I have been using the software Anki (Anki means “memorize” in Japanese) to structure my Chinese-language vocabulary review. I’m excited about the potential of software like Anki to help all of us learn!
(The characters above, 暗記, are the Japanese word for memorize (“anki”). These two characters are not used together as a word in Chinese.)
In this post, I’ve gathered some links to resources that can help you learn about Anki. Whatever your age, subject matter, and context, use a software like Anki to make your learning as efficient as possible!
Anki is flashcard program. It’s an SRS, which stands for “spaced-repetition software.” SRS programs keep track of your progress as you study your flashcards. If you tell Anki that a card is easy, it will show it to you less often, so you can spend your time learning other things; if you tell Anki that a card is hard, it will show it to you more often, to help you learn it. After you have learned a card, Anki will continue to show it to you, with increasingly long intervals in between, to remind you of it, and help you keep the information in your memory.
This principle of putting longer and longer intervals in between reviews of information is called spaced repetition. It’s also called the spacing effect, and is closely related to the forgetting curve. There is a lot of educational research about this principle in learning, which has been studied for more than 100 years. These videos introduce the idea of spaced repetition:
- Spaced repetition, a video by the Osmosis project
- Spaced repetition article in Wikipedia
- Introduction to Spaced Repetition Software (SRS), Anki, a video in which Oliver Lovell introduces the forgetting curve, the idea of spaced repetition, and Anki.
- The Introduction section of the Anki user manual discusses active recall testing and spaced repetition.
- If you’re looking for related academic research, Will Thalheimer provides a good start in his blog post Research Reviews of the Spacing Effect.
Anki has been developed and shared by Damien Elmes since 2006. Anki is available for your computer, your phone (both Android and iPhone), and on the web, and most of these applications are FREE. Only the iPhone version has a one-time fee, because Elmes has to earn his supper somehow. (He’s not preferential toward Android–it’s just that the Android version was created by a different group of people.)
The basic interface for Anki, especially on the computer, is not beautiful; it just is what it is. In fact, the numerous settings and functions make it a little intimidating. But all these functions are what make Anki such a powerful support for your learning. There are many resources for learning to use Anki, both video and text. Here are a few introductions to how Anki works and how to use it:
- PCWorld review by Erez Zuckerman: Anki helps you to learn and memorize virtually anything, for free
- Anki for Med School: Intro to Anki, a video by Kealan Hobelmann
- The Anki homepage
- The Anki user manual begins with links to four basic videos
Once you’ve begun using Anki, there are many more resources for learning how to use more of Anki’s capabilities, and how to specialize Anki for your own purposes. The Anki user manual is comprehensive, user-friendly, and even interesting. Here are some of the resources on specific topics that I have found most useful so far:
1. You can import lists into Anki, so you can make big batches of cards all at once. See these videos:
- How to make an Anki card deck using Microsoft Excel (by Laser Fuse)
- Importing lists into Anki (by Communication. English. Coaching.)
2. You can create flashcards that ask you to type in the correct answer, even in Chinese. When making Cloze-Deletion type cards, you just type in the full sentence, indicate what should be omitted, and Anki takes care of the rest. It’s easy to create this type of card, and they are a powerful learning tool. See these videos:
- Anki for Med School: Using Cloze Deletion Cards (by Kealan Hobelmann) In this video Hobelmann includes valuable suggestions on study strategies related to using this type of flashcard.
- Anki Tutorial #1 Cloze Deletion & Type in the Answer (by SuperMsKaufman)
3. If you’re using Anki to help you study a language with a script other than the Roman alphabet (which is what English uses), there are many resources for helping you create cards easily. For instance, the Chinese Support Add-On by Thomas Tempé enables you to create a new flashcard simply by typing in the word’s pinyin (phonetic spelling) and pressing the tab key. The Add-On then fills in the definition, characters, pronunciation, sound files, and numerous other fields. It’s amazing. Here are links to videos introducing Tempé’s Add-On:
- How to use Anki’s Chinese Support Add-on (by Thomas Tempé)
- How to use Anki: Chinese Support Add On (by SnakeFist)
(Making your own flashcards is a useful learning activity, but you can get started using Anki quickly by downloading a deck of flashcards someone else has shared.)
The Anki user manual explains that once your scheduled interval for reviewing a flashcard is longer than three weeks, Anki considers this card “mature,” as opposed to “young.” In other words, whatever is on that flashcard should be in your brain. Anki’s default review schedules are designed to support you to remember mature information at an 85% success rate. Once you have used Anki long enough, you can view your statistics to check this. If you’re not remembering 85% of your mature information correctly, then you can set the review intervals to be more frequent, to help you remember the information better. Or, if the information you’re trying to remember is critical, and you need to remember it at an accuracy rate higher than 85%, you can also set the review intervals to be more frequent. (I haven’t used Anki long enough to see what my long-term remembering success is. I’m so curious to see!)
There’s much more to discover about Anki, including its statistics displays, its game-like qualities, and the motivational/meta-cognitive effects that arise from them. Also, you can create flashcards that include all kinds of media, including images, audio, and video. And, and, and…
So check out Anki to support your learning. (You can also check out another open source SRS program, Mnemosyne. And of course, there are many commercial SRS programs available.) Let’s see what we can achieve in our learning!