Tweaking with ANKI

ANKI is a learning tool, a neat little flashcard program designed to help your memory.  It shows you a number of flashcards (either designed by you or shared with someone else) and then shows them to you again at intervals dependant on how well did you remember the card the previous time (this is basad on self-assessment, so the only person you can cheat is yourself). As I said, it’s neat and tidy and handles many different scripts/mathematical notations very well.  You can download it for free from here.

Now, ANKI, while simple, comes with a bucketload of options. There are many ways to use it, so I thought I would fish for your input on how to use it more effectively. But first a word from my (limited) experience.

My decks: currently I have five. Two are converted (by the way of .csv files) from Internet dictionaries I once made (Lezgi – English, ca. 1600 items; Persian – Polish, ca. 5600 items), three others (French, Armenian, Irish) I’ve made from scratch. Armenian and French go into Polish, while the Irish one has answers in English and follows closely the book I’m using (“Learning Irish”) with tags for each lesson and whatnot.

My experience (some bullet points):

  • Decks made by others are hardly usable, unless extensively tagged and/or following a particular resource.
  • Tagging is tiresome only if you have a big unorganised deck to begin with. If you work steadily (eg. adding new cards from one source at a time) it is very simple and fast.
  • “Cram” is a very useful option for learning (as opposed to retaining) vocabulary ‘quick-and-dirty’ style.
  • For a large deck (esp. imported dictionary) randomizing cards shown is a must. “Show according to time added” is good for working through a textbook lesson-by-lesson (don’t increase the number of new cards/day too much, else you will be outpaced).
  • It is essential to avoid one-to-one mapping (words usually have more than one meaning and all meanings of a particular word don’t match 100% between any pair of languages) and to provide more than just one “equivalent” word.
  • On the other hand, in my experience, overloading the backsides with lot of context, example sentences etc., doesn’t work too well – quite often I don’t take time to read them, plain and simple. A better solution (for me) is to put the example sentences on separate cards (or maybe create a tag/deck for phrases).
  • It is important to randomize the order of reviews as much as possible. Otherwise you’ll be remembering not the words, but their sequence.
  • It is best to pick a realistic (ie. low) number of new cards/day. It will prove to be too high anyway, when you have a busy week. Remember that it is better to do something everyday than to do a lot on Monday and nothing for the rest of the week. Don’t assume you’ll have more time than 15-20 mins/day – for me that means 140-180 cards, but see below.
  • After a while, especially when working with unfamiliar (designed for learning as opposed to retaining vocabulary) deck, the reviews will heap up considerably. While working my decks I have everyday, on the average, twice as many reviews as new cards (up to 40 reviews / 20 new). If all my decks were as challenging as Irish or Armenian (which I’m learning) I wouldn’t have managed – my pace with French (retention) or Lezgi (not very serious) is two-three times faster.

That would be it for now, I’m curious to hear your opinions / comments / insights.

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  • Rémy  On August 30, 2010 at 12:10 am

    I’m doing well thanks, just getting ready for my final year of undergraduate study and getting together some potential ideas for my dissertation. Good to see that you are updating regularly again!

    When I add sentences in ANKI, I just add them to the ‘back’ of the cards. I find this is good because if I’m doing a card that I haven’t remembered properly (or at all), when I flip it over to see the answer I’ve also got a few examples of it in context which will help me remember it for next time. I don’t actually add the sentences when I first make the cards though; I usually edit the card to add them if I’ve struggled with the word during the last few reviews.

    Also, for words that have more than one common meaning, or if they are words which can change meaning depending on what precedes or follows them, I add example sentences for those variations. So for example, in my French deck I have ‘jouer’, and on the back I have separate examples sentences for ‘jouer à’ (for playing games) and ‘jouer de’ (for playing musical instruments).

    I’ve never really noticed the option to limit the new cards/day, but I will definitely be making use of it to set it lower now! For French and Persian especially, I find myself adding words to my ANKI decks throughout the day whenever I’ve come across some new words in an article online or heard a new expression while watching something on TV, and like you’ve said, they can really start to pile up if you’re not careful!

    If you’re looking to work on your French listening comprehension skills at all, I really recommend – Once you get to their intermediate and advanced level lessons they start tackling some really interesting topics about current affairs. The lessons are paced quite evenly and they are not that long -most are around 15 mins- so it’s possible to squeeze in a few throughout the week.

    • peterlin  On August 30, 2010 at 5:35 am

      Thanks for the comment (and Happy Birthday!)!

      I’m still in search of ways to make ANKI more effective (also as a dictionary-building tool; my previous way of making them was much more cumbersome), so I’m keen to hear what everybody else is doing with it. Most of the time I spend with it is devoted to typing in new vocabulary (1400 Armenian words so far, around 1000 for French and Irish)

      As for my French – the problem is twofold: 1) I am comfortable with reading so I don’t really feel the need to focus on learning it (and thus whatever attention I have goes to Irish and Armenian) and 2) I am uncomfortable with speaking so that when opportunity presents itself I switch to English or Persian. Unfortunately, French people outside of Hexagon and EU meetings seem to drop their “speak French or die” attitude :)

      I keep promising myself to start posting in French as a form of practice, but that promise is so hard to keep :)

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