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Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 4: Collect ‘Em to Throw Away

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series Secrets to Smoother SRSing

This is part 4 of a multi-part series on smoother SRSing.

I know how it is, bro[1]. You meet a sentence, you fall in love. You want to be with each other all the time. You laugh at each other’s jokes, you talk for hours, you make out for days (of reps?), you get married and have six children, but then one day, you discover that that sentence…has man hands.

What do you do? The only thing you can do.

Divorce. I mean delete! DELETE! Delete the sentence. Expect to have to delete sentences. I mean, think about it. Think about what not deleting sentences implies about your learning process – it implies that you make 100% perfect item entry decisions on the front end. But, statistically, that simply won’t be the case. Typos, bad judgment, bad writing and misunderstanding do creep in. Not to mention radical change of interests.

Expect to have to delete many of the items you enter. In fact, revel in it. Revel in the weeding. Get that sh…spiel – get that spiel out of the garden of your collection so that the true flowers can flourish. Get it out. Gone. Out. Out. Out. Dude, delete preemptively – you can always undelete…maybe. From now on this is your motto:

If in doubt, throw it out.

Wondering whether or not to delete this sentence? That’s an automatic delete right there; if you are genuinely wondering, if the thought of getting rid of that item occurred to you in a meaningful way and for any appreciable amount of time, then trash that noss. Anyway, don’t think too hard – when it’s time for deleting, you’ll know.

It is natural and normal to have to chuck stuff out, even a lot of stuff. It is only unnatural and abnormal to act as if everything’s OK when in fact your SRS collection is full of leeches and duds that are too obtuse or too obscure or too long or too irrelevant or too I-don’t-give-a-darn or actually just plain bad freaking writing. Trust me, I have been there.




This concludes our subliminal message transmission.

Many people turn this SRSing thing into a numbers game, and they avoid deleting items because that seems like “falling back”. And, you know, it’s not about the numbers. And that’s coming from me, the biggest number-loving numberlover to ever walk the earth. I love the stats about myself. They’re cool to look at. But they are not the object of the game. Hello? Language, son. You know, ironically enough, deleting items – letting go of the numbers game – can actually give you better numbers and better real-world performance, minus the stress. Deleting dud items will make you want to do reps more, causing you to do more reps, etc. This is a concept I am just newly discovering for myself in this and other aspects of my life. Last month, I sold off like half of my library to Book-Off; now I have less books…but I’m reading more than ever because now all my books are ones that I genuinely want to read, not books I think I ought to read. My bookshelf is now a place of joyful, educational escape and growth, far more entertaining than randomly chosen TV[2]. Wow, the word “joyful” makes me sound like such a wuss. What I meant to say is: “it’s DOPE when I see all my kanjis on the dancefloor-slash-page lined up in meaningful strings, yo!”

And another thing! This deletion thing applies not only to item that are already in your SRS, but also to items that you were planning to put in. Perhaps you read a book and marked it up. Perhaps you collect interesting kanji or phrases in a notebook. But you can’t be bothered to go enter them. And you know what — there’s no need to feel guilty about that. What the heck, son — this language learning process wasn’t intended to turn your life into data entry clerkdom. But at the same time, you don’t want to waste all that precious marking up you did, right? The/a solution is this: throw away most of what you marked up — 95% or more, just fuhgeddabout it. Do go back through the things you marked up or collected, but for any given would-be item, if you don’t “feel it”, if you don’t feel “yeah, let’s go to the trouble of making an SRS item for this”, then don’t freaking bother. Don’t worry about not getting as much “bang for your buck” on each book or movie or whatever: remember, the beauty of learning sentences is that you actually pick up a lot of information simultaneously as it is (vocabulary, grammar, usage, prounciation, intonation, ryhthm), so chucking away some or even most sentences is not going to hurt you, since much of the information they contained can be picked up incidentally elsewhere. So “if in doubt, throw it out”, and “if borin’, don’t put it in“. I have notebook upon notebook of stuff I was going to enter that I never bothered too. And the language fairy still hasn’t struck me down with lightning. Remember that Pareto principle or whatever you call it — the majority of stuff simply isn’t worth bothering with in the first place, and this was never truer than with sentences.

