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Spanish: A little subs2srs experiment

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 Message 81 of 147
23 November 2014 at 2:23pm | IP Logged 
30 days!

I just finished learning episode 1 of Avatar!

According to Anki, I have spent 565 minutes over the course of 30 days studying 295 cards (and 182 suspended), for a total of 1,348 reps. Here's the breakdown:

You'll notice that my time is holding steay even though I've gone from 5 new cards/day to 15, and even though the cards due every morning are starting to pile up. Basically, my Spanish is improving rapidly enough that I'm staying ahead of the workload.

I have put in less time than Sprachprofi did by the 30-day mark. She had spent at least 30 hours learning over 1,500 cards, so I've only invested about 1/5th to 1/3rd of her effort. I definitely have learned fewer cards per hour, perhaps because I didn't start by pulling out short, related cards, but attempted most of the longer cards straight from the start.

Some sample cards from today

- Left: Working on quizás "maybe" and hay "there is".
- Right: hay que, however, means something like "It is necessary".

- Left: Understood this on the first try without the subtitles.
- Right: I understood this without the subtitles, which feels pretty amazing. Also, the audio says adentro and not ahí, which didn't even slow me down. Woot!

This is a fun one. The audio has some major reductions. I hear:

No 'cía esto desde qu'era una niña

In general, a lot of the mandatory phonetic reductions in French (que -> qu', clitic pronouns before vowels, etc.) are also present in fast, spoken Spanish. But because I'm working with native audio and subs2srs from the beginning, I'm actually noticing these traps for listeners very early on.

How's my progress?

I was too busy with work to watch any Avatar episodes this week, but I'll try again soon. But the last time I tried, I could understand well over half of the scenes I had already studied, and I could pick out a good number of short, isolated lines in episodes I hadn't studied yet.

I also tried reading Blacksad last night. My conclusion: If I just worked with the Spanish text directly, I could figure out isolated panels, but the majority of the text was still too hard. But when I opened up my French edition of Blacksad and used it to cheat, I was suddenly having a huge amount of fun puzzling out the Spanish text, and I could understand a large fraction of it.

So what have I gained in these first 30 days and ~10 hours of Anki reps?

1. I can pick up a lot more scattered phrases from unfamiliar TV and texts, including some complicated ones.
2. If I cheat with parallel text, understanding the Spanish text of a graphic novel is fun and fairly easy.
3. If I review bilingual subtitles before watching an episode, I definitely understand more lines.

A note on vocabulary

After learning close to 300 cards, and counting my Romance discount, I definitely know at least 300 words in Spanish. And with the exception of my early Y Tu Mamá También cards, those words are focused on a single subject: conversations between older children about a war between people who can magically control the elements.

My vocabulary is not nearly big enough yet.

As I learn new cards, I'm constantly running into really important, high-frequency vocabulary. For example, it wasn't until today that I saw hay and hay que in enough different contexts to get a feel for their major idiomatic usages. I actually think that the vocabulary situation will get a lot better with another ~1,000 cards or so, as I exhaust the basics and see multiple examples of the important words. That would bring me up near Sprachprofi's 1,500+ cards.

How does this compare to Assimil?

Well, I can't compare fairly, since this is the first time I've ever jumped between Romance languages, which gives me both a headstart and a speed boost. But overall:

1. Since I'm focusing heavily on native audio, my listening skills are coming along very rapidly. In fact, my biggest weakness may actually be my lack of vocabulary, and not my decoding speed. It feels really weird to have decent decoding this early on.

2. Even though I like Assimil's dry sense of humor, this is definitely more fun.

3. I can measure my progress directly against my goals. I want to watch Avatar with subtitles and read Blacksad, and my progress is definitely visible.

4. I'm already making heavy use of unsimplified native materials, which is awesome.

As for first-time language learners, I suspect that it would be a good idea to combine Assimil with something like subs2srs, and that the two would reinforce each other nicely. But for somebody who has already learned at least one language, and especially for somebody adding a new language in a familiar family, this is a great technique all by itself.

