Tag: comments


Aug 2012

Graham’s SRS Method

Sinosplice commenter Graham Bond recently left a lengthy and interesting comment on my Misgivings about SRS post. (“SRS” refers to spaced repetition system like Anki; I explain how SRS works in an earlier post.)

I quote Graham’s comment here, almost in its entirety, adding in a few links and just a little emphasis:

I have become a hopelessly-addicted SRS user in recent months. This decision came at something of an impasse in my (nine year-long) Chinese language-learning journey, and was made largely on the back of blog I came across, the author of which was positively evangelical about the possibilities of the technology.

By now – nine months in – I recognise all of the problems and limitations cited above. I was mistaken to think, as many others have, that SRS was a cure to all language-acquisition ills. It is bound to unnaturally skew one’s priorities and lead to the kind of imbalanced result you allude to in your post (ie. I have bulging vocabularly pecs, and puny grammatical legs). That said, it has proved useful in certain respects, not least in introducing a competitive element to language-learning (albeit one in which I compete with myself) and imposing quite a hard-edged discipline (ie. I gotta get through my character sets every day, regardless of how I feel, otherwise the ‘overdue cards’ count mounts very quickly….this can verge on the pathological).

My current set up attempts to address some of the deficiencies mentioned above. Though it’s probably very, very boring, I’ll set out my current arrangements, as briefly as possible, in the hope of explaining how they work for me (and occasionally, how they do not).

I have four decks of cards which, in total, I spend around an hour trawling through daily.

Only one of these, the HSK deck, was downloaded and, as such, contains many words and (at Level 6) idioms which are completely devoid of context for me. Because of the sheer size of the contemporary Level 6 HSK category (1,400+ words), I have had to introduce new cards slowly – I try for 10-20 new words per day – in the hope that by the end of this year, 2012, I will be juggling all cards (about 2,500 for Levels 1-6), while never having to face a single daily session of more than, say, 150 words at one time.

I download daily audio from YouTube clips of 美国之音 TV news broadcasts and listen to them as MP3 files whilst commuting, or taking a stroll. I attempt to listen to at least 20-minutes worth of broadcast material daily. Additionally, I force myself to read at least one Chinese news article (I occasionally substitute this with a page or two of a novel) per day, regardless of subject. These two activities have allowed me to locate the usage of a lot of the fairly formal words or obscures idioms that I have come across in my HSK drills (especially when I read Chinese newspapers, as these are the most likely to feature the more obscure, Mao-era, political terms often used in the HSK). I don’t always have time to dwell on their exact usage – and there are many words/phrases I have not yet heard in any real-world context – but I do get a little thrill when I hear a word or phrase which I have previously only known in the HSK context, being used out there in the real world.

In short, I try to undertake the (largely written) daily SRS drills in tandem with attempts to exercise my listening and reading skills.

My second and third flashcard decks are drawn manually from Chinesepod.com. I listen to lessons at the Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels (keep up the good work, btw!:)) and, after each lesson, draw down new words/phrases into files which I transfer to my SRS system (Pleco, for what it’s worth). Thus I have an ‘Intermediate’ set, and an ‘Upper Intermediate’ set which are both increasing in size on a weekly basis, as new lessons are made.

My fourth flashcard set – and the most recent, and possible useful, addition – is a list of complete sentences which locates some of the most common/useful/interesting words/phrases in real-world context. I tend to take these sentences from the dialogues at Chinesepod.com, thereby ensuring that they are reliable in terms of how people really speak. This is an attempt to address the most obvious failing with SRS that it allows you to expand your vocabulary without requiring any understanding of how words are actually used in context. In this test, I look at the English translation and read out the correct Chinese sentence. The act of verbalising, if only to myself, seems to make certain patterns stick.

