Friday, April 25, 2008

Spaced Repetition Systems

What others are doing with SRS:

Right now, Edwin is making the move to Anki for part of his studies - based on the content he's working on at LingQ. However, he liked the simplicity of JMemorize. Josh at the Language Geek, meanwhile, is back to putting word lists into Anki, with a few tweaks that he hopes will help. Visit his page and you'll find lots about Anki, SRS and ideas for making it work. [Update: And here's a long review of Anki from the Cunning Linguist that I'd missed.]

The other day, though, David at had his own thoughts on what's right and wrong with SRSs. Basically, says he, the right algorithm for an SRS probably needs to be a lot more complex than a computer implementation of the Leitner cycle, because the number of cards you're working on and the periodic neglect of your flash cards both present variables that can throw your productivity, enjoyment and continued use of the system out of whack. As he notes, "life happens," and when it does the computer doesn't do the best job of recognizing what you really need to work on. This is especially the case, I'd say, from the enthusiasm angle, never mind the pedagogy angle.

When I was using Anki everyday, I thought it was great. When I missed a few days because life had gotten busy, it just wasn't the same when I got back. At first, I didn't go through all the cards for the session. Then I stopped using it altogether - not a conscious decision; it's just that the spacing between repetitions, as it were, got broader and broader till a couple weeks had passed.

SRS without a computer or flashcards? A makeshift approach:

Lately, I've been working on my own sort of spaced repetition program. It's actually a lot less sophisticated, though. My system is based on the Assimil text I've been using for Breton. Here's what I do:

  • When I get up in the morning, I skim the previous day's lesson and read through the lesson for that day.
  • At lunch, I do the lesson properly, reading the text and all the notes and doing the exercises.
  • Then, at night, I reread the text for the lesson and skim the text for the next day's lesson.

All in all, I'm reading each lesson five times: two preliminary skims, a proper reading, and two confirmatory skims. Because four of the five readings are skims, the content sort of lulls its way into my mind without getting too tedious. The preliminary skims prime me for what's coming up, so for the careful reading I already have a pretty good understanding of what's going on and can concentrate on the elements that are most troublesome. The confirmatory skims assure that I'll remember most of what I've learned, but again without getting hung up on my studying.

Finally, at the end of the week, before I do the review chapter, I skim through the lessons a sixth and last time. In the past, I've really liked Assimil programs, except that I'd find myself going a certain distance, running short on time to truly work through a lesson or two, and then getting off track and having to repeat a week or two.

With this system, I'm spending 5-10 minutes in the morning, 5-10 minutes in the evening and 10-15 minutes at lunch. I'm actually spending more time than I used to with Assimil courses, but because of the way it's broken up, it's less trouble to squeeze it in. Most importantly, the Sunday re-read and review allows me time to review wherever problems crop up on a day when I have more free time. As a result, I can keep moving forward during the week in the knowledge that there's a system in place to catch things I've missed on a regular basis, not when all of a sudden problems start cropping up and I don't remember when I learned a particular point of grammar or series of vocabulary to recuperate it anymore.

All SRS all the time?

Whether spaced, or not, repetition can, of course, get repetitive. Even tedious. In the past, I've talked about the importance of using multiple materials and approaches to keep from getting worn out. And I hold to that. Outside of my Assimil schedule, if I have some free time I listen to music - for fun (see "From Studying to Living a Language"), take or gather material for "Language Walks", work through Breton verse and make sure I've understood trickier points of the language with the more grammar oriented Colloquial Breton. But using my new study routine, I'm finding the same thing that Anki offers at its best - a way of mastering old material and pushing forward into new material without getting bored by the old or (overly) confused by the new.

Do note: What I talk about in this post seems best suited to Assimil. But I think it could work with many Colloquial and Teach Yourself programs. However, with those texts that have 3 or 4 conversations in a chapter, I'd do a conversation a day, not a chapter a day. As always, language learning is all about what works for you. But if you're convinced that you've got a good and thorough textbook, only you're not managing to take advantage of all you think it has to offer, you might want to give this approach a try.



Anonymous David Snopek said...

"Patrick at"? Who's Patrick?! ;-)

7:29 AM  
Blogger gbarto said...

Oops! For the record, David, not Patrick, writes at, contrary to what earlier visitors to the post might have seen. It's been fixed.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Bill Chapman said...

I'd be interested in your views on learning Esperanto - by any method. Have you tried?

10:14 AM  
Blogger gbarto said...

I worked through a Teach Yourself Esperanto course years ago and enjoyed the experience. But I didn't maintain it because knowing it didn't really add anything to my life beyond being able to say I knew a little Esperanto.

If there are people you want to talk to or publications you want to read in Esperanto, I'd go for it. If you've had a look at the community of Esperantists and they seem like the kind of people you'd like to hang out with, I'd learn it. If you're looking for a mental exercise because you've read that learning a new language can help postpone Alzheimer's, etc, that's also a great reason to learn. The important thing is to have a reason to learn that has a personal meaning for you.

1:05 PM  

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