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Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 6: Maintain Only the Baseline/SRS Holidays

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Secrets to Smoother SRSing

This is part 6 of a multi-part series on smoother SRSing.

I don’t know about y’all, but…OK, first of all, I don’t even use “y’all” in actual conversation, so I don’t know why I insisted on writing it just now. Just…bear with me.

I don’t know about you, but…I found memory decay to be the biggest problem for me in language acquisition. I would learn stuff, only to forget it. My brain was like a leaky bucket. The SRS more-or-less plugged the hole for me. I don’t know if I’d have become literate in Japanese without it. It changed my life.

But it does get tiring…finding stuff, adding it, doing reps. No one’s denying that. This doesn’t, however, mean (I don’t think), that it’s time to throw the SRS out; just that it would be wise to change one’s usage patterns.

There exists in English the phrase “to throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The concept of throwing out babies with the bathwater was invented by the ancient Greeks, who invented everything, including architecture, thinking and pederasty. The Greeks held throwing out the baby with the bath water to be the highest expression of nambla, and the quest of every Greek citizen (free male). Aristotle in his namblogues writes that: “After having me some fun with the little boy, I kick that Macedonian tail[1] to the curb….with the bathwater”.

A problem many of us have is that, when we’re fatigued and a situation seems hopeless, we throw our hands in the air and just give up all control, letting ourselves fall into a downward spiral of helplessness-fueled un-productivity and escapism. I go through this a lot, so I know, bro. The saying goes: “you can give up control, but you can never give up responsibility”. If that is indeed, the case, then, it behooves us to not give up control in the first place. Remember what the guy said – every person is self-made, but only those who succeed are willing to admit it. No one wants to be on the sharp end of a quote like that!

So, if we’re responsible for the situation anyway, and we’re going to have to answer for the situation anyway, and we’re going to bear all the consequences of our actions anyway, we might as well turn things to our advantage right from the beginning.

What I do is use the 80-20 rule. Like I said, I get tired, too. I can’t safely run on caffeine and amphetamines like Paul Erdos. But I still want to “get ahead”, as it were. My technique is to go find the minority of work I can do that’ll give me the majority of the results I desire. When it comes to SRSing, that minority of work is this:

Take an SRS holiday. But not a total holiday. Just stop doing SRS additions. Stop adding items. Just do reps [and even then, not necessarily all reps – you could just timebox a few minutes a day; part of the key is to avoid doing nothing at all, because the psychological inertia that results can be a bit of a beast to overcome]. The holiday can be as long as you want. I’ve just come off a Cantonese SRS addition holiday that lasted a good two weeks and change. And I feel great. I kept enjoying my environment – I kept watching the TV and the movies and listening to the music – and I kept reviewing things added in the past, I just didn’t bother to add anything, even stuff I thought interesting enough to add. Maybe it’s not a perfect situation, but I think it’s a healthy imperfect situation.

Many personal development books will tell you that looking for lost things is one of the single largest time-wasters of all, and (rightly) recommend having “a place for everything and everything in its place”. As I see it, losing a memory isn’t all too different from losing one’s keys, iPod or tax files. Think of all the time you’re going to have to spend essentially re-learning from scratch[2], versus the time you could have spent just refreshing. That’s your time, and it’s never coming back again. You might as well spend it well. You might was well avoid forgetting in the first place.

So next time everything seems to be going to pot, a war is being lost abroad, and a Liberal Communist Muslim black man is president…rather than throw your hands up in defeat, try to see if you can’t make rice pudding out of the rice.

Thanks for reading. Check back soon for the next installment: part 7

[1]And that Macedonian tail, grew up to rule the entire planet. Madness, you say? *Chuckle*. This is Sparta, mofo.

[2] Whatever people might say about a memory never truly being lost, if it’s irretrievable, then it’s the same as being lost (or even never having been), and the time burden to relearn is the same as if you’d known nothing. Then again, I’m not a neuroscience expert right now, so you may want to take my homespun wisdom cum grano salis there.

