Why I Stopped Using SRS

When I started learning Japanese years ago, I used Anki for SRS. Obviously at the beginning, when you don’t know enough Japanese yet to immerse yourself into any kind of material, you need to have a way to remember what you learned, and SRS is a proven and thus obvious choice for that.

I did that for maybe a year, I don’t remember exactly. But at some point it became kind of a chore. Worse yet, I had the feeling that because I spent time repeating vocabulary every day, I had less time to dedicate to actual reading or doing other Japanese-related stuff.

You see, I never really learned for any kind of test. I didn’t care about JLPT back then and didn’t have any kind of pressure. My primary goal was to be able to use Japanese for my hobbies. So at one point, I decided to abandon Anki and SRS entirely and never regretted that decision.

My personal take on it is this: When you forget a word, you forget it because you don’t use/encounter it frequently enough. Which means you don’t need to know it enough to remember it. Vice verse, you will remember words you encounter. So it made much more sense to me to spend my time reading instead of repeating vocabulary without context. Remembering and forgetting things are both part of a natural process, and I felt SRS became an inefficient way to spend my time learning at maybe a lower intermediate stage of learning.

Last year, I kinda did return to SRS for a while. That was mostly because I found a way to add words together with the context (i.e. sentence) and lots of customizable options with one click from my browser to Anki, so it was tempting to try it again after so many years. This lasted a few weeks, but then I came to the same conclusion again: I could spend the time better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t want to say SRS is a waste of time, far from it. I think it’s very much necessary in the beginning stages of learning, and a great thing to do when you lack the focus to read actual Japanese, e.g. on train commutes or other times you wouldn’t spend your time very productively otherwise.

But when it becomes time-consuming, when you start to feel that it eats away your time better spent immersing yourself into actually Japanese, and especially when you realize that you spend more time doing SRS than anything else – in that case it might be prudent to rethink if this is the best approach to take.

Anyone else with similar experiences? Or even better, the opposite experience? Feel free to present your experience with and opinion on SRS during various stages of learning Japanese.

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Many high level words, grammar points, etc., don’t appear at high enough frequencies to rely on just encountering them regularly.

I guess you’re saying that’s just evidence we don’t need them?

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Then why would you need to learn them if you hardly encounter them?

Edit: Yeah, something along the line.

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I would also like to free myself from the chains of SRS but at this point, for me, it is still very effective. I manage to finish my SRS in the morning before leaving the house so I still have time in the evenings for native material.

Sometimes SRS in the morning feels like a chore but I know that when I have conversations with my friend, a lot of times I am able to use a wider range of vocabulary thanks to my current SRS routine.

Edit: although at the moment, I am also experimenting with only looking things up in the moment in order to know how not adding words to SRS feels.

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Yeah, I agree with Leebo. Your idea of “if you forget it, it’s because you’re not seeing it frequently enough” is very attractive and practical for most people. The thing not to forget is that SRS is an easy way to memorize things. I might not see certain words and expressions commonly enough for them to get memorized, but I might want to be able to recall (and use) them. It’s the same thing with expanding your vocab in your native language. You don’t need to, but if you want…

The real question one should be asking is:

Is SRS hurting your exposure to native content:
Yes: less SRS, more exposure.
No: continue doing both.


EDIT: Good post btw! I’m loving your contributions so far :grin:

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That’s great! If you really feel like SRS is efficient for you, that it doesn’t conflict with other parts of language learning, you probably have no need to abandon it.

Edit: Thanks! Happy to hear that!

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Beware, I’m not making a completely related argument. (Not a derailing, but something to think about.)

Something that confuses me is why do people ONLY want to be able to communicate? There could be some degree of preference as to peoples’ goals in language learning; but for me, I want to be ‘educated’ in a language, not just understanding and understandable.

Of course, being able to function in daily life is absolutely important. For me however, I want to be able to have an intellectual conversation. This implies needing to know things and vocabulary that you would definitely need some supplement in order to remember.

It’s because of these couple of reasons that I usually throw arguments regarding unused vocabulary into the back of my head. Philosophically speaking, language is pretty much intelligence and I don’t plan on lacking. Again this is just myself personally and I don’t know how many people actually align with this thinking. That’s all the thought I have.

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Hmm, I wasn’t even talking about communicating. I was barely communicating the first years I learned Japanese for myself. Being educated and using SRS can go together well – but I don’t think SRS is the only way.

Just imagine the following scenario: You’re doing SRS for 30 minutes each day. You may be learning quite a bit. But you would also be learning quite a bit if you read a book for 30 minutes a day instead. (Not saying you can’t do both, of course.) If you read 10 or 15 pages a day in these 30 minutes, you’ll be able to finish a normal book in 2-4 weeks, and based on my personal experience, it helps you improve your reading fluence a lot AND also help you being educated, even if you forget a lot of what you’ve looked up.

You see, I like the concept of 多読, but I’m too much of a perfectionist to be able truly follow the concept because I always feel the need to look up words I don’t know. I can’t just read a lot and not care about the stuff I don’t understand, even if it is just the reading. That’s why I’m kinda taking the middle way: I try to look up most everything, but I’ll still not repeat words out of context. Is that a good way to learn? I don’t know, for me it probably is, for other it might not. But I think this approach has helped me, personally, a lot in my learning progress.

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It may depend on what you intend to use Japanese for. I’m constantly surprised at how many “weird” words I learned on WK show up in daily life in Japan. If you have some more specific use of Japanese in mind it may not be for you.

