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Lesson 2: Learning a Vocabulary Lesson

About the Vocabulary Lessons

Most of the time, you will use the word processor to create your own lessons based upon a textbook lesson or a specific article that you are reading. The example practice lessons include beginning lessons which teach the alphabetic Chinese bopomofo and Chinese pinyin, and assume no prior experience. Intermediate lessons consist of Chinese hanzi plus unusual words courtesy of the Smart Characters User's Group.

Pronunciation Warning

The beginning bopomofo or pinyin lessons could ruin your Chinese or Chinese speaking career, because they teach pronunciation according to English equivalents, which are not really equivalent!

Traditional Chinese and Bopomofo

Chinese pronunciation must be learned by listening. Chinese contains many sounds not found in English, and the pinyin pronunciation rules are very different from English. To further complicate matters, pronunciations vary enormously according to region.

The Advantage of Bopomofo

We recommend that beginners learn the bopomofo ( ) alphabet because it is exact and cannot be confused with English pronunciations. Because bopomofo is used in Taiwan, most Chinese never learned it, but have learned and can use pinyin. Smart Characters supports both methods, which you choose from a setup dialog.

Remembering the Hanzi

When learning hanzi (Chinese characters), it will pay off to learn to recognize the various radicals and other elements that make up the character, rather than recognizing the shape of the character as a whole. If you don't care to learn the traditional names for the radicals, use the English names, or make up your own, to the horror of your traditional Chinese teacher. The point here is that memorizing the shapes of the characters as a whole may work well for the first hundred or so, but later you may find yourself unable to distinguish characters which differ more subtly. Although it is directed at Japanese students, we recommend the 100 percent English names and explanations found in Remembering the Kanji Volume I by James W. Heisig, as an excellent way to explore these beautiful and mysterious symbols.

Vocabulary Lessons

A vocabulary lesson(D- - 8) is a list of characters, words, or phrases in vocabulary lesson format. Smart Characters can convert any dictionary or word list containing pronunciations and glosses (short translations) into a vocabulary lesson on request. You can use the newly created vocabulary lesson and discard it, or save it to a vocabulary lesson file for later retrieval and practice.

The Vocabulary Command

The Learn | Vocabulary command processes the contents of the currently active and open (not minimized, not an icon) document window, looking for vocabulary entries. Alternatively, if no window is active and open, the command asks you to select an existing lesson.

Start by opening an existing lesson. Although you can open a lesson like a word processing document then apply the Learn | Vocabulary command, for practice, let's start with a clean window:

Retrieving a Vocabulary Lesson

Decide which lesson to practice. The bopomofo lesson is in a file named Bopomofo.cv0, while a beginning Chinese lesson can be found in Lin01-11.cv0. To open the lesson: Observe that the File Name specification reads *.?v*, which means all files with file extensions ending in any character followed by a `v' optionally followed by another character. This is the convention for Smart Characters vocabulary files.

File Name Wild Cards

If the asterisks, periods, and question marks look like gibberish to you, welcome to the world of computers! Briefly, a period separates a file name and a file extension (a special part of a file's full name which indicates its type). An asterisk (*) means match any number of characters, and a question mark (?) means match any single character. These two characters are called wild cards.

Narrow the list to files beginning with either a "B" (first letter in Bopomofo.cv0) or an "L" (for Lin01-11.cv0) by inserting a "B" or an "L" in front of the first asterisk:

Because the file name is ambiguous (contains wild cards), the OK button simply displays a (much smaller) list of matching files in the list box under the file name. Make sure you understand how they match. Open the lesson file:

The Vocabulary Window

Observe that the main frame window has been covered by a new window titled Vocabulary Lesson View, that the new window contains its own menu, and that three additional child windows are visible.

The flashcard window displays a word or phrase and its answers. The history window (titled Recent Trials - Worst Scores) shows the four most recent trials on the left, and the words you find the hardest on the right. The status bar shows statistical information regarding this drill, including the number of words selected for drill.

Check out the Setup Menu

Observe the vocabulary menu selections: File Drill Setup. Before you jump in, look at Vocabulary | Setup. The number of words selected is limited to 34 in demonstration mode. See Registering Your License. Note the FlashCard Zoom group. These controls set the size of the characters used in the flashcard window, and the Chinese pronunciation style:

The Vocabulary Menu

Use arrow keys: Next Word Previous Rescore Wrong Direction Quit

The menus are optimized for rapid keyboard and mouse activation. The need for typing skills (pressing the right key) is eliminated from the drill in order to achieve reliable measurement of response times under 1/3 second. We do not want to waste any time searching for the right key. Consequently, the vocabulary menus work differently than you are accustomed to. In particular, you can press a letter key to activate a vocabulary drill menu item without pressing the Alt key. Additionally, any key will activate the menus, not just the ones underlined. The idea is to reduce fatigue by allowing you to use the keys you feel most comfortable with, and to change them during the course of the drill.

