SRS (spaced repetition systems) vs. just reading

Dimethylamine us United States

First, to my fellow Americans, I hope your Thanksgiving was excellent!

Someone on Reddit /r/languagelearning made a claim that SRS enforces memory better and is active recall, whereas reading is just passive.

Here:

https://www.reddit.com/r/languagelearning/comments/3u0ybm/i_think_im_ready_to_move_on_from_anki_should_i_or/cxea1tk

So, what is better for learning, memory, and building active vocabulary? SRS or just reading? There are people that swear by Anki, but reading hundreds of flashcards is boring to me. I completed the Basic Russian course on Memrise, but it severely flatlined for me when I tried other courses. I've become the opposite when it comes to learning. I enjoy reading and learning through context. I don't see how that is considered passive and less effective than SRS.

In a lesson, I encounter the word a lot and I'm forced to actively recall what it is, but I have context as a hint. I consider this a type of 'flashcard' in a sort of way.

If Anki has its merits, I would definitely like to give it another shot. I just never understood it when people say "Anki is great, it's so fun!" and they end up just reading hundreds of boring cards full of short sentences.

Any thoughts? And please spare the "does it matter? Just do what you enjoy best" comments. I've been seeing that a lot in language learning forums. It doesn't add to the discussion, because some of us like to learn the HOW.

November 2015
  • ftornay es Spain

    Well, I guess everything has advantages and drawbacks. I do use flashcards now and then but I've come to believe they're way less effective than reading and trying to communicate. Whatever the theoretical virtues of flashcards may be, the fact that they're boring is a deal breaker.

    My own opinion is this:

    Reading/listening to interesting material is by far the best way to acquire vocabulary.

    In order to activate vocabulary the best way by far is to just use it. Chatting with native speakers seems to be the best way to do that at my level of Russian, my current target language, for example.

    Some flashcarding may be of help. I created my own version of the "625 words" (with Spanish translations, not images) advocated by Bennie the Polyglot and I'm going through those flashcards in Anki at times. I also copy the conjugations of difficult verbs when I come across them in my flashcard review.

    I don't do any flashcarding at Lingq at this moment.

    November 2015
  • iaing au Australia

    Reading is a form of SRS. 80% of language is a few thousand high frequency words, which will show up regularly in natural reading, and, at a natural spacing. The rest of the 20% of the words show up at their natural frequency, as the language is intended.

    *que up the i-love-anki trolls*

    November 2015
    • Paule89 de Germany

      Yeah, that´s why I think SRS makes more sense for vocabulary/expressions/whatnot that you will not encounter on a daily basis.I don´t need a "1000 most frequent words in xyz-nese" anki deck though.^^

      "*que up the i-love-anki trolls*"

      Nice bait^^

      November 2015
  • Krose00 tr Turkey

    Reading is more effective.

    November 2015
  • Paule89 de Germany

    It´s weird that Americans and Canadians don´t celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day.^^

    @topic

    You just have to find a way to create interesting flashcards. If you don´t like short sentences, use longer sentences or even paragraphs. What about using cloze deletion? What about taking screenshots while watching media with L2 subtitles? Flashcards with audio? I´m sure you´ll figure something out.

    @reading vs. flashcards Not sure if one is better than the other. Combining them is cool. I mostly use Anki for advanced vocabulary that I stumble across while reading/listening (expletive, jingoism, vitriolic, necrotic, multiplicity....). Repetition is key when it comes to learning and getting enough reps "accidentally" through lots of reading and listening will take longer than a combination of reading+srs or might not happen at all.

    I don´t think flashcards make sense when you´re a beginner though.I mean, *everything* you hear or read exposes you to tons of unknown words.

    November 2015
    • ftornay es Spain

      I've learned precisely all those examples through reading.

      November 2015
      • Paule89 de Germany

        Congrats.

        November 2015
      • Paule89 de Germany

        I edited my post to clarify what I meant.

