A Power-User's Guide to Flashcards with Plecodict

#1
I have wished for some time that someone (not necessarily Michael) would put together a kind of "best practices" overview of how to get the most out of the flashcard system.
In response to this request, I have put together a short guide which outlines how I take advantage of the powerful flashcard / dictionary integration in Pleco to learn Chinese. The method of study I outline below works best for students who are studying independently, and is tailored my own learning goals (namely, a focus on input before output, and a desire to understand and enjoy a wide variety of media in Chinese).

In a nutshell, the method consists of using the spaced-repetition method to study short / medium sentence flashcards, and then iteratively add pronunciation, tone, and character cards during flashcard sessions as necessary. The end result is that you learn grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, tones, characters, and even get some fundamental writing practice in an extremely efficient manner which feels easy and fun.

So, lets get started.

Create two profiles. One called "reading" and one for "tones", each with their own separate score files and flashcard categories.

Set both up as spaced repetition with automatic scoring (by far the most efficient choice for serious students studying on their own terms)

"Reading" will be self-scored test type, headword shown, and contain the following three types of cards:
Note that nothing differentiates these three card "types" besides the length of the headword and the way you study/score yourself when you see one

Sentence cards - custom headword-only flashcards.
grade these cards correct if you completely understand the grammar and meaning of the sentence. Don't worry about remembering perfect pronunciation or tones; If you get those also enjoy the fuzzy feeling inside but don't sweat it. Check your understanding if necessary by tapping characters in the headword and using the popup-definitions.
When you hit a word in these sentences during review that you just can't pronounce, or didn't remember the meaning to, quickly highlight it and create a flashcard to the "reading" category. It will keep track of duplicates, so no worries! =)

Word cards - automatically generated cards from the dictionaries.
-grade these cards correct if you know the meaning and can recite the pronunciation (don't worry about tones). If you get the tones, too, pat yourself on the back.
-When you run into a word that you feel shaky on the tones, go ahead and "re-create" this flashcard into the "tones" category. (Make sure the "keep categories on duplicates" option is checked!)
-If you're having trouble with a "word" flashcard, make another word flashcard using one of the characters you can't remember (through character details -> words using this character -> make flashcard from one of the words, preferably a common word marked with a * after the pinyin in the ABC dictionary)
-If you can't remember what certain characters mean, make a single-character card from it into the "reading" category.


Character cards - automatically generated single-character cards.
-Grade these cards as correct if you can remember the meaning or "sense" of the character. Also be sure to write the character once by hand (I use the overlay sketch box for this). Once again, if you can remember that 痛 means "hurt" or "pain" or "not feeling good and kinda sucky" then mark it right.
-If you're having trouble with one of these cards, make another card containing parts of it using character details > parts. e.g., add 桶 and notice that maybe wooden buckets have something to do with disease and pain. Or something. Learning characters with the same shape just make them all easier to remember.


In your "tones" category, you'll just have tone-drill type cards.

tone cards - everything but the tone is shown
-These will be graded correct if you remember the tones. Only glance at the meaning fields, etc.
-When you whip through these cards, you won't believe how easy they are! Who knew tones were this easy to remember. I guess you're just awesome.

Each day, select the "reading" profile, do your repetitions (creating new cards as you go). Every time you see a headword with more than 4 characters or so, simply read and understand it as a sentence. When you see a headword with 2-3 characters, recite the pronunciation and the meaning of the word. When you see a single character, recall the meaning and then write it once or twice.
Then, switch to your "tones" profile and clean up those repetitions.

Once you've finished your repetitions, add a couple sentences from books you're reading or TV shows you're watching. Chinesepod is a great source of sentences if you're in a hurry. Anything fun, interesting, bizarre, or vital (new grammar, anyone?) should be thrown into your SRS as a sentence-only headword. If necessary, in place of a definition include "context" in your sentence flash cards: For the card "喂!你别乱摸啦!" add "Bulma to Goku in back as motorcycle speeds off" in the definition field.

