How I Pick What to SRS

Fellow Japanese learners have started to contact me saying they’re trying my reading method!  やった!  But the people trying it largely seem to be under the impression they should be picking the stuff they don’t know!  Eeeps!  Do not torture yourselves, fellow Japanese learners!  I don’t want to be responsible for making you hate reading and not learning!

Guess I should let you know what I pick to SRS (and why)!

So, as I said in this post on how I read to have fun and learn, as I’m reading a book, I use sticky tabs to mark words or sentences or conversations to SRS later.  (If you’re looking for a good SRS program, I use and super-recommend Anki.)  But, I don’t just choose things willy-nilly.  Oh no.  There’s a rhyme and reason for everything I do (and don’t) pick.

What do I SRS?

  • Parts I totally understand. I read something and understand it.  I know the grammar and the vocab, and I think it would be good to review, to really cement in there and get a feel for how the words are used.  You know, the context they’re used in, what words are often used with which other words, etc.
  • Parts I mostly understand but there are 1 or 2 new vocab words or a new grammar concept in there. I think the new vocab word/grammar concept would be really handy/useful/interesting.  It’s in a good context- I can almost infer the meaning of the  new word/concept because I know the words around it.  This makes learning them a hundred billion times easier and faster than trying to learn them in a whole sentence full of unknown words.

    I understand all but うんこ, and I can infer what it means. And it's funny. I'ma SRS it!

What don’t I SRS?

  • Parts I don’t understand at all. If I don’t get any of it, I’m not going to look it all up word-by-word in the middle of reading and interrupt my reading mojo, I’m probably not going to feel like looking it up to put into my SRS deck later, and I’m reallllly not going to feel like failing that same card over and over again.  “I have no clue what the heck this says, let me put it in my SRS so I can torture myself trying to memorize/learn the whole thing at once, time and time again.”  No thanks.
  • Parts with more than 2 new words or grammar concepts. For the same reasons as above.  I find that for me, putting more than 2 new words in a sentence really slows down my learning.
  • Parts I understand totally or mostly, but have no interest in. If it’s not new, interesting, or fun, I’m less likely to learn it, or to learn it much more slowly.  I can find something else more interesting on the next page, or the next.  Save myself some time and boredom.

    I have no idea what 80% of this means. Rather than torture myself looking up each kanji, I skip it.

This is just the way I do it because I’ve found it’s the most effective (and fun) for me.  I hope you find a way of reading to learn that’s easy and fun for you, too!  Maybe it’s like this, maybe it’s tweaked a little bit, maybe you think this is ridiculous and you try a different way that works for you.  Any way you do it, 頑張って!

This AJATT post has some great ideas for how/why to pick what to SRS.  (And perhaps more importantly, what to skip.)  I know, I’m citing AJATT/Khatzumoto a lot, but that’s because he’s got a ton of obscenely awesome ideas that lots of us can benefit from!  He also goes into a lot more detail than I do.  I think it also helps to get  multiple perspectives, give yourself something to build your own ideas off of!

The first snapshot in this post is from よつばと!, a cute, funny, and easy-to-read manga about the adventures of a little girl, Yotsuba.  The second snapshot in this post is from のだめカンタービレ, a funny and sweet manga about two very different students at a music school.  They are available in English as “Yotsuba&!” and “Nodame Cantabile”, respectively, which you won’t buy because you’ll be too busy reading them in Japanese, right? 🙂

11 Responses to How I Pick What to SRS

  1. kanjiwarrior says:

    Yeah I’m guilty of looking up every single word I don’t know, agonizing over words that have a dozen homonyms trying to figure out which kanji it uses for the particular sentence.

    You make some good points about just skipping stuff that isn’t interesting. I know Khatz talks about that too, but for some reason it didn’t click for me until now.

    Another thing I need to do is delete boring sentences that I always fail because I have no interest in remembering them.

    Great post!

  2. Ki says:

    Thank you so much for writing that!

