Review of Anki & SRS

I use iGoogle everyday so I was shocked and bummed to hear it was going to be shutdown. I have a bunch of new vocab sitting in my notes in iGoogle that I go through for my #JWOTD. Sure, the shutdown isn’t happening for another year but I thought it was a good excuse to finally try Anki and this whole SRS thing for myself. So below are my impressions and opinions on Anki specifically and SRS in general.

Anki Review

The user interface is pretty clunky especially for the Android version. For example, I have to download a deck for every client. If I synch, why won’t it grab all my decks? What’s the harm? Also “synch” is not an accurate term because if it detects changes on both sides, it forces me to pick one even if I just added cards on the PC and only reviewed it on the phone. There doesn’t seem to be a concept of merging. AnkiWeb is also missing a lot of pretty basic functionality such as browsing your deck. Given the advances of modern webapps, I personally would ditch the desktop client and focus purely on the web and mobile apps. It’s silly to have to install the program on every computer and launch it every time. I would much rather have a richer and interactive web version always open in my browser with tab synch on every machine.

Overall, gets the job done but a LOT of room for improvement.

SRS Review

So I discovered this SRS thing is not for me at all. First of all, it takes way too long to make the cards. Eventually, I just imported all my words using only one side. There’s really no point to filling the other side because I usually read whole web pages and articles to fully get the nuance of new words as people following my twitter account know. At this point, simple words like “car” and “doctor” are not really on my list.

Second, the whole review thing seems backwards to me. If I review a word that’s completely new, I pick “Hard” and then it shows up again right away. For me, seeing a word I don’t know over and over again does not help me. I need new words to bake over time. If I know the word, I want to delete it, and if I don’t know it at all, I pick “Easy”. If the word looks familiar to me, I pick “Hard” so that I can see if I want to delete it the next time.

If you are just starting out, given all new words you would need to learn (and quickly), I would not recommend SRS. Given the additional time it takes to make the cards and the time wasted reviewing words you already know, it’s not worth it. If you know a word, you don’t want to hide it so that it comes back in 8 days. You want to get rid of it and move on. You have thousands of new words waiting for you to waste any more time on ones you already learned.

I personally recommend the “firehose” method of dumping your brain with TONS of interesting content. This means plowing through pages of books and manga, hours of dialogue, and conversation practice forgetting more words than remembering them. Don’t sit around wasting time entering and reviewing what you’ve already seen, just get more, more, and MORE STUFF!!! You’ll be surprised at how much just seems to stick somehow like osmosis. Some people feel this is not effective because they end up forgetting so much stuff. They don’t realize that the fact that they even remember forgetting it means they’re learning it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just weird…

47 thoughts on “Review of Anki & SRS

  1. Interesting post! It almost seems like taboo to criticize SRS and Anki because it’s “science” and should work for everybody. But to each his own, I guess. Anki seems old and chunky but at least it works.

    The point of having a known word return is to not forget it. Sure you may know that word today but in 2 weeks you will probably forget it. SRS keeps pushing well-known words longer and longer into the future and after two or three “Easy” choices the word could be months into the future. In a year you could’ve be close to forgetting the word but getting it repeated in time would reinforce your memory.

    When “deluging” through content do you think it’s best to look up every single word and try to understand every sentence? As a beginner you can’t understand much without looking up everything and even if you understand it you probably won’t remember much at all.

    • I don’t consider it a big deal if you forget a word months out. I don’t think seeing it in the same context in the same card is that helpful.

      I generally try to look up every word though I get lazy sometimes. It’s essential to make looking up words painless. So I recommend text with Furigana. Also, you want to pick things near your level. I usually recommend よつばと for beginners

  2. I’d say that Anki is an usefull tool to learn writing. I don’t use it for words that are in kana, only for kanji compounds, and always write them down on paper during my daily review.

  3. That’s an interesting take. I guess I’d agree that Anki isn’t very useful for your stage (after all, as a native English speaker it wouldn’t be that useful for learning the handful of new words I encounter from time to time).

    However, I think for beginners it’s very useful. When I started out it was totally overwhelming how every sentence was full of words I didn’t know, and Anki gave me a way of measuring progress and making sure I didn’t lose any of the effort I had already put in.

    To me it’s a way to “save your game” and stop yourself from losing progress. Of course the best thing is to just read/watch/listen to Japanese things for as many hours as possible each day (and I feel I’ve improved as a function of this rather than how religiously I do my reps), but by preventing you from forgetting, Anki makes that an efficient time investment.

    And yes, Anki is fairly old fashioned these days–most of the development effort is focused on a major re-write of the program, and has been for some time, so it’s been a while since the stable version has seen much work.

  4. Sorry, but I don’t agree with almost everything you wrote.

    First, the Anki review. Yes, the synch function and the “secondary” apps have room for improvement, but the desktop version has just *everything* you’d need, and more. I wish I’d be able to create such a full-featured software without losing motivation.
    Oh and what’s with this desire to make the Web an “OS” on its own? What if I don’t want to rely on some server to keep my data? If some day the web server goes down or even closes, you’ll lose everything. Is installing a new software on a couple of computers such a pain?
    A destkop software will always be richer, faster and easier to use than a web app.

