(English and Indonesian – Part 2)

EMR’s Guide:
Anki for Language Learning

Alistair Mac, Senior Educator, Australia

21 November 2018

This tutorial is just a get you a deeper understanding of Anki, how the notes and cards work. To be able to configure and know how to run and get the best from the software.

Another reason for these posts is that the manual and documentation are very long and complex to read and they doesn’t serve the purpose of explaining the power of Anki to a beginner. We think this is important to get the best out of this tool.

Anki file system and card handling

Let’s start with card handling, as that will be the basis of learning.
So when you have reviewed a card you get shown the answer, and there you can select when you think you need it shown again. We covered the bare bones of loading and using cards in Part 1. The basic idea of the card handling is shown below, where say 1 is a new card, and the different trays or piles are the cards to be repeated, or stored.

ANKI File and card database.

Diagram by EMR

The cards in the different trays are shown for review after different times.

Cards are displayed for learning or study and the student gets to select the easiness of the card or rating level: Again (1), Hard (2), Good (3), and Easy (4). (Note you can push just the number, or spacebar will select Good). As you see below (note only 3 levels configured!)

All the information for the flash cards is stored in the Note Fields. The Fields to be displayed on the Cards are according to the Note Type and Card Template. The Card Creator makes the different views of the Cards which are then displayed for learning or study. The Cards can be formatted with HTML or CSS codes to customise them further (more advanced).

ANKI File and card database.

Diagram by EMR

This diagram makes it easy to understand what to change and where information is stored.

Who uses ANKI for Languages?

 – Gabriel Wyner
Author and founder of Fluent Forever 

A brilliant and thoroughly modern guide to learning new languages. Fluent Forever won’t teach you French, or German, or any other language — but it will teach you how to learn whatever language you do want to learn, and to learn it faster, and more efficiently. If you want a new language to stick, start here.

– Gary Marcus

cognitive psychologist and author of The New York Times Bestseller Guitar Zero

Fluent Forever

The Book Fluent Forever is a book and a Language Learning System, written by Gabriel Wyner the Author and founder of Fluent Forever.

This is the documentation of the passion and learning Gabriel has made to learning languages. The system is actually a work in progress, as Gabriel is busy developing the next tool for language learning. He has set out to create a collaborative interactive learning tool, a hyped up cross between Anki, Reddit and Language Shadowing. To cover all the languages wanted to be developed, Gabriel crowd funded his new app, with a Kickstarter campaign and has become the most successful app in campaign history of Kickstarter [continued on indiegogo.] His book is called Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. The book uses ANKI and we recommend you do to until the App is available, or if especially if you want a lower cost option.

Brief overview of Fluent Forever Process


Learn pronunciation first before trying to learn vocabulary or any grammar rules.


Use pictures when learning new vocabulary and grammar rules. 


When you customize your learning process to fit your needs, you learn faster.

This method is closely following the recommended method for using Anki for Languages:

  • Learn before you memorize – only make cards for facts that you understand and connect to larger web of other facts
  • Making your own cards helps you to learn first.
  • Minimize the information tested on each card – no more than one question per card, avoid answers that require large sets and enumerations
  • Use images and mnemonics – organize, visualize, elaborate
  • Optimize wording – ask the clearest and specific question possible
  • Write you questions different ways, and use the cards in reverse
  • Prioritize – only make cards for knowledge that is high yield; make a clear rule for yourself what counts as high yield.

2. Deck Organisation

Decks, in Anki, are the only layer of organization which you can actually see. When you first open the program, you are immediately greeted by a list of individual ‘Decks’. Some key points:
– Each Deck has its own New/Review card counts. This means that if your settings allow for 20 New cards and 50 Reviews each day, you could potentially have (20+50)*(total number of decks) cards to study every day.
– You have to review each deck separately. Try to minimize the number of decks you carry.
– Each Deck can have its own settings – this includes New and Review counts, but also things such as Ease, Interval, Maximum Interval, etc.,.

The way Anki handles subdecks is not very good and this flaw can cause issues. Say you have the following setup:
BIGdeck (50 due)
-SubdeckA (30 due)
-SubdeckB (30 due)
-SubdeckC (30 due)

The nice thing is that when you click on BIGdeck, you will study cards from all of the subdecks. It also caps the total number of reviews, helping with any multiplication issues. In the above example, each of your subdecks has 30 cards due. If you did all of them, that would be 90 reviews. However, if you simply do your BIGdeck, you will see 50 cards and then be done.
Unfortunately, if you do this just by clicking ‘BIGdeck’ and reviewing, you will be shown 30 cards from subdeckA, 20 cards from subdeckB, and none from subdeckC. This is pretty much my biggest issue with Deck organization in Anki. So either make the Subdeck cards sum to the BIGdeck total (for example, each subdeck say 20 due and the BigDeck set to 60 and this problem doesn’t happen) or use tags.

