I just read the start of TurnTrout's Lessons from his self-teaching efforts and his mention of Anki made me wonder about something.

Spaced repetition is a bit of a take away from real life experience. Typically we don't use everything we're learned every day, we get a form a natural spaced repetition (albeit somewhat biased in what is repeated by our own lives).

I've been (perhaps more pretending here) studying Korean for a while but in many ways not really accomplishing much. I've got a very limited vocabulary that I can recall in a "study" type setting (flash cards, reading the specific lesson dialogue...), understand common verb conjugation, various particle markers the language uses, know the character set and okay at making the right sound.  But suggesting I have anything related to a working command of the language is a rather humorous fantasy in my view.

One challenge I have is I really don't know any Koreans so opportunities to practice in real life settings are very limited. I've decided that I will start using some of the online tutors to start making my self actualy use and so start really thinking and developing the "muscle" memory rather than just study, repeat saying, flashcards, online audio or Korean language shows.

Does anyone think that Anki is better than real life use for learning? Or is it perhaps more of a (possibly imperfect) substitute for when one cannot avail themself of a real life usage setting to apply what they have learned?

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It's a complement, not a substitute: 

  1. I find Anki/spaced repetition extremely useful for mastering the vocabulary of a foreign language (or, in non-language settings, getting the basics down pat)
  2. But speaking fluently requires -- un(?)-surprisingly -- actually speaking

But mastering those basics is extremely useful!

As Michael Nielsen puts it: imagine trying to write a French sonnet if you have to look up the translation for every word you think of using. Mastering the rote basics is essential, in many settings, for mastery of the larger project -- and that's what spaced repetition does well.

I wrote a post about this recently. Spaced repetition/flashcards are for building broad knowledge. What you want is competence, which comes from immersion. Both are useful forms of learning, but they are distinct and built differently.

I think your plan of finding ways to incorporate Korean immersion into your life is exactly the right way to go.

I think I missed that so thanks for the link.

A large chunk of learning any language is memorization - a lot of memorization. Children do it unconciously without any effort or special tools, but they still effectively memorize thousands of words to become fluent in their native language. After a certain age, most people's ability to easily learn thousands of words in a new language just by exposure gets heavily nerfed, but if they want to learn a new language, they will need to somehow be able to understand and produce thousands upon thousands of words in the new language. The best tool I know of to accomplish this is SRS. When I was living in Denmark (I was 16 at the time), I learned and maintained a sizeable inventory of words over the course of a year using SRS (I got many compliments about my vocabulary towards the end of that time), and it was a massive boon to being able to use the language effectively. It was not a substitute for actually practicing it (or other methods of practicing other aspects), but a very useful complement to real-life conversation.

I also have found Anki to be useful for learning concepts in mathematics and physics - again, it doesn't serve as the entirety of studying, but a very valuable complement, alongside reading technical expositions of the concepts and solving problems that make use of the concepts that I learn and reinforce using SRS.

Other things I use Anki for include memorizing poetry, remembering different musical riffs and motifs, practicing problems for chess and go, maintaining various English words (such as retrograde and prograde, leeward and windward, "junoesque", remembering when dawn and dusk are [I used to get these mixed up often], or how to spell "hors d'oeuvres"),  various facts (such as that the moon is waxing when I can see it in the evening, and waning when it is visible in the morning, or the composition of the British House of Lords, or the basic idea behind how solar panels work), the flags of different countries, as well as the coordinates of various cities around the world, and various other things that I might forget, but want to remember.

My spouse has been learning Korean for two years on Duolingo, which also uses spaced repetition, with approximately no days missed, and learning has been slow. I think Anki is much worse as a primary language learning tool because it doesn't remix particles to give you new sentences to chew on. 

Where I find it shines for me (I review my cards ~2/week):

  • English vocabulary
  • Programming language syntax
  • Concepts that can be distilled into bite sized info chunks -- it doesn't substitute for understanding, but as a person who's better at memorization than concept-processing I find that memorizing the keywords and relations of a topic primes me to take in more when I read an article about how all the concepts hook up together. This works for database concepts but not quantum mechanics.
  • 1~3 sentence text designed to change some thinking pattern (e.g. I have an semi-phobia of insects but have had one really nice experience watching one, so I might have an Anki card prompting me to remember that)
  • Strong preferences my friends have ("Julie really hates spoilers")
  • Helping install TAPs