    I personnally don’t use AnkiWeb or one of the mobile apps so I can’t tell about them (it seems they’re lacking some features, I agree on this), but omitting to talk about the main software makes the review kind of biaised.

    Next, the SRS review. Some context: as of now I’ve only used SRS for kanjis, but for more than two years. I learn words your way, though I don’t read as much material I’d like to.
    Did you try SRS for more than two weeks? Or was it just a one-day experience? SRS aims at long-term learning. Sure, if you create 2000 cards and want to review them all in the same day, it can be kind of frustrating. The software can’t know how much you know each card without asking you, so importing a whole list of words you picked up a long time ago is not efficient. It will take time to set the right interval for each of them.
    But once that’s done, or if you just create cards along with what you read, day after day, it works just as you’d expect: it shows you new cards and cards you have trouble to learn most of the time. The cards you know will be pushed later and later, so you won’t spend much time reviewing them.

    “If I know the word, I want to delete it”
    That’s fine, if you know you won’t forget it two months from now. Though it’s not really useful, since Anki won’t show you this word very often. I have cards due as late as three or four years from now.

    “if I don’t know it at all, I pick “Easy””
    I can’t really understand why you’d do that. Picking “again” will make the card show up at the end of your review, just to make sure you didn’t forget it in the past 10 minutes. Then it will shows up the next day, then three to five days later, then a week later (well, depending on your settings and on your choices). These are not really too short, useless intervals.

    The “deluge” method is great, that’s how we all learned our mother tongue after all. But SRS have benefits too.

    • I don’t really expect everyone to agree with me, I realize that many people like SRS. The desktop client of Anki is fine once you get used to it but it definitely has some quirky usability issues for people new to the software.

      >A destkop software will always be richer, faster and easier to use than a web app.

      I don’t agree with that at all. This used to be the case but now we have AJAX, really fast javascript engines, node.js, WebGL (kinda), HTML 5, local storage, CSS transitions, etc, etc.

      Read this for example: or watch some of the Chrome sessions from the recent Google I/O.

      • Browsers are desktop software and therefore delivers a subset of their capabilities to web sites. Everything on the web could be produced by “traditional” software (with help from some libraries), maybe with greater effort but with more possibilites.

        Yes, standards are improving so they provide a more consequent subset of traditional software possibilities with little effort from a webdesigner point of view. The browser becomes more and more like an “OS in the OS” (and that’s pretty bad for performance). But web sites will never be as rich as real software, because, well, that’s the definition of a “subset”. And even when this subset expands, you have to wait for every browser to implement the new standard, and then for (almost) everyone to upgrade their browsers. Portability is not an issue, but compatibility is, and it’s worse.

        How do you create threads in a web app? How do you manipulate file system without security holes? How do you build up P2P architectures? How do you provide a complete, ergonomic, themeable, fast GUI, that preferably doesn’t rely on a server for each action? Well, Javascript can do that last thing, but with greater effort and less possibilities than with traditionnal desktop libraries.

        • Anki needs none of those capabilities. You would prefer to port your entire program for each OS instead of dealing with browser compatibility? What about OS compatibility? Or do you only care about the latest version of Windows? How do you define “rich”? Because the web allows greater flexibility in UI design. Sure, desktop software have greater capabilities but it can’t do anything until it’s installed by the user on every machine.

          Webapps also have access to high-powered data centers such as EC2 which has far more computing power than your desktop. Things like Hadoop and Big Data allows you to do things that are simply not possible on a single machine. Sure you can build a desktop client that connects online but that’s just putting a web app on the desktop. Kind of pointless. You also have to deal with firewall issues while port 80 is open basically everywhere.

          The statement: “A desktop software will always be richer, faster and easier to use than a web app.” is false. The reason why people use web apps such as gmail is because it’s richer, faster, and easier.

          • “You would prefer to port your entire program for each OS instead of dealing with browser compatibility? What about OS compatibility? Or do you only care about the latest version of Windows? ”

            Not at all, I’m running Linux. But actually Anki is written in Python, so that’s (almost) not an issue. Browser compatibility, however, scares me. When do you think you’ll be able to use type=”date” inputs without the need to rely on a Javascript-based interface for browsers that don’t support it?

            “Because the web allows greater flexibility in UI design.”

            I agree. HTML and CSS are really nice to create interfaces with no effort. It’s better than existing libraries to create GUI based on XML files, and they have less and less drawbacks.

            “it can’t do anything until it’s installed by the user on every machine”

            Come on, installing a software takes at most 30 seconds. It takes 5 seconds if you use an OS with software repositories. I don’t think it’s as much as a problem.

            “Sure you can build a desktop client that connects online but that’s just putting a web app on the desktop.”