On the other hand I agree about encountering words in real life being the way to really learn them. Until then they’re just arbitrary symbols in my brain matched with an English word. But having that connection in my head ready to be solidified by an encounter has been extremely useful.

This, so much. Especially for opportunities to use Japanese in real life.

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I mean, I probably don’t “need” a level of Japanese beyond what I have now. I work as an ALT now, but I want to be a translator, and I could probably go and do that now if I focused on it.

So I guess I don’t “need” more Japanese.

But I am not satisfied with my current level.

I want to know yojijukugo and proverbs like a native does. These basically never show up often enough to just be passively absorbed by a learner (unless you want to do the equivalent of 12 years of schooling).

So, I’m going to study them intentionally. Rather than just hoping they show up.

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Well, obviously it all depends of how you define “need” here. One of my goals is to be able to understand even advanced native material, including older (not: ancient) literature and scientific/scholarly texts, without having to look up too much stuff and without spending a significantly longer amount of time than a native speaker, and also be able to express myself on an educated level.

So that’s an ambitious goal, obviously. And from recent experience, I can say that the stuff piles up really quickly if I take the SRS approach, to the point where I feel the merits are outweighed by the drawbacks.

Now this is obviously very subjective, but I think absorbing a lot of Japanese will naturally lead to a “layered” way of learning. If you’ve reached a higher level, you will be able to engage in more advanced material, and will learn more advanced stuff from that. Reading a lot of Japanese newspaper, for example, has helped me to reduce the average amount of unknown words by about 50% in a month (I tried to measure this quite thoroughly). Had I added all the unknown words to my SRS routine, it probably would be more than 50% – but it would’ve taken a lot longer. So now I’m a lot better at reading newspaper articles, and I have the energy to read more of them now, which also means I will now pick up more of the advanced stuff. I will encounter it more often because I expose myself more. Does this make sense?

But again, I very much think your approach is a valid one. I agree that if you have a specific or clearly defined goal, SRS is a very efficient approach, and if you can integrate it in your daily studying without compromising on other parts of learning even more so.

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All I have to say is that I first used WK way back in 2012 ~ 2013 and made it to level 20ish. I retained a vast amount of what I learned even 6 years later (wow, has it really been that long? Yikes. I’m embarrassed…) , so I think it served me well and that’s why I’m here again.

And, I’ve been reading regularly and using houhou to keep up with words I encounter several times that I keep forgetting. It’s been really helpful. You just have to find a balance, that’s all.

Yes, reading is a great way to learn for sure. But for advanced learning, SRS and flashcards are basically a must because things become less frequent to encounter as you go up in skill, as Leebo said. Do you NEED to know it? Maybe not. Depends on what you want to get out of Japanese.

According to your post though, perhaps your problem is that you’re trying to progress too quickly? WK will definitely pile up on you if you go quickly. Going at a slow and leisurely pace will keep you learning while also keeping it manageable. Just do your reviews and not your lessons for awhile. Do your reviews until you’re happy. Heck, finish all vocab for a level before you bother with the next level’s content if you want. It’s all about pacing. (Although if you want to go slowly, WK may not be the best for you unless you want to get the lifetime membership.)

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I’ve been progressively more and more lured to the idea of dropping SRS altogether.

Lately I’ve found a couple of tools that have helped at closing the gap between immersing and doing SRS (so my SRS routine it’s now very oriented at reviewing content to which I have context and it’s frecuent enough as to serve as basis for upcomming material I will consume).

I’m trying to set a similar worklow for reading, once I’m done with WK, but yeah, eventually I think time will be better spend (or most likely in my case there won’t be more time available) just reading or watching shows.

So yes, the SRS vs. immersion struggle it’s real!! :muscle::muscle:

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I’ve never tried WK, so I can’t say. And while I think I could learn quite a bit from the higher levels, I don’t think jumping in at this point is the best approach for me. But I definitely agree that balance is the key – and if you find a good balance for yourself, that’s excellent.

As for SRS becoming more of a necessity on advanced levels – here I kinda have the opposite opinion. I think it is quite necessary on lower levels. But when I think about how I’ve learned the English language, I cannot remember having done any kind of vocabulary or grammar repetition in my advanced stages of learning, and I think I have reached a point where I can both engage in high-level native material without problems, and express myself with a certain degree of eloquence, though there will obviously always be more to learn. So what brought me here was a combination of exposure, curiosity, the desire to express myself and to always learn more.

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I mean… not to sound dismissive, but have we ever had someone sign up to tell us why not to use an SRS program before?

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Well, he certainly isn’t preaching to the choir.

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But they’re not really telling everyone not to use SRS; they’re just explaining why no longer using SRS worked for them.

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I signed up for the book clubs. I know next to nothing about WK, and the community is the reason why I came here. I thought I made this clear several times, but I don’t have any intention to judge anyone’s way of learning – I just want to share my own experience and hear everyone’s thoughts on it, especially if they don’t agree. I don’t think there’s a solution that works for everyone and in the end, everyone has to find out what works best for them.

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Yeah, on an SRS site they don’t use. Maybe they are going to use the site and I just misunderstood, but eh.

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By the way, I think this might be the first time (at least expressly stated) that someone signed up specifically for the book clubs, and I think that’s amazing. It’s a large part of the reason WaniKani made the forums public / searchable on search engines, so people could find WaniKani in new ways.


All I can say is that @KazeTachinu has made very positive contributions to the community in the few days they’ve been here.

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