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neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Mon Oct 30, 2017 4:54 pm
by neuroascetic
Reading the other logs here has inspired me to start my own. I'm currently learning German, and although I would like to add Spanish, I don't think that will happen anytime soon.

I took my first and only German class during my last semester at collegee in 2006. At the time, I was exploring the process of learning difficult things. I wanted to challenge this idea that I was "bad at languages," after my failed attempt at Spanish in high school and Italian in my first year in college. Considering that it's been over ten years and I still have difficulty constructing sentences, perhaps I didn't challenge this notion as much as I hoped. Still, I have kept at it, and while improvement has been slow, I've been at least careful to maintain what I have learned.

Since that one semester, I've only taken two weeks of classes in 2015. Other than that, it has been a lot of self-study, which has led to some uneven development. I mostly work on input. Consequently, my production abilities in both writing and speaking are lacking and my understanding of grammar is poor.

Although I will talk about the tools and methods I use in this log, take any recommendations with a grain of salt, given my poor track record.

Now that the intro is out of the way, here's what I've been up to in the past week. This week was personally significant. I went to my first German speaking meetup. This was a personal victory, because I've tried to go to meetups before, but I would chicken out beforehand. My speaking anxiety is fairly strong. If someone speaks to me in German, my stress response kicks in hard, making it so that I can't comprehend what is said to me. Combined with my high self-monitoring when I'm speaking, it makes this a difficult exercise.

The meetup went well. My comprehension was fairly good. I had a hard time formulating sentences, but I could keep a conversation going, especially since I had sympathetic listeners. I wanted to keep up the momentum so I went to a second meetup a few days later. I don't think it went as well, but it was good enough that I feel comfortable attending these going forward. Really, this was huge for me.

I think I'll leave it to that for now. Next time, I'll get into the materials that I'm using and which goals I have to keep me on pace.

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Mon Nov 20, 2017 4:48 am
by neuroascetic
My initial plan was to update this log every Sunday night, but after my last update, I let some of my study slide. But I’ve gotten back into a daily routine which has helped my study and hopefully keep me regular in my updates. The first thing that I do when I wake up is light therapy at the kitchen table for 30 minutes. During this time, I’m doing 100 flashcard repetitions in Readlang.

In the last month, I’ve started being diligent about doing Readlang cards. I’ve ignored them for a long time because, frankly, I use too many srs systems, and it’s hard to stay on top of all of them. Plus, Readlang has an awesome feature where if you are reading, it will highlight all words that are “due” for a repetition, and you have the opportunity to do a repetition while reading a text. So, just by reading, you are reviewing some of your cards.

I can’t remember what prompted me to switch and focus on the Readlang flashcards, but I’ll lay out the method that I’m using. I strive to do 100 repetitions everyday (I have nearly 4000 backlogged from reading the 1st Harry Potter book and various articles). If I’m currently reading a book (I’m reading the 2nd Harry Potter book now), I focus on words that have come up while reading that book. When I finish a chapter, I will catch up on all the flashcards stemming from that book before moving forward to the next chapter.

The problem is that when I decided to move forward in this fashion, I already had 1200 flashcards backed up after reading a third of the 2nd Harry Potter book. So it’s been a monthlong process of catching up. I’m almost there. I’ll start reading again in a couple days, I think. On one hand, it seems ridiculous to spend this much time on flashcard review rather than reading, but it’s been quite fulfilling. It’s nice to have these sentences come back multiple times, allowing me to refine my understanding and improve my mental imagery when reading the context sentence. I think it’s had a noticeable impact on my comprehension.

After the light therapy, I’m jumping on the treadmill to do my Anki repetitions. As Readlang has become more of my go-to tool for vocabulary, I’m using Anki for cards related to grammar.

