- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 1: The SRS Is a Servant, Not a Master
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 2: Fun
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 3: Don’t Go Looking for Items, Let Them Come Find You
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 4: Collect ‘Em to Throw Away
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 5: Timeboxing
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 6: Maintain Only the Baseline/SRS Holidays
- Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 7: The Place of Pre-Mined SRSing and Other Ramblings
- How To Banish Boredom from Sentence-Mining (Sentence-Picking)
- Popping Bubblewrap: Tips for Better SRS Sentence Items
- SRS Precedence Rules
- The SRS Victory Formula (SRS Formula Victoria? :P )
This is the penultimate installment of a multi-part series on smoother SRSing.
You probably get from this blog that I take issue with school and what it does to people. One of the things that happens in school is people are often forced to compete against one another in games of dubious intrinsic significance and even more dubious post-scholastic significance. When schoolkids do cooperate, they do so only in superficial, preset ways — anyone who’s ever had the teacher pick your class groups knows the kind of thing I’m talking about. Why was the learning-disabled kid always in my group? Yes, I said “retard”. How else do you describe a white kid who doesn’t like rap music? ALL white kids of sound mind like rap music! What, you think I like it because I’m black? NO! I was raised in a white neighborhood in Africa: that’s just how stuff goes down, son [faux-gangsta hand gestures]!
Another thing many schools have is an aversion to technology that reduces work — calculators, spell-checkers…[except in cases where Casio or TI used copious quantities of hookers and blow to bribe the local school board into pushing graphing calcs on the students…hey, even teachers need their hookers and blow, plus there are worse things to push].
So I never felt it right to put down the various mass-sentence collection initiatives out there. And I still don’t. In fact, I think they’re a great thing in that they potentially reduce some gruntwork…To the extent they represent selfless, well-intentioned teamwork, I think they could well be a great thing.
But, they do not remove your responsibility to be selective. As the saying goes, you can delegate tasks but not responsibility. In fact, due to the quantity of pre-prepared sentences involved; the responsibility to be selective is only increased a thousandfold, no a myriadfold, no, as many folds as there are grains of sand in the eyelashes of all the camels in Japan, yazalami. Think about it — when you’re working by hand, you are limited by your time and ability to concentrate. But when the input’s already been done for you, the opportunities to fill your SRS with duds multiply by hundreds and maybe even thousands. So you must become a professional weeder.
For the purposes of SRSing, weeding/selectivity is a synonym for both “delete” and “do not insert in the first place” (although, the emphasis is on the “delete; there’s no need to bother avoiding mistakes if they can be corrected later for free). If you don’t like an item, throw it out. If an item looks at you wrong, throw it out. If you just can’t be bothered with an item…throw it out. If you feel “meaah”, throw it out. Even if you’re just a beginner but you sense there might be an error, throw it out. If your favorite sports team loses, throw it out. If you’re marching in the Army and you feel something funny, throw it out. Throw out sentences for cosmetic reasons. Don’t worry about false positives — there’s plenty more where those came from. You are precious; your enjoyment is precious; maybe even the process is precious, but the individual sentences are not.
Also…pre-mined sentences are definitely for outgrowing. Unless and until they start cutting sentence items with text and audio and video clips from authentic native sources. Funnily enough, this is starting to happen (this article has been in a half-written state for many months, so things change). iKnow are kinda sorta moving in this direction, and the new program subs2srs is a promising development.
Anyway, for now, it’s a fine, fine line. And you don’t need me to walk it for you; remember, I’m not a linguist or anything, I’m just the most handsome man on the entire Internet. So… have fun with it, and remember…the delete button is your friend.
Personally, I haven’t found pre-mined SRS items to carry enough of the je ne sais quoi weirdness that is the staple of my life…but this may be a temporary problem. Keep in mind that I am old man of sorts; I have my way of doing things now. It may just be the inertia of well-formed habit that keeps me doing things my way. Or it may in fact be the case that SRS cards that one makes oneself sit in the memory better, complete with the context in which the information was originally found — this lack of context definitely looms quite large. But, really, I don’t know.
