards.  The Jyutping forms the question; the task is to write out the corresponding characters.  This requires very little effort to set up – you can just reuse the sentences used for reading by using Anki’s “generate card” function.  Recycling sentences also makes the task easier – there’s no ambiguity in what the sentence actually means.

Couple of notes on this – I don’t always write out every character; I’m already a master of  我, 你 and 佢, so there’s no point wasting time writing them out each time.  Also, there are (purposefully) far fewer writing cards in my deck than reading cards – simply because they take longer to do.  (As I side note, I don’t usually use spoken Cantonese cards; the one above was just the first I happened to come across in my reviews today ;))

What exactly is this type of flashcard useful for?  There’s the whole passive/active knowledge thing; obviously it improves writing, but it also benefits reading a lot to be writing the characters out from memory (does for me, anyway).  If you’ve finished Heisig, you’ll also have plenty of cards just for writing out individual characters based on the English keyword – writing out entire sentences is a good way to learn the characters in context.  It also provides an opportunity to slim a Heisig deck down (if you have a card where you need to write out 月, for example, there’s little point keeping the Heisig card for “month”).

You may have noticed that all the cards so far have different colour text – this is so I know what I’m meant to be doing with each card!  All the cards are lumped together into a single deck, so distinguishing between them is essential.  Also, it makes the whole thing look prettier.  Anyway, you can choose the colours of specific models using the “fonts and colours” feature of Anki – it’s pretty straightforward.

P.S. Not quite sure how useful this card type would be for other languages, especially when they’re phonetic; I guess you could always try transcribing a sound-bite and making sure it’s spelt properly?

P.P.S. Eric over at the awesomely-named When English Attacks has written a really nice guide on the basics of using Anki – not to mention the basics of reading-type cards which I couldn’t be bothered  to didn’t cover.  Enjoy 🙂

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3 thoughts on “anki cards – reading and writing

  1. Nice ideas! You’re also making me want to study some Cantonese (something which I had wanted to do down the road anyway).

    I’ve been doing something related in my AJATT-style sentence deck recently. 95% of my cards are just the “read this; do you understand it?” flavour, but in an effort to boost my kanji-reading skills and keep my writing sharp, I’ve been doing more proper names (places, famous people, friends’ names, etc).

    The card works like this:

    -Hiragana on the front, along with a portrait (if it’s a person) or a map or skyline shot (if it’s a place)

    -My task is to write the kanji of the place or person’s name

    -I score myself based on whether or not I wrote correct kanji (and hopefully wrote the correct kanji correctly, if that makes any sense 😉 ).

    I score myself pretty gently on these, especially with people’s names, since there are a slew of different ways that you can write ゆうき, for example. Place names I try to get 100%… I should be able to accurately write all the prefecture names, since I live here and all.

    The picture on the card is only meant to (maybe) stimulate other parts of my memory, in ways that plain old hiragana wouldn’t. Maybe the shape of a prefecture, or it’s location, helps me to remember how to write it, for example.

    Out of curiosity, how much do you end up practicing your writing everyday? Say, if you were to measure in terms of “sheets of looseleaf paper” or something ;).

    Also, thanks for the shout-out!

    • Cheers! And go for the Cantonese – it’s not nearly as hard as everyone else makes out (even easier since you’re coming from Japanese, all the borrowed kanji pronunciations and such).

      Picture cards make perfect sense – I really like the idea of writing out a place-name or name-name when it has an accompanying picture. I think linking language to the real world in whatever way possible is a great way of strengthening memories – after all, children only ever learn language when it’s related to things they can see and touch. Reckon I’ll give it a go 🙂

      As for sheets per day… it varies. I have an A5 notepad for scribbling in that’s always on my desk – usually between a third and a whole SOLLPPD I think. As well as complete sentences though, I also merged my Heisig deck into the main Cantonese one, so some of those are individual characters. (Actually, part of the reason for writing out sentences was to be able to start deleting the English-ridden Heisig cards ;))

  2. Pingback: Notes on “How To Learn Cantonese” #2 « thousand mile journey

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