Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Using Pimsleur's Algorithm To Remember Other Stuff

(Update: The incremental video is done, I just need to sync the recorded video and audio together. It's about 30 minutes long.)

First of all, I am very grateful to those that posted a link to the Pimsleur Method in Wikipedia, it proved most helpful. I am most interested in the intervals between reviewing newly learned information; here is what they (apparently) use at Pimsleur:

5 seconds,
25 seconds,
2 minutes,
10 minutes,
1 hour,
5 hours,
1 day,
5 days,
25 days,
4 months,
2 years.

In other words, after you first learn a new word, you are quizzed over that new word after 5 seconds. 25 seconds later, you are asked about that word again. 2 minuets later, you are asked again. etc. etc.
Once you begin discussing intervals that are days, weeks or months long, you are in long-term retention territory, which SuperMemo and Anki already do very well. But for those first six intervals, I think there is something very useful there: 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours.

As an experiment, I tried to figure out if these same increments could be used to remember other things. To do this, I first found a timer app for my iPhone that supported multiple timers. Instead of setting a timer each time I reviewed something, I would rather start six timers at once and review the information when each timer went off. To do this, I simply totaled each increment with the previous one.

By adding 5 seconds to 25 seconds, you get 30 seconds. Adding 30 seconds to 2 minutes gives you 2:30 min. Adding 10 minutes to 2:30 min gives you 12:30 min and so on. For the first few increments, I decided that I should add 5 seconds or so to allow for actual reviewing time. Thus, I ended up with a little (fairly impractical) study system: Learn a new word (or two) with a physical flashcard, then start all six timers. Each time the timer goes off I review the word(s). In between I had to do something mentally stimulating (Play a game, watch the news, etc.) otherwise I would think about the flashcards I was learning and potentially skew the results.

Here are the intervals:

0:09 - (5 seconds plus 4 seconds to review when the alarm goes off)
0:45 - (25 seconds plus the 10 seconds of the previous interval, with 10 seconds to review)
2:30 - (2 minutes plus the 30 seconds of the previous interval)
12:30 - (10 minutes plus the 2:30 from the previous interval)
1:12:30 - (12:30 plus 1 hour)
6:12:30 - (1:12:30 plus 5 hours)

I thought adding a few extra seconds for review to the first two intervals would be good because the intervals are already very short to begin with (Otherwise the intervals might overlap). After you start waiting for more than a couple of minutes, having an extra few seconds seems to matter less, especially after 12 minutes.

But the result of this experiment was this: any word I put forth effort to learn (Which usually meant making a mnemonic or Chinese character connection with), was learned. It doesn't matter if the word I tried to learn was a Hindi word (Which I have no experience in) or a Chinese word (Which I have quite a bit of experience in). When I applied this formula to learning new words, by the time I hit the fifth interval (1:12:30), I had no problems recalling the word. After putting the word into SuperMemo, it has been stable in my mind and I use it with as much ease as I do other words.

Basically, I think we have found a reliable formula that  maximizes the solid, short-term retention on desired information.

Please try this yourself, but make sure you are doing something that arrests your attention in between the intervals (Play a video game, watch a TV show, etc.), don't think about the word you are trying to learn. Otherwise your mental grip on the word doesn't have a chance to strengthen.

While it is possible to use multiple timers to pull this off, it is not extremely convenient to do. If this entire thing were packaged as an app, I think it would be most useful (And perhaps profitable if it catches on). If anybody has any experience with Objective C, please leave me your info (I won't publish the comment if it contains your contact information).

Here's how the app would work (Roughly):

Create a flashcard of something you want to learn (Vocab word, phrase, etc.) and press "LEARN." This would start a timer that goes off after 5 seconds. The alarm goes off, you review the word. If you get it correct, it goes onto the next interval (25 seconds). Incorrect, it goes back to 5 seconds. Keep repeating this pattern until you hit the 5 hour interval, and you've now learned that word. The word can be put into Anki, SuperMemo, etc. and then deleted (From the short-term flashcard app). BUT, once a word has gone onto 2 or 10 minutes, it would be very easy to add another word into the mix (Each with its own set of timers). Once that word's intervals goes to 2 or 10 minutes, add another. Like trying to keep track of spinning plates, the app would keep track of which cards need immediate review, so you don't have to fiddle with timers and physical flashcards.

