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About SRS/Sentence Writing Practice

A funny thing happened on the way to my email:

Hey Khatz,

I’m currently using my SRS to practice sentences, but I’m having trouble keeping up with the workload. In your recommendations you say you should be able to write (copy out) each sentence.

Do you recommend copying out the sentence every time it shows up in your SRS? Or just the first time, or every time you miss it? Whats your stance on this. I’d be interested to know because at about 1 minute per card writing everything out, I tend to burn out pretty fast. Sorry if you’ve answered this somewhere on your site already, I couldn’t find it if you have.

Thanks for your time,


Great question. I’d been meaning to address this at some point 🙂 . This is of course all assuming you’re doing the “classic”/”original”/”vanilla”/”recognition”-type sentences, where you are to read aloud and understand a sentence written in actual Japanese. For Japanese, I continue to use this type of sentence card myself because it’s so time-cheap. Anyway, to the point:

Writing out the sentence (or some part of it, e.g. the part you got wrong) each time you miss it is enough*. In fact, it’s ideal, I think. It’s the perfect balance between thinking (“which ones should I write?”) and effort (“I need to sit up with pen and paper and write this shizzle!”) and gain (“I know stuff!”).

Indeed, you may often find, as I do, that there is a strong correlation between ability to write out the sentence and ability to read it correctly. There may always be things you can read but not write, but there will be few/none that you can write but not read. For whatever reason or reasons, the act of writing out the parts you get wrong will impress them upon your memory a lot more than merely seeing them. Maybe it’s because the writing out forces you to focus a bit.

Anyway, have fun. If anyone else has tips for J.R., feel free to share 😉 .

*N.B.: Just so we’re clear, this post is about sentences. For kanji, you’re going to want to write everythaang out.

  27 comments for “About SRS/Sentence Writing Practice

  1. Jack
    September 25, 2009 at 15:55

    They do this in first-grade elementary school class in the United States. That is, have students read correct English sentences (that the teacher writes) and copy them down. One time per sentence, or multiple times as a punishment as seen on The Simpsons. I am not a teacher; I do not know the theory on why this drill is done. I suspect memory has something to do with it.

    I am on frame 1900 of Heisig…I will be on sentences soon.

  2. Nukemarine
    September 25, 2009 at 16:07

    I’ll be honest, I went the “write out each time” route last year and met with fast burn-out. This was when I did sentences from Understanding Basic Japanese Grammar (great book by the way, thanks for the tip Khatz). I tried the “write out sentence first time” review normally after that. But it is easy to miss things cause recognition is easier than dictation.

    Now, it all depends on the type of card I’m testing.

    1. Vocabulary Cards – These test a particular word, but also have a sentence using that word along with audio. If it’s dictation (hearing the sentence) then I write out only the word. If it’s reading, then I just read the word. The only time I write out the entire sentence was the first time I see the card. I say I average about 30 seconds a card doing these reviews.

    2. Subs2srs Cards – These cards I’m using to reinforce my listening, which also have given a super charge to my AJATT (in my case, playing 50 hours of dramas on my iPod). Most of the words would be in my vocabulary deck, so it’s no big deal. However, I am going to highlight words that aren’t in my vocab deck and start writing those out if it comes up.

    3 Grammar Cards – These cards are from Tae Kim and soon to be from Kanzen Master. Except for when I first add them, I don’t write them out, but I do type them out as part of the answer (nice addition to Anki). Now, I am doing Cloze Deletion so there is some English for the Tae Kim, but the Kanzen will likely be straight Japanese.

    Personally, the review/study portion of Japanese started going smoother when I dedicated cards to certain jobs. The vocabulary/grammar cards helped my reading, the subs2srs cards helped my listening. Those I tried to boil down how I reviewed them to the basics. In turn, this made reading and listening to real world material more enjoyable.

  3. September 25, 2009 at 16:57

    I tend to write out new cards pretty much every time, and just get lazy as they get older. If as I’m writing I just think to myself “geez, these characters *again*, haven’t I already proved I know this stuff??” then I stop writing. Otherwise, I do.

    One thing that I’ve found is that long sentences totally kill my desire to write anything. Short items rule the roost, yo.

  4. nacest
    September 25, 2009 at 18:42

    “Indeed, you may often find, as I do, that there is a strong correlation between ability to write out the sentence and ability to read it correctly.”

    This is one thing on which I’ve always disagreed with Khatz. Being able to read a word does very little in favor of making me able to write it. I simply miss all the details and recognize the kanji as a whole.
    What I do is create a recognition AND a production card for each sentence that is kanjically worth it (just recognition for the rest), and only write down the production ones. And what’s more, I only write down the kanjically worthy parts of the sentences. All those hiragana are so boring to write! This way I believe I’ve reached my personal balance between usefulness and boringness.

    This comment’s keywords: “kanjically”, “boringness”.

  5. September 25, 2009 at 18:46


    I think he means the other way around. If you can write it, you can probably read it. That’s been my experience with Chinese — I can read plenty of characters I can’t write, but there are very few (none?) I can write but forget how to read.