After Anki, I have some cards in Flashcards Deluxe that came from subs2srs. I currently have cards from Return of the Jedi and Coffee in Berlin in there. I’m figuring out how I want to go forward with those. I’m finding that I prefer being quizzed about single words a la Readlang, rather than looking at a whole line from a movie and having the entire line’s translation as the answer. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a good workflow for using subs2srs to get single word flashcards.

Right now, my plan is to stay on top of my srs systems. If I have extra time, I’m going to focus on my pending Anki cards since they are from the Gabriel Wyner pronunciation deck that I bought. I’ve been slowly moving my way through those for a long time. I would like to get them all introduced activated in Anki. I’ll go to any conversation meetups that pop-up and will finish the Tatort episode that I’m midway through.

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Mon Nov 27, 2017 5:39 am
by neuroascetic
Last week was good. I've set up a new morning routine that is based around spaced repetition and self-maintenance (and not caring how long it will take). I start light therapy at 6:30 while doing 100 Readlang repetitions. Then I ride the exercise bike for 30 minutes while doing repetitions from Anki. If I haven't finished all of my repetitions then I'll jump on the treadmill desk until I complete all of my planned repetitions. I also have some cards in Flashcards Deluxe that entirely composed of Subs2SRS card, but at this point the daily reviews are miniscule. There are other things that are a part of the routine, but they are not language related, so I will leave them out.

One thing that has helped me progress through my cards quicker, especially on the exercise bike and a treadmill is a Bluetooth number pad. With it, I can score a card, bury it, and move to the next card with ease. I did a test early in the year and found that it made me 50% faster than trying to use a touchscreen. I've found that it doesn't work as effectively with my iPad mini, but works great with a Windows 10 tablet. I use an Asus Transformer with a detachable keyboard. It was only $150 and is severely underpowered, but just good enough to solely use with SRS software.

Now that I feel like I have a handle on my repetitions, I want to be more focused on my goals. I tend to be more of a grazer (read a page here, watch a few minutes there), but I would like to be more focused on how I use my resources. This means that I focus on one piece of learning material at a time, while keeping up with my srs repetitions.

My current goal is to finish introducing cards from Gabriel Wyner's pronunciation trainer into Anki. I usually limit new cards to 2 per day, but since finishing this is my current top goal, I upped it to 10 per day. I'll see what impact that has on the number of cards that are due each day. I have 131 cards left to introduce, so at the current rate, it will probably take me two weeks.

My only other German thing that I did in the past week was finish a Tatort episode called Mord in der ersten Liga with audio descriptions and subtitles. I recognized an actor who was in Toni Erdmann. The German film scene must be a tight knit community given how often I see the same actors. I actually didn't plan to watch this episode. I turned it on for the first few minutes, and then wanted to watch the whole thing.

There haven't been any German speaking meetups lately, but I believe one is coming up on Saturday. It's been too long since my last one, so I'm starting to get a little bit apprehensive about going again.

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Wed Dec 20, 2017 8:00 pm
by neuroascetic
New Schedule

My spaced repetition reviews have been consistent lately, which is fun because I get to see the power of the technique. This was made possible, because I recently negotiated new hours (1pm - 7pm) with my work. I work from home, and though technically, I don't have hours, it was mostly a way to let people know that they shouldn't expect replies from me in the morning. This leaves a good chunk of the morning for SRS reviews.

Changes to my SRS systems

Right now, I'm using three different spaced repetition systems for improving my German. Before, I tried having a repetition target to hit for each one. For Flashcards Deluxe and Anki, the goal was to complete all due flashcards. For Readlang, I wanted to get 100 repetitions done during the day. I found though, that this often extended into the morning later than I wanted, partly because I wasn't as efficient with my time. And I didn't have a good system for introducing new cards. I kept new cards to a minimum in Flashcards Deluxe and Anki to make it easier to get my Readlang repetitions in.