Is the SRS alone enough? I want it to be. Fundamentally, I believe that every large problem can be solved through good systems…A good system gives us a way to connect tiny local actions into a larger global goal or solution. But in my experience with and observation of purely SRS-centric, low-immersion language learners, I have yet to see good results. I have seen people spin their wheels just dry-SRSing themselves into oblivion, avoiding immersion, with its rough edges and frequent lack of certainty, like a drunk salaryman on the train. I hesitate to hypothesize, but I think it’s safe to say that high-concentration, high-quantity exposure to engaging (=fun) native materials is a far better overall predictor of fluency than SRSing.
One thing that attracts me to SRSing is the feeling of quantitative progress. So I decided to find myself an easy way to get this feeling in areas other than SRSing. This month, I’m watching 100 unique Cantonese movies — not not counting repeats or other exposure materials such as the news, cartoons, regular TV shows, books and so on. I cut away boring parts ruthlessly. Some movies I repeat all day, some I sample, skip and skim through in one minute before discarding. But more on this in a future post.
As things stand right now, the immersion environment is still the foundation and center of the process. SRS acts like a glue and bridge. The SRS ensures that information from the environment is not lost, again acting as a sealing agent of sorts and a bridge into a more free-wheeling, on-the-fly enjoyment and use of the language [memorizing information can free up brain cycles you can then use for having more fun]. In any case, what’s real is the environment; the environment is the real world; real stuff by and for native users. If you run away from that, trying to escape to the comforting (?), sometimes familiarly school-like arms of your SRS, then you are, in a sense, running away from reality. Not to mention the fact that there are parts of every language that fall between the cracks of deliberate attempts to record and collect that language, but that are a very real everyday part of it. In no language does this seem more true than Japanese. Indeed, some Japanese people can seem intent on keeping you away from the language as it is actually used, but I imagine the same could be said of patronizing speakers of any language.
Or something. I am now theorizing. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Please don’t treat me like an authority, or imagine that I think I am one. The ultimate authority on your language process is you. Take advice, take in opinions, but know that in the present day and age, your best guide is your own process of play. Yes, play. Call it “trial and error”, if you want to feel more “grown-up” about it. But know that, really, it’s just play. Screwing around.
As an erudite forum critic of mine once pointed out that I don’t even follow my own advice. And it’s true: I don’t. Insofar as I am frequently making tweaks and changes to the sails of the ship in order to make better use of the winds of reality, I literally do not follow my own advice. Ultimately, there is no AJATT “system”, or at least I do not want there to be. I merely presented it as a system to make it easier to digest, to make it seem more concrete and less flaky, but what is ultimately more important than any detail of implementation is the idea that you can do this on your own, having fun, simply by becoming what you want to be Later by turning into it Right Here and Now — there are tools that can help you do this, but they’re all disposable, to be discarded the moment a truly superior alternative shows itself. Here, superiority is as much relative as it is absolute. A “superior” tool can’t just be objectively better, it must also fulfill certain subjective criteria.
Anyway, SRSing feels like it’s just now starting to take off…But, things are developing at an exciting pace. There may very soon come a day when a single product has all the tools in one box, everything you need for fluency in a language. But not yet. Not yet…Not freaking yet. I am many things, but I am not a Luddite; I honestly want everything to be in one box. But there is no such box. A lot of people with boxes want to tell you they have it. They don’t.
The SRS is easily one of the greatest (and yet, least used) educational tools of the last 100-150 odd years. And this series has been about how to use an SRS. Abandoning the SRS altogether would be like, I dunno, throwing out one of the greatest (and yet, least used) educational tools of the last 100-150 odd years. It’s like abandoning electric lights because “they’re too bright and they cut me” — yeah, if you stare directly into them at point blank range, then you’ll just end up seeing stars, and if you crack the glass and rub the tungsten filaments on your naked eyeballs, it might itch a bit. And if you pour the mercury into your evening after-dinner libation and drink it, then, you might turn into a white kid who doesn’t like rap music. But if take those same electric lights, and shine them on books, then you can read the best comics in the very dead of night.
An SRS will simply harm and blind you if you don’t use it sensibly; if you try to beat yourself with it, it’ll hurt. But, used correctly, i.e. with judicious attention to fun and immersion, it can help bring you, at the very least, literacy in Japanese or Chinese or whatever else, in far less time and with far less effort than you ever thought possible.