The use of hierarchical tags is a solution whereby you can filter and target specific subjects according to the tags you have set.

Suggested Structures: 
Make 1 deck for each of the subjects you are currently taking, or want to separate.
Make 1 deck for your review subjects. When you finish a class, go through and tag it extensively – fix any inconsistencies or duplicate tags that have shown up throughout the course. Then tag the entire deck with the name of the course, back up & dump the cards into your Review deck, then delete that class’s individual deck.
Make 1 deck for side projects. For example, I have a Medical Terms deck. When I get short on time, I just let this one build up and don’t bother reviewing it much.

With Deck options, you can make your Current Course decks have shorter intervals and more frequent reviews than your review deck, and keep a very short Max Interval for them, there are a lot of things you can do as you learn more about Anki.

3. Deck Options - New Cards

This is the real heart of the SRS: the timing of your card learning and reviewing.
To be honest, I can’t add much here that isn’t well spelled out in the online User Manual.
There are 2 main types of cards: New cards and Review cards. When you open Deck Options, you will get to change a bunch of features which alter how frequently you see those two types of cards. First, New Cards are cards which you have never seen in Anki yet. Therefore, they are shown to you frequently until they ‘graduate’ to Review cards.

Steps: When you are first learning something, you need to repeat the information frequently until it is drilled into your brain. Steps is Anki’s adjustable version of doing just that. Ever practiced, something that is critical, like a speech and told yourself “OK, I am going to do this 5 times, but if I mess up even once, I have to start my count over.” That’s Steps. This setting allows you to pick how many times you have to get a card right before you ‘know it’…and how long you have to wait in between each recall. By default, those are 1min and 10min. The first time you see a card, if you get it right, you will see it again in 10min. If you get it wrong, you start over again in 1min. (Note: if you select ‘Easy’ while reviewing it does something different. More on that later.) If you get it right after your 10min interval, it ‘graduates’ to become a Review card.

Graduating Interval: When your New card graduates, it has to have an interval assigned to it. By default, this is set at the next day.

Easy Interval: If at any time in this process you mark a learning card as ‘Easy’, it becomes a Review card with the interval specified here.

Starting Ease: This is an annoyingly named feature. It defaults to 250%, which essentially means that your interval will increase by 2.5x every time you mark a card ‘correct’. This number changes depending on your review responses, as follows:
‘Wrong’ response: Ease decreases by 20 percentage points
‘Hard’ response: Ease decreases by 15 percentage points
‘Good’ response: Ease unchanged
‘Easy’ response: Ease increases by 15 percentage points

Thus, a card with 250% starting ease that you mark as correct 3x will increase its interval by 2.95x every time you get it right.

It is important (though a bit confusing) to differentiate this from the “Interval Modifier” you will see under the Review tab…this one affects how Anki calculates your intervals throughout the life of the card and relative to other cards. More details under ‘Interval Modifier’ in the ‘Deck Options – Review Cards’ section.

Those 4 are closely related, so I grouped them together even though Anki has someother organization. Order and New Cards/day are fairly self explanatory.

Bury Related New Cards until next day: If you use Notes with multiple cards, say, a Forward/Reverse (or a Cloze or custom template), the program will try to only show you ONE of those cards each day, so you don’t spoil yourself. Sometimes this is useful. Sometimes, say, if you make a Note with a lot of information but no spoilers, it’s simply annoying. Sometimes you have an Language reverese direction and would like it to show the Related cards, as they are different!

My recommendation: 
I try to make all of my own cards, which makes frequent reviewing unnecessary, as I mostly learn by making, not by reviewing. I tend to binge-make cards, so if I have to review each one after 10min, my learning session becomes hell. So Steps for all decks are short.
In practice 120min means that I can look at my new cards in the morning, then again either later that day or the next day.
Other universal setting: I select
Show new cards in random order
normally there is no reason to see anything in a fixed order, unless you have say sentences that are getting harder. I like to minimize any cues for my cards other than the information itself. 

Now, the rest of my settings vary by deck. I have 3 Deck Options groups: Current, Review, and SideProject.