I'd disagree that Anki is worse than Duolingo. Duolingo has some good ideas, but it's poorly executed in the ways that most matter. I used a program very similar to Anki to build a solid vocabulary in Danish (when I was living in Denmark and learning it as a second language), and while I didn't use it for grammar, it worked extremely well (but slowly, it took me 8 or so months to really cohere) for being able to know what words to use to communicate what I wanted to communicate. I find building a vocabulary like this in Duolingo is very tedious compared to... (read more)

I'm glad it not just me! ;-) 

Just recently in a different setting someone claim Duolingo was not a great tool but I suspect that is dependent on the person. If she has not tried other learning sites she might take a look at TalkToMeInKorean.com -- lots of free materials, a large set of books they have published, lots of YouTube videos and very personable teachers that keep things relaxed and generally fun. That has been my primary tool (their books and free materials) but still oh so slowly progressing.

I've never used Anki and not sure it will actuall... (read more)

Can you elaborate on how you use it to help install TAPs? I've been experimenting with cards with a trigger in a specific situation on one side and the action on the other, but I'm wondering if there are better ways.

That's what I do.

This doesn't directly answer your question, but I think it could be extremely helpful nonetheless. You might find it helpful to read up on mnemonics. Mnemonics take advantage of the way our brains naturally remember information best and are pretty east to use. If you want a fun read will whet your appetite to learn memory techniques check out "Moonwalking with Einstein."

3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:24 AM

Does anyone think that Anki is better than real life use for learning? For rote memorization, yes. For other more complex tasks, no, and it is not even its intended use.

Or is it perhaps more of a (possibly imperfect) substitute for when one cannot avail themself of a real life usage setting to apply what they have learned?

As others mentioned before, it is a complement for other study tools. It won't make you fluent, and probably it will not even help you directly to read/write/listen/speak, but it will make shortcuts to help you comprehend faster and make the other study sessions more effective, and it will save time for you and your tutor/teacher from the most basic things and you'll be able to focus on more important things that the tutor is really necessary.

I'm not sure what are your objectives, but i recommend that you start doing some reading/listening as soon as can, and start adding all the vocabulary you see for the first time to Anki. I noticed that they usually repeat themselves very often, specially when dealing with similar materials (like another news piece related to the one you've read before), and Anki will make it very easy to recall then in the "real life" and it will reinforce itself.

For reading, i recommend trying some wikipedia articles about something you like, e.g. a game, a famous person, etc., because you will probably already know about what they are talking about and you will be able to focus on the foreign language. If you want another help, skim over the english language article, as they usually cover the same points.

I'm not sure about korean news, but news are also a good source of reading material, despite it being very boring at the beginning when you only catch the most basic things and it looks like it is a waste of time compared to reading them in english. But, as you read more and more, you'll start to stumble on news that are a continuation or very related to the ones you have read before, and there will be a huge overlap of what you already read (and memorize) and what you are reading now.

For listening, i've been using some japanese variety shows (which also have a huge amount of written text shown on the screen) and i try to write down every word i think i could infer or that i think it is crucial to understand what is going on. I'm using VLC, and reducing the playback speed by 10% (the smallest step) makes a huge difference and makes it much easier and pleasant to watch. You can also try finding some vloggers or streamers, if you marginally interested in games, and it could also be a good listening exercise.

For writing/speaking it gets harder to get a good practice, because it requires another speaker to provide feedback. For writing i've used Lang-8, where you write you and a native corrects the text, and you do the same in the language you are fluent for other users.

I'll have to look into abilities to view and slow the playback. I do watch a fair amount of Korean language shows. Not sure if Viki's interface includes that or if I can setup PotPlayer (VLC always causes some problem on my system that I've never figured out -- and with all the options never willing to invest too much effort in solving)  to stream the shows and take advantage of the suggestion.

Side note on watching the foreign shows. Since I'm also watching for entertainment value if generally have CC turned on. However, one things I have learned is I have to be careful about getting into the habit of reading and not really listening. When that happens I just hear English in my head and it starts drowning out the Korean! Turning CC off if I want to be in pure study/learning mode solves that but trying to be in that mode 24/7 is really hard on the brain ;-)

Thanks for the Lang-8 suggestion, will look into that as well.

"Does anyone think that Anki is better than real life use for learning? Or is it perhaps more of a (possibly imperfect) substitute for when one cannot avail themself of a real life usage setting to apply what they have learned?"

I doubt it. Anki is one (very useful) tool, that's all.

It's not meant as a substitute but an adjunct.

You need to also practice speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Nb The book fluent forever is the best resource I've come across for language learning. His process for anki card creation is also very good (using images/never using your native language to avoid translating).

Also, get yourself a Korean lover. Sure to help!