Spaced repetition is a really effective learning and retention strategy. When your motivation is high and your discipline is sharp, you'll be learning words more quickly than any method we've seen. Life feels good.
But you may have asked yourself these questions:
These are great questions to be asking!
We call these "associative" learning strategies, because you are associating each word with some other (usually more interesting) knowledge in order to help you remember it.
Studies have shown that association-based learning is very powerful, as the more a new memory can latch onto, the more likely you are to retain it for a long time.
The main "disadvantages" to these strategies are:
Associative learning strategies do help you learn words more deeply, but the process is unquestionably slower.
Our main issue with associate strategies is thus not their efficacy (which is great), but in how often they are applied.
From our experience talking with hundreds of students, the vast majority of words can be memorized without associative techniques. In these instances, ignoring the extra mental scaffolding required of associative learning strategies can save you a lot of time.
When certain words are proving to be very difficult to remember, this is when we think layering in associative strategies makes the most sense. To us, this seems like a more measured, "surgical" approach to learning that chooses the most efficient tools for each situation. (Your hard words are tracked in Hack Chinese in case you want to apply associative memorization methods to them.)
If you had to choose only one learning method, spaced repetition OR an associative learning, we believe spaced repetition would help you learn the most words in the fastest time possible. This would unlock a lot of other learning materials (like textbooks and TV shows) that could help you deepen your mastery with the words and Chinese language overall.
Fortunately, you don't have to choose only one approach!
Many students use associative learning methodologies, and then use Hack Chinese as a fail-safe to make sure they never forget what they learn. These students have the best of both worlds: they gain deep understanding of words, with the awesome power of spaced repetition to move fast and keep everything fresh.