With all of your flashcards reinforcing each other, and focused in on exactly the parts you need to learn, repetitions feel easy and fun. You can keep adding sentences or individual words to your "reading" category and everything else will take care of itself as you iteratively add flashcards during your repetitions. Setting your default flashcard dictionary to the C-C Guifan dictionary makes for even more automated recursive learning action =)

This is why PlecoDict is so awesome! This kind of studying is simply impossible with any other tool because of how much time it would take to add each and every flashcard. With each card focused on one piece of knowledge (understanding, pronunciation, meaning, or tone) the spaced repetition algorithm is able to work even more effectively: see this quote from the "original" SRS creator's "20 rules for formulating knowledge" :
(http://www.supermemo.com/articles/20rules.htm)

Stick to the minimum information principle

The material you learn must be formulated in as simple way as it is only possible. Simplicity does not have to imply losing information and skipping the difficult part. Simplicity is imperative due to the way the brain works. There are two main reasons for which knowledge must be simple:

* Simple is easy
By definition, simple material is easy to remember. This comes from the fact that its simplicity makes is easy for the brain to process it always in the same way. Imagine a labyrinth. When making a repetition of a piece of material, your brain is running through a labyrinth (you can view a neural network as a tangle of paths). While running through the labyrinth, the brain leaves a track on the walls. If it can run in only one unique way, the path is continuous and easy to follow. If there are many combinations, each run may leave a different trace that will interfere with other traces making it difficult to find the exit. The same happens on the cellular level with different synaptic connections being activated at each repetition of complex material

* Repetitions of simple items are easier to schedule
I assume you will make repetitions of the learned material using optimum inter-repetition intervals (as in SuperMemo). If you consider an item that is composed of two sub-items, you will need to make repetitions that are frequent enough to keep the more difficult item in memory. If you split the complex item into sub-items, each can be repeated at its own pace saving your time. Very often, inexperienced students create items that could easily be split into ten or more simpler sub-items! Although the number of items increases, the number of repetitions of each item will usually be small enough to greatly outweigh the cost of (1) forgetting the complex item again and again, (2) repeating it in excessively short intervals or (3) actually remembering it only in part!
It's worth mentioning that the "minimum information principle" doesn't mean single-word flashcards are necessarily better; sure the single-word flashcard may be shorter, but if you're trying to remember meaning, pronunciation, tones, and usage all on one single card without any context to help, then you're making things more difficult for yourself.

This part of the same article also underscores why learning words as parts of a sentence (that you understand) is so important:
Learn before you memorize

Before you proceed with memorizing individual facts and rules, you need to build an overall picture of the learned knowledge. Only when individual pieces fit to build a single coherent structure, will you be able to dramatically reduce the learning time. This is closely related to the problem comprehension mentioned in Rule 1: Do not learn if you do not understand. A single separated piece of your picture is like a single German word in the textbook of history.

Do not start from memorizing loosely related facts! First read a chapter in your book that puts them together (e.g. the principles of the internal combustion engine). Only then proceed with learning using individual questions and answers (e.g. What moves the pistons in the internal combustion engine?), etc.
By the way, you can easily add new custom flashcards by enabling the "always show create new entry" option. Just tap-hold on the create new user dictionary entry button (it looks like a pencil) to make a new custom flashcard and paste or write in a headword sentence. Once pleco supports a "create custom flashcard from selected text" function, learning Chinese from books in the reader module will be a blissfully automated experience =)

JUST MAKE SURE YOU DO ALL OF YOUR REPETITIONS EVERY DAY!!! If you skip a day or two that's fine, but if you get a week or two behind you will be buried under a pile of flashcards. Just don't do it! If you're serious about becoming proficient in Chinese let the flashcard program keep you honest - feel free to stop adding flashcards at any time if you feel overwhelmed, but if you're serious about learning it is critical that you keep doing the repetitions as they show up.


One last word of advice, is that if you notice any flashcards which are tough to remember or you keep failing, just delete them! Don't even second guess yourself - in the time you spent trying to conquer that single tough-to-remember word, you could have added three others and kept improving instead. If the word is really important it'll come up again later, so just don't sweat it.
 
#2
This is a magnificent post and has helped me. Thank you.
(One small difference of opinion please- I would never grade a pronunciation as correct without the tone being correct too; I would never separate these two.)
 
#3
mongrel said:
This is a magnificent post and has helped me. Thank you.
(One small difference of opinion please- I would never grade a pronunciation as correct without the tone being correct too; I would never separate these two.)
I'm definitely open to discussion of ways I can improve this method, so I appreciate any feedback you guys might have.

I agree with you that it's important to know the pronunciation + tone for each word - that's why I'm sure to create a tone flashcard for every word I'm unable to remember the tones for. I've simply found that (in my case) separating the testing of meaning+pronunciation and tones has made my repetitions go faster and feel easier, without sacrificing retention. You should definitely try it both ways and see what works for you.

It would also be possible to split up the testing into meaning and pronunciation+tones or meaning, pronunciation, and tones all seperately (instead of meaning+pronunciation and tones), but in my case I know a lot of Kanji from my Japanese study, so in many cases the meaning by itself is trivial.
 
#4
Interesting approach, quite different from mine. I actually use frequency adjust and the score quality responses to indicate how well I know something with the highest correct tones as well.

