What Does Your Anki Deck Say About You?

Learning Japanese is easier now than ever. We have access to amazing programs that save us an unimaginable amount of time, and access to an unending amount of native Japanese media. And on top of this, we can learn from those who have come before us, like from Adam and the contributors of JALUP.

What Does Your Anki Deck Say About You

All of these tools and techniques make our learning more efficient, but no amount of fancy tools and techniques allow us to escape the fact that we still have to spend some amount of time to learn.

How many times have you told yourself, “I’ll add X number of new cards into Anki per day and by Y months I’ll have added Z new cards in total!”

I’ve personally failed every goal like this that I’ve set for myself. I started my J-J deck about 2 years ago. And in these 2 years, I’ve only added about 1000 J-J cards. That’s a pitiful 1.3 new cards per day. Well, I can say to myself, “at least it’s J-J!” and “at least it’s progress!” to try and make myself feel better. But the numbers don’t lie.

My Anki deck says that I’m not putting my heart into this. My deck says that I neither have the passion nor the drive to become fluent. Why do I write this? Because I know what passion and drive looks like.

Passion and drive is what you see when you browse through Adam’s Anki deck.

Take a look at the chart below (the data for all of the charts on this page comes from Adam’s The One Deck).

Adam: New Cards Added Each Month (From 2007-12 To 2012-09)

The chart above shows how many cards he added for a given month from 2007 to 2012. That’s right: on April 2008, he added nearly 1200 new cards. Unbelievable? I thought so too at first.

When I bought the JALUP 1000 and 2000 (the first 3000 cards before he decided to release his whole deck) sets 2 years ago, I casually looked at the creation timestamps for some of the cards and noticed right away that he’d been adding upwards of 40 some cards a day, every day. At first I thought, no way, that can’t be right. Maybe the timestamps changed when he was getting the deck ready for public release.

However, the timestamps cover nearly ever day for 2 years. And the ending timestamps in the JALUP 1000 are consistent with the beginning timestamps of the JALUP 2000. Finally, with the release of the One deck and the rest of the cards, I noticed the ending timestamps of the JALUP 2000 are consistent with the beginning timestamps of the rest of the One deck.

No doubt about it – this is actually Adam’s progress from 2007 to 2012. And it’s simply inspiring.

Adam: Cumulative Total Of Cards, Shown Monthly (From 2007-12 To 2012-09)

What I really want to drive home to everyone is that, no matter the technique, or the method, or the tools, Adam, without a doubt, put in a ton of time to get to the level he is now. Adam’s Anki deck says that he went through an enormous amount of native material, hitting the 10,000 card milestone in 2 years.

Adam: New Cards Added On Average Each Day, Shown Monthly (First Year)

Having said all this though, I would like to wrap it up by saying that comparing yourself against others is mostly a fruitless affair. All of our circumstances are different. Some people are more effective without Anki so this isn’t even a good indicator. However, let’s not use that as an excuse to hold ourselves back. Let’s be inspired by those who’ve shown that they are headed in a clear direction.

How do your actions reflect upon your goals? If someone were to look through your Anki deck, what would it say about you? Does it say that you have a lukewarm interest? Or does it say, like Adam’s deck, that the owner has a strong, passionate desire to learn?

I’d like to stress that I contacted Adam out of my own initiative about wanting to write this article for JALUP. He had no hand in the message besides proofreading and approving it :)

Also, I had some ideas about correlating card vocab with vocab frequency to show a trend in comprehension and maybe exposure. I think EDICT has frequency numbers for every entry. It would be a more long-term task though. If guys have any ideas or comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Been following JALUP for the past 2 years, back when I started my J-J cards after reading about it on this site. Progress was rough and slow at first, but looking back, I can see the value that it had on my learning. Also, I'm going to be studying in Japan for at least a year come April 2015, so if anyone's there as well and are interested, drop me a line at rnduan(at)gmail(dot)com!