        November 2015
    • ftornay es Spain

      If you don't get across that kind of vocabulary, my advice would be to go read more challenging material. Novels, for example. My experience has been the opposite. I use flashcards (usually mostly sentences or small fragments from introductory books) at the beginning of my learning. Later, I phase them out as I get more proficient.

      I'm going back to my "basic 625" Russian words now, though, in order to activate that vocabulary, but I'm still at an intermediate level at that language.

      I never use flashcards for languages in which I'm more or less fluent.

      November 2015
      • Paule89 de Germany

        "If you don't get across that kind of vocabulary, my advice would be to go read more challenging material. Novels for example"

        Have you read the edited verison of my post?

        "I mostly use Anki for advanced vocabulary that I stumble across while reading/listening (expletive, jingoism, vitriolic, necrotic, multiplicity....). Repetition is key when it comes to learning and getting enough reps "accidentally" through lots of reading and listening will take longer than a combination of reading+srs or might not happen at all."

        This works for me If you prefer a different approach, we can just agree to differ.^^

        November 2015
        • ftornay es Spain

          Ok

          November 2015
    • Dimethylamine us United States

      >You just have to find a way to create interesting flashcards

      That takes a lot of work!

      I am seeing that using Anki can be useful for learning and remembering advanced words that don't appear very often or phrases.

      November 2015
  • TommyTrue at Austria

    Anything you give to your brain within a context will be absorbed better than anything that is isolated. Reading over flashcards any day.

    November 2015
    • Dimethylamine us United States

      This was my reasoning for not using Anki, is context learning is more effective.

      Then again, I tried the 'anti-flashcard' method while taking Biochemistry in college (which is pretty much pure memorization) and I pretty much HAD to use flashcards to remember the stupid details because of the mass bulk/volume of the material needed to know.

      November 2015
  • userstk us United States

    What I think in a nutshell:

    - broad reading is the best SRS.

    - you can learn a language fine (better?) without Anki, but you can't without reading.

    - someone hit upon a fancy name ("SRS") for what's been there all along to make money/name for him/herself

    Obviously anything, including Anki, is helpful compared with doing nothing.

    But "is it better than doing just plain reading or listening with the same amount of time and energy?".

    I am kind of negative on it, because creating the deck means constant interruption of natural thought flow.

    Anki would be great if you can create the deck without even thinking, or just by thinking for a second or so.

    If it's anything more than that, like stopping what you're doing, clicking/typing something, etc, then it's questionable.

    My own conclusion: Anki may help in certain special circumstances, but not in general language learning.

    I believe it hinders more than it helps for people like myself who are not disciplined enough.

    November 2015
    • Paule89 de Germany

      "- someone hit upon a fancy name ("SRS") for what's been there all along to make money/name for him/herself"

      Afaik, SRS means "Spaced Repetition Software" and I can´t think of a less fancy name for it. The most popular software ("Anki") can be downloaded for free and I´ve never even heard of a premium version.

      So...how did you come to this opinion?

      November 2015
      • userstk us United States

        I am not taking issue with the technicality of the name "SRS".

        They can name it anything they want.

        I am just saying I don't particularly like the fact that they are presenting it like it is a great invention when in reality it is just a new name and dressing for what has existed hundreds or even thousands of years. As far as I am concerned, plain old reading and listening is SRS of the best kind. and our daily life is full of it too - that's why we can remember important things without always making conscious efforts.

        If this new SRS or Anki method really does much good as they claim, it would be a good name for a good product. If not, it is a gimmick, a sham with a fancy name to dupe people. I personally believe the latter is closer to the truth, at least in general language learning.

        You mention it is freely downloaded, but that is beside the point.

        Every big user base or popular name on the Internet translates to money in the end.

        And of course, I am not saying anything about you or anyone who loves SRS and makes good use of it.

        I am just giving my opinion responding to a survey question.

        November 2015
        • Paule89 de Germany

          "You mention it is freely downloaded, but that is beside the point.

