Incremental Reading

This is a post from my old blog, from 2011. It’s part of a series of resurrected older posts that I still think are useful for language learning. This post is almost identical to the original.

Something I’ve been trying recently is a variant on what SuperMemo calls ‘incremental reading’, and which I arbitrarily name ‘L2IR’ (second language incremental reading). Essentially, rather than simply adding sentences to my SRS ‘blind’ (i.e. there’s no extra information in the card anywhere about the context), I’ve been using an extra field to copy-pasta the passage it came from.

The passage is shown on the answer side of the card. Thus, when I’ve answered said card, I might, if I’m in the mood for studying, try reading the entire passage at the bottom. I might then find that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ sentence or phrase ready for making a new card out of – a collection of words wherein there’s just one new piece of information (be it a character, a word, a piece of grammar… whatever).

The new card also includes the complete passage so that (eventually) most of my the cards have context included. This means that there is no shortage of opportunities for adding extra cards whenever I like – and because I’m selective about the passages I add to my SRS, it never takes long to find something I have immediate interest in.


I might have a sudden and inexplicable interest in the Australian city Darwin, so I dive straight into the Chinese Wikipedia article and find the introduction:



This passage is just the right length, by the way – I can skim/read the entire thing in under a minute – easy to not procrastinate over, methinks.  Anyway, in this particular passage I can immediately see that I’m not too sure about the phrases 屬於熱帶氣候 or 唯一經歷過戰爭 (although I can read all the characters just fine).  So, there are two new flashcards:

Q: 屬於熱帶氣候
A: Jyutping/passage/relevant definitions (pasted in from an online dictionary)
Q: 唯一經歷過戰爭
A: Jyutping/passage/relevant definitions

Later – two days, two weeks or two months later, whenever – I might notice that there are more phrases in the passage or the dictionary definitions that I’m on the cusp of understanding, in which case the process can be repeated.  For the above passage, I would expect to come up with at least 20 useful, efficient, interesting flashcards.  Sometimes I’ll even go for items I can’t figure out on my own and suspend the cards right away, to wait for an opportune moment to ask a native speaker for further explanation.

What else does it do for you?

Other advantages are that this format lets you practice reading extended prose – something that simple sentence cards will never let you do, because pressure rises exponentially with question card length. This way, there’s no stress in reading longer pieces of text, because you’re not grading yourself on it.  It doesn’t matter if you make mistakes – so long as you can read the fragment you’re interested in, it’s go go go.

Further Dry Remarks

I’ve been doing the whole process manually until now, making gratuitous use of ctrl-c and ctrl-v; once you’ve got to grips with keyboard shortcuts it doesn’t take too long, maybe about 10-15 seconds (at most) per new card.

Currently I’m at ~1400 flashcards from about four months of using this deck and my reading ability is now much better than before.  Anyone else tried anything similar?

15 thoughts on “Incremental Reading

    1. Yup, I had a look at that 🙂 was kinda startled by this though:

      After reading the card, I grade them like this: Most cards get marked “Easy.” Difficult, frustrating or boring cards= “Very Easy.” Cards that feel very familiar, like they are right on the cusp of being memorized get marked “Hard,” or more rarely “Fail.” This is nearly opposite of how the SRS is normally used, and it will feel counter-intuitive at first. But remember, you aren’t memorizing at this stage, you are familiarizing yourself.

      That’s very different to what I’ve been playing with… I guess I kinda just take whatever comes up.

      Also, I’ve tried clozing but found it takes too long to set up manually. This is the kind of thing the incremental reading plugin could handle nicely, I guess – take the passage, highlight sections you’re interested in and automate the generation of cloze delete cards.


  1. Bit of a distant relative of Khatz’ whole MCD business, which he goes into on AJATT+. Seems the idea that “short content=good, long content=bad”, while still true in some ways, is kind of on its way out. Maybe something more like “short = usually good, long = also cool if you feel like it”?

    Also, nice to see you back writing again.


    1. Eric :Bit of a distant relative of Khatz’ whole MCD business, which he goes into on AJATT+. Seems the idea that “short content=good, long content=bad”, while still true in some ways, is kind of on its way out. Maybe something more like “short = usually good, long = also cool if you feel like it”?

      Haha, exactly ^^ a lot of my cards though are 4-6 characters long so timewise it’s totally flexible – there’s never insufficient time to finish.

      Incidentally, I had no idea about MCD until… just now. I noticed that you’re trying cloze cards at the moment – how long does it usually take? I found that manually creating them in such a way that they’re answerable was too much of a time drain.

      Having said that, I’m totally on the lookout for a time-cheap way of effectively practicing non-ambiguous active recall, so any ideas much appreciated!

      Unrelated: another MCD link for anyone else who’s interested.


      1. Regular cloze cards I can bang out pretty quickly… since (with JP) my focus is on new vocab, and most of that vocab is kanji-based, I just paste in the sentence like usual, and (for example) cloze out both halves of a two-kanji compound.

        Certainly they take a little longer than reading cards, but with a couple of Anki keyboard shortcuts, the adding process is pretty painless.

        Re: active recall stuff: If I come up with anything, I shall definitely bounce the idea off you. I, too, have been looking for something like that.


  2. Regarding “short content=good,” I view that as true when it comes to how much you need to know to consider the card correctly remembered. I have nothing against dumping tons of extra complementary information in the answer.


    1. Yes indeed – with modern computers with unlimited space, there’s no such thing as too much 😀


  3. Incremental reading may be implemented in a future version of Anki. Drop your source material right into the program, mark (highlight) excerpts for further review and eventual cloze deletion. Gradually move items from your passive recall queue (reading cards / subsets of your original document) to active recall repetitions (QA cards governed by the SRS algorithm). It’s an amazing concept given the right vehicle, and I think Anki’s it!

    If this is a feature that interests you, vote for it here:


    1. Cheers for the note; I voted a long time ago! Sorry for not replying >.< anyway, Anki 2.0 seems to have something similar, so it's all good!


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