Supermemo's collections

Marcelo   Thursday, May 22, 2003, 20:43 GMT
I just want to tell you that I tried "Supermemo Basic English" and it really sucks, I was going to buy Advanced English but now I'm not so sure.

It seems that Supermemo itself is rather good, but their creators are not as good at creating collections to improve your English at an advanced level, they can even taint your knowledge.

What do YOU think about this ?
pom   Friday, May 23, 2003, 09:20 GMT
I think it's best to make your own collection because you know what you need and what you don't need.
Kabam   Friday, May 23, 2003, 09:28 GMT
I share your point of view, Pom. Memos made by other persons who don't know what's in my mind have never been really helpfull for me.
Tom   Friday, May 23, 2003, 10:04 GMT

I completely agree. Most collections offered by SuperMemo are not that good. This includes Advanced English.

Here's what I don't like about Advanced English:

- It contains substandard language (some of the definitions are not written in a natural way)

- No example sentences, which are the main way to learn English. There is no context information. You don't learn how to use a word (in what semantic and grammatical context).

- The questions are poorly matched with the answers. You can know a word very well, and still fail to say it upon seeing a question in AE.

- Very useful words are mixed with specialist vocabulary you don't need.

- The definitions are often difficult to associate with an idea. Sometimes you know the English word for an idea, but you fail the item because the question was difficult to understand.

- It teaches simple idea->word associations. But which word you use is often determined by what you have already said (the sentence context) -- not only by the idea that you want to convey.

In conclusion, making your own collection is the best idea. I like to think that using the PerfectPronunciation collection made by Antimoon is a pretty good idea, too :-)
Tremmert   Friday, May 23, 2003, 19:19 GMT
I've got a question - if you're doing a few languages should you put them into separate collections or is it best to have everything in one database?
Tom   Friday, May 23, 2003, 21:31 GMT
It's probably safer to use separate collections. If one of them goes kaputt, you only lose one language. :-)
Tremmert   Sunday, May 25, 2003, 08:07 GMT
Um ... how often does something go kaputt? Can't you prevent that by backing up?
Tom   Sunday, May 25, 2003, 09:42 GMT
Well, occasionally your machine will crash, and if it's in the middle of a SuperMemo session, the results can be fatal. You can also damage your collection yourself, as by deleting something accidentally.

Sure, you can do backups, preferably every time you run SuperMemo (to another folder on your hard drive) and every week/month (to a CD).

Use separate collections if you want to be able to ignore one or more languages for some time, i.e. you want to be able to say "I don't feel like French today, I'll just review my German". If you put everything into a single collection, you'll have to review everything.

Separate collections are also easier to set up than one big collection (you don't have to use categories).

On the other hand, if you're doing a lot of subjects (say 4 or more), a single collection is the only choice, because it's too inconvenient to have to open 4 or more separate collections every day.
Jacob   Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 12:26 GMT
I nearly gave up on Supermemo because of a badly designed collection that I downloaded from their site when I started (the collection was the free Intermediate Hungarian Vocabulary one). I stayed away from SM for about a year after the bad experience but then I came back to it, began designing my own items, and got addicted.

Tom's comments are right on target. I can't say enough about how important it is to design items that use vocabulary & idioms IN CONTEXT. It's of two-fold importance, because the context helps you choose the correct word and form of the word when there are multiple correct possibilities (this is a fatal and incorrectible problem with simpleminded lists of word -> word items); also, it builds a web of connotations around the word similar to what a native speaker would have. With good contextual items, you acquire not just a word, but a halo of related words.

I keep distinct collections for different languages I learn, and I think it's a good idea because the optimization of the learning parameters is quite different for each. I do very well with Hungarian, for instance, and new items in that collection get initially long intervals with no difficulty; Finnish is more difficult for me and my Finnish collection knows that intervals have to be much shorter, even if I give a good grade on an item.
Tom   Thursday, May 29, 2003, 21:45 GMT
Do you use sentence items in your Finnish and Hungarian collections?
Jacob   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 14:36 GMT

I don't use Sentence Items quite the way you have described them. I'll give you some example items I use in Hungarian.

I have a lot items of the form (English word + sentence) -> (Hungarian word + sentence), eg:


Q: overgrow, entwine
In summer, wild grapes completely overgrew it.

A: befut
Nyáron a vadszőlő végés-végig befutotta.


I also like what you call gap-filling items and will make another item for a new word using a gap-filling cue so I get an English-free question & answer:


Q: Nyáron a vadszőlő véges-végig _________.
A: Nyáron a vadszőlő véges-végig befutotta.


Now in that example the surrounding sentence is specific enough that the fill-in is, for me, unambiguously determined. If I feel a little more cue is needed, I'll do items with a small English cue like this:


Q: Én meg, mert nagyon bosszantott az a csavar,
csak úgy (at random) válaszoltam:

A: Én meg, mert nagyon bosszantott az a csavar,
csak úgy vaktában válaszoltam:


I have lots of those kind. I use color to highlight the portion that needs to be filled in (and the corresponding piece of the answer), which I find very helpful.

Since I have a dictionary which lists lots of idiomatic phrases using a word, sometimes I'll make items of the form (Hungarian keyword + English phrase) -> (standard Hungarian idiom), eg:

Q: (köröm) : `tooth and nail'
A: tíz körömmel


I like to do this with words that are extremely productive so I can get a feel for all the different ways they typically get used.
Jacob   Saturday, May 31, 2003, 14:37 GMT
Oops, sorry about the unprintable Hungarian characters there in the first two examples.
Tom   Wednesday, June 04, 2003, 23:46 GMT

You know, you were right about the length of first intervals. I asked SuperMemo about it, and they said the length of the first interval for a given item does not depend on the difficulty of the branch the item's in. It only depends on the difficulty of the entire collection.

So if you put your Finnish and Hungarian items into one collection, you'd get the same length first intervals for both languages. The interval lengths wouldn't take into account the relative difficulty of those two languages.
.   Saturday, June 07, 2003, 12:03 GMT
"- It contains substandard language (some of the definitions are not written in a natural way)"

How can this happen? Aren't those definitions taken from a dictionary?

Or they are written by Advanced English Team?
Tom   Saturday, June 07, 2003, 22:35 GMT
No, they are not taken from a dictionary. If they were, that would be a violation of copyright!