The unexpected pleasure of marking items WRONG with Double-Check…

As I moved into the mid-20’s and 30’s levels, I’ve learned to get much stricter with myself about items at Master → Enlightened or about to be burned. I use @rfindley’s Double-Check v2, which I find absolutely invaluable—not for being able to count marked-wrong answers right but for its ability to override by marking things wrong.

So it’s amusing to me that most discussions here about Double-Check revolve entirely around its ability to “undo mistakes” — whether it’s a form of “cheating” (or, less ethically-charged, of hurting yourself in the long run) or not.

I do sometimes use the ‘redo’ function—when I fat finger (especially okurigana—like typing “otozuteru” when asked for the reading of 訪れる), or when I’m not caffeinated-enough yet or I’m having a brain-foggy day and just completely faceplant by thinking I’m seeing 元気 when I’m seeing 天気 or something like that I know I have down cold.

But below I want to talk about why, 私自身は, Double-Check’s greatest gift is marking accepted answers wrong — and how, over time, doing so has become a strangely pleasant part of my study.

This feature is so important to me that — now I have Enlightened items coming up in review every day, and lacking an “unburn” option other than Resurrect — the couple times WK server-side changes have made Double-Check temporarily stop working, I’ve held off on reviews. (You can do workarounds like doing ten reviews at a time and just closing the Review tab if you want to keep WK from recording an Incorrect you want marked Correct, but you can’t do the reverse.)

For instance, I make a habit of reading the Context sentences when something Burns (but before “accepting” it when using Double-Check by moving to the next item), and the other day when I (re-?)discovered that 供給 (きょうきゅう, supply) meant “supply” as in “provision” — and not “supply” as in “supply and demand” or “water supply” as I’d thought — I marked it wrong, because I don’t want that “right English gloss, wrong meaning” to stick in my mind.

So I’ve adopted a policy that if:

  • I can’t immediately remember the meaning without resorting to mnemonics;
  • I can’t quickly remember the reading (I’ll allow myself a few moments to think about it, if it’s a less-common item or has unintuitive rendaku or other reading shifts);
  • I feel hesitance over both the reading and meaning (slight hesitance for one or the other is okay);
  • I feel like I “lucked out” with a guess; or
  • Checking the Context, I discover I had the wrong idea about the word, like with 供給 above;

I do not let an item Burn.¹

In addition, for kanji items, if I do remember the meaning and a reading immediately, but

  • I can’t remember any (important) vocab the kanji is used in;
  • I don’t “remember the kanji itself” and instead “figured it out” — which was once a weird idea to me, but after you get near 1000 kanji mastered, it starts becoming possible to figure out a likely reading and meaning for many kanji just from its component construction;
  • I forget an important alternate reading (and once again, here Double-Check comes in handy, too — because when I see the “Did you know this kanji has alternate readings?” pop-up appears, I hit delete to try again entering the other reading(s)); or
  • I realize I’ve confused this kanji for another similar kanji (usually by collapsing two kanji with a shared reading or meaning into one in my head); or
  • I’ve recently tried to type a word with this kanji and been unsure which choice from my IME to pick;

I mark it wrong to prevent Burning as well. (Both of these sets of criteria for Burning I use in a sort of attenuated way for lower levels, too: for instance, I don’t want to still be using mnemonics for anything at Master or beyond.)

I’ve found that not-infrequently, items I choose not to Burn in this way “tumble down” all the way to Guru or even Apprentice upon successive reviews. I now consider that a good thing (honest—I’ve gotten to a point where that gives me a little dopamine hit of success — in the failure!), because it means I’m really going to learn the item this “second time around”.

There may come a time when leeches bother me more, but so far I’ve found that just ruthlessly marking items wrong if I feel I’ve guessed — or if I have to think about a mnemonic for items beyond Guru — eventually clears out items, even if I struggle to get them past Mastered or frequently confuse items like a verb pair.

I came to this feeling of yay, marking this one wrong! shortly after I first started Resurrecting items. Thinking about why I needed to do that led me to hitting that - key (Double-Check’s shortcut for “mark this wrong”) more often, and with greater and greater glee. Let me explain:

Burning a kanji is one of the usual circumstances when I’ve been Resurrecting burned items. When I realize I’ve smushed a ‘newer’ kanji (well, a >5-month-old kanji if I’m Burning it, but still) in my head into one with a similar early-lesson Burned kanji, I resurrect the Burned one.

But at the same time, I also mark the Enlightened one I got right — but realized I’d had confused with the Burned kanji — wrong. By the time it comes back in a month, I’ll have seen the old Resurrected one several times—in fact, they’ll probably now both be at Master again within a few days of each other. Which is what I want—to know these as two separate kanji. (I suspect the usefulness here is the reason later lessons tend to introduce extremely-similar kanji together—less chance to smush them together in your mind.)

The other circumstance I’ve been Resurrecting kanji is when I consistently am misreading it in new vocab. For instance, I kept thinking 場 (Location ジョウ・ば) had a reading ショウ or ショ through interference with 所 (Place ショ・ところ), so I resurrected it and have now Burned it a second time—and I don’t get its reading confused anymore.