  6. Skinny
    September 25, 2009 at 22:36

    How strange! I was just thinking about this today. I’ve never written sentences while reviewing them and I thought I might start, not because of kanji-reading trouble, but because of grammar trouble. I still have a lot of trouble producing Japanese sentences when I need to.

    The sentences help, but there’s a huge gap between what I can read and what I can speak. I know this gap is normal, but I’d like to be more familiar with what particles go where and the order of words.

    I think I’m going to start writing out sentences. How to know when a sentence doesn’t need to be written out so I don’t get burned out? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just place a time-limit on how much sentence-writing I’ll do daily. 10-15 minutes should be plenty and the random order in which cards come up for review should eventually lead to every sentence being practiced in writing.

  7. September 25, 2009 at 23:29

    Yes, actually writing stuff down is very important for the learning process. Not just for sentences, but for Kanji study and anything.

    I use the Kanji Kentei DS games to keep up my Kanji skills, and the test type I use most is the writing exercises. It’s one thing to be able to read a lot, but writing is where the active learning takes place!

    Keep on keepin on.


  8. September 26, 2009 at 01:07

    Would it be better to use cloze deletion items, to activelly reacall the sentences instead of reviewing passively?

  9. jared
    September 26, 2009 at 02:04

    I’ve always wondered, do you guys use both production and recognition cards in Anki? Right now I use both, but it seems like I could get a lot more done if I wasn’t spending time translating English sentences into Japanese during production.

  10. Johann
    September 26, 2009 at 03:29

    I’ve configured my SRS to show failed and new cards first. This way, I can start out writing down every sentence I come across until I stop feeling like doing it, without having to give any extra thought on whether or not that particular sentence is really worth it.
    And after I’m done with writing, I can turn off the lights, lean back and just tap space and the numpad as I read the remaining sentences at a rate of one per 10-15 seconds, instead of 1 per 1-2 minutes.

  11. Jonathan
    September 26, 2009 at 03:38

    >>This is of course all assuming you’re doing the “classic”/”original”/”vanilla”/”recognition”-type sentences, where you are to read aloud and understand a sentence written in actual Japanese.

    Just out of curiosity, what sort of sentence (item) would not fall under this category?

  12. Mallory
    September 26, 2009 at 04:27

    I usually write out the sentences that I get wrong (and sometimes the right ones when I’m on the “need-to-have-good-penmanship-in-Japanese” track). I find that writing it out and speaking the sentence multiple times helps me to remember the readings of words

  13. Emily H.
    September 26, 2009 at 08:45

    Right now I’m working with two sets of cards, for recognition and for production. I’ve got a larger deck that’s JUST recognition — and I don’t worry about writing, period. Those cards are longer sentences from authentic materials, often with several new vocabulary words. And then I’ve got a smaller deck that’s just production, with one new kanji on each and short sentences from test-prep materials: 酒にヨウ、祖母は食事中に話すのがキラウ、ソファーを布でオオッタ。Those, I write out every time.

  14. Tommy Newbhall
    September 26, 2009 at 17:45

    This is interesting because I just changed how I do this.
    I use anki, so there are 4 possible scores. Now my scoring system goes like this:

    1-misread anything in the sentence
    2-read the sentence correctly but it wasn’t smooth, or I wasn’t totally confident on a reading.

    At this point, if I have read the sentence smoothly (this applies mostly to older cards), i try to write it down without looking at the screen. Ideally, I’ll write the whole sentence, but this isn’t always necessary. This once again reinforces the importance of SHORT sentence items, but if the sentence is long by necessity, then I select only the most important parts to write down-what it is I am trying to learn in that particular sentence.

    If I am able to copy the sentence correctly, but need to look at the screen to correct myself/check for errors, I score the sentence a 3.

    If I am able to copy the sentence correctly, from memory, without referring to the screen again, then it gets a 4. Therefore a “perfect” score on a sentence requires me to both read and write the sentence smoothly.

    I’ve been doing it like this for about two weeks, and we’ll see what happens. I hope it will enable me to produce the words I am learning more readily than what I was doing before. It also made me realize that with my previous scoring system, I had rather a lot of sentences that were “old” but that I was still not completely smooth at for either reading or writing.

    For reference here’s how I used to do it.
    I used to have Anki automatically generate two cards one was a “reading” card – the score is based on how well it is read out loud. The other card was a “writing card.” Basically, this card would ask me to produce the kanji for a particular target word (i.e. new word) given the reading and the context. This is similar to how Japanese high school kids take Kanji tests (i.e. the Kanken (漢字検定))

    Doing this, I found doing my of “Reading only” cards to be incredibly sleep-inducing, and was looking for a change. I liked my “writing” cards, they gave me more 達成感 than any of my other cards, but they did require a lot of time, and in the end seemed redundant to have two cards for the same thing.

    I hope this new way should eventually save time and be less boring. Hoping, praying, that it will save time and be less boring…

  15. September 26, 2009 at 19:42

    I just added your blog to my blogroll at my new language learning blog:

    I really like your blog and enjoy reading your posts! I love your attitude about language learning and I look forward to your future posts!