            Internet is not the web and the web is not the Internet. One is a service on the other. Do you think Skype is basically “a web app on the desktop”?
            Software that connect to the Internet have one major benefit: they work even if the remote server goes down. Also they’re not limited to HTTP, they don’t have same-domain restrictions, etc.
            That being said you’re right about firewall issues. It’s a pain to make a list of ports you need. At least NAS became more intelligent and are more transparent now.

            “The reason why people use web apps such as gmail is because it’s richer, faster, and easier.”
            I think it’s mainly because they want everything in the same place. Thunderbird is richer and faster than Gmail (though Gmail is easier because you don’t have to configure anything; however you can’t use it for non-gmail addresses).
            Sure, a given web app will sometimes do more than a given software. But the software can theorically do a better job (I know, it’s not a strong argument).

            I’d hate a world where all your software would be on the web. That would mean losing control of everything from your programs to your data.

        • Also, why the heck do you need threads in a web app? Application servers are already multi-threaded and javascript can make asynchronous requests. If anything, the pain of multi-threaded programming is an argument FOR webapps.

          • That was just an example to illustrate that some features are missing and so there are kinds of software you can’t make as web apps. You won’t put a performance-critical software on the web. Yeah, you can put the backend on a server and the frontend on the web, but then you have to afford the server, and you can’t process huge loads of data because of the Internet connection.

            That’s a pretty extreme example though. ^^

          • “Application servers are already multi-threaded”

            Oh lord I just have to correct this super old comment.

            First of all, there are two designs for web servers that are pretty common. Neither solves multi-threading for performance gains. We have multi-threaded servers like Apache which use forks to handle each request, and we have asynch. servers like lighttpd and nginx that don’t. However, neither model means that any application we create is automatically multithreaded for us. We would *still have to do that ourself*.

            Now the natural way to speed up execution is with parallelism, but no common web language really has primitives to do that (really, haskell and clojure are the only languages that really provide adequate support. And both are primarily for desktop apps)

            • I don’t know what you’re correcting. Regardless of language, parallelism comes down to processes and threads as managed by the OS’s scheduler. Application servers are designed to be multi-threaded per request so you can easily do work on different things simultaneously using asynchronous requests. You assumed I was talking about optimizing a single synchronous job to use multiple threads. There are any number of ways to do this on web apps using techniques such as Map-reduce and a distributed model in a datacenter would be far more scalable then what a single desktop machine can do. Of course, a datacenter costs money so really it depends on what your use case is but just “multithreaded” is not a good reason to go with desktop over web.

  5. Hi Tae Kim,

    From your post, it feels to me you tried to bend the SRS to your way of doing, without trying their way.

    For your problem with having to review words you know, well you can and probably should delete them.
    That’s actually a pretty good way of keeping your decks clean and fun. If you don’t like something, drop it.
    But since you’re just starting, why did they get into your deck in the first place ?
    If you don’t want to review something, just don’t add it to your deck.
    Or as Sebbe said, marking it as easy several times will send them far away in the future.

    There’s nothing preventing you to use SRS with massive inputs.
    Using the MCD method (, you can copy a big chunk of text you like and just select the words you want to remember.
    This will generate a card by selected word, with a cloze deletion for each.
    Very easy way to have a lot of fun cards, with interesting content.
    You need to have online content of course, as that’s the biggest drawback of that method.
    Maybe when OCR become really good, a simple picture of a page will suffice to import into your decks but couldn’t make it work yet.

    Also if you prefer online solutions, you can try surusu, from also AJATT:
    Haven’t tried it but it makes it easy to convert online sources to MCD cards.

    • Is this MCD part of Anki or some other app?

      My issue with SRS is that it sends cards you know far into the future for what? When it comes back, it’s still going to be the same card! If you’re doing the right thing and getting tons of exposure, there’s two possibilities for a card that comes back in 3 years (ridiculous!)

      1. You’ve seen the word countless times in various different contexts in which case reviewing the card is useless and a complete waste of time.

      2. You’ve never seen the word ever again in which case reviewing the card is useless and a complete waste of time.

      If I haven’t seen a word in 3 years, why the heck do I care to learn it again much less in the exact same context that I put in the card 3 years ago?! Does SRS find me other material that includes the word for me? No, I have to do it myself.

      I recently learned words like 妬ましい and のべつ幕なし burned into memory because I saw the words used in completely different contexts while doing stuff in Japanese and in fairly close proximity too. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is quite cool in that way. Would I have learned it more effectively by spending time reviewing cards with SRS? No, it’s 1) not fun at all , 2) one-dimensional, and 3) repetitive.

      By the comments, I can tell people are a bit too worried about forgetting something. If you’re doing the right thing and getting tons of exposure and you don’t ever see the word again, then what’s the problem with forgetting it? Otherwise, you’ll have already learned the word anyhow with a much better understand than reading the same card over and over again.

      For my part, I’m still using Anki to store my words since I don’t have a better place for them at the moment. I mostly just use the card browser though.

