Reinforce Your Vocabulary with SRS Learning

What is SRS learning, you ask? Well, it’s only one of the most effective ways to learn Japanese! Whether you’re wanting to learn hiragana, katakana, kanji, grammar, or all the different types of sushi, SRS is here to help. For this article, we’re going to focus on how it can be employed specifically for vocabulary, but the concepts apply to just about anything.

SRS stands for Spaced Repetition Software. This is a fancy way of saying that whatever you are trying to drill into your memory will appear at various intervals during review based on how effectively the program thinks you’ve learned that item. For example, if you are learning the vocabulary for colors, perhaps you notice that you often get stuck on certain words while others come more easily. The software keeps track of your problem areas, and focuses on drilling those harder words until it gradually become more ingrained in your memory. Conversely, it tends to de-emphasize easier words for you, so that you get more targeted practice in the areas you need it most.

That’s not all it can do, however. A big issue for students trying to cram a lot of information at once is that they might be able to recall it a few hours later, but what about a week later? This is where the other half of the magic equation comes in. Because the software keeps track of your strengths and weaknesses, it will devise a custom schedule to bring back previously learned material into future reviews to help reinforce those concepts in long-term memory. Pretty nifty, eh?

SRS is kind of like the secret sauce that many students aren’t aware of when they’re blazing through their favorite language learning apps, because many of the more popular apps out there have snuck this system into their teaching methodologies. You might already be reaping the rewards without even knowing it!

Here are some ways we recommend getting started:

1) Anki

Simple. Free. Effective. Anki has become by far the most popular app for taking advantage of SRS learning techniques. Students can create their own personalized “decks” for whatever they are trying to learn. A big advantage to these so-called digital flash cards is that students can add not only text, but also video, audio, or photos if they so choose. Since this program is so widespread among Japanese learners, students can also download pre-made decks from the internet on various topics, including vocabulary and kanji lists targeted toward their JLPT level. (We recommend making your own, of course, for that additional practice, but we understand that many of us lead very busy lives, so do whatever works best for you). The desktop program is free but there is a fee for users who want to take advantage of its mobile app.

2) Memrise / DuoLingo

Two very popular language learning apps that incorporate SRS techniques into their drills and quizzes. Memrise in particular is great for vocabulary because there are tons of courses available for all sorts of needs and categories, which allows for quite a bit of custom study. DuoLingo tries to be more structured with its approach, but behind the scenes it’s keeping track of your strengths and weaknesses to help reinforce what you’ve learned.

3) WaniKani

From the creators of the Tofugu blog comes WaniKani, a system they designed to teach both kanji and related vocabulary. Of course, it uses SRS as the backbone for its methodology, but this is also in conjunction with interesting mnemonics for maximum recall. Their system is purposely structured as a course that students do not have the option to rush through, ensuring that concepts are truly learned before moving forward. The ultimate goal of their program is to get students learning 2,000 kanji and 6,000 words by the end of a year and it would be great for the student who are serious learners of the language. Since it is an actual course, it is not free, and a subscription runs about $9 a month, with the full year option available as well.