  16. ryuk
    September 26, 2009 at 19:46

    J.R. …. of the Tolkien ilk?

    Regardless of his family’s literary past, it is a good question. I once tried writing out each sentence as part of an “experiment” and the result was a hideously deformed reviewing monster which I could not control. This translate to: It took too much damn time! Writing out the failed/forgotten sentences would be useful, as it would help to consolidate the knowledge of the words as well as help you remember how to write some kanji-specific words (I think most of us have no problem with writing out hirakata).
    However, I would still warn against trying to write out each sentence, because, as Mr. J says, you burn out too quickly.

  17. Joe
    September 26, 2009 at 21:45

    I usually write out the sentence if can’t read any of it (apart from かな) or if I cannot read a 1 or 2 漢字 I’ll write those out with the reading next to it

  18. September 27, 2009 at 06:28

    I honestly don’t even bother with writing out the sentences. At all. Kanji, yes. Sentences no.

    Sometimes, when I’m bored, I’ll just write in Japanese and try to do things from memory… But as far as writing out entire/pieces-of sentences for *each* entry, I’m sure you’ll get carpal tunnel+tendonitis+burnout quickly.

    Writing is important. If it helps your reading, great! However, reading is far more important and, strangely enough: the more you read, the better your handwriting will become automatically.

    Similar to the more times you see a Santa Claus/kitten/dog/beer-bottle, the more details you will remember about it over time, and the better chance you have of reproducing a drawing of said object from memory.

  19. Nanashi
    September 27, 2009 at 19:29

    I found myself in the same situation as J.R. Unlike him, instead of asking for advice I just dropped the copying out of the sentences. I noticed that even though I didn’t care for my lack of writing ability, I started missing an other aspect of the exercise. I therefore took the habit of doing a repetition, closing my eyes, speaking the sentence, and checking any mistakes.

    I found it useful to iron out specific grammatical aspects/mistakes, such as using は/が、書いたほうがいい/書くほうがいい… Two words of caution:
    1° Make sure you keep your sentences as short as possible (which you should anyway).
    2° Even though it speaking is less time consuming than writing, it is still mentally tiring. It might then be a good idea to choose specific items, as other commenters noted.

  20. Tony
    September 27, 2009 at 20:56

    I never write out sentences. If a sentence contains words that are difficult to memorize, I say this sentence out loud without looking at it. Writing out sentences helps a lot with writing, but it is too time-consuming. Like Jaybot7 has pointed out writing can be somewhat improved by reading. I might experiment with writing sentences out when I feel more confident with reading,listening and speaking.

  21. Rob
    September 28, 2009 at 02:13

    I just came across this good site for kanji and stroke order that might be useful, especially for those doing Heisig.

    Over 4000 kanji all with descriptions and animated gifs of the stroke order. If you right click and save the image file, you can put the image into anki and have the stroke order play out when the card comes up.

  22. efeilliaid
    September 28, 2009 at 02:45

    Rob, that’s a great link!
    I also used these:
    (at yamasa, I particularly liked the third handwriting image 😀 )

  23. Maya
    September 28, 2009 at 08:34

    This isn’t really related to the post (sorry!) and it might seem kind of obvious to some, but I wanted to bring this up for those who are (like me) sometimes kind of slow on the uptake.

    If you have and iphone or an ipod touch, you have to get the “kanji” app – it costs $0.99, and it has all of the kanji (well, 2000 of them) with their English readings plus Japanese readings. It also has a search function (you can find kanji by English meaning, Japanese pronounciation, or by drawing it with your fingers/stick and having the app recognize what you drew). What that means is that not only can you learn/review kanji on the go, but you can also use it as an electronic kanji dictionary.

    I just got it and I can’t believe I was ever considering using a paper kanji dictionary while I read on the train/subway. Waaay too long…

  24. khushvele
    September 28, 2009 at 18:57

    hey khatz!

    just wanted to let you know i didn’t forget about the cantokanye mixes i said i was going to post up. i’ve actually turned it into a bit more of an ambitious thing (lots more tracks from more artists) and i can’t wait to see what you think!

  25. Maya
    September 29, 2009 at 11:36

    Oh, 1 more thing – the kanji app allows you to make custom kanji lists. So you can (for example) make a seperate list of all the new kanji you come across while reading, and then study them all at the end of the week/month/etc.

  26. Erick
    July 17, 2012 at 12:14

    I can see how this question inevitably leads to the MCD insight!

    Should you write out the entire sentence from your flashcard, or should you concentrate on the part you’re actually trying to memorize here? We don’t have time for every perfectionistic “effort”, we gotta focus on what we need the most right now (that’s the very basis of SRS theory!)

    Why not tailor the SRS to function in that way to begin with? Why not concentrate on only one kanji from the sentence and if you feel like learning other kanji from the same sentence, just make one more flashcard for each one of them? Same sentence, but now the “cloze” (blank) is another kanji…

    When I first read about MCDs I didn’t fully get why they were so intelligent. Now, reading this post, I understand it! It really makes sense! I’m beginning my studies and that’s what I’m gonna try! 

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