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New Post 27.04.2010 12:20
  ChineseTime
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Learn Chinese Language in a flash? 

Learn Chinese Language in a flash?

From Globe Times

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Learning Chinese can sometimes make banging your head against the wall feel like a productive alternative. Because it is such a memorization-based language, constant repetition via flash cards has become the study tool of choice for many an intrepid pupil. Little by little, however, the utility of such cards decreases as the sheer volume of words to memorize shoots through the roof.

Now there's a new tool: spaced-recognition software (SRS), a technology that utilizes a special algorithm to help you sift out the most difficult material in flash-card programs and study it within an appropriate timetable.

"When you answer a question [on a flash card] correctly for the first time, you get a choice of [different lengths of time] to wait until you see it again," said Damien Elmes, the developer of Anki, a popular SRS program, explaining the basic concept. "If you continually mark a card as hard, Anki will become more conservative in its scheduling. Likewise, if you continue to mark [one] as easy, it will become more optimistic."

Panacea or illusory hope?

Opinions, however, vary among adherents and linguistics experts alike as to the usefulness of SRS.

"The core concept of reviewing difficult items more frequently has great potential for things that lend themselves to rote memorization," Orlando Kelm, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas, Austin, told Lifestyle. "[Chinese is] a perfect example because some characters stick in our mind, and some don't. A program that recycles the more difficult characters more frequently exposes learners to a nice systematic review."

Kelm cautioned, however, that intensive SRS immersion can easily distract from the more experiential aspects of language learning. "A gigantic part is related to context - the impact of the moment," he said.

"It seems like every time we discover something that is good in one area - that SRS helps in aiding rote memorization - the tendency is to try to apply it in every other area, like learning to speak a foreign language," he said. "A person could know how to say all of the vocabulary words on the flash cards and still not be able to use the words in actual speech."

"The problem is that SRS is sometimes over-emphasized to the point that it almost seems like a 'language acquisition method,'" said John Pasden, "If the SRS-obsessed student is not getting plenty of natural target language input and speaking practice, he'll end up the linguistic equivalent of the guy at the gym with bulging upper body musculature but pencil legs."

For his part, Elmes readily admits SRS's failings, holding that smart SRS studying requires proper pacing and acceptance of one's limitations. "A big mistake many language learners make is to simply download a huge list of words and start pounding away at them, instead of seeking out material graded to their level," he said. "Still, it can be very rewarding to hear from users who report they were able to get a scholarship or pass some important test with the help of Anki."


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