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ZDT

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Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsolete. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.


Link: Anki website

Let’s say you want to learn a large volume of information (such as vocabulary when learning a foreign language) and you want to make sure that you remember most of what you learn not only next week, but also five years from now. Normal people need some kind of reviewing system to accomplish this, but most of these are not really systems at all, but more or less educated guesses at when something needs to be reviewed. In addition, the data is often reviewed in sections organised the way the material was arranged in the original source (such as a text book), meaning that most of what you review is data you already know and don’t really need to repeat.

Spaced repetition software is a highly effective way to avoid this problem and increase efficiency astronomically. I realised the importance of this when I started learning Chinese seriously, but it’s only recently I’ve tried to maximise the benefits of using spaced repetitions software to learn more and faster with less effort. I’ve used a program called ZDT almost from the start, but only a few weeks ago, I decided to change to Anki, another program more heavily focused on spaced repetition. I also want to refer to a previous article focusing on spaced repetition in ZDT, not because I suggest you use that programme anymore, but because most of what I said there still holds true for any programme.

Anki has a few advantages over ZDT, which isn’t to say that the latter is not a good program (in fact, it’s better than most). Still, I decided to change for a number of reasons and that’s what I’m going to talk about now. Even if you’re using some other program, I think many of the points I bring up below will be relevant. If you’re not using a computer to help your studying, I think you should seriously consider doing so because of the fantastic increase in efficiency that will lead to; I can’t possible overstate the importance of this. Here are a few selected advantages in Anki, sometimes with remarks about ZDT:

Heavier focus on spaced repetition – This is the core of Anki, meaning that a lot more effort has been invested into this area. These advantages are the main reason that I decided to change software, but they are too many to discuss in detail here, but they include intervals based on scientific studies, more control over intervals and more detailed options when reviewing, such as being able not only to say if the answer was correct or not, but also if it was hard, medium or easy to recall, thus speeding up the process of separating the difficult cards from the easy ones.

Flexibility and versatility – Anki is a lot more versatile than ZDT. It can handle lots of more different kinds of data, and is built to be expanded with plugins. The user can use the program to study anything than can be broken down into smaller pieces. In Anki any kind of data can be entered (in ZDT it’s impossible to add non-Chinese in the Chinese field, for instance, making it impossible to add words in Chinese using Latin letters).

A large community – Anki seems to enjoy a sizeable supporting community with lots of people writing plugins and a lot of things going on development-wise. This is not a prerequisite for me, but it is reassuring to know that people are constantly working to improve the software.

Online version – I didn’t really think about how good it would be to have online features until I tried it with Anki. I can now review my lists from any computer and keep the cards as well as the attached statistics synchronised on more than one computer. This means that moving around, travelling and so on will be a lot easier with no need to suspend reviewing for a long period of time. It’s also a safety precaution to have all cards online.

Superior card management – Cards can be sorted and viewed in almost any way imaginable, which makes it very convenient to make adjustments (which was a pain in ZDT). It’s also possible to search for cards, prevent duplicates from being added and much, much more. These features contitute an extreme improvement from any other program I’ve tried.

Practical and smooth reviewing – While reviewing, corrections of cards can be made on the fly as they are discovered without having to interrupt the session. It’s also possible to undo answers to cards, removing the annoying problem with easy cards being reviewed too often only because of typing mistakes or a wrong click with the mouse.

So, having said all this, is Anki the perfect solution? I would hesitate to say perfect, but it’s a lot closer to that than ZDT is. I see no reason whatsoever to continue using the latter and I recommend both new and old learners to consider your choice of software again. Please take into account that I used ZDT for literally thousands of hours over more than two years, so I think I know what I’m talking about. It remains to be seen if there are even better programs out there, but I feel like I’ve taken a major step in the right direction and that any other gains that might be found elsewhere are merely adjustments or smaller improvements rather than something qualitatively different.

By way of conclusion, if you are the students mentioned in the beginning who use pen and paper to review your vocabulary, please think again. It’s of course difficult to say how much efficiency can be increased by using the proper tools, but I’m prepared to say that the change is in the order of several magnitudes. If you are already using a program, it’s always healthy to question what you’re doing. This is not an attempt to convert people to Anki in particular, but rather a call for people to think more about what they are doing and urge you to look around you and see what options there are. After all, you don’t want to spend your life trying to build a mountain by carrying stones in your pockets only to later find out that you could have hired a truck for free.

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Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsolete. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.


