The Anki is an app meant to help us memorize basically anything. It is especially useful for language learners as Anki can save you time and effort on memorizing vocabulary and grammar patterns. However learning how to use Anki takes time and can be confusing. So this guide aims to help language learners understand how to use Anki.
While my experience of Anki is for learning Japanese and Chinese, the tips I suggest here (with a few modifications) can be used to learn any language. Without further delay, here are my nine tips on how to use Anki.
Tip #1 Should you import decks or create your own decks?
With Anki you can make your own vocabulary or grammar decks. Or you can import ready-made decks on the shared decks pages.
My personal preference is to search for quality shared decks and then supplement them with my own information.
How do you find high quality shared decks? One thing to look out for is the star ratings given to Anki decks by other users. Anki decks are rated from 1 to 5 stars (with 5 as the best) and the total number of user ratings is a useful indicator too. This is the total number of people that have rated a particular deck.
If you also go to the decks download page, you can read comments for people who have downloaded and used the deck. People usually comment if the deck is well made or has many mistakes and errors.
However, in the end, trial and error is the only way to definitely confirm an Anki deck is of good quality. Keep in mind that some decks will not having a rating but still can be still excellent.
Another reason for downloading shared decks is that decks made by others often have built in fields or features that, as an Anki beginner, you would probably not have been able to create yourself or would not think of initially. For example, the simplest decks just have vocabulary and meaning, whilst more comprehensive decks have vocabulary, meaning, explanation, example sentences, related vocabulary, colour coding, pictures, cloze deletions and useful mnemonics already built in. To make Anki decks with all that information would be very time consuming on your own.
However if the opposite is what you want - a simple high quality deck, whereas the shared deck contains too much information, this is not a problem. You can just delete the field(s) you do not need in the edit field section.
In the columns above are the field names. The fields display information on the flashcards. If you do not want a field say of pictures. Just highlight the Pictures field and delete using the button on the right hand side.
Tip #2 Add your own sentences (or notes) to existing decks
This may mean more time spent learning each word – but it also means that you will understand it better and you can make it more memorable.
In order to add my own information I have a few online dictionaries and grammar websites that I check for meanings and example sentences. So for example, any vocabulary or grammar I have trouble remembering or need to have more information to make sense of, I can cut and paste this information into Anki. From then on, this information will appear when I review the card and hopefully will help me retain its meaning better.
In addition, I often note down any vocabulary or grammar I’m learning in Anki and later I can check them with one of my italki tutors.
Tip #3 Find a shared deck suitable to the level you are studying
While it is tempting to download a huge deck with thousands of advanced words. Pause and think if this is what you need to learn right now. If you are a beginner prioritising the high frequency vocabulary and grammar first, then this means you will maximise your communication and understanding of the language you are learning from the beginning. After all, this is how language classes are structured. From beginner to advanced.
So for example, I am learning Japanese, and there are lists of decks for each level of the Japanese language exams that can be downloaded. Some of these decks are based on textbooks so I know the vocabulary and grammar inside would have been thoroughly selected and checked for students. Therefore, it should be of high quality if all the vocabulary has been copied into an Anki deck accurately.
Tip #4 Find bilingual decks
The advantage of bilingual Anki decks are their clarity in meaning. While your goal will be eventually to understand the language you are studying without translations, but during the initial learning stage, having clear meaning of the vocabulary you’re learning is key.
Tip #5 Look for useful Anki plugins
For example, some of the vocabulary lists that I was looking for were not on Anki but instead I found elsewhere. By using a plugin, I could download the lists from Memrise and easily import them into Anki
A useful plugin is the night mode plugin. If you are studying at night and you don’t want the blue light from your laptop or smartphone to be keeping you awake. Installing this plugin solves that delima.
For students learning Chinese, the Anki Chinese support plugin will allow you to add pinyin, traditional or simplified characters, colour coded tones, as well as give translations and even audio to your sentences. It can also fill in missing information (pinyin, traditional/simplified characters, etc.) from decks you already have. This is an absolutely brilliant plugin.
The Japanese support plugin can fill in the furigana of any kanji or sentences you are studying. This is an invaluable timesaver. It can save you many hours every year when adding furigana to your Anki cards.
Tip #6 Learn how to import vocabulary lists not included on Anki shared decks
You can import vocabulary or grammar lists into Anki using the import function. This is another useful timesaver. For instance, to import Chinese or Japanese vocabulary from Skritter, I first found the list on Skritter I wanted then exported them. Then after changing the encoding of the files, I imported them into “UTF8” as Anki only accepts files in this format.
For Japanese or Chinese learners, Skritter has many excellent vocabulary lists that have been made in conjunction with textbook publishers and the Skritter developers. Therefore I feel that it is very likely that the Skritter vocabulary lists are error free. What’s more, the vocabulary is categorised by level.
Tip #7 Learn how to use the statistics function in Anki
This is useful to see if you are using Anki appropriately. Anki works on the basis of spaced repetition. Basically, it works out when the next time you need to see the vocabulary or grammar again will be. Thus on a certain day calculated, it will show you specific grammar / vocab for you to review. This will streamline your learning by only reviewing words you need to review on that day and not those words that you already know and haven’t forgotten. Thereby saving you time and effort.
However to use this how function correctly you need to know how many Anki cards you’ve learned each day and how many you reviewed.
The Anki statistics can show you this information. One recommended method is to set new cards to 100 and reviews to 100 for a week or longer. After a week of Anki practice, then check the statistics and see how many new cards you’ve learned and how many you’ve reviewed on average. Then tweak the new cards/review settings accordingly, do this on an ongoing basis. For example, if you find that you are learning 50 new cards and reviewing 50 a day then this is what your Anki settings should be set to.
This way you will be able to review the cards you need to review in a timely fashion. Maximising the spaced repetition function that Anki is based upon, and learn the language you are learning faster.
Tip #8 Add Anki to your smartphone and/or tablet to study on the go
If you have a few minutes to spare when you are not doing anything and you have Anki on your phone, then learning new words or grammar can be easily do-able. I have studied vocabulary while on the bus or train, in bed, secretly at work while the boss is not looking, in the queue at the post office and sometimes during the 5 minutes before dinner.
You may be surprised how much time you can find to study if you have the Anki app on your phone and in your pocket ready to go.
Tip #9 When you have finished a deck do not delete it
Keep it in your Anki decks so you can keep reviewing the words. The interval (the time between reviews) maybe long, but this may still prove to be useful over a longer period a time.
This is a useful motivation tool as learning new words is hard and tiring, but if you review words you have seen previously, it does not take much time. Plus this is a boost to your confidence to see words you have previously learned and realize you have (hopefully) remembered them and realize how far you have progressed.
The tips for using Anki above show just a part of what Anki can do to enhance your vocabulary, grammar and overall language skills. If you are new to Anki, then some of the tips may seem difficult to understand at first. But after using Anki for a few months, you will soon see how it works and realise how to use the functions it has. I recommended if you have just started to use Anki to come back to this article after playing around with it for a while and reading it again as it may make more sense after you have had some experience using it.
Lastly I want to emphasise that using Anki is only one part of language learning and it is also important to do as much reading, writing, listening and speaking as possible. To that end if anyone would like to practice English speaking with me, please see my teacher profile.
For more on grammar, vocabulary and British English cultural articles see my website here.
Thanks for reading, I hope this article has been useful.
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