Virtuous cycle

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Supermemo for Chinese

I need to use Supermemo for all the Chinese stuff, pinyin, radicals and characters, otherwise it would kill me soon. I had Supermemo 8 and it did fine for the last 10 years or so, but Chinese was too much for it. SM8 can handle just plain text Ascii components. Even Russian was a problem already for all its cyrillic fonts, leave aside Chinese writing.

I thought the newer version will do and I visited Empik and asked them to find me a Supermemo-powered language course. What kind of course? Any course will do. I knew they sell such courses and you can just throw away the course and keep Supermemo, and it will work as a standard stand-alone version. It took them 15 minutes to find it, German mini-conversations, on the bottom shelf. Supermemo seemed like some secret code, hidden away from the public.

German conversations went to the trashcan immediately and I ended up with “Multimedia Supermemo”. Even though name sounded nice, soon I found out that in fact it was not the best version. Not even much better than my previous one, and buggy too. You can compare different versions of Supermemo for yourself here.

In the end, I could type Chinese characters in the RTF component all right, but it seemed that only one such component got stored, no matter how many items I created. Multimedia Supermemo was a waste of money as a result, but not much of it, 20 PLN.

However, at least I knew then that Supermemo 2004 was the best of all Supermemos around and after short hesitation I bought it online here. 39$.

It requires a password to unlock it and register, and I do hope to obtain the password tomorrow, but in the meantime the application will work for some time even without it. It installed quickly, and I launched it.

Oh my God, I’m in the space shuttle – that’s how Supermemo 2004, “Warrior” standard layout presents itself.

Supermemo 2004 Warrior layout

My original goal was Chinese, but I quickly became fascinated by the idea to keep all the databases in one collection, which SM2004 allows. Till now I’ve been using separate databases for each language or topic, which always ended up in one them being neglected and left to deteriorate.

Of course the merging task took hours. First to figure out how to merge it, then develop and assign different templates for each language, so one can recognize where each question belongs too.

In the end the result is impressive. Over 10,000 units altogether, even without French (that’s one left deteriorating). Impressive at least as of today. Tomorrow, with first repetitions, it will be clear whether the collection works as expected.

Supermemo 2004 universal collection

Eventually I got even the template for Chinese items, just as I thought it should look like:

Supermemo 2004 chinese item

Note the placeholder for mnemonic key. It will be first time I will use mnemonic keys, too.

It’s pity I can’t tell if it works, though, for after all the configuring no time left for actually learning Chinese today.

Update: the original idea to have one Supermemo unit contain the character and pronunciation have not worked well – you should rather keep units simple and, if necessary, broken down for each piece of information. Therefore, now I use separate units for pinyin and another for characters, and in the latter the question quotes both to the pinyin as well as the meaning of the character.

Add to this some reversed units, and group of radicals, and Chinese is the language with the highest memory consumption I’ve ever learned…

Update Jun 2008: Sadly I froze my Chinese-learning project, but since people are still looking for best way to accommodate Chinese in SM, I decided to publish my SM database for public reference. I wouldn’t expect that my approach is optimal, but there you go:

Download Supermemo 2004 database

Chinese has a separate branch in the database, on the same level as other languages (which I deleted for this extract).

Of interest are probably three templates. “Chinese” is a simple text-text template for e.g. pinyin questions. “Chinese Signs” (should be “characters”) contains text component for question, and two components for answer – one for Chinese character and another for optional text content. “CH Radicals” is the last one which I used only for radicals, which were in form of small images; probably not necessary.

As mentioned before I would use separate questions for pinyin and the characters.

I left my Chinese units in, but they are referenced in Polish and in historical order thus rather of little use (and also I used some silly mnemonic keys:).

Hope this helps.


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  1. ???
    July 10th, 2006 | 10:44 pm


  2. July 12th, 2006 | 9:09 am


  3. DR
    May 18th, 2008 | 12:32 am

    I just ran across this. Do you know where i can get Chinese databases for SuperMemo?

  4. May 18th, 2008 | 6:41 pm

    Haven’t heard of any.

    But I never use databases created by someone else, so I was not actively looking for them either.

  5. Justin
    June 10th, 2008 | 6:33 am

    If your database for Chinese has worked out the way you wanted, would you be willing to share or sell me a copy?
    I am new to SuperMemo and it seems like a lot of work and specialized knowhow to get to where you are with merging databases, and I just want to learn.
    Thanks, Justin.

  6. Adam
    June 12th, 2008 | 12:34 pm

    I can tell you which database NOT to use: The 1000 basic Chinese character collection sold by supermemo for $14. I used it for 5 minutes and found that they had the translation for the character for “is” flat out WRONG. They had ?listed as “yes, correct, and this? when technically Chinese doesn’t even have a word that just means “yes”. That is unforgivable, and makes all other characters suspect and with no pinyin its all around pretty useless. If it was free it I could forgive them but they haven’t even responded to my request for my money back.

  7. June 12th, 2008 | 1:58 pm

    Hello, no problem, I can put my database here for download if you find it useful.

    The only issue is that I use one database for all languages and other stuff, so I need some time to create an extract with only the Chinese templates. I will try to find some time on the weekend.

  8. Justin
    June 12th, 2008 | 10:57 pm

    Thank you, Anything you are willing to share would be great.
    I am trying to learn Chinese and Spanish. The other Chinese info out there is only the characters, which is a hard place to start.
    Thanks again.