Now that I think about it, it strikes me that this is what I really meant when I first used the term “sentence mining”. My intention wasn’t to establish a link with “data mining”, which involves directly amassing and storing huuuuge amounts of crud. No, I was shooting for acutal, physical, mining. Because in mining, say, diamonds, the object is, well, DIAMONDS. Gems. Valuable sheez. A lot of soil gets chucked away, all for a very, very, few clear, shiny rocks. Think how much (miningwise) useless soil gets thrown the heck away just for one diamond? I don’t know the numbers, but I imagine the imbalance is obscenely large. Similarly, you’re going to be “digging through” — watching and reading — vast quantities of Japanese and hitting only a very few “diamond sentences”, i.e. SRS entry-worthy sentences.  Having said all that, I still think the term “sentence picking” is much better: the berry-picking image is cooler, and there’s also this idea that a sentence that isn’t ripe now may become ripe later [theoretically, I guess this could be said of mining as well, but only on geological timescales…are you enjoying the sight of someone tangled up in his own metaphors like unto an earphone cord?].

Thanks for reading. Check back soon for the next installment: part 5

P.S. Do not EVER, EVER, E-V-E-R take actual relationship advice from me…

P.P.S. See P.S. for details.

[1]And I mean that the way black people say it, ‘coz I think it’s more meaningful.

[2] I’m not one of those people who likes to put down new media. I like the work of folk like Neil Postman, it’s just that they’re a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit more nostalgic about 18th century American life than seems altogether warranted. After all, that supposedly thoughtful, bookish society had slavery, no women’s suffrage, enforced illiteracy and a tenuous relationship with bathing. But I digress. The point is, I found myself reading incredibly little (and watching TV even though it was boring), particularly considering the fact that I had made a point of becoming literate in Japanese; this bothered me a lot and sent me into a flurry of worry about what kind of human being I was if I had literacy but was not using it beyond minor daily necessities.

Series Navigation<< Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 3: Don’t Go Looking for Items, Let Them Come Find YouSecrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 5: Timeboxing >>

  17 comments for “Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 4: Collect ‘Em to Throw Away

  1. September 7, 2008 at 13:31

    I couldn’t agree more – I think the delete button is one of the most valuable keys on the keyboard.

    If you’re having fun interacting with Japanese in all the ways that interest you, sentences, words, kanji, grammar, idioms and jokes are never in short supply. No one sentence does fluency make, let it go and enjoy the journey 😉

  2. September 7, 2008 at 21:01

    LOL. You are the man.

  3. Chiro-kun
    September 7, 2008 at 23:59


  4. Mike
    September 8, 2008 at 01:35

    This is one reason why I continue to use Khatzumemo. It has the warning tag for items wasting your time. I usually delete them on the spot when I see that. Great article!

  5. Steve
    September 8, 2008 at 19:26

    Well, I have been studying Chinese for 3 years, and characters for 2 years. Maybe I’m the only one but I hate Hanzi. It has been a continuous struggle to get to my current level. I have tried many different methods, including using an SRS and sentences, which I continue to use. I can barely remember any point where learning them has been “fun”.

    If I were to only do what was fun I would delete all of them and stop working on it all together.

    I really appreciate your website and agree with 90% of what you say. I just have not figured out a way to learn Hanzi that is fun and if I were to wait until I found that fun way, I would not have made the progress I have made so far.

  6. Marshall
    August 17, 2009 at 12:45

    “it’s DOPE when I see all my kanjis on the dancefloor-slash-page lined up in meaningful strings, yo!” This is just beautiful, very colourful, high-level, and philosophical too!

    THAT QUOTE WAS HILARIOUS – props for having a sense of humor, its one of those aspects people take for granted, so when they forget about it its terrible to communicate with them.

    Thanks for all your help, i’m confident(for once in my life) i can be fluent by 18 months too(not competitively speaking, more like showing how you motivated me) .

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