Anki/SRS unbelievers

General discussion about learning languages
aaleks
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby aaleks » Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:09 pm

Uncle Roger wrote:Wanting to learn a language without SRS is like wanting to become Schwarzy without pumping iron at the gym. It's possible, but it's inefficient.

PART of the challenge is very clear. (At least) 3000 headwords for basic fluency (solid B2?) for a European language. Ten words a day for 6 days a week for 50 weeks in one year.
How are you going to tackle that astounding amount of learning/memorisation in that time period and assuming a normally busy life (i.e. fulltime studies or work, daily and weekly chores, friends, a partner, staying fit) but with SRS?


People are different. Why would I waste my time on making SRS cards or word lists when I can memorize words just by looking them up while reading or listening to native materials? I don't have any numbers, I didn't think I would ever need them, but as far as I remember after the first year of learning English according to testyourvocab.com the size of my vocabulary was something like 10.000 or so words, i.e. I might've had those 3000 headwords by then. And no, I don't think I might have done better with SRS.

Edited: mistakes
Last edited by aaleks on Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Saim
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby Saim » Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:30 pm

I used to be an unbeliever, and now I'm a born-again Anki user.

I used to use SRS rather sparingly. It helped as a supplement with more lexically distant languages like Hungarian and Urdu, but even then it was still frustrating because even if I trained recall it mostly just worked for the recognition of word roots and wasn't a foolproof method of developing active vocabulary. For my strongest foreign language (Catalan) I never once used it, but I already knew Spanish (~B2) when I started and was living in the country and using the language every day.

Last year I tried doing a lot of Anki for several different languages, because I thought that it might be part of what was missing from my routine to make it more systematic, and I very slowly moved away from learning individual words to basically just plugging sentences. I really found the isolated words ridiculously boring and I noticed for learning Finnish from scratch they just didn't stick at all -- for Finnish at least I probably would've been better off completely avoiding SRS.

Now I've started only training recognition (no recall because I hate it), and I also record audio of me saying the sentences in the target language. I'm not sure if it's the best method but I feel like it's a fairly good supplement to native media to make sure more structures stick; I think native media works because it is a sort of natural SRS system, but sometimes words don't repeat themselves so if you're not spending four hours a day listening to the language you're not necessarily going to acquire them. For that reason using SRS to train recognition of sentences can be a good artificial way to replicate the process of "natural SRS" (repetition through varied sources). I don't have the time to spend hours a week maintaining my Urdu for example so it's nice to have a system that has me review sentences so that I'm not completely forgetting everything.

I have noticed that after a couple of weeks of doing this I have random words and sentences from the languages I'm working on in my head all the time (and this happens much less when I review isolated words), so I feel like it's working. But fundamentally I think it's been working for me because I enjoy it and it makes me pay more attention to words and structures while listening to native media (if you're doing it as a routine you can start to zone out and listen/read for the gist rather than noticing things you don't know or aren't used to). I also enjoy going through glosbe's bilingual corpus and seeing how words have been translated in the past to find example sentences, but I also study linguistics at uni so YMMV on how interesting that is.
Last edited by Saim on Sun Jul 08, 2018 5:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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galaxyrocker
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby galaxyrocker » Thu Jul 05, 2018 4:48 pm

I am definitely an unbeliever, simply because they don't work for me. I find them so absolutely mind-numbingly boring that I just quit doing them. I have never used flashcards for Irish, and have tested at B2 and am probably fairly close to C1. I've picked everything up through reading, listening and using the language. I haven't used them for Spanish, either, and still passed the A2 test at the school I attended a few weeks ago (after 2 weeks there learning). I just can't use them because they're so boring, and, for me, it'd be much more 'inefficient' to try to use them instead of just learning the way I'm comfortable with. Which just goes to show that everyone is different and finds different things. Plus, when I did try to use them for Japanese, I just got recognition, and couldn't actually recall them at all. So it did no good apart from reading, and i've lost that because I wasn't interested enough to keep going.

