The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

It’s the small things that matter

with 8 comments

SRS and I haven’t been on good terms lately. To be honest, our relationship has been a little rocky over the past year and a half, and over the past two weeks we’ve managed to hit another bumpy road. Through no fault of either the SRS or myself, I was forced away from my daily reviews for nearly a week. Normally, this isn’t such a big deal – I simply chip away a little more reviews per day until I’m caught back up some days later. This time, however, I was hit with a couple hundred expired kanji cards that, as far as I could tell, were completely alien and unknown to me. I admit that I exaggerate on that point a little, but failing 20-30% of my reviews in a (dominantly) mature deck is a surefire way for me to build up frustration which, in my experience, never leads to good things.

Anki: MSPaint Edition

The fun never ends! Ever!

This led me to stop and take a few steps back for a moment. What exactly was it that was causing me so much frustration, anyway? I’ve long since accepted that I’ll have bad days – bad weeks, even. I’ve also accepted that failure can and will eventually lead to success, especially where language learning is concerned; this is a long road of learning, forgetting and learning again, a natural cycle which ultimately cements itself. I couldn’t place the blame on the SRS, either, as my Japanese exposure had been quite minimal over this rough week… which is likely the root of my high failure rate; without the immersion factor, the SRS is a very limited tool. So then, what was the problem?

As I stumbled my way through a couple more dozen kanji with stroke orders and radicals I’ve magically forgotten, Anki constantly taunting me with an ever-growing stack of failed cards and a yellow progress bar, I’d pretty much had it. I crammed the lower part of Anki’s window beneath my Windows XP task bar, hiding that pesky little bugger which wasn’t lending any help to my situation. I went about the rest of my reviews this way, finishing up about 15 minutes later. Phew!

Of course, it dawned on me then that I may have stumbled upon a stupidly simple solution (ain’t I good at that?). Without the added frustration of Anki’s constant reminders of how much I suck, things went without a hitch. I took failed cards as they came, noting my errors without dropping the F bombs – basically a more “normal” review session like I’d have on a “good” day.

Surely, there’s an option to disable those stupid progress bars somewhere in Anki, I thought to myself as I poked around it preferences and settings. I tend to ignore most settings in an application’s preferences, so this was never really something I had considered before until now. While I wasn’t able to find an option to specifically disable those blasted bars, I did find the next best thing – Show due count and progress during review. That sucker got unchecked so hard, the very foundations of the heavens shook that day. Back to reviewing I went.

Anki, sans due count and progress bars

Meaner, leaner and a heck of a lot less irritating.

Gone was the bottom bar in its entirety, as well as the number of reviews remaining on the top part of the window – hey, that works for me! It’s really not very important for me to know how many cards I have left to review, much less when I have a few hundred waiting for me and a fixed quota of cards to review each session (usually around 50 for kanji, or in 15 minute segments). Suddenly, reviewing was groovy and manageable again. My failure rate was still rather high, yet I kept plowing through until I had hit my tentative review quota of 50 cards – all without incident, or cursing Anki’s promiscuous mother.

Why was such a tiny change in my reviewing habits so effective? Perhaps a better question would be, why hadn’t I done this earlier? It was all too obvious. Sometimes, the answer is sitting just inches away, right under our nose… or in this case, a few hundred pixels and two or three mouse clicks away. Whatever the case may be, such a basic, fundamental change has made my SRSing a lot less painful lately, and that’s nothing but a good thing; I’d sooner throw the entire tool out the window than let myself get frustrated and burnt out by it. SRS is an incredibly powerful tool, but once it begins adding stress and grief to our studies, it’s time to make some sort of change(s).

How about you guys and gals out in language land? Have you ever made any small changes to your study environment which resulted in more pleasant or efficient learning?


Written by ritobito

February 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Posted in SRS, tips

Tagged with , , ,

8 Responses

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  1. I thought it would be cool to be able to kick back and relax while doing reviews so I got the iPhone working with iAnki. I have a new rule that I have to finish my reviews every day so that I won’t fall behind. The other night I was determined to finish but I was almost falling asleep. So I started pacing around the house while doing reviews. It worked very well. It even made me start doing a little better because I was making some dumb mistakes when I was too tired.


    February 15, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    • Hard to beat kicking back and relaxing, that’s for sure. As for pacing while doing reviews, I’ve actually read from multiple people that pacing while doing things such as shadowing spoken audio in their L2 is very effective! That’s one of the last things I would have tried on my own, but I think I can see that working.


      February 15, 2010 at 4:56 pm

  2. I changed the color of my background and fonts in Anki to make it less stress full on the eyes. That was one change I made recently.


    February 15, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    • Huh, that’s something I’ve been thinking of doing… maybe I’ll try it. I did change WWWJDIC’s style to a black background, though, because the default REALLY kills my eyes.


      February 15, 2010 at 6:21 pm

  3. I also found that Anki’s feedback tends to be counterproductive. It’s like running somewhere and looking at your watch constantly – you get there slower because you’re splitting your attention.

    By the way, I’d like to disagree with your statement “without the immersion factor, the SRS is a very limited tool”. Actually, I’d say an SRS is at its most powerful when immersion is removed – if you at least continue to SRS, it stops you from getting worse, so that you can pick up the proverbial torch again later.

    Eldon Reeves

    March 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    • The running analogy fits perfectly! Just sit back and enjoy the ride, such as it is – it’ll go by much faster.

      I plan to expand a bit on my criticism toward SRS, in fact! I have a heck of a lot to say on the matter, if I can only finish up one of my several posts stuck in draft limbo…

      Though, I don’t necessarily disagree with your point, either. If one can’t immerse themselves (for whatever reason), a bit of SRSing here and there will definitely help keep the rust away. In my experience, going without both SRS and immersion for more than a few days almost always results in a massive amount of rust – not fun!


      March 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm

      • Heh, I feel you for drafts in limbo… y’know, I tend to apply Khaztumoto’s deletion dogma to those kinda posts. Easier to rewrite them from scratch than have them sitting there making a nuisance of themselves the whole time.

        I like the rust analogy by the way – an SRS is lingual rust-proofing :) I just found that being at university doesn’t leave very much time for other activities (like languages), and I don’t know where I’d be without having Anki to stop going backwards.

        Curious to know what else you don’t like about SRSs though – I really think that as long as you show them who’s boss, they’re the best invention on the planet. A way of describing how memory works mathematically and using that description productively is pretty darn amazing, surely?

        Eldon Reeves

        March 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm

  4. “While I wasn’t able to find an option to specifically disable those blasted bars, I did find the next best thing – Show due count and progress during review. That sucker got unchecked so hard, the very foundations of the heavens shook that day.”

    I LOL’d. I know how you feel completely, hehe


    March 26, 2010 at 8:00 pm

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