the simplest srs deck you will ever make

Do this:

Make a new SRS deck, with two fields; the first field is a sequential number, and the second is blank, it’s just there to give anki something to do when you hit “answer”.

The number corresponds to a section of a book, a chapter or whatever length you’re comfortable with for an incremental reading card, or you can use locations in a Kindle file.

And … that’s it.

incremental reading incremental update

A quite long while ago now I posted what was meant to be an introduction to this post; and this post was meant to take place two or three weeks after that one; and, moreover, this post was meant to be a definitive guide to incremental reading for language learning.

Some of that didn’t happen, and the rest won’t.  It’s become clear that developing this method will take considerable time, so instead of attempting to nail down something this fluid I’ll just dispense spoonfuls as I discover them. Herewith then, some of these, not really in any specific order.

Perspective first: I’m mostly talking here about the Alice in Wonderland deck.  These cards are anywhere from 400 to over 3000 characters long, and have a parallel English text along with the reading on the back of the card.  I’m also using a four-panel manga deck, of which more later.

One of the first things I noticed was that words that got skipped over the first or second or third time would eventually assert themselves and become clear.  This happened again and again with every card.  It felt quite remarkable really.  It was a bit like those shows where they take the terribly blurry surveillance camera pictures and hit a magical “enhance” button repeatedly.  Any photographer would kill for such a tool, but the language student has one available.

A problem I’ve encountered often whilst reviewing sentences is that the sentence gets memorized.  The first couple of words come into view and the brain rattles off the rest by itself, without really reading the sentence at all.  This does not happen with this deck – the cards are much too long.  There is no way to gloss over the text in this manner; no choice but to actively engage with it.

The text used for the Alice deck actually has very few kanji; so few in fact, that adding rather a lot more would make it easier to read.  Some parts are a little denser though.  The more kanji with unknown readings in a passage there are, the shorter the card must be.  Looking up words and readings is totally fine of course, that’s half the point, but once you have to look up as much as you know it just gets tiresome.  The tadoku principle of sticking to texts that you understand at least 95% of is still very much in force here.  You can get away with a little more, but it’s best not to push it.  Some words – 公爵夫人 was a good example – gave me a lot of trouble because there were too many unfamiliar kanji in a row.  This sort of deck is not well suited to learning such words.  (Eventually though it did stick.)  Sometimes a card will have a brief passage that is at a much higher level than the rest of the card.  The dodo’s speech was a good example (the Eaglet even interrupted him with “日本語をしゃべれ!”).  This can be frustrating because you keep having to come back to that card even though the large majority of it is perfectly clear.  I still haven’t confirmed a good solution for this but I think I do have one, more later.  Words that are reasonably clear from context stick like magic.  After the card interval is over a month or so I hardly even remember that there were ten or twenty words in it that I didn’t know at all.

The parallel text has proved completely unnecessary.  I never look at it.  I suspect this would be the case whenever a text is within the proper 95% to 99% comprehension range.

Perhaps it goes without saying (I’m saying it anyway), but you had better really, really love the work you decide to review in this way.  It’s pretty easy to get tired of it when you are rereading the same book piece by piece over and over.  Choose carefully.  It could be that a book of short stories, or a set of poems, or lyrics, would lend itself a little better to incremental reading.

Also about avoiding burnout – I found it best to limit myself to one review daily.  This usually amounts to anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour.  Because of this, cards often don’t get reviewed exactly on the day Anki decrees, so set the program to display cards from the shortest interval to the longest.  That way the fragile young cards don’t get put off too long.  Also, if there is a review due I don’t add a new card.  As you can imagine this has stretched out the process of getting through the book by quite a lot.

Grammar has started to feel natural, to the point that I very seldom think about it.  This should be the case with normal extensive reading, too, but I think there is a benefit to sticking to one author’s (translator’s, in this case) style.