I really like the idea of testing sentences but entering them in Pleco is kind of laborious so it's not something I've gone down.
 
#5
Great Post, but little confused on the process. Still new to the flashcards, so sorry if this post is just taking up space. I think I can follow how to set up the reading and tone category. Struggling with the sub-categories. For example, under the reading category, you suggest having sentence,word and character cards. I'm a little lost on what I need to do to set that up. I've seen posts that making sentence cards takes some time, but I have found other posts that seem to have many HSK sentences that could be used to upload. But I'm not sure how these work or how I can create the other different sub-categories. It looks like both word and character cards can be automaticly generated, but not sure how to do that. I'm sure it's probably a simple thing i'm missing.

The tones seem a little more straight forward. Although there seem to be a link between the tones and reading category. Are these the same flashcards, with different views? I know you can duplicate the flashcards in each category. ie reading and tones can have the same flashcards.

I think if i can understand this part better, I'll be able to see how this system works. So far it looks like a great way to study and it has helped me learn allot about how to use the flahscards already. I hope I can fill in the blanks and actually use the process.
 
#6
Hi there

I've currently been studying flashcards in a pretty conventional way, adding new ones each day, testing myself over the previous few days, then reviewing the previous weeks' cards etc but haven't come across "sentence" flashcards. Can you tell me how to make these as this concept seems very new to me and haven't seen anywhere in the program mentioning it.

Thanks for your help
 
#7
A "sentence flashcard" is simply a custom flashcard you make yourself that has more than one word in it. in my post I describe one way to access the "make new custom flashcard" function.

Nothing separates a custom sentence flashcard from a custom word flashcard except for the fact that you put an entire sentence in the "headword" field of the flashcard. By reviewing these sentences and grading yourself based upon understanding only, it gives you a good way to practice grammar patterns and familiarize yourself with the usage patterns of various words.
 
#8
wondering said:
Struggling with the sub-categories. For example, under the reading category, you suggest having sentence,word and character cards. I'm a little lost on what I need to do to set that up. I've seen posts that making sentence cards takes some time, but I have found other posts that seem to have many HSK sentences that could be used to upload. But I'm not sure how these work or how I can create the other different sub-categories. It looks like both word and character cards can be automaticly generated, but not sure how to do that. I'm sure it's probably a simple thing i'm missing.
My guide above could definitely use some clarification; the three types of cards I mention (sentence, word, and character) are all just normal self-graded flashcards. They are all in the same category (reading), and the only thing that differentiates them is the length of the headword field (how long the "front of the card" is) and the way you study/grade yourself when you encounter them.

You can easily create your own sentence flashcards by importing sentences, or by copy-pasting dictionary example sentences into new custom flashcards manually. Many people are just spoiled by how easy Pleco makes it to add any dictionary entry as a flashcard automatically, so they see manually creating sentence flashcards as too much trouble. It's actually quite easy.

The tones seem a little more straight forward. Although there seem to be a link between the tones and reading category. Are these the same flashcards, with different views? I know you can duplicate the flashcards in each category. ie reading and tones can have the same flashcards.
The tone cards are usually the same cards you study in the "reading" category, but with a separate score file. In essence, they are "copies" of the cards in your reading category since the way you score them during tone study sessions doesn't affect their scores during the "reading" study sessions.

Pleco is smart enough to take care of the category and/or new card issue by itself, so you can simply "add" a card to your tones category if you want to study the tones.
 
#9
By the way, you can easily add new custom flashcards by enabling the "always show create new entry" option. Just tap-hold on the create new user dictionary entry button (it looks like a pencil) to make a new custom flashcard and paste or write in a headword sentence.
Great post, and extremely helpful for novices like myself. I'm not too sure if this is the right place to post this question...

Can you help clarify the above quote for me. Where exactly is the new user dictionary entry button that looks like a pencil? Is it in the options menu, flashcards section or dictionary section? :?

Will this enable me to create a new flash card based on individual characters and character components of a 2-3 character flashcard? For example, during a flashcard test session, will this enable one to create a flashcard for the following two scenarios:

1) Create a flashcard based on one character of a headword. Ex. 留 liu of 留學生



2) Create a flashcard based on one of the character components. Ex. 田 tian component of 留


Thank you for your advice. :)
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
#10
台北學生 said:
Can you help clarify the above quote for me. Where exactly is the new user dictionary entry button that looks like a pencil? Is it in the options menu, flashcards section or dictionary section?
It's pretty well-hidden, like a lot of these sorts of settings - Settings / Dictionary / Entry Commands / Always show edit button will make that button appear all the time, then turn on "Tap-hold create card" below it to add support for tapping-and-holding the button to create a new flashcard instead of a new dictionary entry.

