Is it Better to use Pre-made or Self-Created Anki decks?

In regards to the possible continuation of the Jalup Anki deck series past 3000, I received a concern by email about using pre-made Anki decks for an extended length of time, and whether it’s a bad idea to continue relying on them.

Pre-Made Anki Decks Are Guild Controlled Leveling Grounds


“I wonder if there is a danger in keeping people using training wheels for too long. There is surely merit in making people do their own thing. I don’t mean in terms of ‘character building’. But the level of confidence and facility with Japanese may get a boost from doing something entirely on their own. They say the last duty of a good mother is to let her children go.”


Let me start by saying that I originally was in the mindset that everything had to be on your own. There used to be a post on this site (for those that remember it) that said you should be creating everything 100% from RTK to J-E to J-J.

Now I’ve explained why my views have changed in the creation of Beginner and Intermediate.

But even then, the idea was for the 3000 cards to give you enough power to go off on your own (possibly by using The One deck as a nice start). So why have I changed to thinking that Jalup Expert taking you to near fluency (lvl 65) as opposed to just Jalup Advanced (lvl 40) is a good idea?

I think of it as an MMORPG analogy

To gain experience and level up, you can pretty much train anywhere in the game. There is a feeling of a near infinite amount of possibilities all across the wide landscape of the world map. The player is given the full choice of how he will become stronger.

Guilds in these games usually have their own leveling grounds that they either recommend (and help out with) or control exclusively (in the case of open Player Killer servers).

Rather than their newbie guild members just randomly running off, being confused and inefficient, they highly encourage using their training grounds, as they have been around for a while, know what works, know what is efficient and can give full guidance with them. But guild training grounds don’t just stop at newbies. There’s a leveling grounds for levels 20-40, 40-60, 60-80, and so on. A guild strengthens itself by strengthening its individual players.

You gain levels. Gain confidence. Gain comrades. And have a nice smooth path.

It’s true that because of this you aren’t exploring the full spectrum of possibilities to level up. You aren’t testing out new waters and the unknown. You may be missing out on the chance to find secret dungeons and develop a broader knowledge than other guild members.

But what it really comes down to me, and why people are happy to use guild training grounds is this:

You are leveling to enjoy the game, not just to level. Leveling is only a means to that enjoyment.

You grind because that grinding allows you to go on new and harder quests, experience new areas, create new friendships, and have grand adventures.

While everyone in a guild may use the same leveling grounds, every member comes out differently. Even from the actual leveling grounds itself, everyone approaches their use of it in their own way. Each member then takes his experience and decides what skills to learn and progress. Everyone acquires different equipment and weapons, spells and techniques. Leveling grounds are just a base for your unique growth.

I think Japanese it is the same.

No one studies just to get good at Japanese.

You study because you like Japanese TV and movies. You like books and music. You want to visit or live in Japan. You want to make Japanese friends. You want to experience the culture. Studying just allows you to get there.

From all the experience gained through your pre-made Anki decks (“guild leveling grounds”), which are used in a way that matches your study style, you then decide what you are going to engage in and enjoy, what you are going to pursue and accomplish, and what you are going to be an expert in.

Pre-made decks?

Yes. I believe in them. But how about everyone out there? Regardless of whether you use this sites’ decks or any others, are you feeling the analogy? Even a little?



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

Is it Better to use Pre-made or Self-Created Anki decks? — 24 Comments

  1. I agree with you. As someone who has been through the time-consuming process of making my own decks, too, I would just add that pre-made decks actually give people much more time to do things on their own.

    • Yeah, time is definitely a valuable asset when it comes to studying Japanese (or anything for that matter). Motivation only lasts for so long, so making sure you are spreading over the right amount of time, without running it too thin by doing things you don’t want to spend the time on seems to make a big difference.

  2. I really like this post. You explain your thoughts very well and I agree with you. Making your own decks might be fun for some people, and those people should go ahead and do that. But others just find it tedious and in the way of doing what they actually enjoy. We all enjoy different things :)

    • Thanks! And agreed. If you like that trial and error experimentation in creation yourself, go for it. But if you’d rather use that time for something that you’d feel more gain/enjoyment out of, going for that seems wise to me.