Some of these cards I have made far too long.  Over 3000 characters – that’s too much at once.  To make them I took the line numbers in Notepad++ and took an approximately equal division of three for each chapter.  This did not work well.  Some passages with lots of conversation ended up being quite short, and others with more narrative were a great deal longer.  Better would have been to count characters and make cards of perhaps 400-800 characters.  Also, there’s no real reason to make the entire deck at once as long as you have the text file.  Just make the next cards as you need them.

My intention at first was to extract sentences as I went along, for my sentence deck.  My thinking was that once a card was over a certain interval, if there were still passages that were problematic, I’d isolate those.  I haven’t done this even once, though.  Instead, I’ve started a simple vocabulary deck.  As I begin each card, every new word gets put into a text file, and once I’m done the words get added to the vocab deck.  The idea is that by the next time I see the reading card, the new words will already have a review or two behind them.  This is something I’ve only started very recently, but it seems to be working well.  Usually when I see the word I instantly think of the context in which I found it.  This way, I am pretty sure the issue I mentioned of thorny passages in the middle of easy cards will be resolved.

About that manga deck: it’s a sort of hybrid of ordinary sentence decks and incremental reading decks.  Each card has a four-panel strip on it, but they’re short enough to treat them exactly like sentence cards.  They’re just a lot more entertaining! and of course images make things easier.  I highly recommend this, but it isn’t really incremental reading like I thought it would be.

That, it looks like, is the end of my notes for this time; I’ll post again once a few more have accumulated.  As you can see, the method is far from polished yet, but the current rough version is working well enough that I definitely intend to carry on.

unlimited tool works

Go to a photography forum and most of the discussion is usually about cameras.  Hang out with motorcyclists and most of the discussion is about bikes.  And I’d venture to say that in a samurai dojo, there was a great deal of talk about swords.

Likewise, in groups of people learning languages, the dominant topic is tools: which books, or no books at all; whether to SRS or not; what style of SRS cards; immersion versus intensive study; dictionaries, programs, apps, and on and on.

It could be considered that all this is much of a waste of time. The true expert thinks about his practise and his technique, and not much about whether the camera or motorcycle or sword he is currently using couldn’t perhaps be replaced by a better model, or upgraded somehow.  However, I can’t say I fully agree with this.  How many of us are at that level?  How long did it take Kiyonari to master the track, or Musashi to master swordsmanship, and how much experimentation with the equipment took place before it ceased to be a consideration?

There’s one sword that fits you and only you perfectly.  Don’t get attached to the old ones, and don’t be afraid to try new ones, until you find it.

Unlimited Blade Works

don’t fear the void

Having recently plucked up the courage (or more accurately, resolved to put forth whatever effort was required) to read whatever Japanese text I liked whether or not it had furigana, I have found firstly that it isn’t all that hard and secondly that it has some real benefits.  I probably know 300 or 400 kanji readings, at a guess, just for perspective – as often as not incomplete, as well; just kun-reading or maybe just one on-reading.

This started when I began my second reading SRS deck, which is four-panel manga.  Azumanga Daioh was the choice, for a few reasons; I loved the anime, I already had the books, it was by the same author as Yotsuba& which I also enjoyed immensely, and it didn’t seem very difficult.  (It actually has some unexpectedly uncommon kanji, I’ve found, but still it isn’t hard.  Grammar is as simple as you’d expect in a four-panel.)  Azumanga Daioh does not have furigana, and that was another reason I picked it for this deck.  If my intention was to reread the text as often as needed in order to remember all the words whether they have kanji or not, furigana would simply be a distraction, and a possibly deceptive one at that.

Then I also began the second volume, just reading through it, not SRSing it, in a feeble attempt to get my pagecount for this month’s ReadMOD out of the “embarrassing” zone.  (It’s as I expected a little difficult when most of my reading time is spent on the SRS decks, which I’m not counting.)