    I’ve had trouble lately even motivating myself to pick up a manga in Japanese. At first it was really hard because I tried to fully understand everything on every page. Then I figured out I could skip parts, but I was still looking up way more than I was really interested in!

    I love this concept of doing sentences I already or mostly understand because thinking back that is the way that I learn the most. It’s good for people like me who sometimes lack common sense that you’ve stated this so plainly.

    • veganliz says:

      Hooray, I’m glad you got a new idea out of the post! If you try it, don’t be afraid to tweak it and change it all you want! Hope you find your way to make reading more fun and productive! がんばりましょうね!

  3. Delphine says:

    This is such a wonderful post! I’m so glad I came across your blog- I will definitely be following this one. 🙂
    Quick question though… I have trouble finding reading material to SRS! (that’s not on the computer..) While I do have a few authentic manga, I have a very hard time finding them without having to pay crazy shipping prices. Any suggestions?
    Thanks for the awesome post!

    • veganliz says:

      Thanks Delphine!

      I get most of my manga/novels/magazines from BookOff and Kinokuniya in NYC. These are both Japanese bookstore chains with several locations around the US. (Kinokuniya is also in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, and Taiwan. BookOff is also in France, Canada, and Korea.) Not sure where you’re located, but if you can make a trip to them, they’re well worth it. I spend days in both stores when I go to NYC ^^

      A lot of bookstores (not just Japanese) will carry newspapers from around the world, including Japan! You can check your local ones to see if they do, and get yourself some newspapers.

      If you’ve got an international grocery store where you live, you may also find they carry foreign language newspapers/newsletters/periodicals of some sort. The SunMarts in NYC have a couple really great ones.

      I’ve also heard people have good luck on E-Bay with manga. Manga can be shipped as “media mail” for a pretty low rate. Haven’t tried it myself, though.

      Another good way to get more reading under your belt is to trade what you’ve got with your Japanese-study-buddies. Maybe they’ve got some manga they’d be willing to lend you while they borrow yours.

      Good luck, and let me know if you come up with anything else! 🙂

      • Delphine says:

        Thanks so much for such a detailed response! I do fortunately have quite a few magazines, so it’s mainly the manga that I’m having trouble with, and I’ll definitely go look at those websites. NY seems like such a great place to get material, at least more than here in Austin, TX XP Thank goodness for the internet. Thanks again~!

  4. Brett says:

    It’s what you leave out that makes all the difference. I’m going to recommend this as essential reading for anyone doing my learn to read manga class on edufire.

    Here’s a really quick way to get fresh content everday, and it’s always topical –

    • veganliz says:

      Thanks Brett! I signed up for the manga reading class, can’t wait! I love to learn different ideas of how to do things, and I really liked your blog articles on why and how to read manga.

      Others reading this, check out EduFire and the class! EduFire is an awesome resource, and Brett is a really fun and effective sensei! is fantastic, thanks for the link! It’s my new homepage.

      (Okay, I think I’ve overstepped my exclamation point limit for the day, haha.)

  5. Theo says:

    I’m not doing sentence/reading SRSing picking but great post, i’m your fan u know!

  6. Joe says:

    Awesome post! I think this is a real sticking point for a lot of people using this method. They think they have to SRS absolutely everything they don’t understand when in fact that is counterproductive most of the time. I like how you say to SRS what you understand as well in order to cement it. Really great advice, I do this a lot myself. In fact, sometimes is goes a bit further wherein I understand the Japanese but can’t think of an English translation! Just the other day, I ran across the word 暗号解読 in a sentence. If you know your kanji (do your Heisig!), you can tell in an instant that this means unraveling/solving hidden messages. It turns out you call that “cryptanalysis” in English. Reinforcing my English while learning Japanese? Oh yeah!

    • veganliz says:

      Cryptanalysis? That’s awesome you could do that! Can’t wait until I can read “cryptanalysis” in Japanese, haha.

      Thanks for sharing!

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