Switching from Traditional to Simplified

So, I’m stuck!

I’ve been studying Chinese using Skritter for the last 2 years. I study Traditional Chinese. I’ve been really good with it, starting at about 15 minutes/day for the first 6 months, I moved to a pretty consistent 1 hour/day from months 6 to 23. In the past month, I’ve tried to drop back down to 30 minutes and have had to turn off adding new words because my backlog is just too large.

I get a pretty average 85% success rate every day, but it seems like I’m always working on the same set of ‘leeches’ that I just can’t seem to get stuck into my head no matter how hard I try. I try to manage these by banning writing for words/chars I’ve spent +20 minutes writing, and then banning the whole word for things i’ve spent +10 minutes learning to tone, read, or describe.

This seemed like a good idea at first, but out of 3700 words I “know” now, I have hundreds of banned words. Some I really just don’t need to know, but others I really would like to know but just can’t seem to.

Basically, it seems like my backlog is unmanageable with my current time plan. If I go back to putting an hour a day into Skritter, I can probably start picking up new words again but the fact that I’m just doing the same stuff over and over again is really demoralising.

So I’m thinking of resetting and starting again with Simplified characters. Before I do, I wanted to ask other people in the forum if they’ve had a similar experience? Maybe my frustrations are unique, or maybe they’re common and someone else out there has found a better way?

If I may, please let me ask you:

What is your average daily retention rate? Is 85% poor, or is it normal?
How quickly do you choose to ban a word? How big is your ban list? I have 600 banned words for 3700 known words, is that normal?
Have you switched from Traditional to Simplified successfully? If so, how?

And, do you find that the more words you learn, the more you have to study every day and that it eventually became unmanageable? If you did this, what was your secret to moving past that hurdle?

Thanks for your time and sharing any wisdom and experience you can!


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My retention rate is something like 95-98% for characters and 83-88% for words. I don’t worry too much about progress or getting things wrong, and just try to keep practising consistently each day. I’ll often get a relatively easy word wrong, but it soon gets scheduled out again if I really know it.

Same with leeches - I have some words I’ve spent 15 minutes on with <50% success, but if they come up I can normally get them scheduled out a few weeks later pretty quickly, even if I end up practising 5 times an hour until I get it. If a few weeks later I’m still having trouble, I just trust in the scheduling and keep going.

Half an hour a day is around what it takes for me to keep my queue flat, like you if I do an hour I can pick up new words. If you’re consistent each day you’ll see which way the numbers are going, so you’ll know that eventually you will pick up new words again. This might be enough to prevent demoralisation. I had a period of six months ending earlier this year where I was just slowly reducing the queue without getting to zero.

For some words or characters I get them confused easily. Sometimes this is just the language not always being clear, other times it’s me not really being clear on the meanings of the underlying characters. Doing a little bit of reading around the characters, looking at example sentences in a dictionary, cross-checking whatever you’re getting confused against can help build up the underlying knowledge.

Sometimes the definitions in Skritter are not as clear as they could be. It helped me a lot when I started reading a bit about which characters where variants of others and updated Skritter definitions to make this clear. For example, marking 帐单 as a variant of 账单 in the definition immediately improved my retention.

I found pts’s comments in the old forum useful here: http://beta.skritter.cn/forum/topic?id=90571003 . He suggests thinking carefully about each individual character to ensure you’re really clear about the meaning.

I have never banned words except ones that were incorrect in the Skritter database or really rare to the extent I didn’t think I’d use them. I stopped adding the tail end of some of the lists where you start seeing very rare characters, some of which don’t even have definitions in Skritter. My long term goal is to have a similar level of vocabulary as say a typical graduate in China might do, so I just add words that fit in with that goal.

I have recently upped study time from 30 minutes a day to closer to 60 minutes a day in order to add words in the quick add list from the Zhongwen Chrome browser plugin. I’m working down a list of around 3,000+ words that I’ve encountered in reading online. I think partly because of having seen them in context, a lot of these are relatively easy to remember. So I don’t really agree that the more you learn the more you have to study.

If you do add a lot of words in a short period, it can cause a bump in your reviews that can take a long time to clear. Same if you reduce your study time. But I’m finding that I can add a 100 words every few days without much trouble, mostly because a lot of them are characters I already know, or words I’m fairly familiar with already. The more words and characters you know, the easier it is to add new ones as they tend to be similar to something you know already. I prefer a low retention rate because it allows me to add new words and characters quicker, which often supports understanding of those you already know.

Personally I’m happy just studying on Skritter, but when I reach my daily targets I like to study in a different way as well. At the moment that generally means conversation practice or reading, and over time I’d like to introduce more writing and listening. Variety helps keep things interesting and provides context and a gauge of progress over time.

I mostly study simplified, but did switch to traditional and simplified for a while. I decided I was OK just being able to read traditional and not write it, so went back to just simplified. There are a couple of lists of characters which are variant in simplified versus traditional which are what I would use to switch. It shouldn’t take too long to switch I don’t think. I didn’t like studying both at once as there’s not much point studying 语言 and 語言 type of variants.

I never tried starting again from scratch - I didn’t really see the advantage of throwing away existing scheduling data. I would personally just switch to simplified and take advantage of the characters you already know.

Finally the main secret I have found is the more time you put in the more you learn. There’s not really much way around that. If you’re going to learn 5,000+ characters and 20,000+ words, it will take a while. Say four minutes a word for 20k words and that’s >1,300 hours. At 30 minutes a day that’s around 7 or 8 years.

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Great reply, Simon! I had some ideas for what to write myself, but it seems I don’t really need to. :slight_smile: I deal with leeches more decisively than you do, but apart from that, I agree with most of what you’re saying.

Regarding switching to simplified, I found that really easy once I knew traditional fairly well. Admittedly, I’m much better at handwriting traditional, but learning to read was very easy. There are only some 500 tricky cases, the rest are systematic changes. Added to that there are of course some word differences, but sorting all that out is a never-ending quest with questionable merits.

Thanks Olle. Example leech for me: 53 minutes on 歌颂, 49% success rate. Get confused with 诵 I think, possibly also 讼. Probably should figure out a better way to remember this but clearly haven’t and not 100% sure how to! Another one is 惟 - 36 minutes spent 53% success rate. Most of the time I just ignore the fact I’ve got them wrong and assume I’ll remember in future.

Thank you both for taking the time to reply. Ximeng, your feedback is incredible! I’ve decided to stick with Traditional for now and not reset or anything else that’s so drastic.

Also, I’m going to suck it up and go back to doing an hour a day. It’s very hard to find that much time, but only getting by and not improving at 30 minutes a day is frustrating and not sustainable longer-term. I need to feel like I’m learning new vocab, rather than just holding on to what I know. Especially at only 3700 words so far.

@SkritterOlle, out of curiosity what is your ratio of studied:banned words? I’m trying to determine if my approach to leeches is too liberal, with ~3700 words and ~600 banned, it really seems like this might be the case.

I’m not sure I understand why the ratio you’re asking for is interesting. First, there might be several reasons for banning a word that aren’t related to whether the word is a leech or not. For example, I have banned dozens of characters that I realised are next to useless and that I don’t really want to learn. Second, the idea with leeches isn’t that you just remove them and then never do anything with them. Assuming that I only banned items I had problems with, provided that I studied consistently (which I don’t at the moment), I would still have close to zero banned items. I would ban an item when I realised that it was causing too much trouble, but I would then go through the banned items regularly and fix them, then unban them. This could include making a new mnemonic, study the composition or adding context. In any case, unbanning leeches after fixing them would keep the number down.