A Break, SRS, and Ima Doofus

Yesterday, I did not study Japanese.  *gasp*

Okay, that’s not quite true.  I did decided to take a break from learning anything new yesterday, but I also reviewed vocabulary.  This is necessary for more reasons than one.  To explain why, let’s briefly talk about SRS.

SRS stands for Spaced Repetition Software, and it essentially means that the software determines how often to reshow the learner a piece of information based on how well the learner knows that piece of information.

Let’s take what is generally acknowledged as the crown jewel of SRS, Anki.

Anki is essentially virtual flashcards.  You look at one side, click to look at the other and then rate yourself on how well you knew the information.  You can include audio, pictures, text, and you can pack a lot more information onto a virtual flashcard than on a physical one.

Anki is an excellent tool, and I used it to learn the daily use Kanji (check out Phase 1 if you care).

For a brand new card, you can tell anki that you missed it and you will see it again within a few minutes (or less) or that you got it and you will see it again the next day or that it was super easy, and you’ll see it again in a few days.  The times lengthen or shorten as you get the card right or wrong in the future.  That’s spaced repetition, and Anki is very good at it.

(The reason that I put “Ima Doofus” in the title is because I have occasionally wondered why it was called Anki.  I never bothered to try and find out.  I just wondered.  Well, two days ago, I was learning new vocabulary and came across the Japanese word 暗記 which means memorization.  In hiragana it is あんき and in roumaji it is – you guessed it – anki.)

But I don’t really use Anki anymore.  I use Memrise instead.  Instead of just asking you how you did, Memrise actuall quizzes you on the information using audio, multiple choice and having you type on the correct answer.  I like that.

When you first meet a new word, Memrise shows it to you at least seven times in the first learning session, mixed up with other new words.  When you get it right seven times, it is marked “learned” but you’re going to see it again in about 4 hours instead of the next day.

Now, I personally like that.  The downside, of course, is that you can get swamped by the number of cards you have to review since they come back so rapidly, and I can see why someone would hate that.  It works better for me.  It might not work better for you.  Also, you seem to have less flexibility than you do with Anki in regards to what types of information you can put on a card.

And all of that brings me to why I had to review my vocabulary yesterday, even though I was taking a sort of brain break.

The term I’m used to is “Anki Avalanche”.  Let’s say that you have 100 cards to review on a particular day.  (Don’t faint.  It actually doesn’t take very long.  I used to it first thing in the morning, often while having breakfast.)  But let’s say you skip.  Now, the next day you might have 231 cards to review.  Let’s say you skip one more day and, all of a sudden you have 389 cards to review.  What would happen if you skipped one more day?  Don’t ask.

The point is, that, surprisingly quickly, your number of review words can climb so high that you won’t get through them in a day, leaving a new avalanche for the next day…and that often leads people to give up, which is the last thing you want to do!

And, with Memrise, because of the shorter intervals before cards come back, the problem is compounded.  So I didn’t skip reviewing yesterday, but I still had 89 terms to look at when I got up this morning.

Good thing I didn’t skip yesterday!

But, the brain break was good for me.  Now, though, it’s time to hit the old treadmill again.  I have some new words to learn, some grammar to review and some new grammar to learn.  I would say that it was time to get busy on some Japanese, but it’s actually time to go to work.





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