Update: Much of what is written in this article is irrelevant or obsolete, even if the underlying arguments are still valid. I no longer use the ZDT software, but have changed to Anki, which is superior in almost every regard. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Introduction

There are many tools out there which will greatly facilitate learning Chinese (I’ve discussed some of them here). For various reasons, I’ve been using a program called ZDT (Zhongwen Development Tool) almost from the start, which is about two years now. The program isn’t perfect, but it’s by far the best I’ve found, mainly because of one single function: the interval filter. This post is not meant to be a review of the program or its functions, but rather an attempt to explain why this filter is the best thing since sliced bread and how I use it in my everyday learning. I realise that a general post about ZDT would be a good idea, but I’ll leave that for later.

In ZDT, each vocabulary item has some data attached to it, most importantly how many correct and incorrect answers you’ve had for that specific word and when it was last checked in a flashcard session. The interval filter is very simple in its basic function: it simply looks at each character and determines how well you know it (based on the balance between correct and incorrect answers), and then checks when you last reviewed it. Depending on how well you know a word, the program will then determine if it’s time to review it again or not, everything based on your familiarity with the card (again based on test record).

Benefits of the interval filter

Correctly set-up (more about that later), the interval filter is all you need to expand and maintain vocabulary. Let’s take a look at that sentence again: the interval filter is all you need to expand and maintain vocabulary. Yes, I’m serious, I hardly use anything else. How is this possible? There are two areas in which the interval filter proves its usefulness.

First, when studying a new chapter, I simply enter all the words into a new category and immediately start a new flashcard session for that category (no, I haven’t made an attempt to learn the words first). What will happen now is that some words I will know from before without having to study. These are sorted out and won’t return for another 24 hours (see about tweaking the filter below). The rest of the characters automatically get -2 points because I don’t know them. When they appear, I study them carefully, perhaps looking up radicals, composite parts and whatever. At the end of the session, these words come back and usually I’m able to nail around 90 % of them the second time around, which means they end up on -1 point each. The remaining cards will have even more minus points depending on how many rounds you need to finish them off. Repeat this at least once within the first day. Note that this will leave you with flashcards ZDT thinks you ought to study now (some had -1 or less, which means you need more than one session to bring them to a positive value), and even if you do two more session the same day, some will still have a negative score and thus appear in the test. This is fine.

The next day, all characters will return again, even those you answer correctly the first time. This is essential for long-term retention. Most of the rest won’t be a problem, but some characters or words always persist and seem impossible to learn. Don’t worry, these will retain a very low score and you will be harassed by them once or twice every day until you know them. The characters will slowly advance up the ladder and out of the way, occurring more and more infrequently. Thus, the only thing you need to do is do at least one ZDT flashcard session every day, but two might actually work a lot better because it will the decrease the load and make sure you get the really difficult ones more often.

Second, the interval filter is perfect for revising old characters and words (this is rather obvious and probably the main reason why it was created in the first case). You never ever have to care about which words to review, you seldom have to waste time studying words you already know. Most other revision methods will force you to check ten words you already know for every word you actually need to study; the interval filter greatly reduces the time you thus waste on things you already know. It makes it possible to remember all the words you’ve ever learnt, without putting unreasonable strain on you.

How to use the filter

If you’ve just started studying Chinese, well, congratulations, the transition to using a filter like this is painless. When you have time, simply select all the categories you have and start a flashcard session. Do that as often as you can, keeping the characters you need to review at zero. If you’ve been studying Chinese for a long time and have thousands of words, it’s a lot tougher. I would suggest gradually moving over to a time interval system, but you might have to open the ZDT file containing the words and manually alter the points for your old words and start out at level higher than zero. Having 5000 characters all starting from zero would be an insurmountable obstacle, so don’t do it.

This method currently has one drawback, and that is that in ZDT, you can’t distinguish between different kinds of flashcard sessions. For instance, the program scores a pinyin recall test in the same manner as a self-review test. My own solution to this problem is to use two separate “super categories”, one for characters I want to be able to write (i.e. all characters in the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese series) and another for those I’m satisfied if I know the meaning and the pronunciation of. Then I simply run self-review for the first section and pinyin recall for the second. This isn’t perfect, but it has worked fine so far. I currently have 3200 and 3600 flashcards respectively in these two categories and this is probably the only way to handle such a large quantity of words.

Tweaking the filter

The filter can of course be tweaked, which is what I’m going to talk about now. First, the points you gain or lose for correct or incorrect answers can be altered. The default values are 1 point and 2 points respectively, and I see no serious reason to fiddle with these numbers. The reason the penalty has to be 2 and not 1 is that the character will return at the end of the test, which means that you will always get at least one correct answer. Changing both values to 1 would therefore mean that you can never lose points unless you answer incorrectly twice in the same session, which isn’t very likely.

