More Thoughts On Generating (And Remembering) Flash Cards

When generating flash cards for learning Spanish Vocabulary, the thing that takes the longest time is the choice of the picture.

For example, how do you pick a picture that represents winter?

Of course you will have your own concept of what winter looks like and that might be a tree covered with snow.

But what is to say that later on when presented with that picture you don’t think the word means tree or snow?

It is quite easy to pick pictures for concrete nouns.  A tree is nothing but a tree.

But eventually you will start to finesse your choice as you become experienced in the effectiveness of your card choices.

Time will tell and you will start to get a feel for the sort of picture that works… and for the sort of picture that doesn’t.

For example “el camerero” is “the waiter”.

Rather than pick a picture that just contained a waiter, I chose one that put the waiter in the context of the setting you would expect to find a waiter.

Having Trouble Recalling Words You’ve Learnt?

As I wrote this I had to dive into the memory principles to recall what the Spanish word for waiter was. I only learnt it yesterday and when I tried to recall it, initially it didn’t come easily.

I knew it began with a C and so then I started to delve into my memory.  Yesterday I was creating mnemonic imagery to help remember the word and its link to the translation.

I had created a picture of a camera rowing in a small rowing boat (CAM-ER-RARE-RO).   That is then picked up and placed on a waiter’s silver plate and held high above the heads of the people in a crowded restaurant.

After a few seconds (though it seemed longer), the imagery of the waiter came back to mind.  I then mentally saw the rowing boat and the camera and all of a sudden it triggered CAM-ER-RARE-RO.

I know I have been using these techniques for a long time but it still amazes me when they work so well. Had I not made that imagery yesterday when learning that word, I would have had to look it up.

Back To Choosing Images

When I was creating my words yesterday, I had a few difficult images to choose.

For example what do you pick for January?

If it is a snow based scene then is there potential for confusion with your winter image?

Occasionally when entering the Spanish word into the google basic image search, the search results might be completely unexpected.

So for example, when you put in the word for foot which is “pie”, it actually returned lots of pictures of pies (as in Apple pie, blackberry pie etc). and it wasn’t until about the 6 page of the search return that there was a picture of a foot.

Similarly when putting in “estrecho” the Spanish word for “tight ” in the context of clothes, lots of images of narrow straits of water and maps of the Straits of Hormuz appeared.

In these instances I opened up an English language version of the basic google image search and searched for the term in English to see what I could discover.  This was my back up for scenarios like this.

Occasionally I would place two images where there was either a double meaning or it wasn’t quite clear.

For the translation of young (which is “joven”) I had a picture of Will YOUNG and I chose a picture of a young looking boy.  This was to help me understand better what the word was supposed to be.

When I am presented with the picture card, the double image will help me understand exactly what word I am looking for.

My Approach Is Going To Evolve

As I was going through all of this I started to see “improvements” I could make.

Where a word has two meanings, I could add two images for that.

El cielo (the sky) also means heaven.

In the 625 word list the word I was looking for is just sky.  I just happened across this dual meaning as I was going through the motions.

I did put in a second image whilst it was neat and convenient but I wouldn’t necessarily worry about it too much at this early stage. , The aim of this first exercise is not to get a complete understanding of the different word meanings, just to create a baseline vocabulary to get going.

Here is an important point I realised as I was in the process of making the cards.

The purpose of the card generation stage is merely to generate the resource from which I will learn and be tested upon to embed the word into my long term memory.

Actually learning and memorising the word comes later and so now is not the time to start creating the mnemonic imagery.

If I tried to memorise the word at point of generation, that takes a bit of time and will extend the time I take to generate the cards significantly.

If you are doing this too, just remember that for now all you are doing is creating the resource.

The focused learning takes place later.

Though of course merely by working through the words and finding the images, you will have started to lay the foundations of learning because you will have some glimmer of recognition when you start learning them properly.

Questions Will Emerge From This Process

Now another advantage of going through this process is that after a while you will start to see things that will trigger questions for later exploration.

You will notice patterns appearing or certain small words or endings cropping up on a regular basis.

It is here that you start stimulating your curiosity and fascination with the language that will help drive the momentum for you to keep learning.

So for example one of the words listed was “derretir (se)” and what was not clear was what the “se” was all about.

That is something I now want to go and find out.

And because I have driven the identification of the point and the desire to understand what it means, I have created an open loop in my mind that it will want closing.

And when it does close I will get an “ahhh” moment – that’s a soft raising and lowering enlightenment type noise as opposed to an “ahhhgggghhh!” which is more a scream for help!

When that happens, that will be a moment of deep learning. I suspect that becoming fluent in Spanish will be a long series of those moments.

The key thing for all of these question is to write them down and then follow it up. I will use Evernote for that.

How Does Anki Know When To Show You The Cards?

One question that I needed an answer to immediately was “what does Anki do with the cards you create?”

Does it drip feed theme through at a pre-programmed amount and frequency or do all the cards I put in today get shown to me tomorrow?

Well I had to dig around in the support documentation for Anki to get to the bottom of this AND watch what it did having created a load of cards.

But here’s what I discovered.

After creating a set of cards, it will deliver an amount for learning up to and including the limit set on the “new cards” setting.

I think it defaults to 10 though I had nudged it up to 20 to get some traction on learning the pronunciation.

So if I dumped 48 cards into Anki web yesterday, the first tranche of cards shown was only 20.

Today it will offer another 20 cards for me to process, and tomorrow 20 more providing I have created that number of cards.

Then each card, depending on the success I have in recalling it, will then be presented on a number of occasions with the delay between each presentation increasing over time.

The key thing then is to keep on top of the development of the cards.

I figure if I can create cards for 20 new words a day, then that should take about a month to learn all 625 off the list.  Though I am sure I could do it quicker if that was all I was going to do each and every day.

Remember, card generation is just a part of the process.  I will also need to allocate time to do my reviews.

On More Example of Memorising Words

I played around with “corbata” which is Spanish for tie.

I imagined a neck tie being shoved into the middle of a large apple core and then a bat flying around and using it as a cricket bat (double reference points). This helped me think about the word more and that meant it stuck onto the visual Velcro.


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