more on SRS and sentence mining

Lately i ran across Glowing Face Man’s blog again, and reread some of his articles. He has some informative descriptions of Sentence mining and Spaced Repetition, as well as many other interesting articles.
I was particularly inspired by what he called his “French Revolution“, where he spent 1 month trying to see how much french he could cram into his brain.

If i had to advise someone on how to do a 1-month challenge like that, i’d certainly suggest an SRS as one of the tools, but not exclusively. Judging by his description, GFM felt by the end that he didn’t spend enough time on pronunciation. I don’t think pronunciation is best learned through SRS; rather, i think you should just watch tons and tons of TV, or listen to the radio, or any other regular audio source.

I don’t think you’ll get enough content by adding a few sound clips into your SRS, because you need massive exposure to the sounds. It doesn’t particularly matter which sounds, either…you just need lots and lots of them to hit your ears. To get that, you need to have something with extensive content, and therefore it has to be interesting and entertaining to keep you watching or listening.

What SRS *is* good for, however, is strategically filling your brain with important vocab. The words of any language are not all equal in usage. Some are used a lot more often than others. Those frequently-used words are of high value, especially at the start of your studies where all words might seem quite confusing. When you get some of those frequent words figured out, it’s like a blast of fresh air and everything seems so much easier. This will give you the encouragement you need to continue on with your studies.

After the really frequent words, i think an SRS is also good for some of the seldom-used words. You may not hear them that often in a TV show, but they can still be important in certain situations. This is where you can use your SRS to give you more exposure to those words than you might have had just from TV or radio alone.

For most of these words, you should be entering them in a full sentence context. Single-word cards are probably only good for things like household objects or other lists of nouns. For anything else, especially verbs, you definitely want to have phrases or full sentences.

Words tend to have many different uses in different situations, and you lose all the subtlety when you make a flashcard with only a single word on it. Therefore, I suggest that you always try to find example sentences for the words you want to learn. For many words, you might want to add several sentences that show the different possible meanings.

The way that I do this lately, is i watch several hours of TV every day, and i also spend a little bit of time gathering some sentences. I might go through the subtitles of one of the TV episodes to find words i don’t know, or sometimes i make some notes while i’m watching and come back to it later. I also go through whatever book i’m reading and find interesting words in there and grab a sentence for those.

Sometimes i’ll open my book to a random page and just look through all the words on that page to see if anything catches my eye. Then i type the sentence into Anki to save for later. This way, I’m gradually gathering vocabulary in context, and i’m using Anki to make sure i never forget it. This gives me focused exposure to these words that i previously didn’t know that well. As time goes on, the cards become more spaced out and i don’t spend as much time on them because they’re more well-known, which gives me time to work on any new unknown words.

I think that both massive exposure and SRS content are important to balance out somehow. SRS is a type of exposure, but not quite as good as hours of intensive audio and video content. But your SRS content is a focused tool that will help you quickly increase your vocabulary, which will let you get even more benefit from the hours of intensive audio and video. Therefore, i think these two strategies go well together, as advocated by Khatsumoto on his All Japanese All The Time site. For example, check out his article about how he learned to watch the news in japanese.

So, in summary, watch a LOT of TV, and continually gather sentences in your SRS to quickly learn vocab. I think you’ll be surprised at your progress 🙂

2 Responses to more on SRS and sentence mining

  1. Jared says:

    I have read the techniques of AJATT, Antimoon, and Glowing Face Man, but I’m still curious as to how others are handling the SRS sentence method.

    Are you doing:

    Q: target language sentence
    A: natural definition (assuming L2 –> L1)

    For example:

    Q: ألترجمة من الأنجليزية إلى العربية صعبة.
    A: The translation from English to Arabic is difficult.


    Q: target language sentence (with a new word)
    A: the definition for that ONE word

    For example:

    Q: ألترجمة من الأنجليزية إلى العربية صعبة.
    A: ألترجمة = to translate, interpret, convert…

    And if you’re translating the entire sentence, are you ignoring syntax? For instance, a sentence in your target language may have a word order completely foreign to you. Are you ignoring this and wording the translation to how you would say it in your native tongue?

  2. doviende says:

    At the start, i’m just taking any L2 sentence that i can understand and adding it, and the “Answer” side of the card usually has a full translation at that point, maybe also with some more explanation. As i improved, more and more of the sentences i found had a more focused purpose. Maybe they had 1 or 2 new vocab words, or maybe they illustrated some structure i hadn’t seen before. In those sorts of cards, i might just put one definition or a short explanation.

    it all depends on how easy that sentence is overall. I want the Answer side to be the shortest possible explanation that will help me remember that sentence if i forget.

    Also, in my deck i have 3 fields in each Fact. the first is the L2 sentence, the second is my L1 description, and the third is for L2 descriptions. As i get better and better, i try to move to filling in the L2 descriptions. This might be by listing synonyms that i already know, or some other hint. This enables me to later turn off the display of the L1 descriptions and have only L2 showing, but without needing to go back and rewrite or delete old cards. The oldest cards might have no L2 description, and therefore will be blank answers when i turn off the L1 descriptions, but by that point i’ll be good enough that the sentences will be easy and i just need a gentle reminder.

    As you make the cards, you don’t need to understand every tiny detail of the sentences you add. As long as you understand the general meaning, then you’re ok. As you add more and more cards, all of it will start connecting in your mind and everything will become much more intuitive. So if there’s a word order that is a bit weird at first, that’s fine. Later you might find that you have many sentences that show that sort of word order, but it’ll just seem normal by then.

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