When can one stop using flashcard system?

Using pleco has been part of my daily routine for the last 3 years, spending about 1 hour in average, while reading books and other materials to increase my vocabulary.
Which leads me to the following question: is there a day when I can stop using the flashcard system?
I forgot how I came to learn English, but English and Chinese are very different to me, because I can always read an English word that I don't know.
To me this is a huge difference in terms of memory. I feel it is much easier to forget a word in Chinese, because we have to remember both the character writing (strokes), the pronunciation and the meaning of it. 3 things to remember, VS 1 thing only in English (the meaning).

I often think that I will never be able to stop using Pleco, which is not a big issue for me, but still feels like a concern. Even though I will become more and more familiar with 90% of the Chinese words, there will always be some really technical words, or 成語, that don't show up often, and that I will inevitably forget if I stop using Pleco.

Any experience there?


I am not sure what you are asking. Presumably over the course of 3+ years certain words have stuck more or less permanently in your memory? Or you are referring to new words? Chengyu? There are 36,000, and that's fewer than the other kinds of idioms in Chinese.

I am not a flashcard person -- and studies have found learning on screens doesn't stick as well as good old fashioned paper -- but you should eventually absorb many frequent words.

Or are you just trying to learn words? Someone just started a thread on this. You need to know characters.

Sorry, I have no idea what you are asking :)
First of all you are not fair when mentioning the studies.
No. The studies show that if you study an identical text, on a paper support, or on a screen, you tend to remember better what you read on a paper.
BUT we are now comparing technology, Spaced Repetition System algorithms combined to dictionaries, full of features and shortcuts, making your life so much easier, with a paper and a pen?

No. I have been studying Chinese seriously for 5 years, but specially I spent the last 3 years with super agressive goals, weekly reporting of my vocabulary, monthly targets for reading books or watching a certain number of movies while translating everything. I have spent a lot of time exploring different learning approaches, trying out my memory differently. And Pleco combined to good learning material is for me the most effective thing ever. Incomparable to before in my first year, when I was using paper flashcards. I am learning 70 new words per week in average in 3 years, consistently. I don't think many people can say that. Most people are not even aware of how many words they learn.

As per my question, I think it is clear that most foreigners learning Chinese one day go back to their country, and happily forget everything after 1 year. I have seen tons of those.
Hopefully I have set higher goals for myself, and I decided to give my everything until I am perfectly fluent (and by that I mean talking, reading, writing no differently from a local), so I still have some way to go.
But the point is, even if I do that, even if I never return home, that 成語 which I saw in a scientific book 2 months ago, I may forget it I don't see it again in the next 6 months. I guess that's the same with every language, but as I said, Chinese language has more things to remember (3 vs 1 for a latin language).


Since you can learn English without knowing the meanings of words, have a belief in technology, think people forget Chinese after one year (it's been seven for me, not forgetting), want to be just like a local (essentially doesn't happen, if you are an adult), and seem to be the sort of learner who imagines he can learn everything (that's why I mentioned 36,000 chengyu, most of which educated people don't even know), I can't help you. Bye.
Hmm, who said I don't know the meaning of words exactly? I didn't :)
Yep, belief in technology. I remind you that you are on Pleco Forums. Pleco... Not PaperPen Forums...

And yes, I think that I can learn everything, why not? Is it wrong to give a try, to work hard to reach one's goals?
Then maybe let someone else with a more constructive answer respond here... I was really looking for some nice insights on people who became totally fluent and stopped Pleco after years of practice.
Feng, when I said I can always read an english word that I don't know, I am referencing the fact that English is using latin alphabet, VS Chinese characters are ideograms.
Which means, in English, you only need to remember 1 thing: the meaning of a word. Even if you don't know a word, you can still pronounce it, because it's using the latin alphabet.
VS in Chinese, you need to remember 3 things: the pronounciation (pinyin or else), the strokes (the visual aspect) and the meaning.
So my point was that if someone says "It just works the same as when you learned English", then I will argue that it's not the same, due to the very different nature of those 2 languages.
I thought I explained that above, maybe I was not clear enough.


Francois, I've noticed that even amongst native speakers, that they do tend to forget characters over time. In particular the characters they use less often or seldom at all are the ones they are most likely to forget. You could argue that you never really need to stop, but that you should continue refreshing your memory at greater and greater intervals.

