Dropping recognition out of vocab decks?

TL;DR
An SRS question to those who have been using a vocab deck with “word in English” <> “pronunciation in Japanese” notes. Have you tried reviewing only recall cards (English > Japanese), thus excluding the recognition ones? (Japanese > English) On the long run, have you found that useful enough? If you did, is their something you have been doing that have helped compensate with the lack of “recognition” reviews? :thinking:


’Waaay to long’ version! (*if you have a bit more time to spare… If so, I would love hearing your thoughts on my daily routine :slight_smile: *)

I have been learning Japanese for 2 years, mostly through evening classes. Reading about SRS on Tofugu, I have adopted Anki quite early during my Japanese studies. Anki has been of tremendeous help for retaining knowledge on the short and long run.

So far, I have been using Minna No Nihongo as my main source for vocab, grammar and exercises. After much experimentation, I ended up with the following way of injecting the knowledge from the book into my Anki deck:

  • Vocab: for each vocab of a chapter, I add 1 note with the English word + 1-2 tiny examples on one side, and the correspondance in Japanese on the other side. This note becomes 2 cards, one for recall (English > Japanese) and one for recognition (Japanese > English). I always include furigana, since I intend to learn kanjis through Wanikani (is there any other way? :crabigator:)
  • Grammar: for each grammar point, I have 1 recall-only ‘rule’ note (“How to…?” > grammatical structure), and 2 recall-only notes of examples (sentence in english > sentence in japanese with furigana). I guess this generates 30-40 grammar cards per chapter?

Doing so, I went through almost all of the first 2 Minna No Nihongo books :orange_book: :blue_book:. It worked very well (although to be honest, working through these flaschards feels a bit like cleaning a dirty fridge everyday: it takes time, and I would rather be doing something else. Anyhoo. :cold_face:)

The thing is, to keep up with the pace of my classes (1.5 chapter/week), I ended up injecting 20 new cards a day into my deck. At some point, I found myself with ~4000 cards, and piles of daily reviews that looked like deadly 4-meters-high-waves :ocean: So after completing my last evening class, I kept working by myself, but reduced the injection of new cards to 10 a day. 10 cards is fine. The 10-cards has proved to be a trustworthy friend. Thanks to this friend, I have a quite steady volume of reviews, around 150 a day, which is ok (but still feels like cleaning a dirty fridge, I guess it can’t be helped. :cold_face: :cold_face: )

Unfortunately, this routine won’t do anymore, even if the 10-cards rule became a less friendly 15-cards rule.

The happy part of the story is that have just joined a language school (~3 hours class/day) :school, and will study there for a few months. There is a lot we see everyday, and that’s great. Unfortunately, the new knowledge won’t fit into my Anki routine. Consider the vocab: with 5 new words a day, for instance, I already need to add 10 cards/day to keep up (1 recognition + 1 recall per vocab). But this would leave no room for grammar cards.

That said, If I were to keep only recall, or recognition cards for vocab, that would divide by 2 the number such new cards per day! :bulb:

Hence my question: have you tried dropping the recognition (Japanese>English) side of your notes, and kept only the recall (English>Japanese) one? Did it really work in improving your Japanese? If so, do you think there is something else you have done that have replaced those “recognition” reviews?

I am thinking, maybe being exposed again to these japanese word in class will suffice to work on my recognition skill? Also, maybe watching anime and drama on Netflix will also help? (esp. with the great furigana-ed subtitles from Language Learning With Netflix) But this is all very hypothetical, and I would really love hearing about your own experience on this topic!!

And maybe I am missing something, and maybe I am not looking at the situation the right way? I would be very grateful for any insight you can share :slight_smile: Thanks!

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What exactly is your goal for the Anki deck, and why do you feel the need to keep up with (presumably everything in) the textbook? It’s hard to give good advice without knowing that.

SRS is great, but that kind of overload sucks. Usually I’m in the “easy come easy go” faction (so add and remove stuff from your deck without worrying too much), but if you need to pace the amount you add to your deck. Ideally you’d keep the number of reviews at a level where it at least doesn’t feel like cleaning a fridge (I think it should be the kind of habit that you either look forward to, or only notice when you don’t do it).