4. Deck Options - Review Cards

Maximum reviews/day: Self-explanatory. This should be at LEAST 2x your New card count. Reviews pile up quickly…if you do 50 New cards consistently, you will easily have a Due count of over 100/day after a week or so. You’ll probably end up with even more, if you continue adding New cards every day. Don’t worry, though…a few days off of adding New cards, or the occasional bolus of extra Reviews and you’ll be caught up, with your srs none the worse for the wear! 2x is about right.
Note: Again, your total daily load should not be more than you will be willing to do on your worst day. It’s easy to increase your count when you have the time/energy. However, skipping days is the worst thing you could do for Anki, and it’s easy to skip a day entirely if the Due pile is too daunting.

Easy Bonus: This one seems a bit complex, but it’s really fairly straightforward. When you mark a card easy, its interval increases by more than usual (more than its Ease). This is how much more.
Intervals for normal cards are calculated as (CurrentInterval*Ease*IntervalMod)
Easy cards are calculated as (CurrentInterval*Ease*IntervalMod*EasyBonus)
Assume an IntervalMod of 100% (we’ll discuss what that is next), Ease 250%.
If your EasyBonus is 130%, then a card with an interval of 4d would be seen next in:
(4d*2.5*1) = 10d if you mark ‘Good’, but
(4d*2.5*1*1.3) = 13d if you mark ‘Easy’!

Interval Modifier: This one is a bit complicated. Well, the implementation is straightforward: as I showed above, each interval is calculated as (CurrentInterval*Ease*IntervalMod), *EasyBonus if you mark it ‘Easy’.

You’ll note that the Interval modifier is, at default, 100%…so it does nothing. However, if you increase it, you will see cards less frequently (more spaced out, larger intervals) and if you decrease it, you’ll see it more frequently (smaller intervals). Why would you do this? Well, say you have one topic you want to learn extremely thoroughly, or that you find generally harder, etc…you could decrease the IntervalMod to see it more. I use a smaller IntervalMod on my ‘Current’ deck options because I want to learn those cards very well.

Within a given deck, the effect of decreasing IntervalMod vs StartingEase is equivalent…so when to do which? Well, IntervalMod only affects cards that are currently in this deck, whereas StartingEase only affects cards learned in this deck, but has a permanent effect on the calculations of intervals throughout the lifetime of the card, no matter which deck you move it into. Once you learn a card, changing StartingEase in the deck options, or switching it to a lower-priority deck, will not get you back that extra 15% in interval calculations. So, generally, you should pick your Starting Ease based on what works for you overall (i.e. should probably be the same for all decks) and use IntervalMod to adjust individual decks for whatever specific goals you have.

One such goal is retention rate…Anki gives a formula in their manual which you can use to adjust the IntervalMod based on your current retention rate (how well you perform on mature cards) vs your desired goal retention rate. That is fine, though you’ll probably get more bang for your buck if you make your Learning steps more robust or fine tune your deck to improve vague/shoddy cards.

Maximum Interval: Phew! Another self-explanatory one! Default for this is 100 years, but I like to bring it down to the 3-5yr range. Still experimenting with this. Note: set in days, which can be confusing.

5. Deck Options - Lapses

Anytime you Lapse a card – aka miss a Review card – it is an indication that you need to relearn the information, and that your previous interval was too long. The Lapse settings are where you fine-tune this process. 

Steps (in minutes): Much like the original learning steps, these are your Relearning steps. 

New Interval: Once you relearn the card, you probably don’t want or need to restart back with the standard graduating interval. After all, you remembered the information for the previous interval, and you *just* relearned it! This setting is how much you decrease the interval from its prior value after forgetting and relearning it. It’s basically like the opposite of the Easy Bonus. The interval for a relearned card will be
(CurrentInterval*NewInterval) (I’m not sure about Interval Modifier here).

Minimum Interval: It would suck to end up with a few hours interval because you missed a card after 3d, wouldn’t it? This setting prevents such things. 

Leech Threshold: A ‘Leech’ is a card that you’ve missed too many times. How many is too many? That’s what the Leech Threshold lets you decide! 

Leech Action: A leech is probably a badly made card – something vague, for example – so Anki takes some sort of action (the ‘Leech action’) to notify you of this…it can either flag it as a leech, or it can flag it and suspend it; seeing the card repeatedly clearly isn’t helping you anyway, so why bother? The tag allows you to go through every once and a while and fix/purge any cards in your deck that just aren’t working for you. 

We have more articles in progress for Anki for Languages, so watch this space for the next update!

ANKI for Languages

ANKI for Languages

Anki and Language Resources