Cloze deletion is a well-known language learning technique, but a lot of learners limit it to deleting words from sentences. As described by Rule #8 in the 20 Rules for Learning, though, there’s more to cloze deletion than just words in sentences.

Graphical deletion

You can use cloze deletion with visual learning materials such as images. The principle is the same: block out a part of some material you’re trying to learn, and use that as a prompt for active recall (remember that active recall is what builds strong knowledge).

How might you use this for studying Chinese? One method I have used on a few occasions during my time learning Chinese is graphical deletion of parts of hanzi that I’m trying to learn. What you do is get an image of the problem character, and use image editing software to block out an individual part of it. That image can then become a flashcard.

You might just block out one part if that’s the specific component you have trouble remembering, or make several cards with different bits of the same character blocked out.

This is a good way to defeat difficult characters in detail. It works by making use of the minimum information principle: if recalling the entire character is too much information to recall at first, graphical deletion lets you break it down into smaller chunks that you can reinforce more effectively. In the end, you’ll have no trouble remembering the whole character.

You’ll probably want to reserve this for troublesome characters that just don’t seem to want to stick, even after repeated attempts. It’s quite time consuming to create graphical cloze deletion images, so it’s not practical to do it for a lot of characters (and unnecessary anyway). Hanzi cards that become leeches are a good candidate to consider for reinforcing with graphical cloze deletion.

Audio deletion

As well as graphical deletion, you can also do audio deletion. This can be a good way to create active listening material. Using software such as Audacity, you can silence-out parts of audio clips relatively easily.

Listening to audio with words or phrases silenced out is a much more active learning experience than listening to continuous audio. Whilst you can put effort in to focus intently on any recording, it’s difficult not to actively process audio with gaps in. You’ll find yourself mentally filling in the gaps based on your memory of the unedited recording, which is a great form of active recall.

This works in much the same way as cloze deletion for written sentences. You get natural context that guides you to an authentic response, reinforcing your instinct for the language.

As with graphical cloze deletion, editing audio clips requires a lot of preparation time compared to other study methods, so you probably don’t want it to be the bulk of your studies.

A less preparation-intensive method is to combine the original full audio with its written version, and do cloze deletion on the written text. This can provide a nice synergy between listening and reading, and is used in pretty much every language course. It’s effective because it nudges you towards more active recall and less passive listening.