To round off the posts on SRSing, there’s one last type of card I use in my deck. In addition to reading and writing sentences, listening to speech and singing along to songs, I have some cards to train… speaking.
I think speaking is an essential part of learning a language, and I’d been puzzling for a while over whether or not it was possible to utilise an SRS to practice speaking in a productive way. Not everyone has access to native speakers of their target language the whole time, right?
Anyway, here’s the idea – the question side of the flashcard is a situation; the answer is whatever is appropriate. The situation can either be presented in the target language or as a picture. The former is preferable, since it trains both receiving information and giving a response in the target language. The latter works just fine too, but is less specific and is liable to lead to giving incorrect answers (although saves having to dream up situations in the target language).
As an example, the question could be “you’re thirsty” – the answer is then “I’d like a drink”, or similar. You put a couple of acceptable responses in the answer (these can be reused from other cards, by the way). You’d mark it correct if you knew you said something that got the point across properly, regardless of whether you said exactly what was in the answer or not.
Another possibility – the question side is a line of dialogue, to which a fairly narrow response could be expected. Q: “Hey, you’re looking good today!” A: “Thanks! You too!”. Q: “What do you think of Faye Wong?” A: “I think she rocks/sucks/smells like roses”. (Incidentally, this is only going to be useful after a high level of input, so that you have a good idea of what is and isn’t okay.)
Note that there is no English anywhere to be seen – this is quite different from exercises in learners’ textbooks or classes which require you to translate into the language; since you’re only outputting after a lot of input, it’s also a lot less prone to error (and hence fossilization). Note also that it doesn’t just have to be text based; just using audio would be another viable alternative.
There’s a slight problem with getting material for this kind of card. One thing you could do is record your own conversations with natives speakers, and use that as a basis for cards. Alternatively, creative splicing of TVB drama dialogue (say) would be a good way to get material for conversation simulation. Finally, you could just ask a native speaker to come up with appropriate situation-answer pairs (forums are always a good place to ask if native speakers aren’t available).
I tried this type of flashcard as it was frustrating not being able to actively recall words and sentences (even with massive, continuous, prolonged input); having used it for the last couple of weeks (in conjunction with making an effort to hold more conversations in Cantonese), I think my active vocabulary has improved, as has my speaking in general. SRSing in this way gives you a chance to practice production in a controlled way, since you can always check your answer against a model answer if you’re not entirely sure. Also, as every serious user of an SRS will tell you, the SRS is not there to replace other studying – it is there to supplement it. It’s close to worthless to practice speaking in this way without talking to as many other native speakers as possible and getting them to correct you when you make mistakes.
Anyway, that’s more than enough on SRSing for now – I’m really interested to hear though what other SRS users think of this: do you think it’s a good idea, or (as I suspect) completely disastrous and/or pointless? Also, has anyone else tried SRSing things other than reading and writing (for languages) – if so, what, and how?