The Pleco SRS system has an interesting setting: Under the test settings, more settings section, Scoring, Tweak Parameters, Score Limits section is a maximum score setting. I forget what the default was, but I've bumped it up to 51200 which I believe means that once a card reaches the top end, I won't be reviewing more than every year, 5 months and a bit.


There is no reason you can't set that to a higher value so you see them less and less often as you get really good at memorizing your cards.

Just a thought.
Good idea! My defaults are 51200 actually, but it is true that in the long run I could try to extend that, meaning less characters to repeat per day.
Looks like 50% of my characters are in the 25000-52000 section, with an average of 200 flashcards to repeat daily, that's a lot, but I expect it to be less and less when I stop adding a lot of new words every week... hopefully one day :)


This is my 3rd year studying Chinese and I feel that I'm beyond the flashcard stage at this point. I was using them alot on my 1st and 2nd years and finding them quite helpful but as I accumulated more and more words and found myself more and more able to read, they became rather tedious.

There are so many good books to read that I would rather spend my time enjoying what I read whilst also learning. At the beginning of the year I struggled to read well, but after many gruelling hours, my reading became alot smoother and alot less dictionary demanding.

The point that I'm trying to make is that it doesn't matter how many words you memorize or how familiar you become with the grammatical structure of Chinese, if you want to read (speak, listen, write etc.) then if must spend many gruelling hours engaging in those activities.

Where do you find the time? I found the time by gradually reducing flashcard practice and eventually eliminating it.
Interesting, it is true that flashcards take time to do. But at the same time it is kind of necessary to help learning new words, isn't it?

Do you have any idea how many words you know at this point? I just passed the 12000' mark, and when reading books there are still probably 5 or 6 words I don't know per page. I don't need to look all of them up, because some of them I can guess based on a character in the word that I already know. But still, 6 words per page is 6*200=1200 words to potentially learn per book (assuming it's a 200 page book which is what i usually go for).

Feels like you have been studying berserk :)
For me I am working full time and studying only during my free time, about 2 hours per day (morning 40mn, lunch 40mn, evening 40mn) every day.
Let's keep going!



I do agree that flashcards is necessary to learn new words but only for a 2 or 3 thousand. Once you've already learnt so many words, learning new words becomes gradually easier. Because you can make connections between words you already know and because you're already familiar with the structure of words and have some expectation what the possibilities are.

Even more important is that learning new words in a rich context (i.e in a book that is well structured) allows for clearer understanding of the word and gives greater opportunity for it to remember because or relational memory rather than in the isolated context of a single flashcard which tends to actually contain many words.

I think the misunderstanding lies in the confusion between 字 and 詞. A 字 is a symbol that can have multiple separate pronunciations and meanings. Every separate meaning is a separate 詞. Those separate 詞 determine how this 字 behaves in a clause and what part of speech it is functioning as. When you see a 字 in text, what you are actually looking at is one very specific 詞, unlike when you see a 字 in a flashcard you could be looking at up to ten or so 詞 all without a specific context. Most 字 contain multiple 詞, and when 字 are combined they normally function as one 詞 but sometimes they too can contain multiple 詞. 詞 in this sense is equal to what a word is in English.

So, counting how many words you know might be quite difficult unless you are clear about the amount of 詞 a single 字 contains.
Hmm, if we stick to English, that's "word" and "character". A word can be made of many characters.
Pleco tells how many "flashcards" you have. When I say 12000, that's 12000 flashcards. So the number of distinct characters is much less, since many cards are re-using the same characters for different words.
Once, I made a program parsing the Flashcards.xml to find out how many single characters I knew, and it was around 3000.

Still, the point is that at this point, reading is for me something painful. After 5 pages, I need a 5 minutes break, because it's really tiring. I guess I just need to keep going, one day I will be beyond that point :)


From what you have described so far, I think that there might be a another issue at hand here.

You say that every page of text you come across there is only 6 words in which you are unfamiliar with. Opening up a random page of 品味唐詩, I counted 14 complete sentences. Let's assume that out of those 14 sentences you come across 8 in which you understand every single word.

