Well folks, if in doubt, give your SRS items to someone who’s never had any exposure to kanji and see how they hold up. Play your Chinese/Japanese audio-picture question to an untrained person and see if they can produce the text (assuming you don’t give away the text in the picture… 🙂 ). I think you’ll find that they’ll be quite unable to write “dementia” just from being clued in about sicknesses and dodginess, or write down “港股暴跌逾千點” stroke-for-perfect-stroke just from seeing a picture of a number and an arrow.
Adding pictures for sentences, and stories for individual kanji items, I think, is completely non-detrimental. Remember, just because it’s not painful, that doesn’t mean you’re not learning (or perhaps more accurately, “acquiring”).
I’m reminded of my own recent experiences with Cantonese. I’ve watched the movie The Incredibles, in Cantonese, dozens of times. The most recent time (yesterday…2-3 times) one of the things I picked up was “即刻/immediately/right now”, as in “過嚟呢度，即刻/Come here this INSTANT”, in the scene where Mr. Incredible gets yelled at by his boss, and his boss is being really condescending and pointing down at the ground (“here”), telling Mr. Incredible to get away from the door. The next day (today), I was watching a different Cantonese show that I’ve also seen a lot of (a news magazine program called “事必關己”/Infolink), and for the first time, I understood what the presenter had been saying at the beginning of the show, each time he does the voiceover intro. He says: “即刻,事必關己/(translation: Coming up on Infolink/Next — Infolink/And now, it’s Infolink)”. Before it was just a sound to me; now it is a word.
What I’m trying to say here is a lot knowledge can be transferable (duh). Stuff learned in “easier” contexts — more obvious contexts — transfers itself to contexts with less “supporting information”: less obvious contexts. In a sense that’s why the sentences method and much of learning itself works — those simple i+1 sentences you learn will enable you to read entire books that are new to you; they will even enable you to infer both the reading and meaning of completely new words, and even the meaning of kanjiless words. This is analogous to how many people start their reading with manga before moving on to straight text — I don’t think anyone could reasonably contend that: “you’ll never learn to read Japanese if you look at manga, because the pictures will be too strong for your feeble Terran mind”. So don’t worry. Enjoy that it seems easier. Frankly, I think this relative effortlessness is a step in the right direction. The relative ease with which you learned language as a child (very little *conscious* effort, but tons of *actual* effort in terms of amount of exposure) should be within your reach as an adult; I think this puts it there. Let go of your addiction to struggling (lol…too melodramatic?), and focus on acquiring rather than learning.
Let me reiterate: you do not need to be told or be aware of what is happening for it to be happening. You don’t need to measure and “feel” yourself growing taller: just focus on eating healthy food. People seem to forget that they are not computers; you do not need to be explicitly told rules like a compiler; humans don’t need XML — we know bold type and list elements and surnames when we see them. When we look at something, we know where shapes begin and end: we don’t need to count pixels and color levels.
It could be said that your brain is a computer, but it is one of a thoroughly different sort from the current artificial kind. It is the most powerful fuzzy inference engine out there. It figures stuff out, it matches patterns, without a word of explanation. In fact, quite often when people try to explain something, those explanations are totally incompatible with the brain’s internal data representation formats and so they just end up creating confusion. Generally, all your brain needs to do to get it is to observe the data — any data. No one needs to tell you a rule; you’ll put it all together on your own, often unconsciously. To acquire a language then, all you need do is show yourself the data. Your brain will do the rest. Trust it.
Anyway, screw theorizing — I certainly don’t know enough about this stuff to theorize. Just do it. Results pwn everything.
And remember, dude, I am still talking about writing kanji by ear, which Noam Chomsky is said to have called: “phreaking hardcore l33t haX0rN355”.