  6. MCD is a technique for making SRS more interesting. It’s an evolution of Khatzumoto’s “sentence technique”.
    In both cases you don’t use single words in your cards, but you also add the context you found them in.
    The big difference is MCD uses cloze deletion: the word you’re looking for is masked and that’s what you need to find from memory.
    There’s a plugin for Anki

    As you say, reviews can be very boring, but if you like the content you put in your deck, it becomes enjoyable to read it again.
    It’s like re reading a book you’ve read a while back. Except you only read the parts you really liked.
    I often add cards for quotes in movies I like (The dark knight is a golden mine :)) for instance.
    And even after reading them 10-20 times (spaced over weeks), I still enjoy them. It reminds me of the scenes in the movie. When I don’t enjoy them anymore they go away.
    As you said, if the word is useful, I’ll see it again in another context, and maybe this time I’ll enjoy keeping it.

    I think Khatz has an article where he says his decks are really a way of keeping track of stuff he likes.

    I’m not sure about the usefulness of the far in the future reviews. I haven’t got there with that kind of deck yet (only with kanjis from RTK).
    Maybe there’s more benefits in the short and medium terms.

    But as you said getting massive doses of fun and interesting exposure is key, SRS or not.
    SRS is just here to help you optimize when to read it again so that it sticks in your mind.

    What do you do when you come up with a new word you want to learn. Do you look actively for another context ?
    I’m not sure what you’re actually doing with your word list. Can you tell us more ?

    • Usually, I have tons of words in my dictionary history that I looked up while reading books, listening to podcasts, or watching a show. Lately, I’ve started putting them into a list. Once a day, I pick a word that been in the list for a while and look for other stuff online that uses the word and post it on twitter.

  7. I think what Tae Kim is basically trying to say is that reviewing a word that you know over and over again isn’t going to help very much. If anything, it can just be a waste of time. The same can be said for a word you don’t know. Why keep reviewing it if it’s a word you can literally forget and never see again for possibly months to even years?

    I read hundreds of lines of Japanese text everyday. I can say with confidence that I don’t have to look up that many words while doing so. In fact, I’ve come across words I know I’ve forgotten and simply looked them up again. This is how I “learn” my words. I don’t go out of my way to review words. That just feels like a repetitive task which holds less benefit when I could be reading and getting acquainted with common, essential vocabulary.

    I’m not saying making flashcards is completely useless. When I first started, I used to do some sort of flashcard system as well. I will say it’s helpful to get a basic grasp on some commonly used words, but after that, you should just read and be exposed to the language as much as possible. In a way, that’s the same way as you did with your native language.

    For most words in your native language, I’m sure you didn’t constantly look at it over and over to get its nuance and meaning. You simply picked it up as you went along. I do the same with the Japanese I read. I sometimes don’t get the full nuance despite looking it up, but now that I have the basic meaning, I can understand the sentence and eventually pick up its nuance as I go along and find it somewhere else. However, I don’t go and deliberately look for it either(unless it’s extremely important that I understand that certain word).

    The word Tae Kim pointed out above (妬ましい) is a word I recall seeing, but wasn’t entirely sure of its meaning. Tae Kim has been learning Japanese far longer than me and this is a new word for him. Despite that, he has been using Japanese all this time without a second thought about it.

    Learning a new language is like how you learned your native language – lots and lots of assumption until you finally pick up the meaning for yourself.

    • My thoughts exactly! Sometimes, I’m surprised at the words I still don’t know, for example そばかす. 10 years and I didn’t know the word for freckles!

  8. For SRS – it seems your issue is more of the time spent making the cards to study with – and especially your issue is with how Anki decides to go around the SRS system.

    Try out as an alternative SRS system. It’s online as a website – which seems to be what you want with being able to keep a tab open on each screen. It’s more adaptive to testing times – it’s community centric where Anki is individualistic.

    To judge an entire method of learning off of a heavily individual-driven program such as Anki (to make the most out of it you have to put a lot of effort in before any actual learning is done) seems rather silly to me.

    As for the “words you know” – you might know it for 8 days.. maybe 2 weeks.. but you also may forget it in 2 months. The purpose of an SRS is to counteract this to make sure you NEVER forget that word. You learn it once and you are done with it. It’s a bit of effort as words stack up in the “mid-term” between crossing over from short-term memory to long-term memory ; but the payoff is much better.

      • I’d love to hear any comments you have about the site after a bit of use – as I also think the Memrise staff would love to hear as well.

        If you run into any issues with using the site or “how things are done”(EG: Creation of courses) – feel free to email me or comment on my user page on Memrise about it and I’ll do my best to help you out. Admittingly I don’t check my email as often as I should so contacting me on Memrise is more likely to get a quicker reply.

