Memory Software

I somewhat hesitate to call this page “memory software” I wanted to call it what it really is SRS (Spaced Recognition Software), but…

I’ve studied languages for quite a while without much aid from flashcard software for learning new words. I’ve picked up new words mostly by reading/listening with Spanish and while I’ve made a great deal of progress, it has been a long process. I’m beginning to think that if I had set out with the intent of memorizing vocabulary I would have progressed faster.

But how should you memorize vocabulary. I remember back in school looking over the vocabulary lists a few times was usually enough to carry to the next day. I don’t ever remember using flash or note cards in school. But I’ve run across some interesting information about short term and long term memory lately. The way the brain works new information has to be repeated in order to “stick”. In fact, most suggestions I’ve seen say you should review a new fact after first seeing it 10 minutes after first learning it, then an hour later, then a day later and then every two days there-after until it’s in long term memory. Keeping track of this without software would be complex and tedious.

There are programs that can act as flash card software and schedule when to present a card again for optimal refreshing of your memory and (hopefully) long term memory storage. I recall one writeup claiming that we could remember any given fact for as long as 5 years with as few as 10 “views” of the fact. It was just a matter of WHEN those 10 views came. So this is where spaced repetition software comes in. It keeps track of when you see things, you just grade how well you know the fact.

With both of the programs that I’ve used now you are presented with one side of the card and you’re supposed to think of the flip side and then click a button to check and test your accuracy, then grade if you absolutely forgot it (usually 0) up to “I know this really well” (4 or 5 depending on the software.) If it’s 0, it’s usually put back into the deck and you see it again in a few moments to relearn it.

So, this method requires you to be honest with yourself otherwise it won’t work. I’ve used software in the past that did multiple choice or text entry for vocabulary, but the biggest problem is with the grading – if there was a typo in the card/ caps where there shouldn’t be/extra space/etc. Any of those things would have the answer scored as a miss. (Which was always irritating and distracting from memorizing the information.) Not to mention the challenge of “how do type that character?”

So, the software that I’m talking about is freely available for Mac/Windows/Linux. I’ve been using anki and mnemosyne. At the moment I’m leaning towards sticking with mnemosyne because it seems to more easily support non latin character input. (I’ve been playing around with chinese characters.) With anki I had to input in something else and paste – just couldn’t figure out how to do direct entry there. One nice thing is that both programs have good import/export so you can create lists in another program (spreadsheet?)

Mnemosyne has extra card decks you can download that others have created. It’s usually recommended that you create your own lists though. (I added the 2800 or so cards.) The biggest problem with borrowed lists is that it’s out of your context. For instance many that I’ve got wrong/had trouble with were because I’ve already associated a (Spanish) synonym wiht the word instead of what they had in their text book. So, its not necessarily a wrong translation, just not the one in the context of their textbook if that makes sense.

Along the idea of flashcards I should also mention a site that’s a flashcard exchange…. claims to be the largest online library of printable flashcards. It looks like you could also download and import into SRS software. The only catch – membership is free, but some features require a one time ($20) fee. Downloading a list is one of those features although you could copy/paste from the online listings if you really wanted to.

SRS software is really a good memorization tool and should be considered as a supplement to your current language learning approaches. I know I’m aiming to supplement my usual routine with a daily look at my “words that are due” in mnemosyne.