  3. I don’t mind admitting that the original email and concern came from me.

    This post is an excellent response. I totally ‘feel the analogy’.

    Interesting I was a ‘guild leader’ in EVE Online for many years, and we had constant training programmes for people in my corp of all levels for exactly the reasons outlined here. It worked very well.

    Our programmes gave people the fun, achievement and development that they would get from personal experimentation, but cut down on the time commitment, false starts, cul-de-sacs and frustrations. Most of our recruits were newbies, but the odd veteran recruit nearly always commented that they wished they had had something similar when they started.

    • I’m happy I could answer your question in an analogy that would relate to you (coincidentally) so well!

  4. I also totally agree with this way of thinking. Making the decks is the worst and most boring part of my Japanese. I totally agree with the fact that no one studies Japanese to be good. The only reason I want to be good is to have fun that I previously couldn’t have. Your pre made decks have made Japanese study progression flow smoothly and I would love to use them until fluency 65 or even higher levels.

    • As you said, I find that to a lot of people deck-building is what makes them dislike Anki. Just being able to go in, do your reviews, get out, and then go do something else often makes for a smoother connection with using Anki.

  5. The analogy feels correct – but I think more factors also come into play. For example what level you are when starting to use them: is there a difference if you have -never- made a card on your own? (Analogy: to never have ventured out in the open world.) Another factor would be the super boosted retention for self-made cards (Analogy: to stumble upon a rare weapon that you end up using/and loving for a long time.)
    I have made E-J, J-E and J-J(both kanjikana ways)cards myself and would rate self made as being approximately ten times more valuable, card for card.
    With that said I think Adshap’s decks are -amazing-, they give you what you need, when you need it and for me it actually frees up time so I can make my own cards but still keep up a fitting new card rate. To sum up, it’s hard to compare since everyone has their own journey and I think Adshap’s decks are golden.

    • There are more factors like you said, and there are some trade-offs as to be expected. This is where all the personal choice comes in, and having the option for pre-made decks let’s you decide which way you are going to go through your journey.

      Thanks!

  6. The question is excellent, as is the response. For me, the pre-made decks separate the “mechanics” of studying from the studying itself. To be sure, creating the cards ab initio has significant learning and retention benefits; however, it’s my feeling that doing so is often a barrier to CONSISTENT Japanese study, just as rebuilding a car engine might be prior to driving a car each time. (maybe not QUITE such a barrier…). For many, it’s a motivation-sucking exercise to utilize precious study time creating study materials rather than engaging in the more motivating and enjoyable part of the actual learning process.

    I think your analogy is spot-on: In leveling, I undertake the grinding process with my WoW characters (doing Anki reps) with my guild comrades to benefit from their expertise, and to make the process more streamlined and fun. Not to say I can’t do some questing or profession leveling on my own (making my own cards from my own resources) in addition to this…if I WANT to. I level (and now help OTHERS level) to enjoy the game environment (enjoy the learning of Japanese…the journey) and so that I/they can participate in end-game content: My particular end-game content is speaking fluent Japanese with my friends and language-partners, and watching Japanese TV (particularly Bleach and the enigmatic movie タンポポ) and reading Japanese literature like a Boss.

    So far, I have found the Kana Conqueror, RTK Mod and Beginner Stage 1 decks HIGHLY useful and extremely powerful, and I expect I’ll find the ensuing stages/levels equally excellent.

    • Thanks for expanding on the analogy. And you are right that a lot of it comes down to what it does to your motivation. People underestimate the massively significant role motivation plays in your Japanese studying. Anything that keeps it high is always a positive.

  7. Pre-made decks are fine, but there’s no denying that creating your own deck creates stronger memories and is more in tune with how the SRS is designed to be used. But, that said, people are often busy so there’s value in convenience too.

    • I’ve actually found that I most often fail the cards I’ve made myself vs. pre-made decks. An irritating mystery.

    • I think that there are a few kinds of cards that I make when creating my own. The first would be ones that come directly from media that I’ve been reading or listening to, that have a context and connection that makes them memorable (like if I use Subs2srs and I can recognize and repeat the sentence with the anime character which originally voiced it, or a manga with a vivid scene or artwork).