        I can be found at [see Website field] and you can leave a comment on my Garden Wall and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

  9. I think I agree with most of your SRS review because in the end my experience has not been great and resonates with the points you made. I kept it up for about 2 years using sentences, which are up to 2500 or so. Most of my sentences are quite long, and I chose them to have either multiple new words or some new grammar. I had no problem with Anki although I was just using it on a single computer.

    Of course there was some benefit to SRSing. I have a feel for most of the grammar (in large part thanks to your guide, which I have come back to countless times) together with the sentences I had collected. My results with vocabulary and kanji though have been underwhelming and are the main roadblock I’m still facing. I can understand almost everything I read (including novels) after I look up the words. Without looking up any words, if I read a novel with furigana, I can get the main point of what’s happening but have trouble with the details.

    However, as the novels I most want to read have no furigana, reading is quite slow and painful as I still have to do quite a bit of looking up. I had no such trouble reading my sentences in the SRS and I think the problem is it fools you into thinking you know the kanji and the word. This is not the case. Chances are if you encounter it in a new context you won’t be able to read it, or even recognize it. You could get around this by just having an overwhelming amount of sentences with the same words reoccurring in many different contexts but both finding and then entering them into the SRS consumes a tremendous amount of time.

    While I started out using it as a complete beginner and it worked to a point, I can’t say that I recommend it. Perhaps that time could have been better spent just reading more as you suggest. In any case, at some point SRS became very frustrating and I could not stand to do it anymore for the benefit I was getting.

    • > I had no such trouble reading my sentences in the SRS and I think the problem is it fools you into thinking you know the kanji and the word. This is not the case.

      I have had exactly the same experience as you.

  10. I have stopped using Anki two days ago but I do not regret to have used it. I agree with most of what you said, but I still think it is a useful tool in the beginning because it is a way to save your progress when you are still not able to expose yourself to the language without getting frustrated. It might be no problem at all to memorize words if you read hundreds of lines a day, but what if you still need fifteen minutes to even read two lines and still have difficulties with various things?

    Anki is useful in that it is easy-to-use for everyone, while immersion requires tremendous amounts of concentration in the beginning. Of course you *must* immerse yourself in order to progress, but if your pace is still slow it is useful to have something that prevents your current knowledge from gradually withering away.

    You cannot hope to learn a language if the amount of knowledge you lose is higher than the amount of knowledge you learn. Immersion is the best way to learn a language, but there’s a good chance you will get frustrated if you need to look up 70% of all words in an average sentence. That’s why I think Anki is a useful tool in the beginning, but is must not be seen as a replacement for anything. Learning vocabs, grammar and sentences is not the same thing as learning a language, that is why Anki is not and will never be enough.

    • Yes, it’s tough when you’re just starting out. I feel it whenever I try to read anything in Chinese. However, the most time-consuming and frustrating part of that is actually looking up the word especially if you don’t know how to read the Kanji regardless of whether you use SRS or not. That’s why it’s good to start with something either online (with rikai-chan) and/or material where all the words are already looked up for you.

      SRS only saves you from having to look up the word more than once and only during review. If you see a word you forgot in another context, you have to look it up anyway or check your SRS (same thing).

      • Yep, I agree. I think that just looking up a word will not do in the beginning, though. When there are five or six words you have to look up in order to understand a sentence, there’s a good chance you will forget one word or a readings while you’re looking up the next word.

        Anki makes it possible to long-term memorize words that would be hard for you to long-term memorize in the respective context because you’re not able to expose yourself to much content yet.

  11. Interesting points you’re making here; I hadn’t even considered the possibility that people didn’t like Anki! Well, I certainly don’t think you’re completely wrong. It seems to me that the problem you’re experiencing is simply due to your level. When you say something on the lines of “If you get tonnes of exposure and see it in loads of varying contexts, you won’t forget it anyway”, I completely agree with you, however the issue is what if you can’t do that? For example, what if I’m a total beginner, and I basically can’t read anything, so I’m learning incredibly basic things in the language? In such a situation, I either choose to continually review the most basic things which I already know again and again (Read: Just as you complained about Anki, this is boring beyond belief), or I move on and learn some more stuff. It seems to me quite clear that, as Anki is meant to ‘remind’ you of things at efficient intervals, moving on and letting Anki handle those previous basics saves time, and – hopefully – reduces bordem. If, of course, you are at a stage where you can read even half of a novel, then Anki is likely beginning to be less useful, at least. It’s certainly going to be more interesting to read real material, more useful to find it in differing contexts, AND you’re likely to see things more often anyway (Though I would contest the last point by suggesting you’d need to do more time reading than you would in Anki to see the same amount of stuff, as Anki is purposely giving you what you ‘need’ at the right time. Regardless, I think the benefits outweigh that minor negative.)

