What should we memorise with SRSs?

Something which I noticed today, whilst watching TV, is that unless I put sentences which I find really interesting into an Anki deck, I won’t try to memorise them.

This indicates a fundamental misassumption which I think perhaps a lot of SRSers may have:

SRSs are for allowing you have on command the things you want to be able to say

In other words, intentional memorisation should take place daily for any L2 words you’re unsure of.  However, if they’re not words which you’re only going to need to recognise (and not to say), there is no need to SRS them.

Intentional memorisation

Intentional memorisation techniques can broadly be categorised into two categories:

  1. Finding connections with other stuff
  2. Repetition

They have an inversely proportional relationship, too: the fewer connections you can find, the more repetitions of the information you have to do.

When Should I Stop?

You should stop when you’re approximately 200% sure of whatever it is you’re learning.  If you can produce the information yourself, without hesitation, you’re at the 200% stage.  That gives you a longer forgetting curve, which means that the next time you encounter the words/sentence structures/whatever that you just learnt, you’re unlikely to have forgotten them.

So… do I still need to SRS?

The short answer is yes.  As noted above, SRSs are for all the stuff in a language for which you want instant recall, all the time.

Suppose you come across the (Mandarin) phrase 我不能沒有你! (I can’t do without you!).  You should…

  1. Repeat it out loud as many times as you feel you need to, to get to the 200% stage.*
  2. Write it out a few times too, for good measure.
  3. IF you want to be able to use this phrase in conversation, add it to your SRS.
  4. Repeat steps 1 and 2 each time you see this phrase when SRSing.

Good luck!

* This depends very much on your overall command of L2 – beginners may need to repeat 100 times or more, since they have to work on pronunciation and grammar patterns in addition to the overall meaning of the sentence itself.  For advanced learners, 10-20 times is probably sufficient for most items.


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