But for the two scenarios you describe there are actually much easier ways to create cards:

台北學生 said:
1) Create a flashcard based on one character of a headword. Ex. 留 liu of 留學生
Tap on the character to highlight it, then tap on the + button at the top of the screen to create a new card.

台北學生 said:
2) Create a flashcard based on one of the character components. Ex. 田 tian component of 留
Tap on that component, tap on the "Words" tab in the new character info screen that comes up, tap on the first entry under "Words" (covering just that single character), then tap on the + button at the bottom of that screen.
 
#12
Can you give me a rundown on how to efficiently add sentence flashcards to the pleco dictionaries. This seems to be a multiple step process and a bit time consuming.

For example, here is my process:
Say I hear a see an interesting sentence on a website.
1) Copy and paste it into a blank text file, push tab.
2) Convert the sentence into pinyin with the numbers, (i.e. shang4 for 上)[this is one of the most time consuming parts, I haven't found a good website that will quickly convert the sentences into 'shang4' style pinyin, any suggestions) push tab
3) Write an English translation.
4) Save file.
5) Sync iPod touch and copy text file over.
6) on iPod open the file and import.
7) Confirm that everything looks kosher.

This is a lot of steps and I would like to streamline this. The less time I waste on this the more time I can do other effective things.
 
#13
You're definitely correct that adding sentence flashcards to Pleco is a sub-optimal experience. If you have any ideas of how it could be improved, let Mike know and we might see it in a future version of Pleco =)

Fortunately, since Pleco gives pop-up definitions from within the flashcard test sessions, it's actually not necessary to include anything other than the headword when creating sentence flashcards. The majority of my sentence flashcards have only the headword and some context for where the sentence was from in the "definition" field.

For new words in a sentence that you can't yet read, simply add an individual 'word' flashcard and after a few days you should have no problem with the sentence flashcards themselves.

I also find it quite useful to add sentences using the OCR function: there's a "copy results to search box" option you can set under settings>OCR which will automatically copy recognized text (when paused) to the search box when you return to that screen. Set the "take over Wild button" option on the same settings>OCR screen, and you can easily start OCR from the main dictionary screen.

To add a new sentence with OCR, go to the main dictionary screen, tap the input bar, then the OCR button. Then highlight/recognize the sentence you'd like to make into a flashcard and press pause when it is recognized correctly. Click the "X" to go back the the main dictionary screen and press 'delete' a few times to eliminate any extra characters that came along with the OCR if necessary. Click done to hide the keyboard and then tap-hold the "create new entry" button to make a new flashcard. The headword will be filled automatically from OCR results, so add a definition if you'd like and then hit "done" to finish creating the card.

Yes, that is the simplest way to make a single custom sentence flashcards via OCR... although you might have more luck with one of the specific "make flashcard" modes of OCR if you're trying to make a lot of them at the same time.

I also tend to add quite a few flashcards by copy/pasting them from dictionary entries or the 'reader' app in Pleco using the same "main dictionary screen entry field + new entry button tap-hold" method I described above.

Let me know if you find any better ways to add sentence flashcards!\
 
#14
After reading another thread on these forums, it turns out there's another new way to add sentence-length flashcards from OCR or the reader!

Here's the details copied from the other thread:

mikelove said:
radioman said:
Custom Flashcard Maker Card button.
It would seem to me that there should just be a constant and ever-present "Write to flashcard" option.
- It would be activated in the same way as you currently employ copy/search/translate to highlghted strings. The menu would simply be extended to copy/search/translate/create card.
- This would be strictly a custom card function.
- If only Chinese is highlighted, then you would bring up the card template with just the Chinese entered. Same goes for English (or whatever language).
- You would auto-detect if there was English, Chinese, or Pinyin, and sort it out in the destination card accordingly.

Rapid OCR Sentence and Phrase Input
Currently if there is a list of sentences, it would be good to have the automatic list capture function be able to be extended to sentences.
- Everything highlighted in the OCR selector that is recognized would be written to the Hanzi area of a new card. So if you had a list of sentences, it would be easy to move through the list and automatically write the cards. The English Definitions could be added later.
- Advanced: auto-break the sentences after a sentence designator, question mark, etc.
Already supported in the document reader and OCR through an option we sneakily added over the summer called "Unknown flashcard handling" - Settings / Reader / Popup Reader / Unknown flashcard for the former and Settings / OCR / Flashcards / Unknown flashcard for the latter. If you set it to "Custom Card," whenever you highlight a piece of text in the document reader that has no exact dictionary match (even if it's sentence-length), or OCR-lookup a block of text that has no exact dictionary match, tapping on the + button will pop up a custom card screen with the headword prepopulated with that text. No auto-detect of Pinyin etc yet, though, all it does is capture the characters.
 
