A few changes in my routine

In getting back to my language learning, I’ve been changing a few things. Perhaps the most drastic step I’ve taken is to stop using my old German deck in Anki, which has around 5000 cards in it.

I stopped using it because it simply wasn’t much fun to review. I’m coming around to Khatzmuto’s idea of only entering sentences into your SRS program. I’ve said before that I don’t think you need context for many words, usually nouns, and I still believe this. But I also know that, efficient or not, going through two or three hundred repetitions of mostly single word cards (das Haus – house, die Blume – flower) can become dreadfully boring. So, I’ve started a new German deck in which I’m going to only enter sentences. Any sentences that were in the old deck are (slowly) being moved over.

I’m also going to follow Steve Kaufman’s advice to just let the words overflow. I mentioned before that I’m pretty bad about feeling compelled to “catch” every single unknown word I come across, and I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that it’s just not feasible. The words I really need to know, I’ll run into over and over. With that in mind, I’m giving myself “permission” to run across an unknown word, look it up to understand what I’m reading, and forget it.

By |2009-12-21T18:08:17+00:00December 21st, 2009|All Entries|6 Comments


  1. Paul December 22, 2009 at 12:32 am - Reply

    Hi Josh. I am pleased you’re back.

    I’ve tried to get into Anki, really I have. I’ve also been urged by a friend who is way better at languages than me to do so. I just find it too boring. My Anki deck, which is small compared to yours, includes both single words and sentences. As a learning tool I think it does definitely work; I can even picture some of my Anki cards in my mind.

    Over the more than two years I have been learning German I have changed. At first I was a burst of energy and then I feel really flat when I came to the realisation that this was going to be a very, very slow process. I also came to realise that reaching the goal of being able to speak the language well is unlikely for a person of my age. However I feel that reaching a point of being able to understand nearly everything is realistic (and I likely).

    As I result my learning methods have changed. I still go to classes (currently in recess) in an attempt to make some sense of the very complicated grammar. It has to be said that I hate going to German class. However other than that my learning is mostly by spending time socialising with my German speaking friends and acquaintances, both in person and online. I have so much fun with my friends that to sit down with Anki is a real chore.

    I wonder what type of sentences do you work with. Those that are related to subjects in which you have an interest or phrases that you think, or know, that you will need in conversation or writing?

    So I wish you well with your new approach. I hope it works for you.

    All the best


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  3. Josh December 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Hey Paul,

    I’ve been adding sentences which jump at me for some reason or another: a word or phrase I’d like to know, a grammar structure I’m unfamiliar with. Overall, I’ve just become less strict in how I read. Sometimes I’ll look up all the unknown words in something I’m reading, and only add a few to Anki; if I lose some of those that I looked up, I’ll run into them again. Other times, I won’t even look up all of the unknown words. If I can get the meaning from context, if not, well, that’s alright, too.

    I’m trying to approach language learning more as playing with a complex object, rather than trying to defeat it.

  4. Vincent December 30, 2009 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    I just stumbled upon your blog. Your articles are very interesting, for I like to read and write about languages and language learning.

    In my Anki deck I only have sentences. I will explain why:

    I had to study French in highschool. I just couldn’t grasp the meaning of the words, till I studied the words in sentences.
    With the languages I’m learning now, I do the same. I link the new words to structures and sentences that I encounter in my reading. I put them into my Anki deck then.

  5. Enzo January 16, 2010 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    I have yet to find a good German anki deck, is yours shared? I have been in the process of making my own deck from the Langenscheidts Grundwortschatz series (3000 word vocabulary with usage) which I bought while studying German in Germany in 1993. I haven’t gotten too far yet as I am going through a rather large Italian/English vocab deck at the moment and it takes a long time to transcribe this comprehensive list of basic vocabulary with sentences. I am currently trying to strengthen both my German and Italian at the same time by studying with those language pairs instead of with my native base of English.

    Has anyone tried such an approach and have had a favorable outcome? Any advice or warnings?

    For example, this is how I set up the card, so it can go both ways Italian to German and German to Italian.

    invito (m)
    Aveta già spedito gli inviti?

    Einladung (f)
    Habt ihr schon die Einladungen verschickt?

  6. Josh January 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Vincent: Glad you enjoy the blog, and thanks for the comment.

    Enzo: My deck isn’t shared, and I’m not real crazy about doing so. It’s not a “my deck is sacred” thing, but rather:

    1) I think you learn far more by creating your own cards, as they’re tailored to what you need (and want) to learn.

    2) On the flip side, my cards are tailored for me. Some of them don’t even have answers, they’re just a sentence on the question side and a blank answer side. Others have very specific submeanings of words that I want to learn; such cards wouldn’t be helpful for someone who doesn’t already know the more general meaning of the word.

    Regarding practicing one language through another, I have mixed feelings about it. I’ve tried it before by studying Russian through a German text (Assimil’s Russisch ohne Mühe), and while it was working, I’m not sure how efficient it really was.

    Some German words, I “knew” but didn’t know them well enough to figure out exactly what meaning they were expressing. This in turn would lead me to not being sure what exact meaning the Russian words had. So, I would get the gist of the meaning, but on some finer points of meaning, I would be lost. Then I’d just have to look up the Russian words in a dictionary.

    I suppose that’s the catch: you can do it, but if there’s any ambiguity, you need to follow up on it.

    Looking at your example, I would caution you to be careful with such a method; it’s hard enough finding one-to-one matches between your native words and foreign words. Trying to do so for two foreign languages complicates matters even further.

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