So use one. Just don’t be used by one.
In my eagerness to give people an easy series of steps to follow, I fear I may have done the world a disservice. I use the SRS; I have it do work for me that I would otherwise have to do [dynamically sorting 15,000 paper flashcards into dated boxes? are you kidding me?]; it is my secretary; it schedules my reviews so I don’t have to. I wouldn’t walk into any language unarmed with an SRS. But for too many people SRSing has become the main course. For too many people…following the instructions on this site ever more accurately has become the main course. The problem is not so much with the individual actions as with the overall subtext of submission. Which makes me wonder…
Why do we so carefully pick out clothes, food and TV channels…but not ideas? Surely we can all agree to like Subway sandwiches, but decide to use different fillings and not get too worked up over the presence or absence of olives? If you want to know if the SRS card format you’re thinking of will work…why not just go and try playing with different formats? Play. There is no “fail” in “play”. Don’t ask me whether stuff will work; I don’t know and I don’t care. Don’t look for my approval or anyone else’s. Think about it — if I or anyone else thought what you were suggesting doing were correct, we would be doing it ourselves. Discovery (frequently? only?) happens where you go against what everyone is saying, go against the grain and into new territory. Don’t be afraid; don’t explain yourself; don’t argue; just go.
Did you know that whenever you ask me whether not doing something will work or not, a puppy dies of cancer? Again, think about it — if I’d spent my time experimenting with what happened when I didn’t do something, then the site would be called “Various Experiments Involving The Selective Exclusion Of One Or More Parameters In Self-Directed Acquisition of Japanese Dot Com”. But it isn’t; I had no time for that. The only technique I used was maximizing enjoyable Japanese exposure time such that it asymptotically approached 24 hours/day. That’s the only style I am “qualified”, as it were, to give advice on.
So do your own thing. Listen to your feelings. As Southern California as that sounds, really listen. When something is boring, either make it un-boring, or just don’t effen do it; it’s that simple: Do = No. Listen to your “FUNDAR” (Fun Detection And Ranging). Respect your own preferences. Don’t do crap you don’t feel like doing just because someone else says to. Choose. Keep what works, lose what doesn’t, and have fun no matter what. You can get the task of acquiring proficiency in a language done, anyone can. But you don’t have to suffer boredom to do it.
The tools and methods I mentioned on this site were and are heavily customized to my unique preferences and situation. I still think they will work for many, perhaps even most people. But if they don’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you have to give up; it doesn’t mean you have to eat Chocolate Frosted Whining Flakes for breakfast for the rest of your life; it doesn’t mean you have to make up a new theory about certain ethnic groups having fast-twitch muscles for language assimilation — it simply means that there’s a different path out there for you. Your task is to find or cut out that path. Only you can do this. And, no, the Whining Flakes will not give you energy for the journey, so you can leave them at home.
Remember: I did not use the SRS (or RTK, or whatever tool) because some Cosmic Law Written Down On Stone Tablets That I Done Picked Up On A Random Peninsularly-Situated Mountain In The Middle East required me to do so, I did it because it was, on balance, the simplest, laziest and funnest solution to a specific, persistent, overarching problem — memory decay. In other words, the tools filled a need. If you have no need, then you need no tool. In fact, I might as well tell you, I had originally thought of writing AJATT in a more gradual, oblique, “mysterious” way, where people would only be introduced to tools once they understood why they might need them. But it was easier to just lay it all out. In any case, if you don’t understand why things like SRS, RTK or RTH are useful, and you’re feeling oppressed by them, then do yourself a favor and don’t use them — no one’s forcing you to. A method cannot merely be quantitatively effective in order to “work”, it must also be qualitatively tolerable, or better yet, enjoyable. Go your own way, and you may discover methods you like better, that don’t involve these tools at all. Or you may struggle and stumble along and finally realize how cool these tools are. Or you may take a path somewhere down the middle, mixing and matching [I imagine a good number of people will fit in here].
Or something…I dunno…just quit asking me 😀 . Stop asking permission from people who never had the authority to give it to you in the first place; stop asking for directions from people who’ve never been there. In all likelihood, there are no directions and there is no road: you may just be the First. You’re on your own. Enjoy the freedom.
Thanks for reading, check back soon for the series finale.