#15
Hope I'm not committing a forum faux pas here by adding to it after a year.

I'm new to pleco and vaguely grasping this computerized flashcard thing. I found this entry and have decided to try and follow it, maybe is a bit advanced but I like the idea of using the sentence and drilling down to specifics and and finally tones.

I think I may have gotten mixed up a bit. I at first thought I could create cards while I was reviewing the sentence cards by I highlighting them and pressing the "+" at the top of screen. I get feedback from the program "word added" but when I look for the word, I cannot find them. I look in the catagory I am studying and then I look in uncatagorized. Maybe I've misread this or mis-assumed it? I maybe cross-fuzed two methods into one.

I try from dictionary, by selecting the word in the definition popup from the test. "Search" takes me to the entry in the dictionary. I tap the + and says word adds but still no word.

I've re-read and read more it says in ios manual I can add from dict or even from flashcard test sessions, I've tried tapping, tap and hold, I've got the settings / card creation / tap-hold list to add (ON). I even have the "Popup on card add" (ON) was thinking I get a pop up (w/ cat name) if it too was (ON) which it is. I still can't find them.

Right now I'm kinda stuck with capturing just the sentences seperate catagories in my Reading profile for now. Or will just have to revert to adding them from my photos once again via OCR as this works for me.
 

mikelove

皇帝
Staff member
#16
taiwanjim said:
I think I may have gotten mixed up a bit. I at first thought I could create cards while I was reviewing the sentence cards by I highlighting them and pressing the "+" at the top of screen. I get feedback from the program "word added" but when I look for the word, I cannot find them. I look in the catagory I am studying and then I look in uncatagorized. Maybe I've misread this or mis-assumed it? I maybe cross-fuzed two methods into one.
Check Settings / Dictionary / Entry Commands - by any chance have you turned on "Instead of flashcards" under "Save to Word List"? If so, turn that option off.

If not, I'm not sure where they might be - if you do a "Search Cards" for "All Cards" do they show up anywhere in that list?
 
#17
mikelove said:
Check Settings / Dictionary / Entry Commands - by any chance have you turned on "Instead of flashcards" under "Save to Word List"? If so, turn that option off.

If not, I'm not sure where they might be - if you do a "Search Cards" for "All Cards" do they show up anywhere in that list?


Thank you! That did the trick. Just call me Mr Big Thumbs, I must have hit that slider somehow while digging around in the settings menu.
 
#18
I was looking for a way to revitalise my learning, and fortunately came across this article. I've taken it as the starting model to work out my own system for learning. I'd just like to share my thoughts and ideas on this methodology, and ask a few questions.

Sentence cards
I like the idea of using both sentence and word flashcards. I've been working through an article, adding sentences by copying them out of Pleco's reader, which is very easy and works well. I've found my sentences can get a bit long, as I like them to still read like a whole sentence, rather than just little snippets. However in the article that was linked to in the first post, it talked about keeping things short and simple. What do you think about this? What kind of sentence flashcards work for you?

For example, I'm working on a translation of Steve Jobs famous speech at Stanford. I've created a sentence card with: 我失去了一直贯穿在我整个成年生活的重心,打击是毁灭性的。The things I want to remember about this are:
the usage of 贯穿, as I'm not familiar with how to use this word
the word 毁灭性
What do you think about having this on one card? or should I try and split things into smaller chunks?

Single characters
Regarding the single character flashcards, the jury is still out for me on whether this is useful. Reason being, there can be so many different meanings that it makes it hard to assess whether to mark it right or not. On the other hand, I do appreciate the point that it's necessary to get a 'feel' for the character, and understand what kind of raw meaning it has. This obviously helps when seeing the character in new words, as one can guess what the meaning may be.

Tones
I'm not finding this very useful, and may scrap this. I find when I learn the pronunciation of a character or word, the tones come along with it. I don't feel like I can separate the two. Nor do I feel like I could happily mark a card as correct if I'm off with the tones.

Production
One last note - I'm interested to know if any 'power users' do anything with production flashcard testing? i.e. looking at the english and then trying to produce the chinese. This is something I used to attempt, but never found it worked well due to the number of synonyms, abstract words, grammar words etc in my deck, that made the exercise more about guessing the card than actually thinking of the word. Is this something that anyone does? Will the system presented in this post, and the SRS method of committing words to long term memory also aid in my production as well as comprehension? Interested to know other's thoughts on this.
 
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