I’ve never actively tried to learn vocab, so neither I guess :stuck_out_tongue:

At the moment, I’m doing WK for kanji, Bunpro for grammar and I have an Anki deck for practicing pronunciation, keeping my total reviews across everything in the 150-200 range. Any more than that and I’d burn out, which is why I’m relying on general exposure for vocab.
I try and get at least an hour of native listening practice (anime, drama, youtube documentaries etc.) a day and spend some time reading NHK News/manga/book each week (the bookclubs are great).

Strongly recommend watching/reading as much native content as possible. It’s one thing studying how the language works and the vocab, but you need to exposure to actually learn to use it.

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I’m a beginner in Japanese but I’ve been studying French using Anki for about two years, so take this with whatever grain of salt you want :blush:

Personally, I get most of the benefit from recall, and typically find that recognition is no problem for words where I’m successful on recall. However, I find it hard to create good recall cards, because there might be many possible French words as answers, and I have to either force myself to recall them all, which makes it more like cleaning the fridge, or create wordier English definitions to narrow down the possible correct responses. For that reason, I was doing only recognition for a few months, but I noticed that I couldn’t come up with words speaking so now I’m back to doing both.

I’ll also say that I don’t do any SRS stuff for grammar, and count on exposure for that. My experience is that for grammar in particular, I really just want to hear so many sentences that something wrong sounds wrong. I also find vocab cards much easier and faster to go through, so there’s a laziness argument too :relaxed:

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My short and sweet opinion is that recognition trumps recall any day of the week. Input is where it’s at. I don’t even do any recall as I think it can even actively hurt you by associating wrong words with each other. It pushes me too much to the mindset of translating from some other language and I’ve found it just takes time from just letting me advance my comprehension skills. Recall will come naturally thinking in the target language when you’ve had enough input.

Only exception has been Bunpro as I haven’t found a good alternative for it. Would prefer to use it for Jap->Eng instead of Eng->Jap.

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I’m not saying that recall or recognition are useless, or that one is better than the other, just that ultimately what you should be based on (and change with) your current goals and abilities.

My personal view is that learning vocab in isolation of context in the target language is potentially damaging, so I avoid it as much as possible.

As far as struggling to recall words when speaking is concerned, my experience is that that’s mostly a matter of getting used to speaking - being able to recall content in reviews is just too different to applying it in a real conversation. Besides, I find the struggle of trying to explain what I word I’m looking for, and the back and forth that eventually settles on the “natural” phrasing way more useful.

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I’m not entirely sure how this would work.
I only have the hints visible by default, so that I have to understand the sentence in Japanese though, so I don’t entirely disagree…

I was thinking of a few options that I would prefer over the current:

  1. Give the hints in Japanese using some alternative easier grammar point.
  2. Give the whole sentence and then answer in English the rough meaning. Or just show you the translation and then use something similar to Anki mode (easy, hard)

Basically just test your comprehension of the thing. This could also just be a separate mode. Now most of the time I feel like I’m playing a guessing game and learning translating instead of Japanese. My current stragey is to turn ghost reviews to minimal and use undo liberally if the grammar point was something I recognize easily.

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I do recognition only because synonyms annoy me way too much. Also at one point you’re gonna have some words that you never have to / want to recall anyway, because they’re archaic, written only, etc.
That‘s probably not that relevant to you yet, but also with more foundational vocab, I usually fared pretty well with only focusing on recognition; when reviewing enough I could also recall the vocab at some point (though it might take a while). But there’s also people who need the recall part to really be able to utilize a word when speaking, or for simply improved chance of memorization / recognition in the wild.
So I’d say try it out for a while, and if you notice stuff doesn’t stick as well as you would like, probably switching back is for the best, and maybe you can find other means to reduce your workload.