      But then there are also the words that I need to branch and look up in order to understand those ones from above, words that are used in the definitions or other sample sentences that also have to be defined and added. Sometimes I’m able to find a good illustrative sentence or phrase for those, other times it is still left vague and I want to add it but I end up with a generic sentence that just lacks the context and punch of the first kind.

      I think if all the sentences could be the first type, then sure, those links are strong and help me to remember. But they’re not, and a certain bit of groundwork and time has to be put in in order to get those. That’s where I think the pre-made decks help, so when I encounter a card, I know that I have the tools already available to understand and grasp it, and that those are helping build a framework so that more cards can be of the first type when I add them in the future.

    • I think it comes down to the learner, his style, his motivation and his time. People can do it pre-made, or all on their own, or both, or not even use Anki at all.

  8. I’ve used a combination of pre-made and self-made decks, and find both to be useful for different reasons. When I was first getting (back) into studying, I grabbed some pre-made Genki I+II decks so I could immediately start studying without the tedium of entering a million new cards. But I also had already worked through those books years prior, so it was more like review.

    (And I had (made the mistake of?) using renshuu.org back then, so all my past cards and review data now lived, un-export-able, on that site.)

    Anyway, I love the control of making my own cards. Picking sentences that I find interesting or meaningful, or have the perfect combination of elements that I’d like to reinforce. I also found that, while my pre-made Genki cards are still in my rotation, I’ve edited/deleted/fixed a whole lot of them. So it was a time-saver up front, but I still wound up giving many of them a personal touch.

    (Also had to remove redundancies for stuff I had already added myself, or had come with other pre-made decks, &c. That’s probably the biggest danger with pre-made decks, actually, though even that’s not so bad.)

    So yeah… the real lesson here is that, whether your cards are pre-made or self-made, don’t make the mistake of letting someone else control your review data! At least you BUY Adshap’s decks, not just “rent” access to them like with some sites.

    • Sounds like you’ve had a great experience making your own cards.

      That’s rough about not being able to get your data out of renshuu.org. I highly agree that making the decks your own and fully under your control is essential. It becomes such an important item to you, the thought of not being able to use it because someone else is in charge of it is not a pleasant one.

      It reminds me of when I first started using Anki and was pouring everything I had into it. And I thought, “what happens if Anki fails and the creator decides to drop the site?” I made sure to have a copy of the program if it ever was going to be the last version.

      • Yeah, I really just hadn’t considered how long-term my review data would be. I figured I’d just need to review the terms on renshuu.org “until I knew them”. I didn’t realize that “until I knew them” would potentially stretch until the end of time…

        Also another VERY important point in Anki’s favor: it’s open source. Even if Damien Elmes gets hit by a truck tomorrow, decides to create a for-pay version, whatever — I just can fork the code from that point and continue undisturbed. Open source is great for software longevity.

        But yeah, getting back to the question at-hand… in my opinion, even a pre-made deck becomes YOUR deck once you start reviewing it. I don’t think it matters much where it came from initially. So if it saves you time up front, buy a deck and don’t worry about it!

        Plus, it helps support this site, so… you know… no harm there :D

  9. I very much believe in pre-made decks if only because you need to study core words, the ones that are most useful and common. If you go out on your own and just make decks using any old words you come across you end up studying lots of words that are less useful. It’s inevitable and it slows down your acquisition of the words you really need to learn, particularly if you plan on taking JLPT.

    I’ve made tons of my own decks and I actually think it’s more enjoyable than using premade decks so calling people lazy for using premade decks is kind of against the grain for me. It takes discipline to stick to one thing and make real progress in a Core deck that has the words you -need- to learn. At the same time you don’t need to waste time -making- the deck, just using it. It’s win win.

    • One thing I really hate about the one deck is feeling that I’m learning words that, while useful, I couldn’t care less whether I knew them at that point in time. Premades are made in a thoughtful and well designed order. I love that.

      • The One Deck was made way before the designed and ordered Jalup deck series. It definitely in some parts is somewhat personalized to me and my interests. The One Deck has been really replaced by the Jalup Decks, but I know some people like to have access to a massive amount of J-J sentences (while a bit chaotic), so that’s why I still offer it.

    • I agree that they definitely both have their uses, and it often comes down to studying style and what you want to gain out of it.

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