I might try them again when I pick Japanese back up or something, but I seriously doubt it. Hopefully by then there'll be a 'natural method'-esque book that starts with the romaji/kana and a few kanji, then slowly replaces kana with more kanji and furigana at first, before fading those out. That'd be a nice way to go about learning them, at least for reading purposes. And wouldn't involve flash cards at all...
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mouse
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby mouse » Thu Jul 05, 2018 5:23 pm

aaleks wrote:People are different.


I think it's probably more that languages are different, as has been said. Learning a new script requires drills — unless you want to progress at a snail's pace — which are more efficient with SRS. Whether you do it with SRS or not, repetition has to be part of your language learning process, so why not (partially) automate it? Personally I think people use the rather dubious concept of 'learning styles' to justify giving up.

Apart from that, as Saim says, SRS is useful for general recognition drills, especially for sentences. I can understand why some might find this boring, though.
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aaleks
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby aaleks » Thu Jul 05, 2018 6:11 pm

mouse wrote:
aaleks wrote:People are different.


I think it's probably more that languages are different, as has been said. Learning a new script requires drills — unless you want to progress at a snail's pace — which are more efficient with SRS.


Then I'd say the both are different - languages and people. I've never tried to learn Japanese or Mandarin so I can say nothing here. To be honest I believe that learning such a different and difficult language is something beyond my ability. At the same time technically English was a new script for me. My native language use Cyrillic alphabet. Of course, I knew Latin alphabet since I was like 10, I think, but English is known for its crazy spelling, and at first I had to memorize a word like a picture, i.e. I needed to memorize the meaning and the transcription. Then I decided to learn the reading rules, even though it wasn't recommended by many more experienced learners :) . After that it was just a word and its meaning, although I kept checking transcription for a while (now I read by analogy usually).
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reineke
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby reineke » Thu Jul 05, 2018 6:48 pm

Graceffo: "To learn Mandarin, I attended six months of private lessons, 15-20 hours per week, at Taipei Language Institute, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Because I wanted to learn as much vocabulary, grammar and usage as quickly as possible, I didn’t learn any Chinese characters or pinyin. My teacher and I practiced only listening and speaking. I read texts written in Taiwanese phonetic script (Bopomofo / Zhùyīn fúhào). And I didn’t do any writing at all.

After several years, I returned to Taiwan, hired a private tutor and embarked on a program, reading and writing traditional Chinese characters. I dutifully practiced reading and writing characters five hours per day for five months.

...My Vietnamese tutors are both college students. Each has told me that they have studied English for about ten years, although neither is particularly good at communicating in English. When I am reading a difficult text, and hit a word I don’t know, I ask the tutor. Seventy percent of the time, an English translation for the individual word pops out of the tutor’s mouth, almost instantly. This would suggest to me that my tutors, like most students in Asia, were made to memorize long lists of English vocabulary. I estimate that each of them possess a vocabulary of at least 3,000 words. And yet, neither of them can translate the texts I am translating now, only 20 weeks into my study of Vietnamese language.

Selling languages, language lessons, learning materials, and courses is a huge business. In business, you want your customers to be satisfied. The easiest and fastest way for anyone to learn anything is rote memorization, rather than understanding. Rote learning is done through repetition and through a mix of sounds, pictures, and texts. The best way to fool someone into believing they have learned something is to put questions on the test, which match exactly what they have learned in class.
This is how 90% of the methods and commercially available language learning aids work. They teach you a set of phrases and vocabulary through repetition. Then they test your ability to remember them and spit them back out on the exam. In the end, even if you earn a mark of 100%, you still can’t speak the language.

So, how do we learn Vietnamese? How do we learn any Asian language? The answer is, listening, listening, listening, listening, and eventually, reading, reading, reading. But, with Asian languages, particularly Vietnamese, you need incredible numbers of hours of listening to get the sounds right.

You can’t learn a language in twenty minutes a day. One hour a week won’t get it. To truly learn a difficult language, such as Vietnamese, will take a dedicated student two years. The more listening you do, the better and faster you will learn. Try to find hours in your day to spend with your listening. Take your Vietnamese I-Pod lessons with you to work or on the motorcycle or at the gym. Attend your classes regularly and do as much homework as you can stand.