Laying it out like this:

1- If you understand every word but still do not comprehend the meaning then that is a Grammatical Issue.
2- If you understand every word but take a while to figure out the meaning then that is a Comprehension Issue.
3- You don't really understand every word then that is a Vocabulary Issue.

The second one was and still is to an extent what I'm struggling with and that is dealt with by practice (i.e more and more reading). If you really know 12 000 words and for every page you only come across 6 unfamiliar words then I really don't think that you are struggling with a Vocabulary Issue.
I like the way you formulate that. You are right, comprehension issue is generally the tough one. It may be because even though you know all the words, they are still kind of abstract words, or words that you don't master perfectly yet, so it takes a while to really understand the sentence.

For example, I'm showing below one page of the book I am reading.
Blue: word that I guess because I know one or all of the individual characters. But that specific word was never added to my flashcards, meaning I never specifically learned it.
Green: I assume it's a person's name
Red: I knew one character inside, but I still had to look it up before I understood the meaning
Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 1.20.55 PM.png

When I read that page, I felt super confused, because it's a lot of percentages, partnerships, investments, I felt unclear in which direction what is going, so yes, I feel that, even though I understood most of the content, I still had trouble to understand the meaning. That is what you describe as comprehension issue.

But, let's say that I still want to look up both the blue and red, that's still 5 words to look up. It slows me down a lot to look them up, but I like the comfort to confirm (or infirm) that I knew all those words.

(One thing I like to tell myself to make me feel a little better, is that since the very beginning I have chosen books that I find "tough". I struggle a little, but when I finish the book, I feel I already went up one level. This may or may not be the case :)


In some sense I'm a little bias, mainly because I love reading and studying. My main reason for learning Chinese was to have access to millions more books and so forth. Nevertheless, reading was strenuously difficult in beginning, as well as going through the times when reading was as effortless as sleeping in and as difficult as getting up in the morning.

Fortunately my reason for studying Chinese was a huge driving force, but most people I've met seem to not like reading or studying very much so they don't have that advantage.


Interesting observations guys. I'm still at the vocabulary level myself.

朱真明, you're comments about reading I think are spot on. The hard part for me is finding enough (any!) level appropriate reading material outside of the textbooks I am currently studying. And I cannot call those terribly interesting reading materials.

Any suggestions where I could find something to help further my reading?


I have yet to see someone mention this source, but IMHO it is one of the greatest sources to access reading material in Chinese. That source is Google Books (especially the app version). Thousands of published books in Chinese at very affordable prices, avg price $8 NZD ($4 USD). If you don't want to pay, then you can always just read the preview, which gives around 15% of the book free.

Here is a list of some books I have enjoyed reading.

紅樓夢 (時報文化出版)
月: 中國古代春宮祕戲圖講
色: 中國古代情色文學和春宮祕戲圖
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Nice, 朱真明 kudos for tracking down your progress / what you study!
You have been reading much more than me, it's good to see examples of hardworking people. I think we all need to compare ourselves with people better than us, that is a big drive and motivation boost.

I'd like to ask a few questions if you don't mind:
- when you read Chinese books, how much slower than English would you say you read? (I'd say 4 times for me)
- how many pages of an average difficulty book can you read in an hour? (I'd say 10-12 pages per hour for me)


I'm a notoriously slow reader to begin with, in a day I could probably only get through 1/4 of a book in English. This is because I always stop and think about what I was reading rather than continuously read up unto a certain point. I usually get around 15-20 pages of Chinese in a hour.


Just some notes.

In selecting the books to read, I chose these books not necessarily to improve my Chinese. I chose them because I like studying and I like those topics. I chose the first because I like reading and writing poetry and i'm appreciate the structure of classical Chinese poems. The second two because I enjoying studying academic disciplines because of the in depth research they contain and the more precise terminology they use. For example, I could hear the word GDP on the news every night for a decade and still not really understand what it means. But learning it in the context of a rich academic discipline gives a far clearer picture.

In the list of books, some are good for reading through, some are good as references and some are good for studying. Books like 語病會診, 文法與修辭, 閱讀理解 etc. I chose to increase my language ability. Other books like the romance novels (including any fiction) I don't normally read but I chose them because I like to be able read any genre and also to increase variety to my vocabulary acquisition.