EMR’s Guide to Using Anki for Languages – Part 1
- Downloading Anki and Add-ons
- Setting up Anki
- What to do every day
- Important Tips
- Card Creation Tools
- Customised Study & Exam Cramming
- Customised SRS Options
- Further Reading
Anki File Structure
1. Downloading Anki and Add-ons
I used Supermemo for a long time (years) and then due to work and other activities I stopped for a number of years. Now as we teach students how to learn languages fast, I picked up and started using Anki. There are many articles on this and the Medical Students who need to memorise vast quantities on information, have picked this up as a way to automate that learning. So what is Anki?
“Anki” (暗記) is the Japanese word for “memorization”. The SM2 algorithm, created for SuperMemo in the late 1980s, forms the basis of the spaced repetition methods employed in the program”
We decided to write these instructions so our students can quickly be able to use Anki for Language learning ,what it is and then know how to use the decks that we provide, as a basis, for each course.
Spaced repetition software (SRS) are awesome Flash Card systems. SRS programs such as SuperMemo or Anki schedule your flashcard reviews so the better you know something, the less frequently it gets asked. Essentially, if you can remember something after 4 days, it waits 8 days before asking the same question. If you get it wrong, it puts in the short term card pile and you start seeing the card more frequently. This allows you to carry a large number of cards with only a small number of reviews per day. For example, EMR currently has about ~4000 cards in Indonesian – English Anki decks, and we suggest students review between 50-100 every day, depending on how many new cards they have added recently. (We recommend they add to these cards the words and phrases they don’t know). We start with simple words and work up to complete sentences.
So why Anki?
Anki is online or can be download, as Anki on PC, Mac, Android, or iOS (though iOS Anki is an expensive app). Make your cards on the computer, where you have ease of use and computing power, and review them on the go, whenever you have the time. It is also possible access and make them on a website on a mobile device. Everything you do in one place is synced perfectly across your others (though if you don’t sync at the beginning and end of sessions you will sometimes duplicate your work). Honestly, this is key because if you don’t review daily, it’s easy to get behind, or to get overwhelmed. Actually then you just stop when you want and Anki will pick it up tomorrow.
Important Learning Method?
These methods are how I have always worked, even when I studied with paper notes! These are the key to getting good results from using Anki for Learning Languages.
- Learn before you memorize – only make cards for facts that you understand and connect to larger understanding of other facts & how things work.
- Minimize the information tested on each card – no more than one question per card, avoid answers that require large sets and enumerations.
- Use mnemonics – organize, visualize, elaborate
- Optimize wording – ask the simplest, clearest and specific question possible
- Prioritize – only make cards for knowledge that is high yield; make a clear rule for yourself about what counts as high yield (e.g. only commonly used words)
2. Setting up Anki (2.1)
Then you will need to setup an account and login to the Ankiweb account so you can sync, share and downloaded shared decks, add-ons and read the documentation and support blogs.
Start the Ankiweb site, it should look like image below, after accepting the T&C’s, and your email address is verified:
Select the Get shared decks, search and download say “Indonesian everyday words 2”
You need to install the desktop app and then double click the downloaded file, which will load it into the app.
It will ask you to login which you do with the same email address and password as the desktop.
There are lots of resources (decks) shared, some have audio, some have pictures, best though is to build up your own or add to the shared ones. When you study with EMR we will provide you with some decks to help you so you just need to learn. However, be advised they work best when you have the lessons and notes as then these words are fitting into context and you see sentences how they are used.
Now you need to learn how to create your own cards, because that is part of the learning process too!
3. What to learn to do every day
- Review your cards, even briefly, just before sleeping or when you wake up!
- Make the cards better, they are better if you have pictures and mnemonics.
- Don’t add too many cards per day in the beginning, build the habit, then increase the amount of usage.
- Make you own note templates
- Image Occlusion and multiple choice cards are possible, as well as, much more with add-ons
- Learn to make your notes, format the cards and make the templates look great!
