The decline of SRSing sentences?

I’ve been noticing hints at a new trend in SRS language study: the decrease of actual SRS sentence entries and reps. A post at WooChinese made me think about my current study methods, which I will quote through a comment I posted on that same entry:

I think that is a perfect analogy, and calls back to your “Experience Repetition” post. Previously, I had been in the camp of SRSing would lead to fluency, keeping an all-Chinese environment around me when possible. However, I began to use the SRS as a crutch and as a way–perhaps the only way–to get the best results. That is, keep on adding sentences and reviewing the ones I had before would get me to my goals.

After being here (Taiwan) for a while, I’ve found that the opposite is true. In fact, I’ve stopped SRSing my sentences and have just been going along with media, conversations with friends, books, etc. as my source. I found that those acted as a better “Spaced Repetition” program than the software itself (harkening back to your own thoughts, perhaps?).

Here you’ve made a good point: an SRS is useful in “train” your “muscles” when you want to–and it’s similar to doing “8 reps” in one “set”, as with weights. I think the SRS is particularly effective here not for putting in complex sentences from news, books, scientific articles, etc. but rather fun pieces of knowledge from TV shows, comic books, friends, things of that nature. So I’ve been turning the SRS into a tool to enjoy past sentences, saving the serious stuff for my own reading. Trying to SRS the serious stuff was no fun and too tiring anyway!

The author made an interest remark in response, which I will also quote here:

Totally agree. I went through more or less the same process, though it seems like you went through the steps more quickly than I did (not surprising — I tend to be pretty stubborn about things like this). One thing that I found with inputting complex sentences into Anki, as opposed to just reading them when I encounter them in nature, is that I would pretty quickly memorize the sentence, so that I’d be a few characters in and know what the sentence was going to say, though I couldn’t actually recite the following words. I think this is just my brain seizing on performance in remembering the card and passing the repetition, rather than on language production and mastery.

Anyway, most of you “AJATTers”, or anyone that is following the “10,000” sentences method might think this is a blatant contradiction. “Shouldn’t we at least have 10,000 sentences [even as an imaginary number of varying value] in our SRS?”

This is the wrong mindset to have.

I now strongly believe that inputting and inputting and inputting into an SRS actually takes time away from what you should be doing–getting 10,000 sentences (media/songs/books/comics/news articles/movies/etc. etc.) in your immersion environment.

What I mean by this is, the SRS should just be for fun! Put fun entries in there; don’t bog it down with nasty technical stuff. When I read now, if I find something that I used to SRS, I just search-engine it and find more examples of it in context, rather than placing a single, unmoving, context into a static SRS entry.

I think the SRS is a great tool to get into the scripts of the language (kana/kanji/hanzi) and for really really interesting sentences; but other than that it can be a colossal time waster trying to plug entries in there that, ultimately, don’t really help!

But, hey, what do I know, what is more important is what YOU think!

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11 thoughts on “The decline of SRSing sentences?

  1. Hi again. Have you read http://blog.feedmejapanese.com/ ? The author also makes some good (similar) points about SRS use.

    Actually, for the last few months I have added very little (was a bit busy IRL), and mostly just reviewed/deleted. Now am slowly going back to adding stuff. My goal is five to ten new sentences a day, of words that both require looking up with a dictionary, and that are rare enough that I can’t be sure I will see again even while reading a fair bit each day. Yeah, reading itself should be your main source of repetition. I disagree with the Woo Chinese article’s argument that it is redundant however. It took me two and a half decades to build up a solid English vocabulary from birth. I’m don’t intend to take that long with Japanese!

    • Hiya Daniel! Thanks for your comment! Also, thanks especially for sharing that link. I just had a chance to give it a good read, I agree, the author there makes some really good points.

      I’ve been adding a lot of things here and there and just trying to review with an upper limit of 10 reps a day–adding on more if I feel like it. That way they get done faster and it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.

      Variety is the most important thing, otherwise no matter what you do gets boring, right?

  2. hwy zhon, I actually think this is what khatzumoto has been trying to say all along. Also, dunno if your aware but he announced recently to his +Plus readers that he had deleted his entire sentence deck. He’s using a new method now. His reasoning was, again, a lot like yours. The SRS is a servant, not a master. It’s too easy to forget that though.

