Over the years, some amazing comments have been left here at AJATT. But they get lost in the fog of posts quite easily. All-Star Comments is a segment where I share the best of the best. Today’s comment is from a heartbreaker who goes by the monicker “SRS Addict”.
The original post was about using the SRS to remember the best parts of the best examples of personal development literature.
SRS Addict said,
November 24, 2009 @ 00:40 · Edit
This is a LONG comment, here it goes:
I find this post very interesting. Here’s why:
About 3 1/2 years ago I began to use the SRS program “Supermemo” (which I will refer to as “SM”). Since I began using SM, other programs have emerged that specialize in language study, but since I’ve been using SM for so long and have so much time invested in it, it is far too late to think about jumping ship. No doubt the other SRS programs out there work great, so don’t think that I’m knocking them. In the end, use SOMETHING: it’s better than nothing.
Anyways, I began to use SM about 3 years ago to retain Japanese vocabulary. Despite living in America, uncommon words that one does not use very often (such as “round-trip”) continued to remain in my memory, and it required very little thought to recall them. This feeling of satisfaction was very addictive, and I began to integrate more and more of my intellectual life with Supermemo.
I can now speak, read and write Japanese fluently. I passed the JLPT 2Q a couple of years ago without even going to Japan. And the reason that I’ve progressed this much has little to do with my abilities (I am really quite average, I think), but I believe that it is purely because Supermemo has helped to augment my abilities and to focus my efforts so that as little time and effort as possible is wasted (at least when that time and effort is being spent on Supermemo). Here is why:
Humans need a variety of food to remain healthy. Similarly, no SINGLE specific method will gain you fluency in a language. Language study requires a balance of different methods and inputs.
SM seems to have become my intellectual equivalent of a video game “save point.” While up until that time, I might have seen/read/heard many interesting or useful things, but until I “save” my intellectual progress, such information only occupies a temporary place in the mind. While SM is not the only thing I use, it is part of my ‘balanced diet.’
I began by putting Japanese sentences into SM, with the word I wanted to memorise written in English (It was easier than trying to describe the word in Japanese). This created context and usage hints. I would usually enter at least two flashcards for each word (like firing multiple bullets to ensure I hit the desired target), thus ensuring that unless I made a big mistake in structing the material (Poor word choice), the algorithms would ensure that I would remember the word in due time (After about a week or two it would stick very well in my mind).
This worked for vocabulary words, so I thought “Would this work for idiomatic expressions, also?” So I began to experiment, and as time went on, when the appropriate time to use such an idiom presented itself, it required as little time as it took to remember a simple vocabulary word. Now it was easy to rack up idioms (As well as 4-character idioms) in my head. Using James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji volumes one and two (Although I went my own way with book two), I learned all of the ON yomi for the kanji, which made learning most vocabulary words much, much simpler (Most being a combination of two kanji using the ON yomi). In the end learning Japanese simply came down to shooting fish in a barrel, racking up more and more vocabulary that was easily accessable and would be forever retained using SM.
Japanese has now passed on from the “I need to study” phase to the “I speak it fluently” phase. If I were playing World of Warcraft, my Japanese character would be at level 80 (Although I do not play that game, as I want to defend my time from such bandits). I still add Japanese words to SM, but it is like killing low-level monsters at this point, although I would like to eventually take JLPT 1Q, the “final boss.”
But since Japanese is, for all intents and purposes, done, I am moving onto Chinese.
Knowing the kanji has helped out a great deal, and the ON yomi bears a strong enough resemblence to the actual Chinese reading of the character that it is helpful. But each language poses a different set of problems, and I am always experimenting with variations of methods to try to make it a step further in my Chinese progress. Like you mentioned, keeping a foreward thinking, open mind about how to do things helps to ensure progress. Once you find something that works, exploit it until it stops working or you find something better. Currently I’m experimenting with the flashcard format used by the web site “Smart.fm.” I’m trying to impliment it in SM to see if I learn words better than my present flashcard format for Chinese. You might want to give that site a try, if you haven’t already.
We soldier on.
About a year after I began using SM to learn Japanese, I began to expeirment with using SM on non-Japanese desirable knowledge. To learn something FOREVER required such a SMALL investment of time (Less than a minute for the next 30 years of retention). Therefore, one hour of “entertainment-consumption time” could be converted into “self-enrichment through knowledge” time; the long-lasting benefits are so obvious that it makes many other tasks and pursuits seem trivial by comparison (But one must find balance in life, you have to eat some candy every now and then). But rather than simply being a useful study tool, SM has opened up a new way of life for me, where tangible knowledge consumption and retention is well within the grasp of everyone, regardless of anything else. All that is required is a small amount of time and motivation.
As another commenter mentioned above, the process you describe is very similar to incremental reading, a feature advertised on the SM web site. Traditional reading is very much the equivilent of listening to a long speech by someone, and your ‘input’ is limited: Start, stop, or highlight. Incremental reading is basically a process of taking raw electronic reading material, extracting the useful information, and processing for long term retention (Making something into a flashcard is the end-goal of this process). It is the same as digesting food; take food in, extract neutritious parts, get rid of what you don’t need. Since the world has yet to go “fully digital” when it comes to reading material, it seems that we must suffer for a while without having “buy/borrow as a .txt document” as an option for our local libraries or book stores. On the bright side, books are very small compared to mp3s, and music is pirated very often. Therefore, the potential to download books that you buy is very possible, although spotty. For example, I purchased “Atlas Shrugged,” but found that reading it incrementally on SM was more fun than carrying the big book around with me. I was able to find Atlas Shrugged online with little trouble, now I’m currently reading it through SM.
Where traditional reading is more of a lecture, incremental reading is more of an organic dialgue. Granted, the text no longer retains its form, it gets “chopped up” rather quickly (Like clipping out parts of a magazine article that you like), but we want knowledge in our head, not pretty looking words on paper. This philosophy has made me enjoy reading much, much more. (I recommend you read more about incremental reading, it echos the sentiments expressed here. Also, I don’t want to write what has already been written).
But another expriment that I started about a year ago (That I believe conclusively works) was to see if semi-knowledge put into Supermemo could create subtle changes in my personality and thought-process. You mention putting inspirational quotes into Supermemo, and this is pretty much what I did, but I went about it in a different way. Everyone makes decisions based on principles. Someone might see someone else in need, if they are raised as a Christian, they might think “Do unto others…” so they decide to help that person out. Others might operate on a different principle, which would lead to a different action. The question was “could I take those different principles, put them into SM, and just like the idiomatic expressions, when that principle would come into play, would such principles come to mind, and give more options when making decisions?” I believe that the answer is ‘yes.’
For example, one could take key phrases from various philosophy or religious books (That are deemed useful and beneficial by the user, of course), put them into SM, and over time would have such views of the world at their disposal; whether or not they are adopted is up to the user. Therefore you do not have to adopt the philosophy to undersatnd it and have it at your disposal. For example, I have a number of quotes from Hitler in SM because his twisted mind demonstrates a certain cunning and manipulative evil, which it does good to recognize when seen elsewhere (Even in subtle ways).
So basically SM has become a tool with which I program myself. It has grown to encompass my entire life, and has become my primary means of retaining information about the world around me. I spend about one hour using SM every day. Right now I have about 33,000 active flashcards in my big flashcard “deck.”