anki cards – speaking

To round off the posts on SRSing, there’s one last type of card I use in my deck.  In addition to reading and writing sentences, listening to speech and singing along to songs, I have some cards to train… speaking.

I think speaking is an essential part of learning a language, and I’d been puzzling for a while over whether or not it was possible to utilise an SRS to practice speaking in a productive way.  Not everyone has access to native speakers of their target language the whole time, right?

Anyway, here’s the idea – the question side of the flashcard is a situation; the answer is whatever is appropriate.  The situation can either be presented in the target language or as a picture.  The former is preferable, since it trains both receiving information and giving a response in the target language.  The latter works just fine too, but is less specific and is liable to lead to giving incorrect answers (although saves having to dream up situations in the target language).

As an example, the question could be “you’re thirsty” – the answer is then “I’d like a drink”, or similar.  You put a couple of acceptable responses in the answer (these can be reused from other cards, by the way).  You’d mark it correct if you knew you said something that got the point across properly, regardless of whether you said exactly what was in the answer or not.

Another possibility – the question side is a line of dialogue, to which a fairly narrow response could be expected.  Q: “Hey, you’re looking good today!” A: “Thanks! You too!”.  Q: “What do you think of Faye Wong?” A: “I think she rocks/sucks/smells like roses”.  (Incidentally, this is only going to be useful after a high level of input, so that you have a good idea of what is and isn’t okay.)

Note that there is no English anywhere to be seen – this is quite different from exercises in learners’ textbooks or classes which require you to translate into the language; since you’re only outputting after a lot of input, it’s also a lot less prone to error (and hence fossilization).  Note also that it doesn’t just have to be text based; just using audio would be another viable alternative.

There’s a slight problem with getting material for this kind of card.  One thing you could do is record your own conversations with natives speakers, and use that as a basis for cards.  Alternatively, creative splicing of TVB drama dialogue (say) would be a good way to get material for conversation simulation.  Finally, you could just ask a native speaker to come up with appropriate situation-answer pairs (forums are always a good place to ask if native speakers aren’t available).

I tried this type of flashcard as it was frustrating not being able to actively recall words and sentences (even with massive, continuous, prolonged input); having used it for the last couple of weeks (in conjunction with making an effort to hold more conversations in Cantonese), I think my active vocabulary has improved, as has my speaking in general.  SRSing in this way gives you a chance to practice production in a controlled way, since you can always check your answer against a model answer if you’re not entirely sure.  Also, as every serious user of an SRS will tell you, the SRS is not there to replace other studying – it is there to supplement it.  It’s close to worthless to practice speaking in this way without talking to as many other native speakers as possible and getting them to correct you when you make mistakes.

Anyway, that’s more than enough on SRSing for now – I’m really interested to hear though what other SRS users think of this: do you think it’s a good idea, or (as I suspect) completely disastrous and/or pointless?  Also, has anyone else tried SRSing things other than reading and writing (for languages) – if so, what, and how?

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6 thoughts on “anki cards – speaking

  1. Wow, you’re studying Cantonese? As a Cantonese speaker I find it always amazing when (sorry for the term) ‘white’ people try to learn it. It’s imo harder than Mandarin just for the tones already and the countless ending particles. So hats off!!! Good luck!
    Oh and Im studying Japanese (and blog about it) 🙂
    加油啊!

  2. 日本語かい。すげーぞ!私は日本語大好き、でも、少し難しい。。。

    I know lots of people find it strange when 鬼佬 study Mandarin and Cantonese, but I don’t think it’s fundamentally any stranger than Chinese learning English – just less common 😛

    Actually, I haven’t found the tones or particles particularly difficult; what’s been hardest is the difference between written and spoken Cantonese (especially when watching shows – the subs never match up with what’s being said)!

    I like your blog too – it’s always useful to have book recommendations and other tips! I’ll probably take up some of them when I eventually go back to Japanese… 加油啊 and がんばってよ to you too, especially with the Japanese 🙂

  3. 驚いてしまった〜!広東語以外日本語もぺらぺらなんて!ヤバイ!どれぐらい勉強してたの?やっぱりyellow-feverの鬼佬 (笑)。

    But you’re right, it is difficult to grasp for Chinese ppl to think 鬼佬 can ever learn such a ‘difficult’ language 🙂

    Yea, spoken Cantonese and written is very different making it more challenging than ‘just’ Mandarin 😉 Well you’re doing a great job I can tell!

    • Couple of years for Japanese, I think; six months for Cantonese? Haven’t heard yellow fever gwai lou before – like it 🙂 How long have you been going at the Japanese for? (你的日文又英文 很好! 是香港人嗎?)

  4. So you were pretty serious with it then! I’ve been on it for about 2.5 years and gonna take the JLPT end of this year (really shouldve done that last year though). 不是香港人,是荷兰人(华侨)。你也很厉害啊,作为鬼佬会这么多亚洲语言。

    • WAH, so you must be quadrilingual? That’s… incredible! And yeah, it does take a lot of effort (as you must surely know!) – but worth it, no? So much more good film and music that can be enjoyed knowing more languages 🙂

      EDIT: I see you’re also learning Korean. Words fail me 😛

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