Also, if you know of an App that already does this, please mention so in the comments. Thank you very much.

I'm fairly confident this will be useful to lots of people (Myself included).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Incremental Reading Video?

Question: If I made a video of myself incrementally reading something, would that be useful? I enjoy thinking about incremental reading as a concept but would a video example be useful for all of you out there?

If so, what screen-capture software would you recommend for Windows?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Project: Pimsleur Everything

Just a small update to fill you in on what's going on in my life that is relevant to learning:

Other than the typical activity with Incremental Reading (I am really enjoying reading novels), I had a recent epiphany when using Pimsleur Hindi: it is not very difficult to get the bare basics of a language down (Using Pimsleur or other programs), and by using SuperMemo you can easily retain all of your progress. In other words long as you "back up" your progress using SuperMemo, there is no risk of EVER losing your hard-earned progress.

After finishing Pimsleur Hindi Comprehensive (And not relying on ANY other study materials during the time), I cannot say that I am fluent in the language. However, I now have a basic working knowledge of Hindi grammar. A few weeks ago, I didn't have it. Now I do. "That's pretty neat," I thought.

I hardly consider myself an expert in linguistics or learning languages; I can only base my conclusions on my own experiences. But for the last three languages I've started learning, while Pimsleur didn't give me fluency, my experience has been that it has constantly provided me with a solid first step in each language. Like a "starter deck" in a collectible card game, Pimsleur is a nice "starter deck" for a language. 

Over the last few weeks, my listening routine has changed slightly: Rather than making flashcards the first time I go over the material, I constantly keep an iPod Shuffle (A small iPod with a clip on it) with me that has only Pimsleur lessons on it. When I have more than 1 or 2 minutes of free time, I plug my headphones in and listen to the lessons. If I have trouble coming up with the correct responses taught in that lesson, I repeat the lesson again. Usually by the second or third listen even the most difficult lessons "clicked."

After I finish a few lessons, I make sure to add any notable phrases to SuperMemo. I do this by listening to the mp3s again on my computer using VLC (A really nice video and audio player for the PC and Mac). Because I have already heard the lessons before, I can speed up the playback without negatively affecting my comprehension. Thus, I have been re-listening to sped up lessons, pausing the lesson when a new phrase is introduced (Or one that I recall struggling with), put the phrase into SuperMemo, and move on. One 30-minute lesson can be covered in 15-20 minutes when sped up.

When I keep my iPod constantly attached to me, I am able to listen to at least one or two lessons per day. Driving to work, fixing a leak in the basement of my house, brushing my teeth, I was surprised at the amount of free listening time I had on my hands. It hasn't added any stress to my life, the only thing I have had to change is my listening habits (And the time I spend creating the flashcards, which is not very much). The flashcards added to SuperMemo are very easy-to-remember because they have already become a "stabilized" short-term memory.

This process has worked for Pimsleur Hindi, and over the past couple of weeks I have been going through Pimsleur Korean I (I am on lesson 15). I have had no problems recalling the phrases introduced, and I have made quicker progress on the Korean lessons than Hindi (Which I think can be attributed to a better structured listening and reviewing routine). As long as I can continue at this pace, I plan on using Pimsleur to learn the basics of as many languages as possible over the next couple of years. Pimsleur's catalog is quite big, and I plan on finishing every "comprehensive" course they have.

I'm not trying to show off or brag, but I am pleasantly surprised at how such a small change in my life (Listening to audio lessons instead of Japanese indie music or entertaining podcasts) can net such a positive result (And hopefully many more positive results in the future).

The main reason I think this is worth doing is because I absolutely love people; every person you meet has a unique backstory, likes, dislikes, aspirations, etc. I would love to communicate with as many people as possible. Thus, I have recently begun a new long-term project: relate to as many people as possible by learning as many languages as possible, and using Pimsleur as the starting point for each language, and keep doing this until I die.