SRS Best Practices

Posted on | March 3, 2009 | 19 Comments

The key to language acquisition is vocabulary-building. The best way to build your vocabulary is through comprehensive input (i.e., reading and listening). An efficient way to maintain your vocabulary is to use an Spaced Repetition System (SRS). There is no doubt about it. Look around and you will see everybody in the language-learning circle talks about SRS. I myself have also experienced the power of it.

I would like to share with you a few of my SRS tips in this post. “Best practices” here simply refer to my own best practices I have discovered so far. Feel free to share with me your own best practices.

DO – Review new vocabulary right away
I did not realize the importance of immediate review of new vocabulary until someone gave me this advice. After you read something and encounter some new vocabulary, input them into your SRS and review them right away. This way, you review the new vocabulary when they are still fresh in your memory, thus reinforcing retention. More importantly, the context of the new vocabulary is also fresh in your memory. Remember, the best way to remember new vocabulary is through context. Without context, we go back to rote memorization.

DO – Review new vocabulary first
At any point in time when you are working on your SRS, you face with 3 types of cards: new ones, old ones, and failed ones. New cards should always be reviewed first, because you want to start the scheduling as early as possible. Then comes the old cards. I always review the failed cards last, because they tend to be more difficult and often give me a strong sense of discouragement.

DON’T – Try to remember everything
An earlier misconception I had with SRS was that I thought SRS would help me to remember all of my vocabulary. When I failed to remember a word, I would become really frustrated. I later learned that forgetting is just part of the remembering process. It is alright to forget. I should not feel bad when I fail to remember a word. Often when the difficult words reappear in another context, they begin to stick. The beauty of SRS is that it tracks all your forgotten vocabulary. When time comes, you will remember them.

DON’T – Replace comprehensive input activities with SRS
SRS is quite addicting. You may find yourself spending hours everyday working on your SRS. However, you should only build your vocabulary through comprehensive input activities. You should only add new vocabulary you have encountered from your reading and listening, and not from dictionaries or other people’s decks. Therefore, do not bury yourself too much in SRS. Spend more time reading and listening in your target language.


19 Responses to “SRS Best Practices”

  1. Keith
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    Do you enter everything in your SRS in the target language? Or do you use 2 languages?

  2. edwin
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

    2 languages. You see, I don’t believe in mono-dicts. The same idea applies to flashcards.

  3. Keith
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 10:50 pm

    Interesting link there. As you may know, I believe it is better to not use a dictionary at all if you have the luxury.
    I’m planning to write a post sometime soon about flashcards and this second language interference. Of course, you are free to continue doing what you prefer.

  4. Ramses
    March 4th, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    I’d like to add the following:

    DO – Adding sentences
    Seeing everything in context will not only help you with vocabulary, but also with grammar. This way there’s no need to cram grammar but you’ll acquire a natural feeling for the language.

    DON’T – Add single words
    See the point above.

  5. edwin
    March 4th, 2009 @ 8:56 am

    Very unique theory indeed. As I have mentioned in my post, forgetting is ok. So I wouldn’t worry too much if I look up a word from a dictionary and forget it.

  6. edwin
    March 4th, 2009 @ 8:59 am

    Thanks, Ramses, for your input.

    I myself add single words followed by example sentences. So I would emphasis on learning the individual words, but still get exposed to the example sentences.

  7. Kendall
    March 13th, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

    I just downloaded anki, so I’m
    glad to hear you thoughts on
    SRS. I only recently discovered
    it, and I am looking forward to
    using it for traditional characters.

  8. Keith
    May 6th, 2009 @ 4:00 am

    It’s been 2 months since your last post, Edwin. What’s going on?

  9. edwin
    May 6th, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

    Thanks, Keith, for asking. I had been busy with work in March and family in April. I still work on my languages, but had to suspend my blogging temporarily. However, I am still keeping an eye on activities from other language bloggers, such as the great conversation between Keith and Steve.

  10. Christine
    May 8th, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    My mom is always better than any dictionary:) Edwin- how do we e-mail you an idea for a post??? I cant find your contact info on here

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  12. kev
    August 11th, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    “Therefore, do not bury yourself too much in SRS. Spend more time reading and listening in your target language.”

    Good advice. However, if you spend progressively more and more of your time on reading and listening (as you should), wouldn’t the amount of time you spend on feeding/reviewing an SRS fade to zero? Therefore, is it worth spending any time at all on an SRS? Surely, as you get more and more input, you will naturally come across all these words again anyway? So why bother with an SRS?

  13. kev
    August 11th, 2009 @ 8:59 am

    “There is no doubt about it. Look around and you will see everybody in the language-learning circle talks about SRS. I myself have also experienced the power of it.”

    There’s no doubt that an SRS helps you remember, but what exactly is it you are remembering? Careful. When you are using recognition cards and providing a translation into your native language, aren’t you just using the *translation* to remember the foreign word/phrase instead of trying to remember the ‘meaning’ of the foreign word/phrase directly? So, isn’t it better never to show a translation into your native tongue? Or at least hide it and only show it if you have truly forgotten it?

  14. Dejan Dimc
    February 21st, 2010 @ 4:38 am

    One way around this problem of indirect translation through one`s native language would be using descriptions of words in the target language only. So, instead of translating into your mother tongue or from your native into your target foreign tongue, one can use Wiktionary or some other ‘encyclopedia’ type dictionary instead of the casual bi-directional dictionaries. Of course this only works if one already has a solid foundation in his target language.

  15. Nathan Cain -
    February 22nd, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    I personally find SRS very boring. I figure that I shouldn’t do anything boring or else I might give up on learning. I use mnemonic stories to learn vocabulary words.

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