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23/11/2014

Flashcards - German Version: Die Lernkartei

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The offspring and SWMBO had an argument about the need for Chinese tuition when attending Singapore's oldest school. You can guess who had what position. Disecting the positions and looking at interest (you remember your basic negotiation skills, do you?) it boiled down to the wish of self directed learning vs. fear of failure.
Having gone through both (I remember my Latin tuition teacher well. I loathed him and in return he pushed me within 6 month from F to A), I concluded: self direction needs skills. So one task to complete is Learning how to learn. To be very clear: no technique can replace the I want to learn, but once the want is established, being skilful helps (and reinforces the want). Cousera even has a Learn how to learn class online.
One tool, well established for learning facts (like vocabulary), are flash cards (there are others). Interestingly the Germans put some rigor into the general idea of sets of flash cards using a Lernkartei. The Lernkartei uses a spaced repetition approach proposed as early as 1885 and made popular by Sebastian Leitner.
The Learnbox as proposed by Sebasitan Leitner
In a nutshell:
At stage 1 the learner adds new learning topics (vocables, phrases, facts) in bundles of 6-10 with up to 30 cards a day. These cards are reviewed and learned until they are memorised for the session. They then go into stage 2. When reviewing stage 2 cards, successful memorised cards go to stack 3 and failed cards back to stack 1. A successful review on stack 3 promotes the cards to stack 4, while a failure demotes it to stack 1. Stack 5 cards are considered retired and are archived after one successful review.
The key of the system is the ever increasing interval between the reviews: stage 1 is reviewed daily, stage 2 every 3 days, stage 3 every 5, stage 4 every 7 and stage 5 just occasionally. There are other interval suggestions available too.
You might have guessed: that system has been put into software, more than once. One popular application is Anki (which uses the SuperMemo algorithm). Others add a social component.
All application I glanced at made one basic assumption: there is one question with one answer (which might be reversible). However reality for vocabulary is a little more complex:
A word has more than one dimension
* only limited suitability as answer
So what to do? Write a multi-facetted flash card app? A flashy diamond perhaps?

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