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? 🙂

Get Your Read On!

So much to read! Magazines, manga, novels, more manga...

Remember when you were little (and literate, not like 2), and books were the most amazing things ever? They took you to far-off places, with new and fascinating characters, on super-epic adventures.  Even when you were still learning to read, each new book was a whole new world.  Not being able to understand every word didn’t stop you from devouring the thing whole and wanting more.

Well, since I’ve started reading literature in Japanese, I’ve got that feeling back!  懐かしい~!

No no, I’m not picking up a novel after 2 years of studying and flying through it with ease, or even understanding every sentence.  I am, however, understanding more and more, learning new grammar and vocabulary, and loving every minute of it.

I can’t recommend reading Japanese literature enough!  It’s done wonders for my learning.

Maybe you’ve tried reading stuff for native speakers, and maybe you’ve loved it, or maybe you got way too frustrated and quit.  I used to read to understand every word and every sentence, every grammatical structure and utterance.  I drove myself into the ground doing this, reading became tedious and painful.  Now I know what makes the difference for me: The way I read it.

The way I read now is FUN and easy!  Learning this way is fun and awesome and “gotta get me some more of that”.   And I’m learning at a much greater pace than I was when I was hyper-analyzing.

All I really need...

How I Get My Read On

To read, I need:

1 Manga/Novel of interest (Must be of interest/use to me.)


Post-It tags or other page-markers
Monolingual and/or bi-lingual dictionary


1. Read for basic comprehension and understanding.  Get really excited when I understand things.
2. If I don’t understand it at all: Skip it. Don’t sweat it.
3. Use dictionary for help if I’m close to figuring something out.  Try mono-lingual first.  If still no comprehension, use bi-lingual.  If sentence makes no sense to me, don’t look up every word in dictionary, see Step 2.
4. Use Post-It tags to mark phrases and sentences I want to put in my SRS at a later time.  (Doesn’t even have to be fancy post-it paper stickies, can make do with with pieces of scrap paper with the first few words of the phrase I want to SRS tucked into the page.)

That’s it.  Easy, right?

Just plop my stickies in the frames with the text I want to SRS. Click on the photo to enlarge it, can you read any of it? (From よつばと!)

A good technique for picking SRS sentences is important to success and learning!  How do you choose what to circle for SRSing?  For ideas,  check out this post on how I pick what to SRS.

Once I’m done with a reading session, sometimes right after, sometimes hours or days, I go back and review what I’ve circled, adding it to my SRS deck and looking up things I need more info on in a textbook or grammar book.  I don’t SRS while reading, it interrupts my reading groove.

I got a lot of my ideas on how to re-structure the way I read from this AJATT post and some from this Rainbowhill Language Lab post.  I tweaked all the info I’d gather together and made my very own way to read that works for me.

You can have fun learning through reading, too!

There are 800,000,004 different types of reading materials out there: books/manga/magazines/newspapers/novels/websites etc..  You’ve got to be interested in some of them!

If you’ve tried before and now dread reading, maybe it’s time to change the way you read.  Check out articles and blogs on how others read, and why, and try ideas out!  Everybody learns differently, so develop your own system that works for you!

*Hums theme to Reading Rainbow*

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