I've switched to making my SRS time constrained by time (30 minutes per system) rather than a minimum number of reviews. For Anki and Flashcards Deluxe, where my daily load is much lower than Readlang, this has meant that I'm introducing cards at a much quicker rate. This is because I will finish my due reviews in, say, 20 minutes, and then have another ten minutes to introduce new cards. In fact, in the next couple of days, I should exhaust my pending queue in Anki, a good trigger for me to create new cards for that system.

I'm only going through about 60-70 cards in Readlang every 30 minutes. Part of the slow pace is that one of my rules for Readlang is to read the entire context sentence for each card. Even though it takes longer, I think it's a good practice in terms of getting better exposure to the language. It's also fun to see these sentences become more comprehensible with repeated exposures as I get more familiar with the vocabulary and grammatical structures. I may experiment with increasing this chunk to 45 minutes to see if I'm happier with the daily progress.

Reducing SRS anxiety

I'm finding that having either a daily target for repetitions or strict time constraints has helped with the anxiety that comes from having outstanding repetitions. Once I'm done in the morning, I'm done for the day. This can be very useful later in the day and I have a free half hour and I need to decide what to do. Before, there was this nagging feeling that I needed to spend every free moment catching up on flash cards. This did not have a beneficial effect on my ability to respond to emails in a timely manner or keep up with household chores.

Introducing audio-only subs2srs cards

I have two movies that I've converted to flash cards with subs2srs: Coffee in Berlin and Return of the Jedi. Both of those decks have the mostly typical subs2srs format. Side 1 is the German subtitle with audio and a picture from the movie. Side 2 is a literal translation from Google Translate. Side 3 is the English subtitle. While this is fine, I find that I reference my English understanding of the line too often when I'm looking at the German subtitle. Flashcards Deluxe helps somewhat since grading is swipe-based. This helps because if I know and understand a line, I can easily grade and move on to the next one without looking at the English sides. While, technically, you can do this in Anki as well, I find it's implementation is not nearly as good.

For the past few weeks, I've been playing with audio-only cards. These cards are the audio and still from the movie on side 1 and the German subtitle on side 2. These means that there is no translation, just hearing and identifying German words and phrases. That I don't have to get an english subtitle file for subs2srs is useful for content originating in Germany. The tricky thing is that a card only works if the subtitle and audio match up exactly (I'm finding that documentaries tend to match more often). If there is a mismatch, I suspend that card and don't worry about it. Initially, I was strict about how exact they had to match up. I now allow a stray "mal" or "so". Coffee in Berlin can be a little challenging, because the style is more naturalistic, which leads to a lot of stuttering and unintelligible lines.

Since starting these cards, I'm finding that my hearing seems to be improving quickly when I listen to other audio content, such as radio dramas. As EMK has noted, these audio phrases can really stick in your head. I don't know if it will impact my production, but it feels that I'm passively building up a stockpile of phrases that, hopefully, will make it easier to craft sentences.

Audio-only subs2srs cards surprisingly help with grammar

One thing I quickly found with audio-only cards is that it causes me to focus on the grammar more. For instance, I'm often asking myself, "Did that person say 'ein' or 'einen'". Not that word order is important in German, but I'm finding that this exercise causes me to focus on the order of words, which I hope will help me learn what sounds natural. In general, I feel like this will help with grammar because the audio sticks so well, that I'm assuming that over time certain grammatical rules will feel natural, meaning that I've internalized them. It's too early to gauge how likely it is, but these cards seem to be at the right edge of my current abilities.

The last thing I'll say about these cards is that in answering them I'm finding that three things come into play: what I heard, what I remember the answer being, and grammatical rules (e.g., I may not have heard "einen", rather than "ein" because it was said so quickly, but I know it should be "einen" here). Initially, I leaned heavily on my memory of the card, but I'm already noticing a shift to relying on what I hear and grammatical rules. We'll see how this develops.

edit: typos

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Thu Dec 21, 2017 3:24 pm
by hedgehog.chess
neuroascetic wrote:I have two movies that I've converted to flash cards with subs2srs: Coffee in Berlin and Return of the Jedi.

