How to Memorize Chinese Faster With Spaced Repetition

June 6, 2021 · 5 min readChinese Learning
How to Memorize Chinese Faster With Spaced Repetition
As a student of the Chinese language, you may be wondering how can you memorize new words more effectively.

It's frustrating to spend so much time learning tons of vocabulary, but not be able to recall a word when you need it.

But don't let that demotivate you. Spaced repetition is a technique that is proven effective in the field of memory science that will cut your study time in half!

In this guide, you’ll learn:

What is spaced repetition?

Spaced Repetition System (SRS) is a study technique where you review the content at gradually longer intervals. This spacing effect helps you store lots of information in your long-term memory efficiently.

For example, the most difficult words to remember will show up more often, while the ones you've already mastered won't be seen as much.

You can think of it as smart flashcards.

Spaced repetition intervals

How does spaced repetition works?

The short answer is:

  1. Show question
  2. Reveal answer
  3. Rate your confidence
  4. SRS schedule next interval optimally
  5. Repeat daily

How it works

The brain is more likely to remember information if it's introduced in small doses.

Unlike cramming, spaced repetition takes advantage of this by presenting words at optimized intervals based on how the human memory works.

SRS vs Cramming

You might be wondering "how does it decide when I should review a flashcard"?

The answer is by hacking something called the forgetting curve!

Forgetting curve

In the 19th century, a German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus noticed that when you learn something, your memory retention declines like this:

Forgetting curve

Combatting the forgetting curve

If you recall something just before it's about to be forgotten, the curve will decay slower each time. That's why over time, you can wait months or even years before your next review.

Combatting the forgetting curve

Active recall

Active recall is when you actively stimulate your memory for a piece of information. It's not the same as going back to reading your notes or choosing an answer from a list of choices.

The effort to retrieve words from your memory is what works best.

  • For Chinese vocabulary — use a confidence-based approach. Rate yourself without cheating.
  • For Chinese characters — use a corrective feedback approach. Let the software grade you. It is the same as in our app!

Active recall prompt

Why spaced repetition is effective?

We learned that spaced repetition is highly effective because it deliberately hacks the way your brain works.

But that's not all. It offers many other benefits which you are about to find out.

Retention rate of 90-95%

You can expect a memory retention rate far superior to any other method.

In a four-month period, practising for 30 minutes a day, you can expect to learn and retain 3600 flashcards with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. Gabriel Wyner, Author of Fluent Forver

Improve study motivation

It can be hard to stay motivated, especially when the reward of learning Chinese is a long journey. Spaced repetition helps with that.

It improves motivation by:

  • Shortening study sessions
  • Increasing the flow state
  • Minimizing cognitive workload
  • Automating the study planning

When you are in a flow state, things come naturally; the task is not too easy or excessively challenging. Your motivation will stay high because of this!

Flow state

Focus on your weaknesses

Instead of manually tracking your difficult words, SRS automatically focuses on them until they are mastered and then moves onto the next one!

Forecast study time

A key ingredient to improving study motivation is to establish a plan. Spaced repetition can help you estimate how long it will take you to study and set realistic goals like taking the HSK test.

Forecast study time

We compiled an approximation of daily new flashcards and daily reviews from thousands of study sessions from our app. This is what you can expect:

New cards / dayNew cards / monthReviews / day

Tips to learn Chinese faster with spaced repetition

Now that you know everything about spaced repetition, let's see how you can use it to speed up your Chinese learning with theses few simple tips.

1. Study Chinese every day

It's important to not skip too many days. As it will make your flashcards pile up and become hard to manage later on.

2. Learn fewer words

If you are overwhelmed with how many reviews you need to do each day, just add fewer new cards to your deck. The burden will naturally ease.

RECOMMENDATION A good approach is to start small with 5 new words per day.

3. Use study reminders

Studies show that it takes 2 months to form a habit. Setting up a daily notification in your calendar is a great way to stick to your routine. If you are using Hanpath, make sure to turn on the study reminders.

Study reminders

4. Pair it with other activities

Despite how enthusiastically I am sharing this system with you, it is not a learning method. You still need to learn and practice words in context.

It works best when using along with:

  • Textbooks
  • Example sentences
  • Conversational practices
  • Chinese movies & tv shows
  • Mnemonic
  • Lessons

Final thoughts

With memory retention of up to 95%, spaced repetition is by far the most effective way to memorize your Chinese vocabulary.

Make it a habit to review your flashcards using SRS every day and you’ll see noticeable results sooner than you might imagine.

If you are looking for an SRS app to study Chinese faster, give it a try to Hanpath.

Heinrich Tremblay

Heinrich Tremblay

Coder by day, Chinese learner by night 🌙 Heinrich studied at Tongji University where he decided to move from Canada to Shanghai to work on Hanpath. When you run into a bug on the app, he’s very sorry ehh!

Co-Founder @ Hanpath