I can't wait to see how the next 30 days go. That will bring me to December 23rd, and add 450 new cards at my current rate. That's probably almost two more episodes of Avatar, which should be enough to see whether or not I'm on track to match Sprachprofi's incredible accomplishments.
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 Message 82 of 147
23 November 2014 at 3:15pm | IP Logged 
I would love to do something like this with French if it was easy to set up.

I have not been following this too closely, but I do read your posts every now and then so forgive me if you have answered this question. How much time do you spend doing all the prep work with the cards compared to actually learning? You spent 565 minutes on anki. Do you know how much total time you have put into this project? If you factor in the set up time do you feel it is as efficient as Assimil?
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 Message 83 of 147
23 November 2014 at 4:50pm | IP Logged 
James29 wrote:
How much time do you spend doing all the prep work with the cards compared to actually learning? You spent 565 minutes on anki. Do you know how much total time you have put into this project? If you factor in the set up time do you feel it is as efficient as Assimil?

The prep time varies hugely on the quality of the materials you start with, and whether or not you've done it before:

- If this is your first time using Handbrake, Subtitle Edit and Anki, it might take a couple days to figure everything out. This won't count as study time, unfortunately.

- If you have a DVD with accurate, bilingual VOBSUB subtitles, if you know how to type the letters of the language, and if you've been through the process once before, you can make 1000+ Anki cards for less than an hour of work.

- If you have accurate subtitles with bad timing, or just a transcript, expect to spend 3 or 4 hours aligning the subtitles for a ~23 minute cartoon episode. This assumes you can more-or-less match text to audio without understanding it. The good news is that this is actually a pretty helpful study activity in and of itself.

Keeping in mind that subs2srs provides the biggest payoff when you have accurate subtitles, the main challenge is finding good materials. Here's a good starting point for French.

Overall, I think it compares favorably to Assimil, especially for experienced learners who want to focus on native audio. I ended up spending more time tracking down interesting Spanish media, but that's a skill worth developing in any case. :-)
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 Message 84 of 147
23 November 2014 at 10:19pm | IP Logged 
Watching Avatar on day 30, without subtitles

While the rest of the family was napping, I had a few minutes to try my comprehension out with actual TV episodes.

1. Material I've studied using subs2srs

Episode 1, first 10 minutes: My comprehension is above 80% if I'm paying attention. Some of the early part is almost boring from a linguistic perspective—I listen, I understand, and that's it.

Episode 2, second 10 minutes: My overall comprehension is a bit lower, but still well above 50%. Towards the end of this section, I need to pay much closer attention, and I'm missing some details of the more complicated dialog. Overall, this is looking good, and it should considilate with just a handful more Anki reps per line of dialog. There's something a bit magic that happens when cards reach 20 to 30 days of age—they tend to consolidate quite nicely, even though I review them only once or twice during this period.

I just want to say, this is awesome.

2. Material I've seen before, but which I haven't yet studied in detail

I've gone through episode 2 a few times, first to align the subtitles, and then to write my substudy tool. I've also listened to it in the background a number of times, and I'm reasonably familiar with what's happening in each scene.

My comprehension is surprisingly good! I'm not yet good enough to watch unassisted, but I can get a lot. Here are a few samples of what I recognized without subtitles, copy and pasted from the subtitle file afterwards:

No culpe a Katara, yo la llevé ahí...
Don't blame Katara. I brought her there.

¡es mi culpa!
It's my fault. Aha!

¡Ajá! el traidor confiesa.
The traitor confesses!

¿Risa? ¡No podemos atacar a un maestro fuego con risas!
Fun? We can't fight Firebenders with fun!

Creo que lo mejor es que el maestro aire se vaya.
I think it best if the Airbender leaves.

