You've finally found yourself a great teacher. Every time you meet with him/her, you learn new vocabulary, new expressions, new grammar, and you end your session more confident with the language than you have ever been.

You have a problem, however: the downtime. How do you keep all of that new knowledge fresh in your mind between sessions? How do you not only remember the vocabulary you're  taught, but that you remember it so well that you can use it the next time? When someone comes to me with these questions, I recommend Anki.

What is Anki?

Anki is flashcard software which uses the principle of spaced repetition to minimize the amount of time needed to learn something new. The software is free for your desktop, and you can download the app onto your Android or iOS device for a small fee. There is also a web-based version.

What is spaced repetition all about?

Let's say you are using the Anki flashcards to learn new vocabulary. After you have downloaded or created a deck of cards, Anki will show you a certain amount of cards every day. Once you have learned one of these cards, Anki will add that card to the back of the deck, and only show it to you again just in time before you are about to forget it. This will be based on your rating of how difficult the flash card was when you last saw it.

This means that you will see a new word a lot in the beginning, and see it only seldomly  once you really know it, perhaps only once every 90 days. This kind of system does two things for you: it saves you time because you don't review cards you already know, and because you see every word before you forget it, ensures that all of your vocabulary is fresh in your mind, ready to use.

Should I download cards or create my own?

Anki allows you to download any deck of cards someone else has made public, but I recommend making your own cards because, simply, the act of creating a card enhances the chance you will remember it. You can add images to your cards1 or audio files to add to the word's pronunciation2. I add example sentences to my cards, but you can add fields for anything you want, and decide on what side of the card you want those fields.

Try it out

You don't need much time to make your Anki cards. Even with a deck of a thousand cards, the time you spend reviewing your words might be only minutes a day, depending on how many new cards are in the deck. And because the Anki app can be downloaded onto your mobile device, you can do your Anki cards wherever you are as long as you have a few minutes.


  1. This is obviously easier to do if the word is well-known or can be illustrated. Start with Google Image Search.
  2. See Forvo to download the pronunciation for almost any word you can think of as a small audio file.

Hero image by Damien Elmes (GPL)