anki and initial learning

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miket12
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anki and initial learning

Postby miket12 » Wed Jan 25, 2023 7:26 pm

I want to use anki to help learn vocabulary and I was wondering about how to best use anki. Looking on the web I often see advice like "the purpose of these flashcards is to test what you already learned. NOT to test what you haven’t learned — which many people do." This makes sense to me, but seems a bit at odds with how anki seems to work. Or more probably I'm missing something here.

So I'm wondering what people are doing to initially learn the words. My scenario is this: I have a new chapter in my textbook, lets say, that lists the new vocabulary words. I don't know them yet, so I enter them into anki. Should I then start anki and keep seeing (and failing) them once per minute until I can remember them for at least a minute? Then go on to the 10 minute mode? It seems like I can be remembering a word for a minute but not 10 and end up spending a lot of time for it to become due again in that first learning session.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby Axon » Wed Jan 25, 2023 7:47 pm

miket12 wrote:I want to use anki to help learn vocabulary and I was wondering about how to best use anki. Looking on the web I often see advice like "the purpose of these flashcards is to test what you already learned. NOT to test what you haven’t learned — which many people do." This makes sense to me, but seems a bit at odds with how anki seems to work. Or more probably I'm missing something here.

So I'm wondering what people are doing to initially learn the words. My scenario is this: I have a new chapter in my textbook, lets say, that lists the new vocabulary words. I don't know them yet, so I enter them into anki. Should I then start anki and keep seeing (and failing) them once per minute until I can remember them for at least a minute? Then go on to the 10 minute mode? It seems like I can be remembering a word for a minute but not 10 and end up spending a lot of time for it to become due again in that first learning session.


The answer, like most things in language learning, is to try it out first and see how you like it. You won't be doing any damage to yourself if you learn words in a less-than-optimal way using flashcards.

There's nothing wrong with using Anki at the same time as your textbook, either. You could, for example, review the words on Anki with textbook in hand, then look for the words in the lesson as they show up. You could also read the textbook lesson first, then enter the words into Anki and study them, then read the lesson again.

The way I see it, the very act of looking at the words and writing them out again into Anki with their definitions is "teaching" you the words for the first time. Therefore, when they come up again in Anki, you're reviewing them. The advice about not learning something for the first time through Anki is possibly referring to using pre-made decks where you don't pick up any context for each word and have nothing to anchor it to in your mind.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby Iversen » Wed Jan 25, 2023 8:17 pm

I don't use Anki, but wordlists (using a three-column system with columns for target, base and target languages). The purpose should be the same in both cases, namely to make certain that you learn a lot of words as fast as possible, and then you can extend your knowledge of each one later on. Therefore learning just one core meaning is better than trying to remember everything about a word the first time you see it.

In the beginning you probably have a large percentage of unkbown of new and unknown words in your texts (unless you rely on specially prepared textbooks where the number is kept within bounds) and therefore it is natural primarily to use Anki/wordlists to make you remember those words. Later on I take most my new words directly from a dictionary because that's faster (no leafing around in the dictionary). So in other words I do think that it is worth using some kind of system to stuff as many words as possible into your head - and Anki is of course one of those methods. Later on you can be more relaxed about this as you as an experienced learner will be better equipped to pick up new words from random extensive sources - but I still don't feel that's enough (mainly because I forget the new words from extensive sources almost as fast as I see them), and that's why I do those wordlists directly from dictionaries. Once a word is 'caught' in a wordlist you know you can return to it - it won't fly away and disappear into blank unrecoverable nothingness.

As for the difference between wordlists and Anki (or Mnemosyne or whatever else is on the internet): I prefer choosing my words myself and also choose when to review the collection. Letting a machine do that irritates me. But with both systems the repetitions are essential so it's not wrong to say that the secret purpose is to teach you things you already were supposed to know.

I cant' tell you how best to use Anki since I don't use it.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby luke » Wed Jan 25, 2023 8:49 pm

I'd be inclined to study the chapter in your textbook without thinking about Anki.

Then, when you later review the chapter, put words you want to learn but don't remember in Anki.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Wed Jan 25, 2023 9:41 pm

miket12 wrote:(...)So I'm wondering what people are doing to initially learn the words. My scenario is this: I have a new chapter in my textbook, lets say, that lists the new vocabulary words. I don't know them yet, so I enter them into anki. Should I then start anki and keep seeing (and failing) them once per minute until I can remember them for at least a minute? Then go on to the 10 minute mode? It seems like I can be remembering a word for a minute but not 10 and end up spending a lot of time for it to become due again in that first learning session.


