Battle of the SRS

Keeping in mind that my opinion is worth exactly as much as you paid for it, and that this is a free blog, let’s proceed.

SRS stands for spaced repetition software. According to a website that, as a science teacher, I tell my students not to use a reference in papers, “Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect.”

In other and simpler words, let’s say you are using SRS to learn vocabulary. It shows you word and asks you the meaning. If you get the answer right, it will let a longer period of time pass before it shows you the same word again. If you get the answer wrong, it will let a shorter period of time pass before it shows you the same word again.

And, why do we use spaced repetition? According the same website, “Although the principle is useful in many contexts, spaced repetition is commonly applied in contexts in which a learner must acquire a large number of items and retain them indefinitely in memory. It is, therefore, well suited for the problem of vocabulary acquisition in the course of second language learning, due to the size of the target language’s inventory of open-class words.“

And, again, in even simpler words: Because it works, and it is particularly suited to learning words in Japanese (or which ever language you happen to be learning. I’m just kind of guessing that it might be Japanese because, well, check out the top of the page…)..

Obviously, you could do spaced repetition on your own with flashcards…but part of the reason we have computers is to make complex tasks easier, right? And that’s where the last S in SRS comes in.

The big bear in the SRS world is definitely Anki. Anki is great, no doubt about it. It is particularly useful because of the amount of information it will let you put on a flashcard. Niko over at Nihongoshark has a vocabulary deck already formatted that lets you put in the kanji, the reading, the translation, a sentence containing the word, the translation of the sentence, where you first encountered the word and a sound file. Whew! It is very cool.

I love Anki.

But, sadly, Anki and I have drifted apart.

It isn’t you, Anki. It’s me.

And Memrise.

It’s me and Memrise.

Memrise can be used as as a website or as an app, and I have simply been using it more and more without realizing it, until I suddenly realized that it had been a long time since I had opened Anki.

I’m not saying that Memrise is better than Anki, just that I find myself using it more than Anki.

One of the biggest reasons is the shorter intervals that it uses. Once you’ve learned a card, Anki will wait until at least the next day before it shows it to you again. Memrise will show it to you again in a few hours. I like that.

Also, Memrise is all about active recall.

I made up that term, but I like it, so I’m going with it.

With Anki, you look at the front of the card, then you look at the back.

With Memrise, you look at the word and then, depending on how the program feels at the moment, you either select the answer from a multiple choice list or you type the answer in. In other words, you have to perform an action that requires you to call the word up from the depths of your brain That’s what I mean by active recall.

When I started using 中級へ行こう (2nd edition) as my textbook, neither Anki nor Memrise had a course already set up, so I had to make my own, which meant that I actually had to pick a platform, and I went with Memrise, and it’s been working well for me.

(Don’t go looking for the course yet, because it is still under construction.  After I finish the book, I’ll make the course public.)

There are other SRS’s out there.  Whichever one you choose, you aren’t likely to find a better way to learn (and keep) vocabulary.

If you have one you like, though, share it with us.  I’ll happily add it to the website/app lists.  We’re all in this together, so the more we help each other out, the better.

Thanks in advance.



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