          Every big user base or popular name on the Internet translates to money in the end. "

          How? They don´t even have ads on their page http://ankisrs.net/

          November 2015
      • Dimethylamine us United States

        Pretty much every language learning program I've seen tries to use some form of SRS integrated with flashcards with fancy pictures and sound bytes.

        Memrise, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and DuoLingo to name a few.

        I feel the majority of the learning things out there are glorified flashcards. Even though all the methods except RS I've mentioned are free, they still make money off of the system.

        November 2015
    • ftornay es Spain

      +userstk I'm a big fan of reading, as I've already said, and I think it's far better in order to reach an advanced level.

      However, as an experimental psychologist, I don't agree with you on your appraisal of SRS. While the principle has been know since Ebbinghaus's experiments, having an automatic algorithm available is very useful for learning data by heart.

      I criticize an over-reliance on SRS for language learning because it is not primarily a matter of raw word learning but it's a very useful method for other kind of material and as supplement in language learning. I'd argue, primarily at the first stages.

      November 2015
      • userstk us United States

        Ok, but what I think is that it is probably more useful when you need to remember more randomized things than a natural language.

        For natural language vocabulary, there are so much good texts, audio and video out there.

        Why spend time on artificially created, boring, list-like things when you have better sources.

        For language learning, I had a thought that it might be helpful when you're (nearly) fluent.

        That is, you have acquired a large vocabulary already but once in a while encounter some of those obscure words that you're unlikely see again in months or even years. Then maybe keeping a list is useful, but I think it can be any plain word list for this purpose - just a thought.

        In the beginning stage, I am not so sure.

        But I imagine having good model phrases and texts organized well and going through them periodically would be a useful bootstrapping.

        November 2015
        • ftornay es Spain

          But SRS is, precisely, a way to "organize well" material for periodical review.

          Nothing prevents you from creating ANKI cards with phrases/sentences/text fragments. As a matter of fact, that's what I did whien I began learning Persian and Russian. It's much better than learning words in isolation. This technique has been dubbed "sentence mining".

          November 2015
  • Matheus19 br Brazil

    I have to say that when I was doing flashcards on Anki (a couple months ago), I didn't like it at all because I was spending too much time on it, more than one hour/day just to review 100/150 flashcards. But now I started using Anki again and I'm really enjoying because I find these hotkeys I can go much faster through the flashcards, for example: today I review more than 200 cards in just 20 minutes, so it's much more fast and I'll continue with that approach and see if I have good results. I also downloaded on Anki's website the " 8000 essential English words" to study (really cool website, with lot's of decks that came with audio, image, phrase that you can download and import to Anki).

    So my opinion is: reading is more powerful than just flashcards, but I think It's even more powerful if you join the two: reading+flashcards. And I kinda follow steve's philosophy: " Focus 80% of your time in the big picture (listen and read) and the rest of the time you can do flashcards, review grammar rules, or whatever you want."

    November 2015
    • Paule89 de Germany

      "And I kinda follow steve's philosophy: " Focus 80% of your time in the big picture (listen and read) and the rest of the time you can do flashcards, review grammar rules, or whatever you want."

      Maybe Steve was directly or indirectly inspired by Douglas H. Brown. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._Douglas_Brown)

      He compared language learning to a camera. Input and using the language are like using a wide-angle lens (to see the "big picture") while flashcards, grammar etc. are like zooming in.

      Oh, and I´m taking classes to learn the basics of language teaching and they say that 80% practice / 20% instruction is pretty effective.

      November 2015
  • juli_ se Sweden

    I think everyone have different needs in their learning. If you find something boring, then it probably won't help you a lot. Learning is part chore, part interest. I find that I work best when both reading, listening and repeating things over and over again while making metaphores and anologies. Languages are a lot more repetition and thinking than e.g. chemistry but I still work with it in the same way.

    I'd tell you to at least try flashcards. Don't do a lot of them, just make them and go through them when you have five minutes to kill.

    November 2015