For the last three years I’ve had three fields in my Mandarin Anki deck: hanzi, pinyin and English. This used to work quite nicely with the pinyin toolkit, as it could automatically generate colour-coded pinyin for any sentences I put in. Today, though, I deleted the pinyin field and all the data that went with it. I had a few reasons for doing this, all of them to do with improving my study of Mandarin.
The thing that set me thinking about this was that pinyin toolkit doesn’t work (yet) with the new Anki, so I didn’t have an automated way of adding pinyin for all my sentences. Even before that though, I found that pinyin toolkit is actually pretty horrible at generating pinyin (e.g. always giving shǎng for 上 and kān for 看). I ended spending a lot of time correcting the pinyin in my deck just because it bugged me.
I did consider using Google Translate to generate pinyin, but it would just add another layer when I’m adding a lot of sentences, which is quite time consuming anyway. So for a while I just left the pinyin field blank for new sentences, and found that I very rarely missed it.
I’m at the stage now where I tend to know how to pronounce characters, or at least remember their pronunciation very easily after checking it once. That made the pinyin field pretty redundant. In fact, it wasn’t just redundant – I think it was actually making me learn slower, by making it too easy to check the pronunciation of characters I wasn’t sure of. When the pinyin isn’t there on the answer side, I have to actually go and look up the pronunciation of characters I don’t know, and because it’s time consuming I always remember them after doing that.
Another factor was that I do most of my Anki reviews on my phone, so screen space is at a premium. If I can avoid having to scroll on a flashcard it makes things a lot better, so removing the pinyin field made sense on that front as well. Removing it has also reduced the file size of the deck a little bit, which can’t hurt.
My current study set-up for Mandarin has example sentences in Anki and separated vocabulary items in Skritter. The idea is that I learn the pinyin for characters and words in Skritter (and how to write them, of course), but get the context and grammar from example sentences in Anki. So far I’m finding this split approach a nice way to learn.