SRS vs Just Reading

This question is 50% theoretical because I’m not sure I’d drop Anki/SRS any time soon, but I often think about how the time I spend on Anki reviews (boring) could be spent on reading (fun). It led me to wonder, where might the trade-off point lie for dropping SRS entirely and getting all of your “reviews” from reading? Especially because the words I add to Anki are becoming less and less common, why not let the natural frequency of the words in-text dictate my exposure? SRS was very useful to me as a beginner, but I’m wondering if it’s become an opportunity cost. Or maybe I’m taking it for granted.

I feel like the trade-off might be that you have to read a lot. Has anyone made this transition and been successful? Is there any research out there on this topic?


If were talking about purely from an efficiency standpoint for improving, honestly I think srs never actually loses. If anything, it probably only gets more efficient past a certain point since you would only see those words once per year or couple years.

I think that given you dont mind doing srs, the stopping point is just when you are like 95% of the way to the level youre comfortable with imo. Like if you dont give a shit about learning words that youll see once every two years to begin with, doing it more efficiently isnt exactly a prize. Im very much after max knowledge possible, so I will probably never stop SRSing, but had I only cared about reaching standard japanese person literacy I probably would have stopped a bit ago.

I think it will become apparent to you when the time comes, honestly. You just wont really have many words left that you want to srs.


Personally I think it’s apples and oranges because in practice, the two activities occur at different times when I’m in completely different mindsets.

Like, the time I would happily do an hour of SRS is say, in the morning eating breakfast while watching a show on the side. Or when killing time between tasks.
While the time I would happily read for an hour is when I can give it my full attention and get sucked into the story.

So it doesn’t at all feel like they’re taking time away from each other to me, since I’m doing SRS when I feel like doing SRS, and reading when I feel like reading, rather than blocking out an individual time slot and then divying it up based on efficiency.
From this perspective, I think the answer to “is doing all this SRS a good use of time?” being “well it feels like it’s probably helping, I think!” is more palatable. :grin:


My theory is that you do the SRS until you can get by reading basic literature or news without looking up every other word and losing your train of thought because it takes 10 minutes to read a sentence.

Once you can read well enough to learn by context, or only look up ~one word a paragraph, then reading things in context will more rapidly expand your understanding.


I like to think about it by comparing it to where I’m at with English (my native language). I’m a fairly proficient reader who can read academic texts in the disciplines I have expertise in, but I’d struggle reading scholarship for STEM fields I have only limited experience in. When I mentioned to one friend that I was using Anki for Japanese, they were surprised, haha, because the only people they knew who used it were people in medical school. They’d never considered using it for language learning, though I think effectively those students are doing the same thing, just really high level language learning.

So, I think depending on your goals, there’s never really a true “end” to SRS. You can always learn more and more advanced/specialized vocabulary if you choose to pursue that. I’ve gotten so used to SRS reviews with Japanese, I’ve had moments where I forgot a word in English, looked it up in the dictionary, then had the “I should add this to Anki” thought. And, yeah, I could create an Anki deck to improve my English as well, if I wanted. There are all sorts of words I’ve learned but forgotten, and I’m constantly learning new words.

Even outside of academic disciplines, loads of everyday things have their own specialized vocabulary. Getting into pro wrestling has forced me to learn all sorts of new terminology, like heel, face, work, shoot, kayfabe, selling, gigging, hardway, getting over, going over, jobbing, heat, pop, mark, apron, bump, cutting a promo, etc., and that’s not even counting move names! Could I have learned all this faster by feeding a bunch of terms into Anki and drilling it? Absolutely. It would have taken me much less time to learn, and I would’ve had fewer occasions of accidentally using the wrong jargon or having to ask my friends to define terms for me, haha.

I think it just comes down to your own comfort level with where you’re at in the language. If you aren’t satisfied with your vocabulary and want to learn more words, SRS is probably the most efficient way to do that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best method. I think picking up wrestling terminology naturally over time was fine for me, but if I was in medical school, I’d go with SRS. Efficiency would win out for me in that case.

With English, I’m at a point where I’m happy with just looking things up in a dictionary as needed. If my Japanese ever reaches that point, I’ll probably stop SRS-ing things, because even though I don’t really mind SRS, if it’s a choice between using my time to read for fun or for studying, I’d rather read. But at the stage I’m at now, SRS makes reading substantially easier, so I’d rather do some SRS with a little less reading, instead of doing more reading that is more difficult for longer.

But there are plenty of people who learned without ever using SRS, or people who use SRS for only a limited time and then drop it and learn without it. At some point, efficiency stops mattering. You’ll forget more without SRS, but forgetting things is kind of inevitable. You just have to decide if remembering as much as possible is more important to you, or if you’d rather use your time to read more and spend a little more time with a dictionary.

I don’t use Migaku, but their reasoning for retiring your flash cards makes a lot of sense to me, so I have an Anki extension installed that does the same thing. Maybe I’ll change my mind on this in the future, haha, but I think I’m happier with using SRS for the first stage of learning a word, then letting exposure and/or a dictionary take care of it beyond that point.