4. Important Tips
- Anki is a commitment, for the best results you must study your cards EVERY SINGLE DAY, no excuses!
- When studying, you should always hit [Good] when seeing a new card for the first time. When that card comes again, hit [Good] if you remember it or [Again] if you don’t. Same goes for reviews and old cards. Never hit [Easy] unless you know the card cold and can recite it in your sleep.
- Study in timed regular intervals, it can get boring, and sometimes you need to study on a task basis. Finish a task and take a break, then back to study again.
- Don’t seek to be a perfectionist, just make the cards however you can and do them!
- Download Anki on to your phone and study while you commute, wait on lines, exercise, etc…
5. Card Creation Tools
Anki has a powerful desktop program in addition to the web and the mobile apps. You can just make a Front/Back card on your phone or online. That’s simple enough. The real power of Anki comes with customization. You can:
- Make your own custom Note templates: Use a list of one-word answers to generate a slew of fully formatted, properly worded cards. For classes such as Languages which requires learning large amounts of similar information from a table, this makes it easy. Simply design a template which allows you to enter the info straight from the table in your textbook, and let Anki make the actual cards from that information.
- Make multiple choice cards: This is a subset of the Note templates, but it’s a neat trick. A lot of people tend to avoid MC because active recall is far more useful for long-term learning. However, sometimes it is useful to create your own test questions, as it prepares you for the style of questions you will see, and trying to make your own trick questions really gives you an idea of what will possibly be tested.
- Image Occlusion: This is a downloadable extension which lets you turn an image – say, load a labelled diagram or a pathway map – into multiple usable cards. Copy the image, highlight the labels you want to test yourself on, and boom…that one diagram is now 20+ identification cards.
- Type your answers: Anki lets you type in your responses and then compares them to the answer field. This helps you keep yourself honest.
- Format your cards: Make a ‘hints’ field which is in white text, allowing you to highlight it for a clue. Add an ‘explanations’ field to your answers without it muddling them up. A favourite is to bold any information which is required (aka if I need to recall that piece of info). Unformatted text is a judgement call, and italics are fun facts which I find useful or interesting, but which I do not think are necessary. I can always ‘pass’ a card without recalling the italicized info, though I will not label it as ‘easy’ without.
- Cloze Deletion: Write one dense, information-packed sentence, then tell Anki to show it to you without key words. Your job is to recall those key words or facts. This format is also designed to include hints.
The key to working with Anki: Do whatever works for you…and after a little work to set up your template, do it quickly. This is where Anki shines. Include images, text, or audio, and again, have that sync across all platforms.
Anki keeps track of things for you. You can look at how you are doing on each of your study decks – how many cards you have? How many more are unseen? How many are young (review due in <20d), mature (due >20d), learning, or unseen? How often do you answer cards in each of those categories correctly? How many reviews do you do each day? Do you do better at certain times of day? How many cards are due tomorrow? How many cards are due every day for the next week? Has your retention increased or decreased in the past month compared to your average for the year? How long do you spend on each card? How long do you spend reviewing each day? How many days do you actually remember to review? As an added incentive, how much less time would you have to spend each day if you actually studied every day like you should? Anki answers all of these questions and more, with graphs, for each individual deck and card category (young, mature, learning).
7. Study for Exams, Customised Study and Cramming
When you are approaching an exam we tend to cram, and Anki can handle this by making a Custom Study Deck, which does not affect your learning cards and the status of where you are at, or changing the long term dates.
If you need to just study a subset of these cards, then you can. Anki has been setup to be super flexible in this.
8. Customised Study and Revision (SRS) Options
This is perhaps the most difficult part of Anki to ‘get’, but it is important. You don’t have to do it right away – it takes time to realize what truly works for you. For example, use card creation to learn the information. This means that you do not need or want an extended initial learning period. Anki lets you customize the various aspects of the algorithm to get the system that works for you. It is, however, pretty obtuse as to what each individual change does, so this is likely the very last thing you will pick up.