Series Navigation<< Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 5: TimeboxingSecrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 7: The Place of Pre-Mined SRSing and Other Ramblings >>

  25 comments for “Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 6: Maintain Only the Baseline/SRS Holidays

  1. 慈英武素
    January 14, 2009 at 09:29

    I haven’t been doing my Japanese SRS reps for a while now. I don’t feel it matters though, I feel like I am fluent now and could enter 10,000 sentences in a day if I had time. (Though I did do like 12,000 sentences in 18mths). I pretty much started khatz’s method as soon as his website started up. The method works.

    I’m still using Japanese now. I’m watching GITS SAC right now.

    Thanks Khatz. Using your method plus 英語は絶対勉強するな’s for Chinese now. cheers.

  2. January 14, 2009 at 11:09

    Easy for you to say! I haven’t added anything since JUNE and its still killing me. (At that time I added JLPT 2 list of 3000 I didn’t know and 1500 of the JLPT 1 list. ) Doesn’t help that miserable Windows Mobile Supermemo doesn’t support cutting drills, so you have to tap the screen 500 times to “manually” clear a drill and then you end up marking “Perfect” on a number of daily rep items and corrupting your data.

    Thanks for another inspiring one though… I’ll have to reread it after I climb out of this whole some time in the next century.

  3. Rob
    January 14, 2009 at 11:48

    I threw out the SRS a few months ago. My Japanese life has never been happier. The main reason I did was because I believe it can be detrimental to the learning process. I used to shake my head in disbelief when I would go to classes in college and see people scribbling furiously as the professor rambled on and on, because they were so afraid of missing something. The scribbling would of course lead to nothing. All they had to do was trust their minds and listen. The SRS is dangerous for the same reason. In using one, you are essentially telling your mind, “I really don’t trust you to remember this, so I’m going to store it in this separate memory bank for you.”

    The result? You probably won’t remember. Oh sure you’ll get it in time because after so many reps of the same thing, it just turns into the rote method of memorizing. My personal solution was to give it up and focus on reading. Now when I come across a new word or phrase, I pay attention to it. I break it down, write it, say it, act it out, find related words or uses, draw it, etc. I always mix up the reading material to keep it interesting and fun. I have found this MUCH funner than being tied to a SRS. Plus, I believe coming across learned words and phrases in new material with new context is far more beneficial for learning and processing the language than repeating the same sentences over and over.

    I actually try to avoid this site as much as possible (sorry Khatz!), because it is my main English temptation, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on this for anyone else who might feel tied to the SRS and want an alternative.

  4. January 14, 2009 at 12:17

    One feature of the SRS is that it spreads learning and review over time. One disadvantage is, that it spreads learning and review over time. When I have a shit ton of free time (like this Winter break when my GF was in Tokyo) I’m tempted to spend a lot of time on the SRS. That often means, adding a lot of cards. At the time, I’m cool with the consequences, cuz I have time to burn. But when the consequences really start rolling around, I don’t have the time any more.

    You gotta keep in mind that the cards you add today, will mostly be clogging the SRS in the next month to come.

  5. Chiro-kun
    January 14, 2009 at 14:12

    @Rob – So I really ain’t the only one 😉

    That being said, I’ve started using my SRS once again, for the past one month or so. It was a fatal mistake not to continue with my kanji reps after I managed to burn through Heisig at 100 kanji/day. I’ve decided, for now, to use my SRS just for writing words and kanji. Everything else should just stick naturally, as long as I avoid my English environment and stick to Japanese (and use a monolingual dictionary of course!).

  6. Nukemarine
    January 14, 2009 at 16:41

    Fairly reasonable advice. What you don’t review today will be there tomorrow. Just review either a set time or a set amount. Carry on with the rest of your day. When your reviews end so fast that you have free time you set aside for studying, start adding new stuff. Basically, find a pace you’re comfortable with. Don’t take the “I must finish them all today” mentality cause soon you won’t have time in that day, so you then begin to not review “since I can’t finish today”.

    Don’t be afraid about forgetting stuff. If your SRS timing is set up correctly, you’re forgetting about 10% to 20% of every review anyway. The thing is knowing “only” 80% of 8000 things is better than knowing 99% of 1000 things. Just pace yourself. In time, what you remember is spaced out far enough that you begin finishing daily reviews faster. Again, add new stuff if you have enough allotted time left over.