I just hope you deleted all flashcards featuring Yoda, as it would lead to some bad habits in terms of word order in sentences :D

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Thu Dec 21, 2017 3:56 pm
by neuroascetic
hedgehog.chess wrote:I just hope you deleted all flashcards featuring Yoda, as it would lead to some bad habits in terms of word order in sentences :D

:lol: Maybe it will come off as charming to a native speaker?

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Sun Jan 07, 2018 12:43 am
by neuroascetic
December was pretty good in terms of staying on task and getting through my SRS repetitions. Well, that was until the Christmas break. Since then, I've had a hard time getting back into my regular routine. Disconcertingly, I've felt a strong resistance even thinking about using Anki, Readlang, or Flashcards Deluxe. I think the main thing is that I need to focus on exercising and sleeping well, and it will come back.

Recently, I've played around with mixing my Readlang repetitions with reading new material. So, I'll read a page and mark words that I don't know, and then do 8 flashcards, before going back and reading another page. Obviously, this slows down the rate of reading, but that's not an issue for me. I had found that if I just do flashcards without reading anything new, things start to feel a little stale. But if I only read without doing flashcards, it takes much longer for certain words to stick. Also, I've found that the way I do my Readlang flashcards now, has led me to translate in my head much less often.

Although Christmas and New Year's through a wrench in my routine, I was able to explore a couple German traditions. I made Eierpuensch for my family on Christmas Eve. It's an eggnog that uses white wine and lemon juice to give it a lighter, fruitier taste. I thought it was good. My first reaction upon first tasting it was negative because it's a new taste, but grew to like it on its own terms pretty quickly. My brother's girlfriend had a similar reaction. My dad and his girlfriend thought it tasted too much like alcohol and couldn't have more than a sip.

I watched "Dinner for One", which is an odd tradition in Germany and other European countries where they watch the fifty-year-old comedy sketch every New Year's eve. Odd, because the sketch has seemingly nothing to do with New Year's, and it's in English, but, as far as I can tell, it's not a British tradition.

I'm finding that Coffee in Berlin was a bad choice for my first set of audio-only flash cards in Flaschcards Deluxe. The movie's dialogue has a naturalistic style, resulting in a lot of muttering and filler words. My plan was to add some of my favorite movies as audio-only cards before moving on to content that was German-produced, but I'm wondering if I should reconsider. The other movies are dubbed, so I'll see how well the audio matches up with the subtitle. In practice, I find that it's not as much as I'd like, but I'll see with the next movie if it still feels like a burden. I noticed recently that Lindenstrasse's subtitles match up nearly perfectly with the dialogue, so that may be a better option. In addition, it is nice that the show's content more closely reflects people's day-to-day interactions, rather than space battles and wizarding schools.

I've made very little progress in making minimal pair flashcards for individual phonemes in German that I find difficult. So, not much progress on the deliberate study of German front.

Other stuff I've done since 12/17:
    -Stille Nacht, a cheesy Christmas-themed romantic comedy
    -a documentary about winter animals in Germany
    -Tagesschau (only once, though)
-Listened to:
    -audio from JoJo Such Das Glueck, seasons 1 & 2 (twice each)
    -the Ghostbusters 2 radio drama (twice)
    -audio from a condensed version (all non-dialogue parts removed) of The Force Awakens
    -the Jurassic Park radio drama
    -I by Kid Kopphausen
    -the Todestagferier chapter from the second Harry Potter book in Readlang, and then listened to it with the audiobook.

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Sun Jan 07, 2018 9:09 am
by DaveBee
neuroascetic wrote:I watched "Dinner for One", which is an odd tradition in Germany and other European countries where they watch the fifty-year-old comedy sketch every New Year's eve. Odd, because the sketch has seemingly nothing to do with New Year's, and it's in English, but, as far as I can tell, it's not a British tradition.
Brit reporting: it's not. But UK supermarkets do seem to be making 'stollen' and 'panettone' part of our Christmas feasting.