The Vocabulary Drill

The vocabulary drill consists of many trials each consisting of three stages. Each time you press a key, the tutor moves to the next stage. See Beginning the Drill. Because quick reflexes are essential(6- 1), we will start by practicing the keyboard.

Practicing the Keyboard

Practice just pressing a key (use the SpaceBar, or any key) in response to the flashcard, without trying to recall or score any words. Try again. This next time, select Correct instead of Incorrect. What happens to the scores in the vocabulary history window and status bar? How fast can you go? How fast will the computer go? Find the limit.

Develop the Rhythm

We want the computer to measure the time we take to remember the vocabulary, but the computer only knows how quickly we can press a key after it displays a new word on the flashcard. This time consists of our recall plus verbalization and visualization times, plus our physical reaction time.

The tutor will become more precise as your physical reaction time improves with practice. To achieve near-zero physical reaction time scores, you should aim to complete about 60 trials of three key presses per minute. Each key press corresponds to a stage of the drill. The first stage (recalling the word) should take approximately two thirds of the time. The answer and scoring stages should be disposed of as quickly as possible, although it does help to study the answers occasionally. Practice the following drill to develop the necessary tempo and rhythm by tapping your finger and repeating the following nonsense phrase:

Take the time to practice this rhythm, and get it right.

Reset the Lesson

All this pressing of keys has destroyed the initial scores in the vocabulary lessons(D- - 8), either by setting them too high, or too low. You may reset the lesson in one of two ways: retrieving the lesson again without saving it, or using the Vocabulary | Setup | Reset and Scramble functions:

Learning the Lesson

Now that you have some familiarity with the tutor, practice the lesson for the next ten to fifteen minutes. The following discusses three possible scenarios: giving up, getting the answer right, and getting it wrong. First, re-enter the select word menu:

Don't Know the Word at All

It happens frequently that you don't know the vocabulary word at all. Rather than wasting time trying to figure it out, you may wish to stop the process early, learn the answer, and go on:

You Know the Word

The most frequent occurrence is that you know the vocabulary word, but the tutor is trying to confuse you. Frustrate the tutor by answering quickly and correctly. Minimize the time between stages 1 and 2. Note the clock in the lower right hand corner of the window. If the time is under 2.0 seconds, you are on track. Under 0.3 seconds means you have it down cold. Times under this are masked by physical reaction time.

You Forgot the Word

Spend the fifteen seconds you have to concentrate and bring up memories (of the word!) as best you can. Try to guess the answer, and don't forget to verbalize your guess to make it "firm."

A Typical Lesson

If you know the material very well, you can complete about 60 trials per minute. With new material consisting of hanzi compounds, you should average 10-15 trials per minute. As a rule of thumb, 5 to 10 trials are required to memorize a word or phrase fairly well. This means that a 100 word vocabulary list can be memorized in about 700 trials lasting about an hour.

Keep Going

Keep going. As a beginner, you should be able to complete the sample lesson of about 50 words in about an hour. Keep going over the initial "hump" of resistance to your strict computer tutor, to an alert and painless state of consciousness as the computer, keyboard, and screen disappear from awareness, leaving your mind focused on the goal of learning the vocabulary lesson. You want to know this vocabulary, and you want to be able to recall it quickly, accurately, and without effort, so keep going.

Review Your Lessons

Because the tutor teaches quick recall, the quality of memorization is quite high, but it now resides in short term memory. To fix it more in long term memory will require repeated exposure to it. For this purpose, re-reading the lesson from which the vocabulary was derived is sufficient: there is no need to re-learn the lesson unless you have forgotten a significant number of words. In that case, the vocabulary review drill will be quite rapid.

Don't Forget to Read

Please remember that the purpose of the vocabulary drill is to learn new words and phrases so that you can read them from the page, so don't forget to practice reading from the page. You'll find that remembering the words is a lot easier when they are in the context of a sentence (which is one explanation for why memorizing the words and phrases in the context of one lesson does not adequately train you to recognize them in another).

Switching between Pinyin and Bopomofo

You can display either pinyin or bopomofo pronunciations in a vocabulary lesson(D- - 8). Use the same control as in the Format | Annotations dialog:

Listing the Lesson

There are several ways to list and print the vocabulary for further study. One involves the Vocabulary | File | List function, and the other uses the word processor. We will preview a further lesson of making your own vocabulary lessons(D- - 8) by examining the lesson you just studied in the word processor: Scroll through the vocabulary words you have just practiced. The numbers on the left are the number of trials and the score in one hundredths of a second followed by the chapter and page of the book the lesson came from. The word or phrase (including the pronunciation) and its meaning finish the line. If the vocabulary view window is still active, you cannot add text to the window, and most commands do not work.

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Last Modified: March 23, 1996

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