I found it quite easier than I expected.  I know enough kanji readings to input an unknown word as “this kanji is the first kanji of this word I know, and then the next one is the first of this other word” much of the time.  When that fails, either using the SKIP input in Kotoba! on my iPhone, or the IME pad and Tangorin on the computer, gets the job done infallibly and doesn’t take very long.

The small amount of additional effort, though, seems to trigger something in the brain that aids memory.  If you have furigana, you just glance up and there’s your reading, no extra time or effort involved, and the kanji barely registers.  But if you have to think about the kanji, consider where else it’s used, or count the strokes for a SKIP input, or even draw it on the IME pad, there is a great deal more involvement.  Maybe it could be compared to sketching a landscape as opposed to taking a snapshot of it.  Both will help you remember, but putting in the time and paying attention to every part of the scene will help you remember much longer and in more detail.

incrementally down the rabbit-hole; or, 不思議の国のアリスの読み方

I have long maintained that for proper maintenance of mental health, it is absolutely essential to read Alice in Wonderland once yearly; and now, since the idea is to read whatever I read in Japanese wherever possible, why not Alice in Japanese?

And just then, Kendo mentioned an interesting SRS concept he was working on.  Usually, incremental reading is used simply to learn facts and make connections between them, but in one’s native language.  Instead, he was taking bits of Japanese text, like short news articles or monolingual definitions, and putting them in the SRS as simply reading cards.  So he was getting the benefit of spaced repetition, without any of the stress of recollection; a sort of hybrid of extensive reading and SRS.

Now these were fairly short snippets of text, but I thought, why not attempt a whole book in this manner, with cards that could be read in five or ten or fifteen minutes each – and that was how the Alice deck was born.  It’s a parallel text, taken from Genpaku and Gutenberg.  The question side is the original text without furigana (for the most part – some of the more difficult kanji (it seems this edition was designed for maybe third or fourth-year elementary school students) have the readings following them in parentheses (I might excise these yet if they are bothersome)), and the answer side is the readings and the English text.  Each chapter is divided into three roughly equal-sized sections, for a total of 36 cards.  You can find the deck as an Anki shared deck to download.  The title is “Alice in Wonderland – 不思議の国のアリス”.

I have great hopes for this method, but can’t comment at all on its effectiveness yet since I’m just starting.   I’ll report back in a month or so.  At any rate, if you are overdue to reread Alice, why not try it this way?

custom searches in google chrome for sentence mining

So the other day I finally started going through the second volume of Remembering the Kanji – this time it’s all about learning kanji readings.  Heisig groups the kanji as logically as possible, to make it easier to learn groups of characters at once, and provides example words for each reading.  I seem to do well with this sort of systematic approach, so after last month’s tadoku contest reminded me once again with great force how far I have still to go with the kanji readings, I decided it was high time to set this particular machine in motion.

Sentence mining in the usual manner is a bit of a shotgun approach – you never know what vocabulary you’ll get next.  Conversely, what I needed here was a way to quickly find example sentences for a particular word.  To do this most efficiently, I set up some custom search engines in Chrome.

To do this, go to your options, and pick “manage” beside the search dropdown menu in the “basics” tab.  This will bring up a list of search engines.  Click “Add” and you’ll get a little dialogue box that you can fill in like so:

Call it whatever you like.  The second line is the keyword that you’ll use in the omnibar, and the third line is the search URL itself.

I set up four searches, as follows:

Tatoeba, keyword “tato”;

Reading Tutor, keyword “rdt”;

Aozora Bunko, keyword “azb”;

and Twitter, keyword “twt”;!/search/%s

You want the keywords not to be anything you’d actually search for, otherwise Chrome will autocomplete the search term instead.  To use these, just start typing the keyword into your address bar, hit tab to tell Chrome you want to use that search engine, and type your search term.  Like this:

Using these custom searches will give you a lot more focused results than a general Google search, and save a lot of time over going to each site.

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