10,000 vocab challenge

Generally speaking, I don’t consider flashcards to be a high-yield activity for vocabulary acquisition. However I don’t think it’s entirely pointless. Especially if it’s well-implemented, and if the time spent on this kind of revision is (a) liminal time that you wouldn’t otherwise be spending in more CI-oriented activities, (b) is part of a broader language learning program that does focus on communicative endeavours.

One of the weaknesses in my Gàidhlig, I’m ashamed to say, is that my vocabulary just isn’t quite expansive enough. So in 2021 I’m going to push it to new limits. I’m setting myself a 10,000 word challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

  1. Inputting the core vocabularies from a few learner textbooks into a spaced repetition system as one source of words, those which I mostly already know.
  2. Inputting new vocabulary that I encounter ‘in the wild’ and have to look up – through my own engagement with Gàidhlig reading, media, etc., this will be more haphazard and serendipitous, but will provide a constant source of new vocabulary.
  3. Working on gaining enough Gàidhlig input each day to be generating a sufficient stream of new vocabulary inputs
  4. ‘Adding’ at least 30 new vocab items to my working sets per day, and following through with daily vocabulary revision.

One could, undoubtedly, do the same for Latin or Greek. Indeed, there already exists a set of memrise courses, for example, covering 10000 Latin words. I don’t currently feel any need to explicitly build my Latin or Greek vocabularies in this way, but you perhaps might/could/would consider the same.

I’ll post some reports during the year ahead

7 responses

  1. I’ll be curious to hear how this goes for you. I’ve been using Anki for around 10 years, and used memrise for a few years before it. I’ve done 8,000+ phrases (I almost never input words devoid of context).

    For myself, I’ve found that learning any more than 5 a day is not sustainable long term. And SRS are all about the long term (recall).

    • Yes, I’ll be curious too. I already have a sizable working vocabulary in Gaelic, so I am sure that the true rate of learning will not be 30 words a day, but since I’ve never done sustained SRS work with Gaelic vocabulary, I’m very happy to be adding regular doses of words I already know pretty well, as my goal is not really 10,000 new words, but 10,000 words at least, overall.

    • I use Anki for modern Hebrew and have found that seven new words a day is sustainable for me without much effort. When I was doing more (maybe like 15), I kept up with it for a while, but the snow ball eventually overwhelmed me. I deleted everything and started using only words that I’m encountering in the wild.

      • I have heard that around 7 new words *per session* is ideal. But my 30 is really a misleading figure, because it will not be 30 new words a day, it will be 30 words *new to my list* a day, comprised of some words garnered from reading and listening, and at least half from words that I probably already know, but which are new on my list.

  2. Yes, do keep us posted on how it goes.

    For many years, I used Anki for Greek and Latin vocabulary primarily to prep for translation exams. One semester I took a seminar on the Anabasis — we read all of it in Greek — and made an Anki card for every word in the text I didn’t know (between 50 and 100 per book). Since Xenophon’s Greek is relatively simple, and since Anki ensured that I knew all the vocabulary that might show up on seen passages, I barely studied for the translation exams in that course. Crucially, though, the front of each card included not only the lexical item to be learned but also the sentence in which I found it. This worked extraordinarily well in terms of exam performance, but hardly any of those words (as far as I can tell) ever transferred to my active vocabulary.

    More recently, I’ve started monolingual Anki decks for Greek and Latin, adding 5 or fewer items per day. I’ve made cloze cards for troublesome principal parts or vowel quantities (e.g.: Ego cibum edō; tu {{c1::ēs}}.); cards with straightforward questions like “[Front] Quid facit is quī tempore nocturnō labōrat? [Back] lūcubrat”; and cards with pictures, where the front contains (e.g.) the question “Quāle solum est?” with a picture of a tile floor and the back gives “solum testāceum.” As you say for Gaelic, I make plenty of cards for which the content is not completely unknown but I think the repetition will be helpful.

    With these monolingual cards, the whole experience contributes to learning: making the card requires me to use the language, and reviewing the card requires me to think in the language in order to answer it. When I have 10 or 15 reviews in a monolingual deck, it becomes a sort of mini-immersion experience. They take more work to create, but I’ve found that the results are proportionately better.

    I’m still experimenting with Anki for morphology. I think cloze cards have potential, but it’s difficult to find sentences in the wild that unambiguously require one form to fill in the blank; writing one’s own sentences may well be the better option here.

    • Appreciate your insight here, as always. Especially on the experience of using monolingual cloze cards. I do have a monolingual dictionary at hand I could leverage for some of the vocabulary.

      Back when I first tackled my college Latin classes, the standard “we’ll read a text and you’ll be expected to translate and comment” type, I brute forced a lot of vocab with flashcards, and like you found this incredibly useful for exams.

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