Spaced repetition software ("SRS") is essentially digital flashcard software. But unlike other flashcard software, it tries to schedule card reviews at efficient intervals.
The theory behind spaced repetition is that humans rarely memorize a new fact all at once. The first time we see a fact, we may only remember for a day or two. But if we force ourselves to remember or review that fact before we forget it, we'll remember it longer the next time. So if we review something at increasing intervals, we'll have a good chance of remembering it indefinitely. It's possible to do this by hand, using index cards and some sort of scheduling system, but most people use special flashcard software with built-in support for scheduling cards.
See also Wikipedia: Spaced repetition.
The Pimsleur course was designed around the idea of spaced repetition. It uses prompting and review at intervals designed to maximize your retention without needing external SRS software.
Using SRS software
You can use SRS software like ordinary flashcards. Typically, this would involve putting a foreign-language word on one side of the card, and a native-language word on the other side. This is quick and easy to set up, and it works well for many people. But other people report a number of drawbacks, including the difficulty of reviewing large numbers of similar words with no context.
Other techniques have been developed for using SRS software.
Many people choose to put sentences or short pieces of foreign-language text on the front side of their cards, and various sorts of explantions or definitions on the back. The idea is that you read the text on the front, and you count the card as "passed" if you understand it.
For training the production, you can remove a word (or even one part of the word), and optionally create a third field to make you type it. The answer field can contain an explanation, a translation of the sentence/phrase or anything else. If you just recall the word mentally, you can have multiple gaps in the same card (or just decide how you separate the words: comma, space, dash? - and list all missing words in your custom field).
For more detail, see:
- Subs2srs decks. These decks are created automatically from movie subtitles using the subs2srs software program. Typically, the front side of the card will contain an image from the movie and an audio clip containing a single line of dialog. The back side of the card will contain the subtitle text, often in both the language being studied and the user's native language.
- Image-based cards. Some people like to copy-and-paste images (often found using Google's image search) and use them in place of native-language text on their cards. The idea is that this allows you to avoid using your native language when reviewing cards.
Popular SRS software packages
Anki is one of the more popular choices in SRS software. Anki is very accessible, be it on your desktop (Windows, Macintosh, and Linux operating systems supported), online, and on mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch. Anki is also available on mobile phones in two different flavors. Anki offers various features, plug ins, and shared decks. For those that have used Mnemosyne before, and would like to switch, Anki supports importing of Mnemosyne's XML exports. Anki has many features for creating deck models. There's the Basic model, which is just a classic front and back flash card model. But, you can add additional fields. For example, if one is learning Japanese, one might desire to keep separate the word or phrase written in full Japanese, the reading of that word written in Kana (Japanese phonetic characters), and the definitions and translations. An example model for Japanese might look like this:
今日はありがとう。(Full Japanese sentence)
- (Phonetic representation of the Japanese on the front)
kyou wa arigatou
- (Definitions of words)
kyou きょう 【今日】 today; this day;
wa は 【は】 Topic Marking Particle.
arigatou ありがとう 【有り難う】 Thank you.
- (Meaning of the sentence/phrase)
- "Thank you for today."
Each of the sections marked with the parenthesis can be its own field in Anki. This helps with keeping data separate and organized.
- Desktop Anki with all features.
- Online ankiweb.
- AnkiDroid app for Android tablets and smartphones.
- Anki app for for iOS tablets and smarphones. Costs 24 euros but is bugless, synchonises easily and reliably, and accompanies you anywhere.
- usable both online and offline
- wide freedom of the user
- choose between creating your own decks or using those by others
- you can add pictures, sounds
- easy and reliable synchronisation of your progress across the platforms
- support forum where the creators actively participate and answer questions
- most users don't bother to learn most functions (fortunately it is no obstacle to being a happy user)
- the iOS app is among the more expensive ones
- the premade decks quite often contain mistakes or typos
- doesn't look as fancy as many other tools of the same kind, such as Memrise
An online based SRS built on heavy use of mnemonics, pictures and so on. The new Memrise 1.0 differs from Beta in many ways, unfortunately not only to the better as the creators removed some of the features many users loved and in some cases went right the other direction than what the users of Beta had been calling for.
- many ready decks (called courses) of good quality but you can still build your own
- a lot of pictures or mnemonics
- readily built in exercises not only of the multiple choice kind but as well type in
- audio for many words
- quite a lot of material even for the less popular languages
- the courses are newly divided into artificial levels which bring nothing new and good to the learning and the only possible purpose of which is to be transformed into paid pieces in future
- no easy import of lists from other SRS
- more complicated course creation as you need to fit into some levels and cannot simply drag words in between them
- too fancy facebookish design at the expense of funcionality and user comfort
Mnemosyne is an offline SRS client. It uses very little resources as compared to Anki, but lacks features. Mnemosyne is great for those that want to just keep it simple (as it offers only a classic front-back model). Mnemosyne is free and open sources. There are various plug ins and free decks to download at the Mnemosyne website: http://www.mnemosyne-proj.org/
- Cannot synchronize between desktop and mobile devices.
An SRS for Japanese and Mandarin learners which requires you to write the characters. Available for computer, smartphones or tablets.
- You learn to write the characters
- Most words are with audio
- Ready wordlists for most commonly used textbooks and for exams but you can make your own lists
- Higher price (14 dollars per month but can be cheaper if you prepay for longer)
SuperMemo is the first Spaced Repetition System. There are many versions of the software available, as well as a website with a very detailed library of articles about learning, memory, and related topics. Unlike Anki and Memosyne, SuperMemo is not free. http://supermemo.com
Surusu, formerly Khatzumemo, is an online only spaced repetition system that is mobile phone friendly. Be aware, though, that on most mobile phones, it will appear with the same formatting as a web page, making it hard to view and navigate. All the same functionality is there, but your forced to look at only small portions of the screen at a time. You can import your Mnemosyne XML files as well as other decks you've made within Surusu. It supports images, text, and HTML display in its card model. Surusu is developed by the author of AllJapaneseAllTheTime.com (ajatt.com).