I once saw a Japanese Ted Talk which discussed the clever process of how a manufacturer came up with new ideas to develop toys. He played shiritori, which is a game where you choose a word, then another word that starts with the last letter of the previous word, and continue on endlessly. This creates ultimate randomness. For example (in English):
Maybe there would be a toy of an excited gorilla flying an airplane made of apples and bananas (my example… not his).
The SRS randomness generator
You might be wondering how the above example relates to learning Japanese. Japanese is not about creating new things. It’s about learning rules and patterns… Except it is entirely all about creativity and letting your brain run wild.
In any SRS app, you learn things in order. But once they hit the review pile, they fall into utter randomness based on how well and when you review that card. You never have any idea what order cards are going to be shown to you in, and every single review session is absolutely unique.
People have doubts about employing the important concept of “just moving on” when reviewing cards. Why is it that you can understand something that you couldn’t before, despite having no new information? Two commonly thought reasons:
- Repetition of something difficult can result in clarity.
- Outside immersion.
Both of these do assist you. Repetition can reveal something to you that you only see on the nth pass around. Immersion introduces you to the same thing in different real world ways. But there are people that don’t do (much) immersion, or don’t need repetition, and still see the same strange phenomenon.
SRS for creativity
Reviewing cards is not just about repeating what you already know. It’s about forming new Japanese mental connections. The simple act of seeing a difficult card, with random cards before it, and random cards after it, can and often does lead to new understanding. It’s as though there is a 3-5 card random review chain of comprehension. Randomness leads to new thought. You see things from a different angle. You get examples that shine the light on others.
This randomness doesn’t just stop at helping you understand. It’s what helps you build your own Japanese sentences. Through these random reviews, combinations and arrangements swirl through your head, forming new Japanese from old. Having different sentence cards connected in every review gives you practice putting together all the various elements you’ve learned.
While this was super helpful to me in Japanese, the power behind this became even more apparent when I began learning programming with an SRS. I came up with some of my best programming ideas (which I would later use in the Jalup app) when I was reviewing cards. 2-3 unrelated pieces of info came up in a specific order, leading to many eureka moments.
Think about that SRS power: reinforce concepts while simultaneously encouraging new ideas.
Is SRS working wonders on your brain?
Have you found that through all that SRS randomness, new thoughts, understanding and connections grow at a rapid pace?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.