Chinese Microreps

Edit: this was originally meant to be two posts, but I figure it’s clearer as just one.  The part about what to do after familiarising oneself with new vocab items was added on 16/12/2012.  Enjoy!

Following on from last week’s post on musical microreps – wherein we practice only the hardest parts of a musical passage, out of context, repeatedly, for minutes at a time – this post is going to be about Chinese [or language] microreps – in which we learn to read passages one tiny segment at a time.

Suppose we’re reading through a passage on California, in Chinese:

加利福尼亞州(英語:State of California,簡稱加州)是美國西部太平洋沿岸的一個州。面積位列美國第三;人口位列第一。在地理、地貌、物產、人口構成方面都具有多樣化的特點。加州有一別名叫做「金州」(The Golden State),郵政縮寫是CA,此外尚有英文暱稱為Cali

For me, at least, there are a few compounds (no new characters) that I haven’t paid attention to before:

  • 加利福尼亞州 (State of California)
  • 沿岸 (coast)
  • 位列 (positioned in a list)
  • 地貌 (terrain)
  • 樣化 (diversified)
  • 郵政縮 (postal service)

The latter five are potentially useful to know (I already know the short form of California, 加州, so I’m not going to deliberately spend more time on the long form), so I write them all out several times – until I can do so comfortably, from memory, without looking back at the original characters.

While I’m writing them out, I say each word out repeatedly, being very careful with the pronunciation.  Slow and fast are both good.

The goal here is to over-learn these words – even when it gets easy, keep going a few more times.

Isn’t over-learning a waste of time?

No.  The more time we spend on learning any given piece of information, the less likely it is that interference will occur.  It also takes longer for the memory of that item to fade, and, best of all, words are more likely to enter our active memory, ready for use in conversation.  Why repeatedly invest time re-learning old material when we could just as easily do most of the job in one go at the start?

The Role of the SRS

Words that we can work out from context are not SRSed.  It’s only ones for which a dictionary lookup was required that go into Anki.  (We’ve already gone to the trouble of finding a dictionary definition, so it doesn’t take much more effort to copy-and-paste it into an Anki card.)  For example:



Answer [with audio]:

【沿岸】jyun4 ngon6
注音一式    |ㄢˊ ㄢˋ

What next?

Once you’re familiar with individual new vocab items, you can try reading out chunks of the passage that include those words.  You should build up parts of the sentence one by one, as with the musical microreps, ensuring that your pronunciation is accurate each time:

  1. 沿岸
  2. 沿岸的一個州
  3. 太平洋沿岸
  4. 西部太平洋沿岸
  5. 西部太平洋沿岸的一個州
  6. 是美國西部太平洋沿岸的一個州

By focussing on such small parts of the sentence each time, it will ensure that any foreign accent is minimised, and will give you lots of practice with your newly learnt words.

Anyone else practise over-learning in their language studies?  If so, or if not, share in the comments section below! 😀


One thought on “Chinese Microreps

  1. Pingback: The Input Hypothesis and Various Fallacies #3 | Thousand Mile Journey

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