What do you put in your SRS?

I’ve been reflecting on how I use Anki, my SRS program, and I think I’ve perhaps gone a bit overboard with it. For a long while now, any unknown word that I’ve come across has gone into it – even words that I really don’t need (or even particularly want) to know. For example, a few days ago while doing reviews with my German deck, I came across a card that I had made over a year ago. The card was for the German word for “hot water tap.”

I think I pulled this word from the Using German Vocabulary textbook that I’ve mentioned before, because I’m sure I didn’t come across it in reading. It’s not an expression I ever use in English, and actually, I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard “hot water tap” used in any meaningful sentence. So why do I need it in Anki? I probably don’t, so I deleted it.

How do you decide what to put into your SRS? I know Khatzumoto basically advocates adding stuff that you find interesting, but in following that rule, I feel like I’m going to end up missing a lot of words I “need” to know. Then again, doing what I’ve been doing, I’m learning words like “hot water tap”, so perhaps only adding things that I find of interest might work.

By |2009-08-23T17:17:49+00:00August 23rd, 2009|All Entries|6 Comments


  1. Louis August 23, 2009 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    I use anki too, for learning French and Japanese. With Japanese, I put everything in (mainly JLPT vocab words as I come across them, but any word I find goes in a great big google doc which slowly gets inserted into Anki, when I have the time) considering I only have a little patience to actually add vocab, I don’t add much at a time which prevents me from overstudying and allows me to learn a lot of weird vocab which I probably don’t need, like ‘morning-after pill’ or ‘suicide by asphyxiation’

    Perhaps there’s something to be said for sticking to the basics though. And I recenty decided to add example sentences for all the words I wasn’t 100% certain of. When I get around to it. French is the same- I just began studying and got about 200 words in when I realised I wasn’t including the gender of any of the nouns I had added, or anything to indicate the gender, which is becoming a problem. Also, I was only adding cards one way, so only French-English (which is sometimes difficult because all my study materials are in Japanese…)

    I agree on the adding interesting things, vocab you think you’ll actually use in a conversation with a native speaker (and if I ever have a conversation in Japanese about the morning-after pill or suicide by asphyxiation, I’ll be set. Let’s hope I don’t ever have that conversation though.)

  2. Josh August 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Yeah, it sounds like you work the same way I do. I have an almost obsessive approach, in that I hate to let any unknown word go unrecorded. Which is good in that I’m sure to eventually know all of the words I really need to, but it’s also bad, because I end up with a lot of cards for things I’ll never, ever use.

  3. Jeff Lindqvist August 24, 2009 at 11:17 am - Reply

    I basically enter everything (for Chinese), vocabulary from the lessons or other texts I read outside class, sentences from the lessons (those that I feel provide good “grammar content”). In the latest Anki version I have, the items that I regularly “don’t know” are suspended. Which is good in a way, because they obviously haven’t entered my mind after n number of views. Now and then I go through that filter to re-activate them.

  4. doviende August 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    Firstly, i only put phrases or full sentences into anki, except if they’re nouns that really don’t require a sentence. a lot of nouns don’t really have much “usage” information, but it still makes me nervous to just put a single word in.

    I generally get my sentences from books that i’m reading. Currently i’m reading harry potter #2 in german (“Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens”), and although i understand a lot of it, i constantly come across words that i don’t know. I don’t put every single unknown word into Anki, however. I usually wait until i’ve seen a word more than once, or if there’s a certain paragraph where there were MANY words that i didn’t understand, then i concentrate more on that particular paragraph.

    I do this because i put a lot of emphasis on reading without stopping. If there’s a word that continually bothers me, then i’ll use a highlighter to mark it for later, and then go back to it later when i’m working on new anki cards. Sometimes when i go back to it later, it makes perfect sense so i don’t bother.

    Combined with this, i sometimes get some cards in anki that just annoy me. Maybe they seem useless now, or maybe i always get them wrong and they just bug me. these get deleted mercilessly. I know i’ll have no problems finding more words to put in anki, so i don’t worry about losing a couple of the stupid ones.

    Another thing i’ve been trying lately is using electronic copies of books in order to do some statistical sentence-mining. I use an emacs add-on that a friend wrote, which makes a list of all words that i have in any cards in anki, and then uses that “known” list to find words in my book that are “unknown” and are also of a high frequency. It then gives me example sentences for those words. This way, i can work through the important vocab in frequency order, which helps tremendously.

  5. […] do you put in your SRS? I just responded to the latest post over at Language Geek, where Josh asks “what do you put in your SRS?”. After my short […]

  6. xxd April 14, 2010 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Here’s an idea I’ve just had : if you run across a word you blank on, why not use context for only that particular word and for the rest which are easy to memorize, just leave them as they are?

    I’m using word frequency lists to learn the most common words first but
    I have currently about 10% “leeches” which I just blank on every time. I think I’ll add a little context to each of them to try to get them to stick better. Hopefully that will work. Otherwise I think I’m making wicked progress and expect to be able to hold a reasonable conversation in French by about the end of the summer.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.