    • Heya dubby! I caught some glimpse of his new method from a tweet, but I don’t know much about it. It makes me wonder if I should sign up for the plus account, but it’s a bit out of my price range (and I have some disagreements about charging for that, but that’s another topic). What are you doing with your SRS? How do you treat sentences?

  3. I’ve actually seen an overall decline in promoting and using SRS. I’ve always been a great fan of SRSing sentences, and I still am. However, I never actually entered more than 1500 sentences to my SRS. By the time I hit ~1500 sentences, I started to lose focus. That doesn’t mean I didn’t keep reviewing the stuff I had already added, I just stopped adding new stuff.

    At the same time I’ve studied other languages, and have not nearly the same understanding of grammar as I have for Spanish (Spanish being the only language I ever used an SRS for). Even my English is worse than my Spanish, simply because I know the Spanish grammar by heart. Not because I studied grammar books, but because I SRSed the example sentences from my grammar books.

    It seems that people need a new hype every now and then. First the hype was SRS, now the hype is to get rid of SRS or modify the whole core method. What many forget is that SRS HELPED them in the past. It’s never a bad thing to look for better methods, but they discard the standard SRS/sentence method only because it’s old-fashioned. It’s not, it has helped you, other people, and will continue to help millions of others.

    Even Khatzumoto, who popularized SRSing, “betrayed” the original method, while it worked for him. I like him, but I think he’s just following the new hype to not become yesterday’s news. It’s a shame though.

    People, please come with proof. SRS has been proved, so don’t come with things like: “I THINK this works better”. Prove it or shut up! I don’t care what you THINK, or say. I only care what you’re saying when you have evidence it’s better.

    The problem with modern SRS users is that they see SRSing as a chore. They go after “special” sentences and go to great lengths to not be bored. You know what I did? I added everything that came on my path, just standard sentences from dictionaries and the grammar books I had to study for my college classes. The editing would come later, by simply deleting items I didn’t like or felt I didn’t need. And it worked.

    This may sound like a rant, and maybe it’s one, but I’m sick and tired of people who are hyping things up (not necessarily you, zhong) and shout out what they think instead of coming up with solid proof that confirms the things they think.

  4. Hi there zhong, I found this post interesting, and I both agree and disagree on certain points. I was trying to follow the 10000 Sentences described on AJATT, but I spend all my time mining sentences and very little time actually learning. That basically burned me out on language learning altogether. Now I’m actually trying to start things over, but definitely with sentence SRS at its core. To clarify something, I’m not even close to being in the native environment for my target language (Finland and Finnish respectively) and so it’s not as if I’m using this as a substitute for actual contact with speakers of the language. I’m mostly using it because I think it works for me; I’ve seen results in the past, and I’m trying to prove that the method can actually work. If you want to take a look, my blog is at 10000finishsentences.wordpress.com

    Either way I liked this post. Definitely some things worth thinking about, but I still think the method can work!

    • Thanks for your comment! Sorry for the late reply, was out of the country for a few days.

      It’s one of those things were I’m trying to fit the SRS into my studying methods properly. Sometimes I just find it incredibly boring to do reviews, yet I know there is some importance behind it. I just wonder how much it helps in getting that precious immersion; that is, does 10,000 sentences in an SRS program equal 10,000 sentences (as media, what I mean is not necessarily sentences as in written word but also spoken, etc) from songs, audio, TV shows, news, podcasts, books, etc work better? Not sure. I’m very interested to follow your results in your blog!

      • Thanks for the reply! I agree with you that having input from a number of different sources is definitely more beneficial than just inputting sentences and reviewing them. That said, at the moment, I’m going specifically for reading ability, so 10000 sentences / SRS is the main tool I’m utilizing right now. I continue to tweak the way I do things, so maybe everything will change down the line. Either way, thanks for the reply, and I hope to see you along the way!

      • I read through a few of the entries in your blog and I have to say it is pretty interesting seeing you go through the process. I may try something similar for myself for Japanese, see how it goes. Anyway, I look forward to seeing your progress!

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