Learning Chinese – One Year In



When I started memorizing my Spanish phrasebook, I picked an arbitrary number of phrases to learn each day – 10.  This seemed achievable to me, with the added benefit of being able to quickly calculate and track my progress.

This seemed to work well for me for the first three months, then I took a month or so off, then learnt 50-100 words per day for two weeks, before spending a week and a half revising my deck without learning any new words.

The problem with learning a lot of words or phrases quickly with Anki is that the number of cards to review also adds up very quickly, and before you know it you have to revise two or three hundred cards per day, with occasional spikes of five hundred cards in one day.  I call this problem The Wrath of Anki, and I’ve posted about it before here and here.

In his book Fast, Easy Way to Learn a Language Bill Handley states that in his opinion it is more effective to learn lots of words quickly and poorly rather a small amount of words slowly but surely.

I thought I’d try the Quickly and Poorly method with Chinese.  So I’d learn 100 new phrases in one session, then revise and revise until I had the number of cards I had to review down to a manageable level, then learn 100 more.

In short, it wasn’t as effective for me in the long term as learning 10 new words every day. Roughly a year after I started learning Chinese, I have only committed about 850 phrases to memory.  If I’d stuck with the slowly but surely method of 10 phrases a day, I would have learnt about 3650 phrases by now.

To be fair to myself, the last year has been tumultuous for me, and I have only studied Chinese on 208 of the last 365 days (56%).

I am also memorising the Hanzi for each phrase (I don’t want to remain illiterate in Chinese) at the same time as learning how to say them, which makes it about twice as time consuming.

The main problem for me was that when I stopped reviewing my Anki cards, I didn’t stop for a day or two but for weeks or months at a time, which meant that the number of cards waiting to be reviewed became ever more daunting.

Also, I was slightly distracted from Chinese because an opportunity came up to go to New Caledonia – so I memorised a French phrasebook!  And it worked beautifully!  But more about that in another post.

Right now, I’m concentrating on studying every day.  For the last two weeks I’ve been reviewing about 100 cards each day from my Chinese deck, bringing the number of reviews due each day down to a manageable level.  The good news is that tomorrow I will start learning new phrases again, after reviewing the same phrases over and over for the last six or seven months.

I’ll go back to basics, and I intend to learn 10 new phrases per day.




3 thoughts on “Learning Chinese – One Year In

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