    Put it this way: Marathon runners do not run at a 100m dash pace, as the Marathon would be over in like what, an hour? How can you sell enough “Goo”(tm) in only an hour to pay advertising costs? No, pace yourself for that 26 mile run. But we’re not even talking a marathon. We’re talking 2 miles a day, every day, for 500 days. If you miss 3 days, don’t try to make them up by doing 8 miles. Just do 2 miles and carry on. The goal is not going anyway. PACE YOURSELF. Luke didn’t run around Daggabah with Yoda on his shoulders TWICE at a sprint (it’s true, look it up yourself in the novel adaption), he paced himself with the Force. You can too.

  7. NDN
    January 15, 2009 at 03:38

    I think I should have said this before but I was kind of waiting for something more specific on the memory topic. Khatz and everyone else, what do you think of using Mind Maps instead of SRS?

    A few months ago, I found an interview (more specifically, a chat, and if I’m not wrong, it was on or something like that) where Mr. Tony Buzan said he was going to learn spanish. In that same chat, he said he would apply mind maps to learn new words and review old ones(what we do with the SRS). So, basically, I think he would replace whole sentences with words only, attaching them to images and linking each image with all its synonyms (is this word written correctly?) and other images forming a mind map.

    I haven’t tried the method ’cause I’m already accustomed to SRSing and I would have to copy all the words to mind maps (double work, maybe I’ll invent a Mind Map SRS software that reads from normal SRS files into Mind Map SRS files but I guess something will be out long before I even start thinking about this as I’m still a VERY VERY inexperienced programmer. Here stays the idea for the interested people) but I hope newcomers investigate more about it, for example, if Buzan reported his results after going through the experience or if he’s still learning the language and of course try the method themselves and report the results.

    If my MEMORY doesn’t fail I think Mr. Buzan said that he could finish learning spanish in 3 months, he also talked about indispensable things (which are common to AJATT) like immersing yourself TOTALLY in the target language.

    In my opinion, the mind map method is better than the SRS not only ’cause it contains images(SRS items may also contain images) but also ’cause the words are linked to images, images linked to each other, synonyms linked to the same image, etc..
    I think it would make an harmonious picture of a language.
    Besides, since Mind Maps improve memory drastically (instant recognition) in many things, why not use them for words of a new language?

    A mind map can be made with software so one doesn’t have to use gigantic stacks of paper.

    Anyway, what are your (everyone’s) opinions on this?

  8. Luke
    January 15, 2009 at 03:56

    Heya! Random question! Anyone know where to get the Japanese scripts to the first series of Pokémon? Thanks!

  9. Diego
    January 15, 2009 at 05:11

    As usual you have written a great post Khatz!
    I’m still going through the Kanji (close to the 400’s yay!) and a great thing to do is just to have that Japanese music in the background. I was getting my music from but today I found out it was changed to some Japanese dating site. Any suggestions as to where I can find some J music to download.

    Sorry if I went off topic, but I think the music helps a lot in setting the environment while doing the SRS so I need a new site to get music from otherwise I’ll die…well not really but it will make the reps tedious.

  10. タケシ
    January 15, 2009 at 05:48


    This might be what you’re looking for,


  11. Sutebun
    January 15, 2009 at 06:20

    This has been the most challenging part for me. I really have not kept up on my SRS for a good extended period of time. Only when I was doing RTK (I soon quit after finishing it).
    I do notice much more significant retention while using an SRS.

    I’m gonna try scaling back now and attempt to do only recognition cards (which can be made quickly and reviewed quickly). With Anki’s new typing the answer feature, I want to try to timebox about 20 minutes a day for reviews in which I just retype (and read aloud of course) the phrase. I got this idea from playing Typing of The Dead and thinking “Damn, it would be really cool to be able to put my own phrases/words in this game!” and then realizing that I can sort of accompolish that with the new feature in Anki. In otherwords, I want to try blasting through the cards really fast, using the typing feature as a way to turn it into more of a game (hand writing is too time consuming [read: boring] for me) while reviewing at the same time. Hopefully this will keep stuck on an SRS!

  12. January 15, 2009 at 06:35

    Good job Khatz. Always pointing out the blindingly obvious when everyone else is too stupid to realize it 😉 Sometimes we just need good ol’ common sense advice like this.

