Friday, September 3, 2010

Monsoon Days and Learning Nepali

Monsoon came late this year and it's been raining all night and most of the day for the last three days. And when I say raining, I mean pouring. Unfortunately it's been too wet outside to take any photos without drenching my camera, but the photo below of the gutter outside my room gives some idea how much rain we're getting. Many streets are flooded, pigeons huddle under awnings and on window sills to keep dry, and unless you have a good reason to be outside, it's best to just hunker down. I'm beginning to understand much more vividly why Pakistan has been largely underwater for the last few weeks.

There is a silver lining though. I can't confirm this, but it feels like the daily blackouts related to energy rationing have been shorter than usual. Nepal get's a fair bit of its energy from hydroelectric so it could be that the dams are operating at higher capacity thanks to all the rain. 

Second, all this rain has been a good excuse to stay inside and study Nepali, which I began learning three days ago. The pace has been brutal - I'm up to 250+ vocab words in what amounts to less than 5 hours of class - so I've been taking all this monsoon down time to really review. I've been using this flashcard program called Anki to help with all the memorization and its unbelievably awesome. I wish I had known about it back when I was taking Japanese, as I would have done a lot better in that class...

At first glance, Anki looks like a pretty simple program. It allows you to make digital flashcards which you can then review on your computer. Simple and boring. But what makes Anki cool are these buttons at the bottom:

After Anki shows you the answer to a flashcard, it asks you to rate how you did at recalling that answer. It tracks how many times you've seen each flash card, how well you rated yourself at recalling the answer to each flash card, and a number of other stats in order to decide when to show you the same flashcard again. Do well repeatedly on a card and Anki might not show you that card again for days, or even a month. Do poorly, and Anki might show you the problem card again in ten minutes.

More technically, Anki uses an algorithm to take advantage of the spacing effect. This is the idea that certain kinds of information are better learned over a long time interval, rather than a short time interval. Anki takes the information you provide it and determines the optimum amount of time that should pass before you are shown the same flashcard again. As you get better at remembering the answer to each flashcard, that amount of time increases exponentially. As a result, Anki helps you review information in a way that is both effective for memorizing and time efficient.

But anyways, highly recommend it for memorizing vocab. Language learning has never been my strong suit, which is why I'm really surprised at how well I'm retaining the Nepali I've learned so far...


  1. Nick, we hope you can stay high and dry. Keep the posts coming and know that we think about you every day! XXOO Auntie M

  2. You're missing a good storm in MV. The waves are crashing all about but I think we will avoid a direct hit from Hurricane Earl. I suppose not much of a risk of waves pounding on your doorstep. Maybe we can compare water gushing photos. The program you are using sounds fascinating. Hats off to you for learning Nepali. I'm sure being able to communicate directly will make the whole experience even more interesting

  3. Can't wait to hear about your adventures putting your new language skills to good use. It makes such a difference when you make the effort. Stay dry!