Then there is the intervals themselves, and I recommend changing these frequently in the beginning to gradually find ranges which suit your learning curve. For instance, if you find that you continuously run in to characters you added a week ago, but that you never answer correctly, you have to change the intervals in the lower range of the spectrum. If you find that old characters which you know intimately keep bothering you although you never answer them incorrectly, you need to expand the intervals in the upper range. I have tweaked a lot and I currently use 1, 1, 2, 4, 7, 11, 20, 35, 50, 75, 100, 150, but this is of course no guarantee that it will work for you.

Conclusion and discussion

The ZDT interval filter is indeed the best thing since sliced bread and it is a marvellous tool for learning Chinese. I can envisage few other ways of building a solid vocabulary base (a friend uses a sort of manual interval filter with physical flashcards, but that seems too impractical when you reach several thousands of flashcards). I think many people use ZDT or other similar programs without realising the potential of the tool they’re using, something I hope to have changed at least slightly by writing this article. If you have any feedback, please post a comment. I would especially be interested in other people’s values for the intervals, provided you aren’t using the default ones, but any constructive feedback is more than welcome. Thanks to Chris for a wonderful program and thanks to you for reading this!

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Asienkunskap

Important: This is no longer my main page about studying Chinese, please visit Hacking Chinese to learn more about how to study Chinese more efficiently!

Introduction

I started studying Asienkunskap in Linköping in 2007, and during that first year of Chinese studies, I accumulated a lot of material that might be of use to other students. If not explicitly stated, everything here is written by me. This is what I currently have available:

Complete lecture notes (Nordostasienkunskap 2)
Take-home exams
(Nordostasienkunskap 2)
Papers (Nordostasienkunskap 2, projektarbete)
Reviews and reflections (course-related books)
Word lists (Short-term Spoken Chinese volume 1-3)
A list of all posts related to Asienkunskap

Lecture notes for Nordostasienkunskap 2

What follows is transcriptions of fourteen lectures relating to East Asia held by Mats Anderson and Göran Lindgren in 2007 and 2008. The files are in Rich Text Format, in Swedish and provided as is, meaning that I take no responsibility whatsoever that the content is accurate, although I believe most of it is. Click on the titles to download the files.

Noa 2-1 – Kina 1
Noa 2-2 – Mentalitet
Noa 2-3 – Japan 1
Noa 2-4 – Japan 2
Noa 2-5 – Sydkorea
Noa 2-6 – Nordkorea
Noa 2-7 – Japan 3
Noa 2-8 – Ekonomi
Noa 2-9 – Kina 2
Noa 2-10 – Taiwan
Noa 2-11 – Kina 3
Noa 2-12 – Kina 4
Noa 2-13 – Kina 5
Noa 2-14 – Japan 4
Noa 2-15 – Japan 5

Take-home exams

Noa 1 take-home exam – Take-home exams for our course in North-East Asian culture and history. They cover (among other things) Western imperialism, Korean history, the Meiji era in Japan, comparisons of different versions of events during the Long March in China, and an attempt to summarise Daoism. I received 91/100 on this course and Per Bäck earned 90/100.
Download my exam in Swedish (.rtf)
Download Per’s exam in Swedish (.pdf): part 1, part 2

Noa 2 take-home exam – Take-home exams for our course in North-East Asian recent history and politics. They cover (among other things) economy in the region as a whole, opposition parties in Japan, negative aspects of Chinese growth, Chinese system of guanxi, and politics in South Korea. I received 95/100 on this course and so did Per!
Download my exam in Swedish (.rtf)
Download Per’s exam in Swedish (.pdf): part 1, part 2

Paper (projektarbete)

Quo vadis, Taiawn?– Since I knew suspected I might be leaving for Taiwan later that year, I decided to write my paper about the election held in March 2008, which in many ways can be said to have been a crossroads in Taiwanese Cross-Strait (i.e. dealing with mainland China) politics. The title is Quo vadis, Taiwan? and the paper was written during and slightly after the elections were held. I received full points for this assignment.
Read more about Quo vadis, Taiwan?