In terms of the specific tests that I undertake, I oscillate fairly systematically between, on the one hand, viewing the English translation and responding with the written Chinese translation (input using hanzi), while simultaneously verbalising the word in the (hopefully) correct tones; and, on the other, reading the Chinese word and verbalising the correct English translation out loud to myself. Regardless of the exact test I undertake, I try to be disciplined and have a rule for myself that if I could not, on request, write the hanzi that appear in the word, or if I get the tone of a character wrong (even if I knew how to write it), I mark the card as wrong. In some ways this is a vanity project – I want to be able to say (as I have been known to in the past) that “I am able to write everything that I am able to say”. On the other hand, as some other commenters have noted, writing a character over and over again does tend to make it stick in one’s memory banks.

As I mentioned, all of this takes me between 60 minutes and 75 minutes per day.

Despite all of my labours, I have concluded that while daily SRS work has enlarged my vocabulary and improved my reading skills (and to a lesser extent, listening skills), it has done absolutely nothing for my general conversational fluency. If anything, this is in a worse place now than it was nine months ago. I lived in China for several years in the Noughties (apologies:)) and, thus, feel confident in terms of my basic pronunciation and tones. But, here I am, nine years in, still finding myself jumping through all kinds of mental hoops and using torturous (and probably way overly complication and clunky) sentence constructions when it comes time to actually have a conversation at anything over a basic elementary level. Similarly, I have little confidence in composing a Chinese sentence in writing. I may be able to write the individual characters accurately, with the correct stroke order etc.etc, but I cannot necessarily link them fluently in a proper sentence, let alone a paragraph.

In summary, SRS is rubbish for improving fluency, but is great for developing vocabulary and thus (depending on precisely how it is used), improving one’s reading and listening comprehension. Luckily for me, right now I am most concerned with improving my Chinese reading skills, so this works for me. And I am (semi)confident that this is great foundational work for when I do, eventually, get back to China and find myself speaking with real people again (you currently find me residing in a sleepy English village – which, over and beyond everything I have said, is my biggest problem of all – the general ambient sounds in my everyday life are not those of Mandarin Chinese!)

Thanks for the detailed comment, Graham! At the time you didn’t know you were writing a guest post, so… surprise! I appreciate you going to the trouble of writing such a detailed account. Other learners will benefit from your ideas.

I like the way you diversified your SRS review, and your confirmation on the shortcomings of SRS as a study tool is helpful. There’s no silver bullet for mastery of any language…


May 2008

No Chinese Story Voices

In a comment on my Sign Language Expression post, commenter Justin writes:

> You know what else I noticed? Chinese don’t make any voices but their own when delivering stories. Of course relating real stories my “bad ass dad” voice and “bitchy mom” voice are nothing like my parent’s real voices, but they can reveal a lot about my attitude towards the things they would say to me. (Be it authoritarian or intentionally trying to annoy me by talk on about trivial affairs.)

Interesting observation! I had never thought about that before, but after going over it in my head a while, I couldn’t think of any personal instances to counter Justin’s claim. The only “voice” I can recall Chinese friends doing is the “foreigner accent,” or “Taiwan accent,” which is not the same thing.

I suspect there’s more to this… anyone have any anecdotes to add, or links to linguistic research on the cross-cultural role of “doing voices” in communication?


Sep 2005

Comment Submit Issues

I’ve been getting reports of difficulty submitting comments. I’ve been having them too, and in the WordPress interface as well. The commenting difficulties go something like this:

IE users get a “page cannot be found” error after clicking “submit comment.”
Firefox users get absolutely nothing after clicking “submit comment.” It looks like it’s working, like a new page is loading, and then it just dies.

I’m not sure what’s causing this. It’s not a China issue, because it’s happening to people outside of China as well. That means it’s either a hosting issue or a WordPress issue. I’m guessing it’s the latter, probably caused by a plugin. I’ll try to fix it soon, but I don’t have a lot of free time on my hands.

In the meantime, you can still submit comments. IE users, hit back and submit again. Repeat as necessary. Firefox users, just click and wait for it to go through. Repeat as necessary.

