Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From the Internet to Supermemo

I have an iPod Touch, and I've ended up using it a GREAT deal more than I ever thought I would.

Two unexpected uses of my iPod have been:
1. Free, very comprehensive foreign language dictionaries (Which can be quite expensive) and
2. Instapaper. Instapaper is a program that takes articles you find on the internet and sends them to your iPod or iPhone as text (With maybe a couple of pictures). Because an iPod lacks a constant internet connection, this is a great way to read interesting material found on the internet when on-the-go. Since I've begun using it, Instapaper has become my preferred means of reading internet articles.

But what if I find something that I want to remember? How does this application relate to Supermemo? The answer is the useful screenshot function in the iPod and iPhone. To take a picture of your iPod's screen, press the Home button and the power button at the same time. You will see a flash and hear a camera shutter sound. Whatever was being displayed on the screen is now a picture, and those pictures can be accessed using the "Photos" app.

So here is how knowledge "flows" from the internet into Supermemo:
1. Find interesting article
2. Send to Instapaper
3. While reading on my iPod, take a picture of an interesting passage, statement, etc.
4. Periodically go through my photos and enter the valuable information into Supermemo

Thus, even when you're out and have a few minutes of free time, you can do some learning which will ultimately go in Supermemo (Just make sure you don't use it while watching a sunset, talking to a loved one, or during any other inappropriate occasion). The reason I post this now is because: 1. I'm a huge fan of Instapaper, and 2. Instapaper is going to be a launch application for the new iPad. Such an application could help rationalize an iPad purchase as an "educational expense" if I tried hard enough to convince myself.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Flashcard Zen? (My Morning Routine)

Because Supermemo (As well as other Spaced Repetition programs) requires that you review a piece of information a minimal number of times, the number of items you must review on a daily basis goes down quite quickly.

For the past couple of years, I have probably reviewed only 200-350 items per day. Thanks to being able to use a Nintendo Wii Remote with my computer, I can now review items almost as quickly as I can recall them; very little time is spent actually pressing buttons (Mainly the A and B buttons on the Wii Remote).

After a bit of reluctance, I have started increasing the number of items I add on a daily basis. As a result, the average number of items has jumped to around 500-650 per day. But strangely, the amount of time I spend on them is around 1 to 1.5 hours; this increased workload has not changed my morning routine much at all (Wake up, do Supermemo, jog, eat breakfast, leave). In fact, rather than feeling more stressed ("Oh no! I have 600 items today!"), I feel more refreshed and excited in general.

(Update on remembering Chinese words: It is indeed working, and I am able to remember words very quickly, although not as quickly as I did Japanese words; before they are "locked" in my memory, I usually get the tones wrong a couple of times.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Sorry this post took so long. I wanted to make sure that this method worked (It does) before posting. To test this, I put Chinese vocabulary words into Supermemo. Usually it takes a week or two for new information to be truly "remembered" with Supermemo, as you need to review them two or three times (Successfully) before you can say to yourself "OK, I know this word now."

KanjiTown was a mnemonic system that made Japanese vocabulary acquisition a piece of cake. When I began to study Chinese, I thought "A slightly modified version of this would have to work just as effectively for Chinese, right?"

The goal was simple:
1. Group together Chinese characters based on their pronunciation
2. Somehow link all of those characters together
3. Learn vocabulary at an absurd rate (Just like Japanese)

For the past year I have struggled to complete step two in this process. I attempted many different ways of linking the characters together, but none of them worked as well as KanjiTown did. I now realize that the main error was this: I tried to remember both the pronunciation and tone of a character with the same story at the same time. This resulted in too much mental clutter, too many images moving around in the mind. Rather than try to remember both the pronunciation and tone, I should simply focus on the pronunciation first. Should I want to design a system for remembering the tones of characters, that can be done later.

But honestly, I don't think there will be a need for a tone mnemonic system. Why? Japanese does not have a tone system, but stress is placed on certain syllables, and not on others (For example, you do not say "konNIchiwa," it is "KONnichiwa"); when I was studying Japanese, never was it necessary to create a mnemonic system to remember them, as proper placement of emphasis came naturally with time and exposure to the language through downloaded TV shows, radio, etc. Although Chinese tones do not sound as natural as sense stress does in English or Japanese, I have a feeling I will learn them like I learned Japanese sense stress.

When you have a hammer, sometimes everything seems like a nail. In this case, I was mnemonically trigger-happy, and was trying to use mnemonics to do a job they weren't cut out to do.

Now that I've learned my lesson, here is my present method for Chinese character memorization:

Once you have grouped the Chinese characters together, the next step is to assign a specific INDIVIDUAL to each group. This individual could be a real person or a fictitious character. After you have assigned an individual to one group, each character in the group somehow becomes an attribute of that individual.

Let's take an example: JIA. JIA sounds a lot like JACK, so let's assign Jack Nickelson to the JIA group. After we find a list of characters all pronounced JIA, we somehow link them to Jack Nickelson. For example, the character for "armor" is pronounced "Jia," so imagine Jack Nickelson in knight's armor. He will wear the armor for the whole duration of the story (Like the Japanese KanjiTown, these stories should somehow connect with one another when possible to ensure memory stability). JIA can also mean "to support, frame, rack." So imagine our knight Jack Nickelson trying to stabilize someone on a big ladder, so that they don't fall, perhaps fighting off a dragon at the same time (He is wearing the armor, after all).
Also, it is good for each story to have a primary objective that the character works towards. Rescuing a girl, climbing a mountain, fighting a dragon, etc.

(This is merely an example, I am not actually using the above story.)

So where KanjiTown focused on location, "ChinaTown" focuses on people. I imagine it would be preferred that the people used for "ChinaTown" be those that have not appeared in KanjiTown (I'm assuming this would not work; I could be wrong, but I don't want to test this for fear that it could disrupt my memory).

I have assigned a few individuals to a few groups of characters, and I can recall words that include those characters with great speed compared to my previous attempts at retaining Chinese vocabulary. Now that I know the process, it's simply a matter of time before Chinese is conquered, one little group at a time!

("Jack Nickelson" is a song by "Bloodthirsty Butchers," a Japanese band. I enjoy their music.)

Edit: I changed the posting date to reflect the fact that I finished the post recently. I started the post about a month ago.