Here, I use Double-Check in a bit more fiddly way. For example, let’s say I see 劇場 (げきじょう, theater):

  1. I know it’s theater, but I read it げきじょ. That’s a rendaku of 所, not a reading of 場.
  2. I see my mistake immediately. I hit for a Double-Check “redo”, and try げきじょう, which is accepted. (I find this better for getting wrong readings out of my brain than just reading the correct one. I also hear the correct reading’s audio, which further helps.)
  3. I hit - to re-apply the incorrect mark, and press to go on with reviews and let 劇場 come back, when it will be demoted.

The fiddling here is, I think, helpful, in that it gives me extra reinforcement and time to consider Resurrecting 場 and/or 所.

And it feels good — like breaking a bad habit!

I, for one, am now glad of the demise of the old “after-action report”—the page that used to appear after reviews, giving you a percentage score and showing you your results for each item. Why?

Because I think that big percentage number, striving for getting it at 100% or 90% or whatever—led in my mind to a sort of gamification that made me less likely to mark things I was shaky on wrong (and more likely to give myself a second chance, to convince myself it was “just an ‘oops’). The dopamine hit only happened in getting reviews right.

That’s the correct association if you’re in school and you want good grades. But it’s the wrong association with WaniKani, when you’re studying for yourself and you really should want to prioritize true learning over a “score”.

And for that, I’ll happily mark stuff wrong every day.

Footnote

¹ There are actually two related circumstances I let a kanji I don’t have “down cold” slide:

  1. When it’s a kanji with just one common reading used in a single vocab or single related set of vocab and the vocab hasn’t yet Burned.
  2. When it’s a kanji you always see only in some very specific contexts (like some counter kanjis) and I have trouble recognizing it only because it’s out-of-context and I’ll never see it out of context in real life (even in a name).

But in both cases, only after I verify outside of WaniKani vocab that one of these is really the case — I check my Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary for this, which helpfully groups vocab by reading and use and tells you if a kanji is also a common name kanji.

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This is overall an incredibly important message that I think people really need to internalize in general. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

The strictness is one of the things that I really like about default WaniKani even though I know it’s something I read people complaining about on here almost daily.

I say that because I speak from experience when I learned my first foreign language to a level that is nearly indistinguishable from my native language many moons ago. When I very first started, like I imagine probably almost everybody else does at first too, I was so focused on rushing through the vocabulary / SRS as quickly as possible that I’d actually get something wrong, then see the answer, think “Oh yeah, I knew that”, and then mark it right. Of course, in reality, I didn’t actually know it very well, and was just fooling myself. Even worse, I ended up learning some things completely wrong.

Thankfully, I relatively quickly realized I was only hurting myself when I noticed the repercussions when I started immersing and changed the strategy to be extremely strict accordingly.

Ever since that point, I completely changed my mindset to realizing that getting things wrong is a GOOD thing. Those are exactly the items you need to spend more time with.

Despite only doing that for a relatively short time, I ultimately ended up having to spend far more time in the long run to go back and relearn the things that I had learned wrong (or just not very well at all). In a few particularly sticky cases, I had various things so ingrained incorrectly that it took me almost 2 years to fix them!

As it turns out, that is nearly exactly the reasoning that WaniKani gives when outlining its methodology. When I read that, I knew that it was clearly written be someone who has experience.

SRS is an amazing tool for more efficiently learning things when used properly, but it can also lead to you internalizing things incorrectly in a way that can take you years to fix if you aren’t strict about it.

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Not using care when deciding to slap in a synonym is another point where this can hurt you. Being able to add a synonym is a good feature when used appropriately.

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I’ve gone back and forth on whether to use kanji synonyms to help with verb pairs. Knowing the -u / -eru transitivity flip rule is extremely useful — but only if you remember which is which, which differs for each kanji! The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary strives for “psycholinguistic glosses”, which usually means a gloss that matches the -u verb, and sometimes I’ll add one of those as the synonym.

But this doesn’t always work— like, 開 just is “open”, even if I’d remember 開く・開ける better if it was something like “unseal” or “opened”, and I just have to deal with that.

I also will add synonyms for long phrases I tend to spontaneously generate differently (like, 越権’s overstepping your authority I always want to be “overstepping the bounds”, which is fine, so I add it).

But I avoid adding synonyms on my own without consulting a dictionary and finding an authority validating the synonym.

I also do a trick with synonyms that only works if you always pay attention to the “Not quite, check the entry” pop-up “toast texts”: I put a misspelling of a “very close, but not quite” meaning I may think of in as a synonym; then, when I enter it, I get the “Not quite” toast and I see, in the meanings list, the misspelling. I do this striving to remove the synonym by the time the item gets to, say, Master—by that time I want to have the correct meaning. (And by the time I Burn, I want all important alternate meanings, too.)

I honestly can’t find an actual example at this moment — since they aren’t indexed in my brain like that — but an example would be, like, if the word meant “starting” and I keep thinking it means “started”, I might add stOrted to the synonyms—the weird capitalization and misspelling tell me what happened. It gets my attention better than sticking something in the Notes.

But it’s a way for me to decide ahead of time that I’m going to allow a close answer for a bit, rather than having to reconsider what to do with Double-Check every time. If I see stOrted at Apprentice and entered “started”, I’ll let it go, if I see it at Master and entered “started”, I’ll mark it wrong, and if I see it at Master but entered the ultimately-correct “starting”, I’ll remove the synonym. It’s basically a stand-in for the “know it, but with some trouble” choice in some self-judging SRS programs.

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