And most of all, listen, listen, listen. Be realistic, but don’t get discouraged."
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Uncle Roger
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby Uncle Roger » Thu Jul 05, 2018 7:33 pm

aaleks wrote:People are different. Why would I waste my time on making SRS cards or word lists when I can memorize words just by looking them up while reading or listening to native materials? I don't have any numbers, I didn't think I would ever need them, but as far as I remember after the first year of learning English according to testyourvocab.com the size of my vocabulary was something like 10.000 or so words, i.e. I might've had those 3000 headwords by then. And no, I don't think I might have done better with SRS.



Over what period of time did you learn those words? What if you had needed to learn them in 6, 9 or 12 months?

What if all the fancy stuff, the comics, the amazing rock tunes, the David Lynch or Francis Ford Coppola movies, the endless amounts of YouTube videos about anything remotely interesting, the quality comedy series did not exist in English, like they don't exist (or at least not as much and to everyone's taste) in many other languages that hardly have any interesting content but you might still have to learn at some point in your life for whatever reason?

It's easy to learn English without having to try too hard. I got my CPE (C2) with minimal effort, before I lived in an English speaking country.
Try with a language spoken by 5 million people or less, with no significant footprint in cinema, recent literature, modern music and the like and without living in the country.
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iguanamon
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby iguanamon » Thu Jul 05, 2018 8:08 pm

Uncle Roger wrote:What if all the fancy stuff, the comics, the amazing rock tunes, the David Lynch or Francis Ford Coppola movies, the endless amounts of YouTube videos about anything remotely interesting, the quality comedy series did not exist in English, like they don't exist (or at least not as much and to everyone's taste) in many other languages that hardly have any interesting content but you might still have to learn at some point in your life for whatever reason?... Try with a language spoken by 5 million people or less, with no significant footprint in cinema, recent literature, modern music and the like and without living in the country.

I guess I can answer this one having learned three languages (two of them minority languages) with few resources available. I managed to learn Haitian Creole which has no significant footprint in cinema and recent literature. It has more than 5 million speakers at about 10 million, but it is the language of the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world. I also learned Lesser Antilles French Creole- 1 million people and Ladino/Djudeo-espanyol with about 70,000 people (including being able to read it in three Hebrew scripts). Neither of these languages has any cinema to speak of, no television series, and in the case of Ladino/Djudeo-espanyol- no modern literature... and... I didn't use srs. The three Hebrew scripts count as different scripts and they're read from right to left (albeit, still an alphabet). I learned how to read in them without srs too. Does that make me an inefficient learner?

A large part of my vocabulary in both languages came about through reading- the Bible, folktales, whatever literature I could get my hands on, native-speakers, the news, government pamphlets, Bible study and commentary, etc. I don't/didn't live in-country. I learned a long time ago never to state anything about language-learning categorically. Your statement may be generally true to a large extent, especially for monolingual beginners who have never learned a second language on their own, but there are always exceptions. Where there's a will, there's a way. If a learner is motivated enough, a language can be learned with surprisingly few resources. I know.

I don't see what the big deal is. It's ok to learn a language without srs. It's ok to learn a language with srs. I think you may be overlooking that reading is a natural srs. Lots of people learn vocabulary in this way in their native languages too. Learn and let learn.
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kulaputra
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby kulaputra » Thu Jul 05, 2018 8:32 pm

smallwhite wrote:How are grammar drills different from vocab drills? Should we start a thread for grammar drill unbelievers?


Haven't there been several?

Iversen wrote:I know that some learners hate grammar and pin their faith on discovering the rules along the way - like small children allegedly do. But hey, do small children do that? I guess their parents teach them the basics by repeating sentences endlessly and weeding out errors - and that's also a kind of grammar course.


Yes, children do do that. There are societies where parents literally don't talk to kids. Not even a little bit. Those kids still acquire language just fine. There are societies with no notion whatsoever of grammar, and yet, that all perform grammar. Explicit grammar instruction (in a native language) does not in fact teach grammar, as it occurs after children have already acquired grammar. Rather it teaches children how to jump through various sociolinguistic hoops in order to be accepted by a linguistically prejudicial society ("prejudicial" here meaning believing "some dialects are better then others" and the like). This may very well be fascinating to a anthropologist or sociologist but has basically no relevance to the study of first language acquisition in children.