    That said, I would also have to suggest that SRS becomes more important later on in the game, too. You’re quite right to be pragmatic in your language learning, but if your goal is something akin to real mastery, then you are bound to come across incredibly rare grammar patterns or words. For example, I have a [small] English deck that I use for words I’ve seen in novels and thought “What the bloomin’ Hell does that mean!?” These kinds of words that I’ve probably only seen once in my entire life and just look ‘interesting’. Such as – though I’m by no means a voracious reader – ‘Philhellene’. I have not seen this word even once since I found it in The Magus, yet I’m interested in keeping a large as reasonably possible vocabulary, so I wouldn’t say the time I took to make, and take to maintain, this card wasn’t worth it.

    I’d be most interested to hear what you have to say about that and, particularly if you agree, do you think there are any guidelines you could use to decide when Anki starts getting less useful?

    • Yes, I agree with you on all points.

      Anki is less useful the more words you need to know. You don’t want to be meticulous when you have a huge job. You want to be do things in bulk even if it’s sloppy. However, for beginners, it is a possible substitute for lack of appropriate (graded) reading material only. (See my comment above). If you can’t find material appropriate for your level, it might help you tackle things way above your level. However, with resources like JapanesePod101, my complete guide (I’m in the process of adding as much dialogue as possible), and graded readers, I don’t think it’s necessary.

      I actually started my list for the same reason as you to remember words I won’t likely to see ever again. Though I often see these “rare” words again soon after learning them. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn.

  12. I think it might not be so helpful, for someone at the level you are, though it sounds like maybe you didn’t quite get the hang of the idea. You could still use it to learn new words, like your word of the day – I think part of the problem is you were adding things you didn’t really want to learn. If you feel like deleting it, sure, delete it! : ) You shouldn’t wind up bored having to review things you know over and over, it should feel quick and easy, otherwise the sentence needs to go. You talked about it in terms of words – I feel you really don’t want to be adding words, it should be sentences. Words out of context would definitely be no fun. More advanced learners actually have an advantafe, it’s much easier for them to find sentences that are fun, that they want to add (my favourite ones definitely aren’t boring to me, I smile every time they show up in reviews).
    I did wonder about this bit:
    ‘If I review a word that’s completely new, I pick “Hard” and then it shows up again right away. For me, seeing a word I don’t know over and over again does not help me.’
    The idea would be that you make some conscious effort to remember the word/grammar first, THEN add it. Then SRS shows it to you again before you’ve had time to forget it. Then again at an increased interval. That way, it shouldn’t feel ‘Hard’ for long.
    It may depend on individual learning styles, as well.

    For me as a beginner, it’s absolutely made a huge difference, to the whole way I learn. I understand your point about it taking time to make the cards, but for me, I could spend an hour trying to read a manga, probably only make it past a few pages, which I didn’t fully understand, end up retaining only one or two words, and worst of all – end up frustrated with Japanese. I have done this, for me it’s far less efficient than spending the time using the SRS. I’m currently adding sentences from your Guide, and the SRS ensures I remember what I learn, with very little deliberate effort from me. If I *didn’t* use the SRS for the Guide…I wouldn’t be able to remember it nearly as well or quickly (speaking from experience, here).
    For words (in sentences, never just on its own) I SRS Vs. words I hadn’t, I am definitely needing to see the word less times before I’ll know it. It’s like you said with ‘the fact that they even remember forgetting it means they’re learning it’. With the SRS, it gives you a lot of chances, at the best intervals, to ‘remember forgetting’ a word – and better yet, to actually remember it (since remembering forgetting is a good sign, but doesn’t help much when you want to be able to read a word). I definitely have plenty of ‘new words you would need to learn (and quickly)’, so I really don’t want to waste time forgetting over and over, or manually drilling vocabulary – now *that’s* boring. It’s basically using the SRS to make the whole process more efficient.
    The SRS isn’t as an alternative to immersion, of course, it’s in addition – where would you get your sentences to add from without lots of Japanese stuff? I always have Japanese music or TV playing while I add sentences and do my reps (and any other time it’s possible).

    It’s working, too – only simple things, but more and more often I’m hearing sentences in the Japanese material I’m listening to and going ‘hey wait, I understood that’. Makes me very happy, thank you for the Guide. : ) I do recognise the compounds outside of their original context, too, since one person said they didn’t.

    Hope that helps explain why I love Anki and why it works for me.

  13. Interesting take! I’ve never really seen anybody criticise anki before like this, the web seems to be full of praise for it.

    I have gone through periods of using anki a LOT, and hardly using it at all. I’m going through a not using it at all period at the moment. But, I have found it really useful for remembering some things, which otherwise I would never have got into my brain properly. I wonder if you need to adjust the way you’re using it to get good results?

    I think a lot of stuff about using anki though is aimed more at beginners or intermediate users, and I know that your Japanese is very advanced! Mine is too, so maybe hearing how another advanced learner uses it would be helpful?

    Things that I have found anki useful for:

    Learning the names/positions and kanji for all the prefectures in Japan. – Very useful for cultural context! I have no brain for geography, so learning this with anki was VERY useful.