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Granted, I’m not very far into learning Japanese (just starting N3 level content at my language school and my speaking is probably still muuuchh lower level ahahahh…) but this is ABSOLUTELY my mindset as well. I only use SRS to practice recognition and don’t actively make cards for recall at all.
My time is fairly equally divided between studying new content, reviewing said content, and input like watching things, reading, and listening practice.
I personally find that my output/recall ability is naturally improving just by trying to practice making sentences with new grammar in my mind when I study, and trying to “think” in Japanese throughout the day (even if that means looking up a word or grammar point again to put my thoughts together). This works out really well for me because I have teachers and a tutor to correct my mistakes in speaking/writing as I go, so maybe it’ll work similarly for you since you’re starting language school OP, idk. :sweat_smile:

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Yeah, I feel this is a great advice. My Anki routine has been monopolizing my available time so far, but the little time I spent on Language Learning with Netflix has proved very helpful.

I am very curious. So you are not learning vocab actively. That said, I guess you still had to acquire basic Japanese vocab before being able to read or actively listen, right?

Now that you have some foundations, how do you do? You look up unknown words when they prevent you from getting the whole sense of a sentence? This turns out to be sufficient for increasing you vocabulary?

Pretty much everything in the first two Minna No Nihongo is basic vocab, so I felt like it was ok to learn it all. I didn’t believe I could do meaningful active listening/reading without knowing some core vocab, so learning it with SRS (+ exercises in class and with the books) was a good way to go :slight_smile:

I guess, however, that now would be a good time to switch to a more “exposure-oriented” approach, as you have been suggesting!

Excellent argument, I cannot object anything to that :eyes:

That’s very interesting. Your point leads me to an interrogation. Let’s say you discover a grammatical structure during one of your French lessons. Between the moment you see this structure, and the moment you are exposed to it, a long gap may occur, right? So basically, aren’t you to just forget the grammatical structure in between, and so exposure will have no effect?

I guess a related question is: how do you get to ear many French sentences that fit your current level of knowledge? Mostly your study books, or…?

@morteasd, @Myria, @sagestruggler, you convinced me to try dropping recall instead of recognition :wink:

It’s not the first time that I hear that input is the ring to rule them all, and that recognition-only decks are as wonderful as self-cleaning fridges. I most definitely get that input maximization is a key to learning a language, and learning it with as little pain as possible. After all, that was my experience with English, as it was for many other people!

So, like Myria put it, I’ll try to work with recognition-only deck, and see how that works out for me! :slight_smile:

… Except for verbs. I love “recall” cards for verbs. I always challenge myself to recall both the ます形 and the dictionary form, as well as the occasional particles to be used. So, well, for verbs, I’ll go for “recall” only. I’m not a purist anyway, I’m just a little Kakapo, trying to make it’s way through life… :bird:

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At the start, I was basically just picking up vocab through a combination of WK and Bunpro (and probably a tiny bit through listening). I only really started learning vocab once I started trying to read stuff. I started with a couple of really basic graded readers, then NHK Easy (using TangoRisto), and then following along with the beginner book clubs (probably about 3 months in).
It was just about bearable because graded readers are so basic there’s not much to look up, TangoRisto has an excellent built in dictionary and the bookclubs tend to have word lists.

At the same time I started Japanese, I started rewatching anime I’d watched before, but without subtitles (or with subtitles in a language I don’t speak) to force me to listen, then discovered animelon…Honestly this idea that you need to have studied vocab/grammar to start meaningful listening practice is one of my pet hates. I’ve ranted about it enough on these forums, so I’m just going to say that there’s so much to listening practice that doesn’t involve any comprehension that you should just do it from the start (and you shouldn’t be pausing and looking things up).

Can’t say I’ve changed my approach too much. I tend to read through once without a dictionary, and then once again with, looking up everything I’m not sure about/don’t know how to pronounce. I guess the biggest change is that I’m (very) slowly trying to switch to looking up J-J. I’ll probably start doing some kind of Anki vocab (or more likely phrase) deck once I’m done with WK.