What about a happy compromise of doing srs for stuff you want to read?

I’m a fan of Koohi

Which lets you srs words from a particular manga/book. I’m sure there are similar anki decks although I like Koohi’s style and ability to import WK level


I was about to try to say something similar, but this is very onpoint.

I used immersion as my only learning approach for years, and eventually you’ll pick up words for sure. But, it takes a lot of time doing so. And you have to be quite consious about the whole process. Meanwhile, SRS is super effecient when it comes to time spent learning new items. Especially for kanji and readings, I would defo never have gotten to learn them, just some random readings here and there.

And as you say, @Vanilla if you’re starting to focus more on the less common words and kanji, it’s even less efficient to just do immersion exposure: the frequency is just too low to allow you to pick up on those items. Or you’ll have to add years of time to make that happen.

What immersion has over SRS is of course depth of connection to the items learnt and you simply do not forget them at this point.

I guess, a healthy balance between the approaches is ideal. :slight_smile:


What is SRS?

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Most efficient way is to just go for SRS as far as you can. You’ll look up words eventually and it takes time, far more time efficient in the long run to just drill as much as possible through SRS.

I know roughly 6000 words now. Will probably continue with SRS until I hit 15-20000.

I do a fair amount of reading anyway.

Those are fair points. I think the problem is that I’ve been trying to do my all my Anki reviews in one sitting each day, which usually ends up competing for my reading time and energy. I should make an effort to scatter them throughout the day like I did while going through wanikani.

I suppose I’m taking the retention I get from Anki for granted. I don’t accidentally memorize 30 words a day, and my vocabulary isn’t large enough yet. I also do not have a lot of spare time and therefore need to be efficient. From that standpoint, dropping Anki doesn’t make much sense.

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SRS is Spaced Repetition System, which is what systems like Anki and Wanikani use.

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SRS means “spaced repetition system” so something like wanikani does with spacing items for review (prompting you after 4 hours, then when you get it right after 8hours, with the intervals increasing if you do get stuff right and decreasing if you get stuff wrong). There are other similar sites and tools that also count as SRS. (e.g. the “Anki” that was mentioned in the opening post here)

(and I was too slow, but I’ll post it anyway!)

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I think it depends on your goal. SRS is ‘efficient’ in that it crams the words into your head quickly. But words are not a language. The only way you get language is by seeing/hearing the language through reading and listening.

SRS is a crutch to get around the fact most of us don’t have the daily exposure that a native would. Once that word knowledge base gets big enough to look at native content without pulling out your hair in frustration, a greater portion of your time should be spent on reading and less time given to memorization.

Memorization is still useful, as many others have pointed out in great examples, but seeing words and sentences in context helps cement them into your mind much better than a flashcard.


Sure, never said anything about not immersing. But when it comes to learning words, srs are far superior than looking up as you go unless it’s really obscure.

I’ll SRS the common words and learn the rest from immersing. When it comes to common words according to jisho we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20k words.

I found the thread linked below and the previous one that is linked within it really interesting when it comes to this topic

Why I Started Using SRS Again?

Pretty sure @KazeTachinu is still around on the forums so they would be able to say more about it (if they like!) but I thought that they were really well considered posts and give good reasons on both sides (for and against using SRS).

This may not be all that helpful as I’m definitely no expert - but my thinking would be, if you are feeling that SRS is draining your ability to read more, then that’s probably enough cause to pause or reduce the SRS you are doing just now. That doesn’t mean that you can’t come back to using SRS in the future!

In my own personal experience (and this may well not apply here) I was doing a lot of SRS for the first 9 months to a year or so of studying Japanese. When I first started reading I felt like I had to SRS everything I didn’t know, and seeing as I also was generally reading above my level that quickly would get overwhelming. What I did was to take a break of a few months from all SRS and to just read, and while I probably didn’t learn as much vocab as I might have, my reading in Japanese definitely improved a great deal and perhaps more importantly it turned into something that I do because I really enjoy it rather than feeling like studying. I’ve now gradually been adding back in SRS (though not for everything I read and generally in a pretty chill manner) and it’s been okay but I do think that I made the right decision at the time in terms of taking that break.

So yeah, I wouldn’t argue with anyone here when they say that SRS is most effective for learning new vocab but having a little break also isn’t the end of the world :slight_smile:


If you are at a point with kanji recognition where you can read the content you want to read without being overwhelmed, then keep on reading.

EDIT: Got confused here - original post is about SRS in general and not just kanji.

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Good kanji recognition doesn’t mean you can read efficiently. You really do need to know a lot of the words for smooth reading.

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Yeah I know but at that point it isn’t kanji recognition that’s stopping you.

Actually, I just reread the first post and it’s not specifically about kanji. Doh.


I do run into a good number of unknown Kanji as I’ve been reading older books. But even then, vocabulary is far more of a challenge.


That’s the thing though, you can srs anything, even sentences. This way you get the best of both worlds imo. My flashcards look like this (on the back):

When I review my deck, it’s like reading a page of a book with every single words I know (and more), like the perfect reading material (you have to like SRS though, otherwise it would be quite a boring book…)

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