Weekly Update - Jan. 04, 2020

January 04, 2020

Learning 3,000 Characters

You can track my progress here.

I learned 199 characters this week, taking my total to 875/3,000. This means I’m just shy of 30% of the way to my goal.

I spent 8.0 hours learning characters this week.

Here are my takeaways from the week. 👇

Come Up with High Quality Mnemonics

Anki tracks how many times per review session you need to repeat a previously learned card. If you don’t remember the answer to a card, you press ‘again’ to review the card again that day. Your ‘again’ count is a lagging indicator of the quality of your mnemonics.

I am guilty of having days where I don’t put much effort into coming up with really good mnemonics for characters, and it definitely shows a few days later when I’m reviewing those words.

You may be able to get through that day’s lesson with bad mnemonics/stories, but you’re going to suffer when it comes time to review. This happens because your short term memory is strong enough to retain it during your study session, but it fails to be memorable enough to persist in long term memory.

Outcomes of today’s work are not evident for a few days or even weeks

James Clear has a good tweet about this:

Don’t Fall for the Trap of “I’ll Just Remember This One”

This one is so easy to fall victim to. You run into an abstract character with a strange combination of primitives and you don’t want to put the energy into coming up with something creative, so you just tell yourself, “I’ll just remember this one.”


This happens with a lot of different things in language learning. It also happened to me when I was learning Russian declensions. Or the differences between 3 Russian verbs meaning ‘to learn.’

Chances are, if you have to justify not making a mnemonic for a word with this excuse, that’s when you need it the most.

As an example, I recently learned the Chinese character for “must” (得). Its primitives are queue, daybreak, and glue… I couldn’t think of a good story to tie all these elements together right away and told myself I’d just remember this one. Sure enough, the next day I couldn’t remember at all what the character looked like. I ended up having to go back and create a mnemonic because I knew I would never actually “just remember it.”

It’s wasted time and added frustration. Just do it right the first time.

Learn with a Fresh Mind

It was painfully clear to me this week that when I put off my learning to the end of the day, it became 10x harder. Not that you need to wake up at 5 a.m. to review cards, but you should find a time where you can think clearly and creatively.

You are human, and you have an upper limit to the amount of creative energy you can use in a given day. Coming up with good stories to remember characters is highly creative and is difficult to do at the end of the day when your creative energy has been zapped.

This is not to say that I always wanted to study. There are definitely days where I want to watch Youtube videos instead of opening Anki, but once I got started it wasn’t so bad. I’ve never regretted studying characters, but I have regretted spending too much time vegging while watching TV.

Other Learning

I did a little work with the textbook Integrated Chinese this week, but my focus is still on character memorization.

Now that I’m starting to accumulate more characters, I want to make a more dedicated effort to learn the other parts of the language as well.

I send updates on my progress every Saturday.