I've often said that words tend to stick better if you somewhat know them, have encountered them in a lesson in textbook and so on. And if you enter the words after each lesson (instead of waiting till you've finished the whole thing, by the time of which you might have forgotten what you read in lesson 1...).

So, if you have decided to use Anki as a supplementary tool, don't add words to the software before you spend at least some time on the lesson where they appear. Do what you normally should have done. Pretend that you don't know about Anki. Then add the words. Experiment. Check Anki at once, or a couple of hours after adding the words.

Just a few thoughts.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby miket12 » Wed Jan 25, 2023 11:13 pm

thanks for taking the time to reply!

It does make sense, first reading the text as if anki didn't exist, and then using anki to capture what I've already been exposed to.

edit: I've been using Pimsleur which I understand is based on SRS ideas. Pimsleur is perhaps overkill on the repetition, but by the end of the 30 minutes I've said the new word or phrase several times and it's really sunk in. I guess I'll try some variant of repetition while memorizing new vocabulary from the textbook before entering it into anki.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby Lisa » Thu Jan 26, 2023 2:38 am

I do use anki to study words I don't know... I think, what's important, is that if you don't learn it immediately, don't *keep* trying to use anki to learn it. You'll have to try it to see how it works for you, but I've found it surprising easy remember for 10 minutes (my problem is when intervals get to weeks). But when it doesn't just fit in your head, it's bad... word confusion gets hardened in place, you get frustrated and angry, etc. etc. I love anki for learning vocab, and for learning everything else (conjugations, adjective endings), but - as with any tool, really - you have to stop when it's not working or you can make yourself very unhappy.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby Picaboo » Thu Jan 26, 2023 4:38 am

I've done a lot of Anki for learning new words.

Using simple repetition doesn't work for me. It also goes against what we know about how memory works. You need to make something vivid, contextualized, meaningful etc. And for foreign words early on you don't have anything to "hook the new words to."

Personally, I use Anki (only because it is convenient for spaced repetition) and mnemonics. Mnemonics greatly reduces the number of times I have to see a word. Overtime I forget the mnemonic and remember the word. There are tons of blogs on the internet on how to do it, plus, whole books.

Everyone is different, find what works for you. I imagine most people are still searching for the Holy Grail because vocab is a pain in the ass. I am weening off Anki myself and trying other approaches. Whatever you do you have to try to give the new word context and meaning and a way to stand out in memory.

(But, be warned, wrote repetition, by saying an isolated word, is highly ineffective for most people.)
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby leosmith » Thu Jan 26, 2023 9:58 am

miket12 wrote:My scenario is this: I have a new chapter in my textbook, lets say, that lists the new vocabulary words. I don't know them yet, so I enter them into anki. Should I then start anki and keep seeing (and failing) them once per minute until I can remember them for at least a minute? Then go on to the 10 minute mode? It seems like I can be remembering a word for a minute but not 10 and end up spending a lot of time for it to become due again in that first learning session.
I agree with Jeff and others here who say that if you want to learn a bunch of new vocabulary, it is best if you have already encountered it in the wild. On the other hand, if I’m working on a “hard” language, I make an exception with text books. In your scenario, I’d memorize the list first, in sub-groups of 4, then I’d do the chapter. After that, I’d mass import the list into Anki, and start reps the following day.

In the case of an “easy” language, anything would work. In the case of Portuguese, I read the word list to take the edge off, then did the chapter. No Anki required.
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Re: anki and initial learning

Postby Iversen » Thu Jan 26, 2023 10:18 am

If it's an easy language (for instance because I know something related) and I don't intend to learn it as an active language, then I would also just go to the original text (though preferably with a translation within reach if I can find one or produce one with some translation software) - that's what I'm doing these days with a collection of texts in Occitan. I do own an Ancient Occitan -> French dictionary, but it's more suited for reading troubadur poems than for reading Wikipedia articles.

However if I plan to make it an active language I am not satisfied with just understanding the text in front of me - I'm thinking far ahead, and I want to squeeze out the information it contains and remember that information, and in that situation I do wordlists from the beginning (others may prefer to do Anki, but that's not the point). I could see myself learning an easy language or dialect purely through osmosis, but then I would have to be submerged in it for quite some time. And realistically that isn't going to happen with any of the languages I don't know already.
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