Renminbi: Under värdering – This is a paper written by one of my friends, Per Bäck, who studied Asienkunskap at the same time as I did. It’s about the alleged under-evaluation of the Chinese currency (yuan or renminbi), a topic which was relevant then and is still debated hotly. Per also received full marks for this paper.
Download paper in Swedish (.pdf)

Course-related reviews and reflections

Miljoner sanningar – Per Bäck’s reflections on Linda Jakobsson’s book.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

The Journey to the West – My reflections on this classic by Wu Cheng’en. Probably not the pinnacle of reflective writing, but perhaps it might provide inspiration for someone. Note that the review and the document are complete different.
Download document in English (.rtf)
Read my review

Den törstige munken och hans dryckesbröder – Per Bäck’s reflections on this the first part of the Chinese classic 水滸傳. I’ll have to read it myself some day.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

China Candid – My reflections on this book by Sang Ye. Probably not the pinnacle of reflective writing, but perhaps it might provide inspiration for someone.
Download document in English (.rtf)

Röd åklagare – Per Bäck’s reflections on this book about crime, justice and corruption in China, written by Xiao Rundcrantz.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

One Man’s Bible – My reflections on this novel by Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, a lovely book which I highly recommend.
Read my review

Vitlöksballaderna – Per Bäck’s reflections on this book by Mo Yan, telling the story of a revolt in a small Chinese village. The farmer have been forced by the government to produce garlic, and when the garlic market collapses, the people decide that enough is enough.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

Mei Wenti! – My reflections on this Catharina Lilliehöök’s book about living in China, a book I found somewhat deterring.
Read my review

Word lists

Important: I no longer use ZDT to learn Chinese. The lists for ZDT will still be here, but no longer updated. The vocabulary can and should be accessed from the Anki software, which is far superior to ZDT. If youh aven’t changed already, you should do so now.

Short-term Spoken Chinese – Threshold, chapter 1-30 (汉语口语速成入门) – My lists of new words for ZDT (see the Tools section), sorted into categories, one per chapter of the book. I have often left out proper names and I take no responsibility whatsoever that the lists are correct (I doubt that there are many errors, though). Please use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Short-term Spoken Chinese – Elementary, chapter 1-25 (汉语口语速成基础)– Same as above, use at your own risk, but please report any errors you might find. Please note that proper names go in a separate category. Use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Technical Chinese – New words from our course in technical Chinese for ZDT – Includes basic vocabulary for math, chemistry, physics and biology. As for the lists above, use at your own risk, but please report any errors you might find. Please note that proper names go in a separate category. Use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Short-term Spoken Chinese (汉语口语速成) – Complete glossary for the first three volumes in .xls format, an outstanding word list compiled and contributed by Henrik Gustavson. Not only does it contain all the words for the first three volumes, but they are also neatly arranged in various useful ways. For the automatic generation of the lists to work, changes should be made in the tab named “kapitel”.
Download list (.xls)

Related posts

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Important: I no longer use ZDT to learn Chinese. The lists for ZDT will still be here, but no longer updated. The vocabulary can and should be accessed from the Anki software, which is far superior to ZDT. If you haven’t changed already, you should do so now. Please visit Hacking Chinese to read more about how to learn Chinese more efficiently!

Since I came to Taiwan, I have been studying a series of books called Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, 2nd Edition. I have over the past three months assembled a complete list of all the new words from the first three volumes in this series. Before I present the links to the files, there are a couple of things I would like to say. To begin with, these are my personal lists, which means that they are not proof to mistakes or misunderstandings. I take no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy of the definition, although I am fairly sure they are mostly correct (most of them are identical to the book). Since this series of text books use traditional characters, I have made no attempt to type in correct simplified alternatives. Also, since the characters from book one were much too easy for me, I have not been very careful with the English translation (most of the time is straight from the dictionary). Please use with caution. If you find any other mistakes, please let me know so that I can update these lists.

Second, the format I present these lists in is the ZDT backup format. This program is a wonderful help to learn Chinese and I have spent many hundreds of hours using it (the website is here and the program can be downloaded from here). Please refer to my article about revision in order to learn the advantages of ZDT’s time filter. You can use these lists in two ways. First, simply download and install ZDT, then use File >> Restore Data and select the files listed below (please check the box name Ignore stats, because otherwise my stats will disrupt the filters you use). Second, open the backup file in a text editor or spreadsheet software, and use the lists for whatever purpose you desire; the backup format is in plain text, so the lists should be useful even if for those who do not wish to use ZDT.

Finally, here are the three word lists; I hope they will help you study Chinese more efficiently!

Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 1
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 2
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 3

Link to words from book four, along with a review

Update: The word lists have been moved, but the links should be working properly now. I’ve also added a link to book four.

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