In anki the strategy when a word is being continously mistranslated is to mark the word as 'leech' and remove it from future repetitions. In contrast - Memrise will offer a special cramming sessions to repeat such words. What is the reason for these differences? What should be the correct strategy when dealing with 'leech' words in speced repetition?


The first principle of the Twenty rules of formulating knowledge is: Do not learn if you do not understand. The second is Learn before you memorize.

If you have a leech that often means that you don't understand the word well enough. There might also be memory interference. Your card might be badly laid out. When using Anki it's useful to review leeches from time to time.

If the problem is that you don't understand a card, review the relevant material to create understanding. It can be useful to create a mnemonic for the card to create a strong mental link.

Memory interference happens when two cards have conflicts and get confused with each other. You might have two cards:

aimer -> like
aimer -> love

You can't learn both of those cards at the same time. If you want to have both of those cards you have to edit them to add context. If you have two cards that have exactly the same first field Anki warns you but it doesn't warn you if you create cards the:

aimer -> like
adorer -> love

With those cards it's easy to reply 8 times love when Anki asks you for aimer. To effectively learn the cards it's again necessary to add information to the card that specifies the answer that sought to rule out love as an answer.

Anki is built on the assumption that the user wants to have the best possible system and is willing to use best practices. That the user knows that he should learn before memorization and that the user can improve cards that produce memory interference.

Memrise is, on the other hand, a product for the masses that are not sophisticated enough to follow best pratices. It therefore tries to teach the user cards that he hasn't learned via cramming.

A good analogy is the difference between fast food and healthy food. Anki is like healthy food and memrize is like fast food.

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It is possible that one of the reasons that leads to leeches is the tip of the tongue phenomenon:

Have you ever been asked a question that you know the answer to, but found yourself struggling to think of the correct word? "Oh, I know this," you might say. "I know that it starts with a B."

It's a sensation that we are all familiar with, and it turns out that this common state actually has a name. It is known as lethologica or the tip of the tongue phenomenon. Psychologists define this phenomenon as a feeling that accompanies the temporary inability to retrieve information from memory.

Why does it happen? The exact processes are not entirely clear, but it is more likely to happen when we are tired, or when the information is not well encoded or there is inferring memories present. It may serve as an alarm that there is something going on with the retrieval.

What is interesting is that:

The longer participants spend in that tip-of-the-tongue state, the more likely they were to have the same experience the next time they encountered that word. "The extra time that people spend trying to dredge up the word is what the researchers describe as "incorrect practice" time. Instead of learning the correct word, people are learning the mistake itself," suggests Humphreys.

Perhaps this is the reason why Anki removes it.

The article advises:

Instead of struggling to bring forth the memory, simply looking up the answer might actually be a more beneficial way of resolving your next tip-of-the-tongue experience.

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  • Does this mean that you, if you can't recall the answer within a quite short time frame (10 seconds?), just should show it and mark it as an error and do it again within a few minutes? – d-b Mar 30 at 14:07
  • I don't think so. The difference between the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon and ordinary forgetfulness is that if you simply forget it, the word seems less familiar with you. The next time you meet it it's as strange as a new one. But the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon is the opposite: you know that you know this word very well, but you just cannot saying it. So just giving you some time to try to recall it, and see if you which phenomenon it is. 10 seconds are short I think – Ooker Mar 31 at 6:07
  • But after 1 or 2 repetitions you recognize the word from Anki even if you don't have the slightest idea what it means. I am learning the Greek alphabet with Anki ATM and since it is limited to 24 entries I have no problem remembering seeing something before but that doesn't mean it is tip-of-the-tongue (although when I show the backside I immediately "duh!"). – d-b Mar 31 at 8:05
  • yes. That's ordinary forgetfulness, not the tip-of-the-tongue. Here I just present a possibility for anyone who doesn't know about it. – Ooker Mar 31 at 10:43

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