“The rabbit hole effect” is another aspect of complementary memory and defeat in detail. There is a lot of overlap between these three concepts, but each offers its own insight into effective language learning.

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice makes her entry into the other world through a rabbit hole. The term now has a couple of general meanings in English. It can describe inadvertently entering a chaotic or incomprehensible situation, which isn’t what we’re interested in for learning Chinese (it also has one or two “extra” meanings which I won’t describe here). The other meaning is much more relevant: from a simple start, finding yourself drawn into more and more discoveries that you otherwise would have been oblivious of.

When you learn a new Chinese word, you don’t have to stop there – you can use approaches like sentence branching, defeat in detail and so on to expand from that starting point. The word is a rabbit hole, and you can follow it to learn a wealth of further material. The rabbit hole doesn’t have to be a word, either. Any small item that you learn in Chinese can always lead you on to learning a lot more.

To make a word or other item become a rabbit hole, you need some good resources. A good Chinese dictionary is essential, and Chinese-Chinese dictionaries work best for this as they will inevitably lead you on to looking up more words that you find in the definitions (I like my physical copy of 现代汉语词典 for this). Banks of example sentences are also great for rabbit holing, as are electronic dictionaries that can show you related words or words using the same characters.

You also get a natural rabbit hole effect whenever you read or listen to Chinese, which is yet another reason you should always aim to maximise the time you spend reading and listening. Getting real Chinese input will always prompt you to go on a journey of discovery into the language, and you can adapt it to suit your time and energy levels.