    I find it funny that you wrote this at the beginning January, just after the “holidays.” I (probably along with many other people) were forced to take an SRS holiday b/c of family stuff, etc, etc. That’s actually what I did over Christmas and New Year’s. I didn’t add anything, but I just kept reviewing. It’s actually quite a motivational boost. After a while you start doing really good on everything since you don’t have many “new” cards.

  13. Squintox
    January 15, 2009 at 09:10

    I did this with the reps, but not the adding 😛

    I love adding, and to an extent, the reps if done in short bursts with timeboxing (2 sentences in one minute, 6 kanji in two minutes). Short winnable games right? ;D

  14. David
    January 15, 2009 at 12:59

    This makes me feel much less guilty now. I didn’t add hardly anything in the last three weeks. Just exchanging emails with natives, watching movies, doing my reps, etc. I was feeling down about it because it seems like I wasn’t making any progress.

    Another plus to this is that it reduces the amount of daily reps so they’re easier to get through. So, if you do bursts of additions, this is a chance to smooth it over. It is definitely good to pace yourself, though, as mentioned before.

    Ever since the author of Anki added a Timeboxing module, I’ve been getting through my reps much faster than before. It came at a good time, too.

  15. January 15, 2009 at 18:25

    I find myself taking these breaks often. With Anki now having configurable new card limits, I tend to enter a lot of sentences at once and then, when I want a break, just turn the “new cards per day” down either really low or to zero. Either way I never make the limit too high, because I want to even out the inflow of new items and not get overwhelemed.

  16. Chris
    January 16, 2009 at 13:10

    Hey, this is completely off topic, but I really need to know. A while back I saw a link to an audio ripper, and I thought that that’d be a great way to get audio off my Japanese movies and put it on my MP3 player… only problem is, I can’t find the link in any post or comment. I was wondering if someone could help me, because I have some pretty great audio just waiting to get on my brand new MP3 player 😀 (Japanese director’s commentary anyone?)

  17. January 17, 2009 at 01:24

    I have one that works for free that I got off the web. It’s called Free Sound Recorder. I think that’s what you’re looking for 🙂

  18. タケシ
    January 17, 2009 at 02:12


    I believe Khatz had linked to Xilisoft’s DVD Audio Ripper,

    It has a trial download that you can use for a limited amount of time.


  19. beneficii
    January 17, 2009 at 03:41

    Chalk one up to long years of experience:

    “Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III is a captain for a major U.S. airline with over 40 years of flying experience.”

  20. Chris
    January 17, 2009 at 13:57

    Thanks a lot for the link 😀 if the trial proves to be worth it, I might consider buying it. Thanks again, real lifesaver.

  21. April 7, 2009 at 03:47

    So, first off, I realize this was posted way back in January, but I didn’t see it until today and I feel the need to comment, so tough cookies.

    I’m on an SRS holiday right now and I’ve been taking them every few months or so. I’m still going through RTK 1 (closing in on the end of it, though!), so usually these holidays occur when I’ve added everything that I’ve come up with mnemonic stories for and am staring at a chapter without mnemonics. I like to write my stories/cull them from the Remembering the Kanji website ahead of time and write them into the book (this makes learning them at work much easier for me), and sometimes I fall into a lull where the stories are concerned. The inevitable consequence is that I end up having added everything that has a story and am looking to study/add more and have no stories yet. It’s at this point that I go on holiday. I spend my time doing reps and adding stories. It’s a nice little break. Sometimes I feel like I’m not making the progress I should be when I do this, but I always come away with more kanji actually memorized than before, so I don’t think I’m actually losing progress at all.

    Blah blah blah… main point = SRS holidays are good and I like. ^^;

  22. Mike
    August 14, 2009 at 16:41

    i DL anki so i could start learning but for some reason i cant see the kanji all i see are squares what do i need

  23. August 17, 2009 at 10:45

    I sometimes have that happen when I’m using Anki to study Chinese hanzi. After restarting my computer they show back and the boxes are nowhere to be seen. You may also need to make sure that you have the correct fonts set, but I don’t think that that should be the problem.

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