Sorry for the inconvenience, and thank you for your patience.


Jun 2005

Crossover Complete

So, do you notice a big difference? Hopefully you don’t. That’s the whole point of converting templates. There are a few small changes, though:

Tags. I am in the process of switching from category-based classification to tag-based. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but it all comes down to: tags are awesome. If you use del.icio.us or Flickr, you know what I’m talking about. The entries on the current page have all been properly tagged, but you won’t be able to see the true potential until the whole system is tagged.

Comments. They look a little different now, including the “Reponses” box in the left sidebar. They work pretty much the same. Your first comment on the new system may need to be moderated before it displays.

Archives. The archives are pretty different now. The individual entry links are all different. I’ll do my best to preserve old links. I’m relying mostly on tags for organization. My theory is that blog archive indexes are hardly even used, so they don’t need to be prominently displayed or labored over too much. Most people find what they want with Google anyway.

RSS. There is a new RSS feed. Rather than just deleting the old MT one, I’ll manually put in one last entry in the RSS feed that tells you the new feed links. I’ll also be updating the feeds page. When I get around to it.

OK, that’s all for now. Sorry for broken stuff. Let me know what’s broken. And comment!

Oh, and here are the entries that lost out on comments. Give them some comment love:

Visa to the USA (Part 1)
WordPress it is…
DONE with exams!!!
A Taste of Shanghai
To the Consulate
Noodle School
Star Wars Set
No Comments


May 2005

No Comments

I have removed the comment function from this blog. Hopefully it will only be temporary. The reason is comment spam.

Although I actually see very little comment spam thanks to MT Blacklist, my comment script still gets hit hard by the spammers, who are then denied by MT Blacklist. Unfortunately, all those hits to the comment script put quite a strain on the server. That’s why my host disabled my comment script several times in the past.

A few days ago when my host disabled it again, I asked them to re-enable it, as usual. When they did, it was hit again so quickly and so hard that it crashed the server repeatedly. My host banned the comment script.

I changed the filename and put the script back online for a short time, but the problem would definitely be back as soon as the spammers caught on to the new filename. So I have removed the comment function in order to avoid getting booted by my host (which is, for the most part, a very good host).

The source of the problem is twofold. The main source, of course, is the spammers. But they’re not going away, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The other source is Movable Type’s poor design. The comment script is written in such a way that it takes up way too many server resources. I can do something about that.

If I want to keep the comment function, the only solution I see is to switch from Movable Type to some other blogware. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, because I’d like to get away from the hassle of static pages and go dynamic. Serendipity and Textpattern are most appealing to me. Both are powerful PHP-based blogging platforms. (Yes, I know about WordPress; I’m not very interested.) Although both can import my Movable Type entries, I’m not sure if either can import all my comments. That’s a big deal to me; I want to keep all these comments. So I’m not sure what to do yet. I would really appreciate suggestions (by e-mail) from anyone who has experience with this.

I don’t like having to disable comments. I really enjoy getting feedback on what I write here. But this is the way it’s going to have to be for a few weeks, probably.


Nov 2002

Be Heard!

OK, so I finally got a commenting system for my weblog! (The “comments” link is at the bottom right of each post.) We’ll say this is part of the upgrade to 1.2 also. It’s through Haloscan, and I think for the most part, it’s pretty good. It would be better if I had my own, but I’m too lazy for that at this moment in time. This one works well enough, and it’s even customizable. It’s the Blogger for commenting.

I would have added it much sooner, were it not for my silly erroneous assumption that two different script tags in the header referring to external javascript files would conflict and screw my javascripts all up. Such a silly, wrong fool I was. WAS! Thanks to buddy Chun-shek for setting me straight.

So, I’m hoping to see a little commenting, particularly from family members. (Hint, hint! That’s you guys!) And from friends would be nice too. And of course anyone that wants to comment.

And so it begins…