¿A donde crees que vas?
Where do you think you're going?

A buscar un maestro agua.
To find a Waterbender.

Aang, me llevará al polo norte.
Aang is taking me to the North Pole.

perdí la oportunidad de convertirme en maestra agua.
There goes my one chance at becoming a Waterbender.

¿Me buscabas?
Looking for me?

¿Tú eres el maestro aire?
You're the Airbender?

¿Tu eres el Avatar?
You're the Avatar?

¡No puede ser!
No way.

Si voy contigo... ¿prometes dejar a la tribu tranquila?
If I go with you, will you promise to leave everyone alone?

No te preocupes Katara, estaré bien.
It'll be okay.

Rumbo a la nación del fuego,
Head a course to the Fire Nation.

¡vamos a casa!
I'm going home.

¡Katara! Vas a hablar todo el día, o vienes conmigo.
Katara! Are you gonna talk all day, or are you coming with me?

- Sube, iremos a salvar a tu novio -
Get in. We're going to save your boyfriend.

Aang es el Avatar, es la única esperanzadel mundo,
Aang is the Avatar. He's the world's only chance.

Esto será un excelente regalo para mi padre.
This staff will make an excellent gift for my father.

Pretty cool.

3. Material which I vaguely recall from over a year ago, in another language

I've listened to parts of episode 5 in the background recently, and I still remember the overall plot from a year ago. But I haven't looked at the English subtitles yet. Here's a sample of things I understood:

Tenemos algunas opciones:
We have several options:

¿Qué fue eso?
What was that?

¡Es un maestro tierra!
It's an earth-bender!

¡Vamos a conocerlo!
Let's go (meet) him!

Hola!, aquí, soy Katara, ¿cómo te llamas?
Hello! (Here.) I'm Katara, how do you call yourself?

-¡Donde has estado Jaruu!,
Where have you been, Jaruu!

¿Por qué escapaste de nosotros?
Why did you (run away) from us?

La tierra control está prohibida,
Earth-bending is prohibited,

No sabía lo de tu padre.
I didn't know about your father.

Mi padre era muy valiente, cuando la nación del fuego nos invadió, …
My father was very valiant, when the Fire Nation invaded us, …

And I almost got this, except for the part in brackets:

Si, el problema es que la única forma de {sentirme cerca} de mi padre ahora, es haciendo tierra control. Él me enseñó todo lo que sé.

(Roughly:) Yes, the problem is that the only way {to feel close to} my father now is doing earth-bending. He taught my everything I know.

Interesting, there's a lot of dialog which feels just a bit "out of reach"—if I had more vocabulary, or I listened to it several times, or if I'd read the subtitles beforehand, then a lot more might click. And I pick up enough scattered words to have a good idea of what's going on (especially since I remember the overall plot from when I watched this in French).


Here's a breakdown:

Material which I've studied with subs2srs until the cards are mature: Over 80% comprehension.
Material which I've reviewed with bilingual subs, etc.: 25% to 50%, depending on the scene.
Material which I haven't reviewed: Lots of words and expressions, plus scattered sentences.

Overall, I'm really happy with this, especially since I've studied just under 300 cards. I have another 1000–1200 cards worth of Avatar available, which is enough to get me up near Sprachprofi's numbers.

Let's see how the next month goes!
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 Message 85 of 147
24 November 2014 at 4:21pm | IP Logged 
The basics

- Left: I'm discarding more cards like this for being ridiculously easy.
- Right: Learning vital beginner vocabulary: "I need to go to the bathroom!" Who says native media can't teach you the basics?

Two words that that are proving tricky

- Left: aunque "although".
- Right: llevar.

I can recognize both of these words on specific cards, but I never understand them on new cards until I read the subtitles. In the case of llevar, that first ll has all kinds of different sounds depending on context.

Fortunately, I'm getting tons of examples of both of these, with excellent surrounding contexts. So I'm adjusting my button presses to make these two words come up more often, and allowing Anki to hammer them into my brain.