About 6 months in I joined a language exchange, which also helped a lot, especially with production. If you have one nearby I strongly recommend joining early. Talking to natives really helps with everything, especially when everyone is going through the same thing. Damn you COVID!

The way I see it is that learning to associate a word/phrase in Japanese to a word/phrase in English doesn’t add it to my vocabulary. You can’t get a feel for all the other stuff you need to know, such as nuance, colocations, who/when it’s appropriate to use with etc. from that (this is similar to @theapedroza point on grammar).

Besides, it’s boring, and if I can learn new words without Anki in English, I can learn them the same way in Japanese :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:*

*Never taking lessons/tests is probably helpful when you have this attitude.

Good luck :smiley:

Edit: sorry for the wall of text, that ended up much longer than I anticipated :fearful:

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Hi @Kakapo, glad you found a solution to try :relaxed:

The sources are basically fiction books (I try to do about half of my reading for pleasure in French), news and podcasts. I typically listen to podcasts on my commute so that was 40m- an hour of listening most days, pre-confinement :sob:. I think of news and reading as being about building vocabulary and understanding more formal grammatical structures, while podcasts (or the ones I try to chose) are about getting a feel for how people speak, and to a lesser extent vocabulary.

Hmm, this is probably something that is just different about going from English -> French compared to English -> Japanese, assuming your other study materials for Japanese are in English, but I guess I rationalize this by not worrying too much about rare grammatical structures that I can understand, even if I wouldn’t feel comfortable using them. If those structures would be incomprehensible, it would indeed make sense to capture them specifically. But- I do feel that building vocabulary is what lets me consume a lot of content, which then shortens the time between encountering rare structures… so they end up being related, imo.

By the way, writing this makes me realize that maybe it wasn’t totally true to say I don’t have any grammar cards. I have ~4 for verb endings, and a few for example sentences that don’t have a perfect English analog, like “Il faut que…” or using reflexive verbs as the passive.

Good luck, and good luck with your language school!

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This seemed relevant…I’ll see if I can find the study.

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Many thanks for the long post! It is really stimulating to hear about radically different ways of tackling a same problematic :slight_smile:

Fortunately, I guess I’m not that far from some of your positions. First, I never learn a vocab in isolation of a context, even when it comes from my manuals. That’s the pleasure of using good books, like Minna no Nihongo, which abounds with examples in the exercises and dialogues. Actually, each vocab card in my “Minna” deck has 1+ example sentence associated.

Importantly, I’ve been having opportunities for daily practices with natives, which helps :slight_smile:

And I’ve been trying to expose myself to native material, but this has been the tougher part. The NHK news from TangoRisto were no fun to me, and the anime I have been watching on Netflix were too difficult to get when using Japanese subtitles only.
(That said, the fair amount of anime I watch with English subs has already been helpful, I think, as I am paying attention to the Japanese acting. )

So my new hope: I’ll definitely take a look at the book clubs you pointed out. Given the community involved in these clubs, I’m sure I’ll find something enjoyable there :slight_smile:

Thanks! :muscle:

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Watch them anyway. If that’s boring, rewatch things you’ve already seen, where you already know what’s going on.
Seriously, the goal just is to be able to hear the rhythm of speech, find word/phrase boundaries, and then start pick out the occasional or phrase you know. Actually trying to follow what’s being said isn’t really the point.

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Waw, your reading/listening routine is very impressive :no_mouth: You must be very interested in learning French!

Makes sense! I think I’ll give it a try for a while. Maybe I’ll select a few grammar points for which I won’t write flashcards, and see whether reading by myself + exercises in class will be enough for me.

That, too, makes a lot of sense. Anyway, my school feeds us students way too much vocab every day, so that should help :wink:

(I am not sure this is of interest to you, but as a side note: do you know the French series Plus belle la vie? I think it’s high-level, but I have heard that when you’ve reached a certain level, it is absolutely great to get a good, everyday-life French :slight_smile: Plus, it’s entertaining, which I can say as a French person myself!)

Thanks, good luck with your French and Japanese studies!

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