Some “final” thoughts on SRS and sentence mining

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

At the beginning of January I did a post on my new years resolutions and I touched on the frustrations I experienced in using Anki. I don’t want to talk about my frustrations till you are sick of hearing about it. That is not my intention with this post.

A few days after I made that post, I discovered an article by Jeff Bern ( that I’ve found myself nodding to and agreeing with for the most part – well to be truthful just about the entire article.

I don’t think I could have explained my frustrations any better and that’s why I provide a link to that article here:
Is An SRS Really Worth The Effort?

I also quote this from Jeff’s post:

” When you eliminate the SRS and don’t have the almost superhuman power that it bestows upon you, you’re forced to look more closely at what you want out of the language and what you can do on a daily basis without forgetting everything. What I like about this is that it leads you to interact with the things that will be most helpful. Namely, material that is easier. Or interact with the material in a way that will let you remember more of it, like repeated reading and listening. ”

It made me think of my childhood and how I learned and developed my ability in languages (both Afrikaans and English, some Sotho (an African language) and a bit of dabbling in Spanish when I was about fourteen). It made me think too about my general studies at school or university or at any other time in my life and I realised that I’ve never ever used flashcards for ANY studies EVER in my life. (If my parents showed me a picture book when I was a toddler let’s not count that because I definitely can’t actually remember any of that. ;) )

The point I’m making is I never ever used it to boost my long-term memory or ingrain any facts into my head – not for any subject field and most definitely not for languages.

When I first heard about SRS and sentence mining I was honestly skeptical for these exact same reasons. It didn’t feel like a natural method of studying to me but a lot of people had very positive experiences with it so I decided to give it a go. You can read some of the thougths and questions I had at the time here: How to sentence mine and SRS for Mandarin? That is the question. Reflecting now – if I’m honest – I think that I was in fact trying to convince myself of its effectiveness as a method even though deep down I knew it didn’t feel right as a study method to me. It never felt natural to me.

Will I use SRS again? My answer at this moment in time is – unlikely that I would want to. I might have to look at’s website again and read these two posts specifically.
Why I don’t use flashcards (and you shouldn’t either)
8 ways to learn a language without using flashcards

Some final thougths:
If you are enjoying SRS – fantastic – then I say continue as long as you are enjoying it :) . I am not trying to discourage you. This is just me sharing my final thoughts on the method in this post as you might wonder why I’ve changed my mind about this method.

If you can’t gel with it like me, then you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. :)

If however you have any interesting insights and links to share with me, then please do. I would be most grateful too.

Update: My first comment in the thread below is an really an extension of this post. In addition I supply two additional links that I feel touches on this subject (written by Olle of I think some or most of what he says applies – whether it is sentence mining, learning new characters or just learning new words or phrases. They are good articles – enjoy.

You can’t learn Chinese characters by rote

Spaced repetition isn’t rote learning

My Mandarin New Year’s Resolutions 2013

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

Wishing us a good mandarin journey

At the end of last year – call it end of the year blues – call it exhaustion – call it what you will but I felt sick of Mandarin, sick of studying it, sick of little progress and rather just sick of the whole experience of being involved in it. I even wanted to kill my blog and my Twitter profile. Yes indeed.

There were a few reasons for this of which a few of them can certainly be shared with you:

  • I sustained some rather major “sports related” injuries and other interesting side-effects that really messed up my last quarter of 2012.
  • During and prior to this – I believe I got so stuck into flashcards with Anki that just doing them constantly (ad nauseum ad infinitum) eventually led me to feel very frustrated with my language studies. I could explore this in another post but will keep it short and sweet for now – I just really wasn’t enjoying this aspect of studying anymore.
  • As I’m not a formal student with semesters and breaks in between, I had set no breaks or planned time away from my Mandarin studies and I never really “willingly scheduled” any breaks from it during the year unless there were certain unfortunate events that interfered. I was even doing flash cards on my holiday in South Africa and Singapore. I mean seriously – what the hell was I thinking? It was my first time I visited South Africa (my birth country) in four years.
  • When I wanted to study but couldn’t because I was too tired and my body was recovering from these injuries, I had also felt incredibly frustrated. It seems there’s just no pleasing me – I know. Please hear me out.
  • Of course the non-Mandarin environment counts against me and naturally has a way of putting a lot of doubt in my mind. Such as “if I don’t get any speaking practice – is this really worth it?” etc. etc.
  • My language exchange gem cancelled on me. I do prefer meeting in person rather than having online sessions with strangers…
  • Last but not least – I need VARIETY and I don’t think I am coming up with excuses: I even started “exploring” Korean. (Not something I regret and definitely not something I’m going to stop doing either – in fact I think I will explore it a lot more – but where Mandarin can be compared to a main course, I will think of and treat Korean as a tray of very spicy condiments on the side…)

So for this year – with renewed vigour in my veins, I’d like to say just two things about me progressing on this path in Mandarin. There are just two things I’d love to do this year with regards to my Mandarin studies: I’d love to relax a bit and enjoy the journey and ensure that I am ENJOYING every thing I’m doing that has anything to do with learning Mandarin. I will not focus on the destination nor will I allow any frustration to develop for me during this journey.

Secondly, I WILL at least write an HSK exam level 3 this year and if I feel I am ready and well prepared for a level 4 HSK test before 2014 comes around then great – fantastic – but I am not even going to allow any stress to affect the enjoyment I intend to derive from progressing in Mandarin this year.

I mentioned before that learning a language is much like the building of Rome. The latter wasn’t done in a day – not even in a few years. As I’ve said it – is about the journey – not the destination and that will be my reminder for the rest of this year. It definitely should be yours too!