How do I design better active vocabulary recall question cards?
June 26, 2019 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Let's say I want to learn the word "Where?" in Cantonese. I want to design Anki flashcards but I find that multiple choice is too easy and cold recall from the English with no hints is too hard. How do I assist this memory to form?

Anki can generate speech from writing. It can also add images and I can make multiple choice audio.

I could learn the words as multiple choice first and then switch to cold recall via translation later. Is that a good idea?

I could give multiple example sentences with the word deleted and try to guess the word (audio cloze). Is that a good idea? I would have to create sentences that I mostly already understand though, all except the word I want to learn. I only know around 50 words.

I could try to create a mnemonic that helps me remember the word from a similar sound in English. That's a lot of work to do for every word.

Instead of using English on the front of the card I could use a picture. Is that really worth the effort?
posted by jago25_98 to Education (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, all of my vocabulary flashcards are [Language] on front and English on back. But recognition is more important than production for me. A lot of people study in both directions, maybe that will work for you? If you study 红-〉red beforehand, red -> 红 will become easier.

Definitely incorporate full sentences! I put example sentences on the back of my cards, and I also study the sentences in their own deck. 'Where' is much easier to remember in the form of 'Where is the bank?' compared to the word on its own. Yes, you have to stay within your vocabulary for those sentences, but this will get easier the more you learn.

Finally I want to put in a recommendation for Subs2SRS. If you can get ahold of Cantonese movies/TV with Cantonese subtitles, it will create flashcards for you from any movie. Audio is great, natural human dialogue is better than TTS, and natural dialogue in the context of a story is really fantastic for sticking in memory. Here's a few case studies of someone starting from zero, and using Subs2SRS to build language ability: Japanese, Spanish. I was already at an intermediate level when I started using Subs2SRS cards in Anki but it's been one of the most valuable tools for helping my pronunciation and listening skills.
posted by Gordafarin at 6:45 AM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I use is my language SRS of choice instead of anki. Subs2SRS is pretty valuable.

I currently an using a Japanese deck that does the following written Japanese to English, writen Japanese to pronoucation, audio to English translation , and English to Japanese. Then a companion audio sentence for recognition. Audio plays every time.

I think these comprehensive premade decks are really useful, so if you can find one in your target language I think if you keep working at it and don't take on to much at one time you will get better at it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2019

One thing to keep in mind with Anki is that you're supposed to be getting it wrong a fair amount of the time. The software is "trying" to push your limits on how well you remember it, and for how long. That's frustrating, but I find it's easier to deal with if I remind myself that getting pushed like that will make me stronger in the long run.

Also, multiple choice flashcards raise the risk of you learning the wrong thing. If you have a flashcard like "Tengo means (a) I have (b) I sneeze (c) I walk (d) I sleep," you risk learning, not "Tengo means 'I have'," but "When the second option is 'I sneeze,' choose the first option."

So yeah, no, I'd stick with cold recall like you're doing. It's how the method is supposed to work, and the times when you forget the answer are part of the process.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:34 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

You say cold recall is too hard? Well, the sad truth from Science is that if it doesn't make your brain work, it's not effective. With a SRS you are going to flunk a certain number of cards, that's fine, you'll get them eventually. This is supposed to feel challenging, though. I'd recommend you read the excellent book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger, III, and Mark A. McDaniel for some good background on why this is and what the best strategies for learning are.

I think there is a big problem with multiple choice, as mentioned above, which is that your brain forms the wrong associations. And the same problem can happen with English, because there is not really a one-to-one relationship between your English word and the target language word--you have connotative associations in English that may or may not apply in the target language. For my study language, for example, there is a word for animal which refers to a domestic animal you might keep as a pet, another word for animal for the kind you eat, and yet another for a wild beast. If I just put 'animal,' I'm missing a lot of that nuance.

So my recommendation is to use pictures per the Fluent Forever method. It's worth the effort (remember: effort is learning. Even making your flashcards is learning.) The pictures don't have to match perfectly for your brain to stick to them, but they are less likely to lead you astray than English, and they work GREAT if you can put in a pun or something funny.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:00 AM on June 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

cold recall from the English with no hints is too hard.

No, that's what SRS is for. You're supposed to fail it at first. It's the repetition of failing so many times you start to remember that makes it stick. You just have to be careful to keep the pace of adding new ones low enough to let some start to stick, or else you'll just get a giant stack of ones you don't see often enough.
posted by ctmf at 8:24 PM on June 26, 2019

Using recognition before attempting recall works for me.

I use Anki. When I add or unsuspend new words, I export just those notes as plain text. Next I do enough formatting so the [Language] - English pairs are easily readable. Then I read the list a few times a day for a few days. I don't try to memorize, it's just reading. Next I begin a phase of using recall in Anki to learn, while also reading the recognition list once a day.

I am certain this method reduces my learning frustration. No idea if it makes learning faster or slower.

>I could try to create a mnemonic that helps me remember the word from a similar sound in English.

I do this for the words and phrases I have the hardest time learning. The extra time and effort pays off for me.
posted by Homer42 at 8:55 AM on June 27, 2019

The recall cements the learning, but you need to learn before you memorise. Use the 50 words you know (and maybe with the help of your teacher or a textbook) to construct simple sentences - "Where is the station?" with a picture of a train station, or a tourist asking for directions, or whatever. Then make a cloze deletion for {Where}.

You could make another cloze deletion on the same card for the word {station}. Make sure the image gives the context, though. You might remember it now, when you only have a few cards, but in six months time when you have hundreds, it will be immensely frustrating to come across a card with a picture of a tourist looking puzzled that says, "Where is the [blank]?" without any clues as to what the missing word is. Only make sentences where either no other word will fit or where the word you've got to remember is very obvious from the picture (even if you don't remember the actual word).

Nothing wrong with building on the 50 words you have. Using the words you know already will reinforce them. Read and write your own short texts to prepare sentences to put into Anki, as long as you have access to someone who can check them. If not, use the sentences you find in beginner textbooks.

Agree with others that multiple choice is a bad idea.
posted by trotzdem_kunst at 3:16 PM on June 29, 2019

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