Not bothering to look this one up

I'm not sure what cumplo means, but cumplo mi promesa is clear enough. I'm pretty erratic about looking up vocabulary—if I can guess the general idea without looking something up, I'm quite happy to skip it and let my brain figure it out from later examples.
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 Message 86 of 147
25 November 2014 at 6:57pm | IP Logged 
I'm up to 20 new cards per day! Of course, I'm using the "Easy" button for a lot of new cards straight off the bat, so it works out about the same. Still, we'll see—I may need to drop back a bit later on.

Anyway, some cards of note for today:

- Left: I understood this without the subtitles.
- Right: This one was tricky. I still need to internalize entonces "then," and there's a lot going on here. I want this card to come up more often until it becomes automatic.

Hmm, does that smell like… the subjunctive?

My French subjunctive is pretty solid and automatic, so I have a vague idea of where I should start looking for the Spanish subjunctive. These two cards look like good candidates, because they'd use the subjunctive in French, and because the verb forms look weird:

- Left: vaya. Yup! It's the subjunctive of ir.
- Right: haga. This one is the subjunctive of hacer.

Not bad! Based on my experiences with French, here's how I'm going to work on the Spanish subjunctive:

1. I'm going to identify several distinctive subjunctive verb forms: vaya, haga, etc., and use these to identify contexts that use the subjunctive.

2. I'm going to look for several common contexts that seem to require the subjunctive, and use those to identify subjunctive verb forms.

Basically, (1) and (2) form a virtuous cycle: I start by identifying a subjunctive verb form, then I use that to identify constructs which use the subjunctive, which I in turn use to identify more verb forms, and so on. This is a slow process, because my brain needs time to internalize the pattern.

I'm really not a purist about this stuff. Sure, I mostly just fool around with Anki cards, but I have nothing against an occasional verb table or something like that, at least in small doses. :-)

Edited by emk on 25 November 2014 at 7:15pm

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 Message 87 of 147
25 November 2014 at 8:23pm | IP Logged 
Some questions, if I may, emk. I'm pretty sure that you've watched this series en français. Did you make a conscious decision not to use French subtitles in your learning? Did you feel that you would be better off using your knowledge of French to inform your understanding instead. Did you feel that you would be better able to "cheat" using your native language? I assume that you have the French based L'espagnol Assimil course, so I'm curious as to why you chose the L1 subs to be English.

I chose to learn Portuguese without comparing it to Spanish as I felt (as a second language speaker of Spanish) that using my L2 to learn a very similar L3 was actually causing me to see Portuguese as it relates to Spanish, seeing it through a Spanish prism, instead of in its own right. French and Spanish are less similar to each other than Spanish and Portuguese. I went mostly monolingual Portuguese, with only some English bilingual texts and grammar explanations.

Speaking of Assimil, is it going to sit on the shelf or do you envision yourself going through it, even if rapidly, later? Do you think you might be annoyed by the slower, clearer audio of the course (after learning with native speed audio), and it's slow pace? I mean, you're a month out and you're already seeing the subjunctive. I don't know when Assimil introduces the subjunctive but I don't think that it's this early.

Edited by iguanamon on 25 November 2014 at 8:26pm

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 Message 88 of 147
25 November 2014 at 9:44pm | IP Logged 
You were confused about cumplo? Have a real life example :)

Xabi Alonso es el primer jugador español que marca en el día de su cumpleaños en TODA la historia de la Champions League.

I'll wait a bit with the translation...

in case you want to figure out something yourself ;)


Nothing terribly interesting, and I don't even like Xabi Alonso tbh. But he's the first Spanish player to score in the Champions League on his birthday. Just random trivia. And feliz cumpleaños is one of those lesson1 phrases that doesn't come up enough in native materials.

As you may guess, this root can have several meanings, and here you have the main ones.

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