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Tue Jan 23, 2018 9:30 am
by neuroascetic
Alternating between reading and reviewing in Readlang

I made a couple changes to how I'm using Readlang. The first is that I've tried alternating between reading and reviewing flashcards at regular intervals [I just realized that I already talked about this in my last post. Sorry for the repetition]. I do this by reviewing a set of 8 flash cards and then reading a page from a book (currently HP und die Kammer des Shreckens). Both the flashcards and the book are in Readlang. I find that once I start, it's very hard to stop. I'll tell myself, "Ok, after this set of 8 cards, I should get up and do something else." Then at the end of the 8 card set, I'll think, "well, it wouldn't hurt to read a page and then stop." Then after reading the page, I use the same logic to do another set of 8 cards.

I have a goal of reviewing 50 cards per day. Since you can review known words with due flashcards as you are reading in Readlang, I thought that interweaving reading with reviewing would help me get to my 50 card goal just as fast. However, at this point there is usually only two words per page that have due cards associated with them. That I'm at this point in my development is rather satisfying, and I attribute it to starting to do the Readlang flashcards on a regular basis. There were many words that were not sticking that are no longer a problem. Going back to my daily goal, depending on the amount of time I have, instead of 8 card sets, I will alternate reading a page with 15 and even 25 card sets so I can reach my goal quicker.

I'm finding that psychologically, this interweaving has made this exercise much easier. Perhaps because reading feels like progress, whereas srs can feel like an eternal struggle to stay caught up. The reading also feels a bit like a reward for reviewing cards. It is satisfying to see the two feed into one another. It's almost a reminder: "oh yeah, if I do these flashcards, it has a big impact on my comprehension, making reading much easier."

A rule that keeps me from translating

A couple months ago, I started using a rule when reviewing my Readlang cards: Always read the entire context sentence and only translate the target word.

What I'm finding is that by selectively suppressing the habit of translation and training myself to only translate the word that is in bold, this is carrying over to when I read. Since there is no bold text on a normal page, I stay in the mode of reading without translating. I only translate when a sentence is confusing and I need to go back and read it again. And even then, I've gotten better at, after being confused, reading a sentence again more slowly without translating. If I don't understand the sentence by then, I'll translate a couple words in my head until I get it.

What's interesting about the effectiveness of this method is that I bought into the Wyner idea of not using English on my flashcards and using images instead (not solely his idea, but it was after reading Fluent Forever that re-evaluated a lot of my flashcard strategies). I love Readlang, however, and struggled to figure out how to use it in a monolingual fashion. However, I think this rule for reviewing Readlang flashcards achieves the same end of "learning how to think in the language" <pretentious voice>. What I found is that while I am only translating the target word, I am slowly building up my comprehension of the context sentence with each exposure. Most of my sentences are from Harry Potter, and it is easy to create a vivid image of the action from each sentence. After a few repetitions, the association between the target word and that image I built up becomes stronger than the association with the English translation. So that when I go back to reading normally and come across a flashcard word, those images and associations come to mind more readily than the translation. The upside of this method is that this is way faster than digging around in Google Images for the right picture to put on an Anki flashcard.

edit: added an acknowledgment that I keep writing about the same things as if I haven't written about them before.

Re: neuroascetic's German log

Posted: Mon Jan 29, 2018 5:38 am
by neuroascetic
I'm putting on a karaoke party next week and I usually do a song in German. I am planning on doing two this time: Nur Ein Wort by Wir Sind Helden and Chöre by Mark Forster. I discovered both bands on It seems to be an incredible tool for discovering new music.

In other language learning news, it looks like my wife and I are going to Portugal this June to visit friends. It's too late for me to learn any Portuguese, but I think an achievable goal is to learn how to pronounce things. I did watch a couple of booty-shaking filled Brazilian songs on LyricsTraining.