Iversen wrote:Actually I can't see the point in inventing the rules from scratch when you can cheat and look in a key.


I believe you are confusing competence with knowledge of competence (as the Rumsfeld quote goes, "There are known knowns...") and also confusing declarative knowledge with performative knowledge. Native speakers are perfectly competent and yet, without linguistic training, not familiar with how or why they are competent. They have little to no declarative knowledge and thus would fail a test where they were asked to explain WHY they speak the way they do, but their performative knowledge is literally the answer key if the test were to simply speak their native language. Declarative knowledge allows you to know all about the ATP cycle and how neurons compel muscle fibers to contract so you can pedal your bicycle, etc..; procedural knowledge, however, is what actually allows you to bike. You can have one without the other, and they have different utilities.

With regards to, for example, mathematics or computer science, I'm very interested in acquiring declarative knowledge. With regards to language learning, I couldn't care less about it*, honestly. Ultimately what I want is the unconscious competence of native speakers.

*minor caveat, I'm also interested in linguistics beyond or on top of language learning, and in that field declarative knowledge of how a language works is of relevance and in that sense I do care about it.

Now, acquiring declarative knowledge may very well help me get to the procedural knowledge, sort of like training wheels. But even if this were true, we should not think people who learn languages without much or any explicit grammar instruction are "inventing the rules from scratch" any more then a kid learning to ride a bike is inventing the laws of nature. Rather, both the language learner and the kid are building, mostly unconsciously, models of how the world works in their head based on the input they receive which naturally manifests as performance.

Anyways it's clear your method works well for you. Personally I would find it soul crushingly boring to sift through a dictionary making word lists, but all that means is we learn differently.
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aaleks
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Re: Anki/SRS unbelievers

Postby aaleks » Thu Jul 05, 2018 8:48 pm

Uncle Roger wrote:
aaleks wrote:People are different. Why would I waste my time on making SRS cards or word lists when I can memorize words just by looking them up while reading or listening to native materials? I don't have any numbers, I didn't think I would ever need them, but as far as I remember after the first year of learning English according to testyourvocab.com the size of my vocabulary was something like 10.000 or so words, i.e. I might've had those 3000 headwords by then. And no, I don't think I might have done better with SRS.



Over what period of time did you learn those words? What if you had needed to learn them in 6, 9 or 12 months?


A year, I guess. As I said, back then it didn't occur to me to write down the numbers somewhere.
What if you had needed to learn them in 6, 9 or 12 months?


The same words as a list? Then I think I would try to memorize them somehow. That might be SRS or just a word list.

Uncle Roger wrote:What if all the fancy stuff, the comics, the amazing rock tunes, the David Lynch or Francis Ford Coppola movies, the endless amounts of YouTube videos about anything remotely interesting, the quality comedy series did not exist in English, like they don't exist (or at least not as much and to everyone's taste) in many other languages that hardly have any interesting content but you might still have to learn at some point in your life for whatever reason?

It's easy to learn English without having to try too hard. I got my CPE (C2) with minimal effort, before I lived in an English speaking country.
Try with a language spoken by 5 million people or less, with no significant footprint in cinema, recent literature, modern music and the like and without living in the country.


Well, Anki is a modern invention as well. And speaking of flash cards, I was trying to recall if there's a Russian word for it and I couldn't recall one. So it's not so widely used, or wasn't used until recently. When in the early 2000's I was studying German I had only a textbook, a dictionary, and a book to read.

Yes, it might happen that there would be no alternative to Anki etc. but when there's one why don't use it if I like that tool more and feel that it is more efficient for me?

Uncle Roger wrote:It's easy to learn English without having to try too hard. I got my CPE (C2) with minimal effort, before I lived in an English speaking country.


That's less easy when your native language doesn't have many cognates with the language you are trying to learn :) Of course, English is English and it's impossible not to know at least something so I didn't start from zero even though I had not had English in school. And of course there's no other language with so many learning and native materials availble but my brain is the same. I'd had the experience of learning German words trough reading which is why I used the same approach for learning English.
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