    Similarly, for learning the names, nicknames and faces of Japanese celebrities. This has helped me to stop getting lost when I’m in a conversation with groups of Japanese people. (It helps if you have a Japanese person on hand to tell you how well known they are in the first place)

    Learning the readings for kanji. This is especially good when reading novels where the author insists on using kanji for things which are normally written in hiragana.

    Remembering things like 四字熟語, which I would definitely get wrong without regular revision.


    I find that anki is actually more useful at an advanced level, because assuming you’re bombarding your brain with lots of Japanese anyway, the more advanced you get, the more of the stuff that you’re reading/listening to is going to be stuff that you already know. I find now with novels I’ll come across something that I don’t understand at all maybe every 5 pages or so, and often it won’t be repeated again for the whole book. But, if I decide that it’s something I want to learn, anki is a very useful way of learning it as I can end up seeing the word again and again, like you would with every day words.

    If you really feel that anki isn’t for you, then that’s fine, obviously, but I do sort of wonder if you just weren’t using it in a very effective way, and maybe you should give it a second chance? There are lots of words that I can read with no problems when they pop up now, or can incorporate into daily conversation, which I definitely would NOT have been able to do without anki.

  14. I agree with you on all points. I’ve learned the bulk of my English vocabulary(my second language) the way you’ve described here and I see little reason not to do the same with Japanese.

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  16. Well, not everyone has the time or environment to immerse x hours a day, and I do agree sitting down clicking Anki on a computer is pretty boring. However, that’s not the only way.

    SRS’ing 30 minutes to 1 hour a day on the bus during commuting is probably the most economical way of making sure you are learning new stuff AND aren’t forgetting old stuff even if you have put reading/listening/whatever on hold for a couple of weeks or months. I’ve been adding thousands of cards with little effort that way. It’s not only Japanese, but biology, chemistry, even math as well.

    Making the cards is not difficult even if you type everything out yourself. Simply buy a vocab book (they are everywhere nowadays) and plow through it, transcribing all the things you don’t know. If you simply don’t have the time to type like that, you can use pre-made lists and delete words you already know well.

    The whole point of SRS is to make the boring task of reviewing easy and efficient so you can get all your vocab and grammar needs done in little bits and pieces of spare time waiting in line, riding the bus, waiting for people, whatever, and without eating into the time you could spend doing other work, or immersing in Japanese stuff.

    I mean let’s face it, reading and listening to native material is excruciatingly difficult (although of course you should start as soon as possible) until you have some thousands of vocab memorized, and those thousands have to get into your brain one way or another. It used to be that you make paper flashcards to help you, but SRS simply scales it up because of the efficiency of only reviewing cards you are nearly forgetting and having everything in a small phone rather than carrying a big pile of cards. This makes it possible to acquire thousands of core vocabulary even if you are not reading or listening, even if Japanese is no where near a priority, even if your life is really busy, and even if you have no time to sit down and study.

    Of course SRS has limitations. SRS will not teach you context or nuances well even if you put 5 definitions and example sentences in each card. SRS will not make you magically able to read like a native. It’s impractical to gain ALL the vocab you ever need from SRS. Thus after getting to a higher level, you can simply stop mass adding cards or using vocab lists and just absorb and look up the occasional word or two. However, a lot of less diligent learners don’t even get anywhere close to that because they miss out on the great tool called SRS and get stuck and eventually regress and give up.

    • of course to add to that, it takes me about 5-8 repetitions over time before I actually know a word well. Even if I learn a new word today, by tomorrow I’ve probably already forgotten it, so I have to review. Reading native material doesn’t guarantee me that I will see the same word within the next 2 days. And even if I do, so now the second time I review it will keep in my brain for a bit longer, say 5 days or 8 days. If I don’t see it again within that time, I’ll forget it! Of course I want the word to come back in 2 days, or 8 days, or 30 days, or 180 days, or whenever it will be I’m about to forget it – so I can review and get it back into my brain. I don’t want to move on and then suddenly 3 weeks later I see the word appear and I’ve totally blanked out! That’s not being efficient because you have to spend more time looking up the word again and relearning it when a few days ago, it could have appeared to you in SRS when you haven’t nearly forgotten as much.

      I guess I’m not an osmosis-type who can just absorb a whole bunch of stuff like that. I need multiple exposure to actually learn it well and I need reliability and efficiency to cope with how little time I have.

