What's your approach to acquiring vocabulary through lists?

I’ve currently been plowing through Heisig’s Remembering Simplified Hanzi books and in about 118 hours of creating mnemonics and reviewing them on Skritter, I’ve gotten through about 1452 characters! I’m aiming to completely get through all 3000 characters by the end of August, and that goal certainly seems in reach!

However, I’m not sure the exact approach I should take for learning vocabulary.

Has anyone used the HSK lists to learn vocab? How did you do it? Did you just go in blind, adding a list, and then reviewing the words until you memorized them? Did you review the lists and superficially learn the definitions of the words before jumping in with Skitter? What approach would you recommend to studying the lists?

Another 1500 characters in just over a month?! Wow, that’s impressive! How many hours a day are you studying on Skritter? Maybe I need to re-think my aversion to Heisig.

I do a mix of my own lists and pre-defined ones. My textbook series (Practical Audio-Visual Chinese) is in Skritter, so I just track to that. I also make my own lists of words I don’t know from episodes in Slow-chinese.com and a bunch of words I pick up from conversations and various media.

So part of it is ‘going in blind’, but another part is reviewing stuff I’ve been exposed to first. I tend to find that the stuff I’m exposed to through conversation sticks more easily than the stuff from a textbook. I do about 30 hours a month, which gets me about 220 new works every month, or 7-9 per hour.

That’s significantly less than your 12 per hour, and I imagine with all your mnemonics your recall rate is very high?

I have used Skritter on 37 days and have logged 69 real hours, so an average of 1.8 hours per day. However, it’s only been 54.1 Skritter hours, so 1.5 hours a day by that count. I’ve created mnemonics with the books on 27 days for 49 hours, so and average of about 1.8 hours per day. 54 days have actually elapsed, so I probably would have been able to do a lot less each day if I had done some every day. Luckily, I have a ridiculous Beeminder goal keeping me on my toes.

There’s a lot that I don’t like about these books from the point of view of psycholinguist, and after I finish I plan to write up a detailed post on my blog about how to work around those issues. But it’s really, really effective to use Heisig + Skritter. I’ve gotten to the point where most of my mnemonics are one sentence that includes the primitives of the character and the Heisig keyword, and it really works.

The 118 hours I gave includes the time it takes to create mnemonics. I find that it takes me about two minutes to write down the keyword, check the back of the book for the pronunciation, write the character 3-5 times, and then handwrite a mnemonic that takes up two lines on a notebook. Since I’m farther ahead in the books than on Skritter, I’ve officially learned 941 characters in 54.1 hours, so that’s actually about 18 words per hour in “Skritter time.” My recall rate is okay, averaging about 90% across all four character parts. I’d probably have much better recall if I wasn’t trying to plow through 3000 characters in a couple of months.

I used various lists to learn vocab including hsk and it’s worked well for me. The more you add the easier it gets to learn more as you’ll see words and characters used in different contexts and they reinforce each other. I’ve found the chengyu lists helpful for reading newspapers and understanding spoken Chinese eg overhearing a guy telling a girl that she 崇洋媚外 and understanding it. Hsk has some chengyu but not enough. The lists on their own aren’t perfect for active language production as they have some fairly unusual chengyu alongside more common ones, and it’s difficult to know which to use. But it’s a good basis for reading and listening.

When adding a new list I just work my way through it, if there are any characters I don’t know or can’t figure out why they’re used in a word then I look up in a dictionary, normally Pleco or zdic. Repeat if I can’t remember them next time, normally once or twice is enough. I don’t really make too much effort to use other materials apart from Skritter, although occasionally I read something or watch some TV etc. in Chinese, which will normally reinforce the words I’ve picked up through Skritter.

So you normally just jump right in and go for it? Add the list, click “Study,” and see how well it goes? I can’t decide if I want to do that, or if I want to make a half decent effort to understand the words before I start studying.

I think my own method will have to include at least understanding the words before I start studying the list, because I’m not a huge fan of going in blind. Because of Skritter, I could have totally used Heisig’s methods without having to put down $60 for the two book set (especially since the 76 lessons after the first 19 are just the character, its keyword, and its primitives), but I like being able to go through the books, make up mnemonics, handwrite the character a few times, look up the pronunciation, look up full definitions on Pleco, etc., before I study the lists on Skritter.

I jump right in - if I have a list of a few hundred words like HSK or the chengyu lists I don’t want to study the lists separately to Skritter in bulk. The list viewer in Skritter is pretty slow to load and display the lists so I don’t like to use that. What I do is add words in groups of 100, so I’ve got control over the add rate, and Skritter adds the words more efficiently. Then I work through the 100 items until I feel reasonably comfortable with them and repeat.

Any words I’m going through on the list I don’t understand I’ll look at some example sentences, related characters, related words etc. until I have an understanding of why they use the particular words or to understand the character components used. E.g. in 实事求是 the particular meaning of each character, or in 卖官鬻爵 double check the meaning of the subcomponents of characters in 鬻爵, or look for other characters the subcomponents are used in.

It’s easier just using Skritter for study rather than jumping out and studying lists separately for me, but I do make sure I understand basic usage of new words when they come up. I suspect it probably won’t make too much difference doing it either way, as most of the lists are not really ordered in a particularly structured way, so going through the list beforehand probably won’t help to make better mental connections between the individual items. Skritter is not great at highlighting the connections between different words and characters, so if you could find an efficient way to do that offline that might help - but I’m not sure what that would be.

I’ve been starring items where I get the wrong character or otherwise want to review later, that might be another alternative.