  17. I prefer auditory deluge to study. I learned Japanese many years ago, back when an American in the countryside was kind of a dancing bear. Everyone would take me out to see & be seen with me, and I learned to “back channel” first (Ee, naruhodo….) before I could speak or understand. (the first word I learned was だから)
    Recently, I’ve learned all the Scandinavian languages– by repeating best-selling mysteries aloud. Based upon firm psycholinguistic principles, I reprocess the audio by damping the overwhelming bass part of the voice (the carrier-wave), boosting the midrange and compressing dynamics to make speech souns snap out (specifically, precise information on tomgue shape & position) then slow the track to 60-80% rate. You can approximate this with a media player using the equalizer and play-speed options, but hifi digital editing is better.
    At first it sounds strangely hollow & sluggish, but then your ears snap into it, the phonemes come at you like bold kana. Repeat every phrase aloud while listening ahead, like a simultaneous interpreter at the UN. You have time to savor every nuance of articulation, meter & intonation, and even think a little during pauses. You are busy repeating, so you don’t care what it means. But you begin to dream, as you normally do whenever you read a book in your native language. Soon dozens of words are up in the air like a puzzle. One by one the right sentence comes along to nail a word, and more & more your dream converges with the author’s story. (Think of a word’s meaning and usage as the intersection of dozens or hundreds of different statements, and you can see that you must start with those natural sentences and arrive at that point, not the other way around). If you can get past chapter 3 in any language, you can finish the book, and maybe guess the killer!
    Of course you need a basic understanding to jump-start, so begin by reading a mystery or young adult book, then listen to the same audiobook. Then pick another by the same author & voice talent. Then branch out.
    Eventually i’ve come to prefer 80% speed in my best languages. Language teachers think that very slow initial pace doesn’t help you. But Tai Chi is the best practice for Kung Fu. No amount of time listening to 100% speed would ever attune me to the sound & style I pick up this way. I’ll never speak faster than 80% speed anyway, but my speech is natural & fluent, not choppy.
    Japanese demands an unnatural amount of attention to writing, but that writing will be a mental exercise in logic without any natural style until you’ve ingested millions of phrases. Speed up this natural process, by slowing down and repeating aloud some good books this way…

    • Daguroh,

      Your method sounds interesting. I’m trying to reproduce your process. Have you posted anywhere else a more detailed account of the process? Could you suggest particular tools for applying the filters? Can you reference any psycholinguistic literature to back up the “principles” you mention?

      I tried taking MP3s of an audiobook to a Swedish murder mystery and loading them into Audacity. I first slowed the audio to 60% using “Sliding Timescale/Pitch Shift” and then applied a 24dB high-pass filter at 1000Hz. The result had high frequency noise so I applied a 6dB low-pass filter at 5000Hz, which also helps “boost the midrange” as you say. — The result is exciting, but the audio could sound cleaner: hence my request for more details.

      I am finding it difficult to listen and speak at the same time… I guess being a “UN interpreter” is an acquired skill :). Granted, I have not yet listened to more than a few pages like this. — I would also ask: what is the delay between the audio and your shadowing? In other words, how much do you cache the audio in your brain before repeating?

      Thanks for the informative, if off-topic post.

  18. I think you shouldn’t expect Anki (or SRS in general) to take care of all your problems. What I have been doing recently is to only have single words or set phrases just to get the reading and general meaning. I use dictionary entries (usually 大辞泉) on the answer side. Many disapprove of this method as it does not teach you how to actually use the word in practice. But I don’t expect it to do that. I don’t expect to know all the nuances of 趣向 or 幽玄 by eying over a dictionary entry, I let the “deluge method” as you call it take care of that. I simply don’t want to be dumbstruck by having no clue what a word means or not knowing how to pronounce 柔弱 or 寂然.

    This way also has the nice side effect of taking up very little time to set up as it is mostly a matter of copy-pasting. Reviewing is also very quick as there is not much to read through unless you don’t know what it means (cards you know may take 2 seconds each).

    As you get deeper into the territories of the Japanese language I guess you have to make a decision if you want to continue adding more advanced cards like 九仞の功を一簣に虧く (I have no idea why I added this card myself o.o) if you want to have a chance to be able to read/understand it if you ever encounter it (again) or if you decide that it really doesn’t matter.

    However, something I’ve noticed personally is the as I get better at Japanese, the easier it is to learn new words. I expect this is even more true for you, so SRS might indeed not be your thing. Unless you want to learn another language.

    And sorry for the very late comment to this old post.

  19. 私、Ankiを愛用している者です。少し忘れた頃に復習させてくれる単語帳なんて、夢みたいじゃないですか。しかも無料で使わせてくださるなんて、大変ありがたいソフトだと思います。もう~感謝。感謝。もし昔自分が日本語を勉強していた時にあったら、どんなによかったかと思ったりもします。私は、Ankiを韓国語の勉強にすごく重宝していますよ。どうか、Ankiにセカンド・チャンスを与えてやってください。

  20. I have gotten into the mode of doing Advanced SRS but it does get boring sometimes.

    My suggestion is that you try out Flashcard Elite instead of Anki if you’re using iOS. Anki gets promoted a lot on different forums (probably by the guy that wrote it) but I prefer Flashcard Elite which doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Anki (such as graphs) but is a much better interface. Anki also costs $25 for the iPod version and there’s a free version of Flashcard Elite. I worked on Anki on my laptop and then switched to Flashcard Elite on my iPod and prefer it. Again, to each his own and Flashcard Elite lacks some little things (such as changing font size) that bother me occasionally but it’s worked out fairly well. I liked BYKI it too but it doesn’t use SRS like Flashcard Elite or Anki.

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