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What Does Your Anki Deck Say About You? — 38 Comments

  1. Regarding your vocabulary frequency project. There is this tool for word frequency analysis: https://sourceforge.net/projects/japanesetextana/files/. Someone went through the rigmarole of using it to generate information on 5000+ novels, which you can find a download link for here: http://www.mediafire.com/download/1vpui4keylja5aw/Innocent_Novel_Analysis_140719.zip

    You could potentially cross reference that frequency information with something like the japanese wordnet (found here: http://nlpwww.nict.go.jp/wn-ja/index.en.html) to produce a list of the most frequently re-ocurring concepts in the japanese language.

    • Looks like you’ve already got the project in the bag :P

      These links look really helpful. I’ll have to give them a closer look – especially that wordnet corpus. Thank you.

  2. I did get the vibe that Adam was sort of crazy about learning Japanese from the 10 year post (crazy in a good way of course). But you do have to be kind of crazy to learn another language. The amount of time and effort you have to put into it is mind-boggling. Japanese has to become a part of you, like transplanting on a new limb or something. So, let’s all be crazy together then shall we?

    • I think most here would’ve given up doing half of the crud he had to go through just to find a method that would work for him. Not to mention the actual exacting of that method, with much less guidance than we receive from him. At most he would’ve received vague guidelines. Very passionate.

      Not to mention the 40 branched J-J cards CREATED a day. Ridiculous.

      • That still amazes me that he made all those cards. That takes a whole lot of motivation that hardly anyone has.

        • Right, the JALUP method isn’t entirely new. Someone who reads a lot in a foreign language is intuitively going through the similar motions, input before output. The common denominator with those who end up becoming proficient, though, is high exposure to native material. So, the fact that he was adding 40 cards a day was as important as the fact that those cards were J-J.

    • You have to be crazy about what you are passionate about! It’s what allows you to move forward when the odds stand against you.

  3. My deck says I’m not very passionate about actually studying Japanese. I love Japanese media, I’ll watch it raw or subbed doesn’t matter to me, but when it comes to actually studying…the numbers don’t lie.

    I’ve been struggling with the feeling that I’m just not getting anywhere and I’m not improving and people who have been studying for as long as I have are way beyond me. However, last month I spent 12.8 minutes per day in Anki. THAT is why I’m not very good yet. It’s not because my method is bad, or because other people are smarter, it’s because I’m spending 12.8 minutes A DAY actually studying Japanese lol.

    The stats in Anki force me to be honest with myself. I love to deceive myself and pretend I’m studying more than I actually am. When I sense this, I usually ask myself the question “Am I really studying, or am I just watching subtitled drama without really learning anything?” or “Am I really studying, or am I just listening to this AKB song without actually studying the lyrics?”.

    Now I know why I’m not so great at Japanese yet.

    • I think you bring into light a good point in your last paragraph in that sometimes consuming material doesn’t lead to learning new things. There is still merit in this, such as reinforcing what you already know, but eventually, to improve, you do have to challenge yourself with new things.

    • These moments where we stop and reflect, and see the truth, while sometimes painful, are essential for self-progress.

      Before I discovered Anki, and when I thought I was studying intensely every day, I decided to do a time breakdown of my typical study day. I saw that a large portion of my studying was reading forum posts and watching subtitled anime. And I felt shattered.

      This is a great time to reassess. Make adjustments. Remove what you know you are doing wrong and put together your plan on how you are going to do things right.

  4. thanks ran, now I feel incredibly lazy with my 20 JJ cards a day :(
    especially considering half of those are premade LOL

    • This post is motivating because it shows you that a ton of work WILL get you there.
      It is demotivating because it shows you that a TON of work will get you there.

      • Just remember that the work is part of the game and is what makes it worthwhile. No two Japanese learner paths are the same and you’ll find the type of work that makes you want to go all out to get there.

    • Don’t feel like you are lazy. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about knowing not to make excuses and that you are giving your best to make your dreams come true.

  5. I think my deck says I have an extreme passion to spend my free time on something very difficult and rather obscure, but I also have full-time unrelated college career and a part-time job. :/

    • That’s rough. It took me more than a year to get through RTK with a full-time job… then again Adam did also have a full-time job during his 2008-2011 progress so people are capable of amazing things.

  6. During the past year of studying Japanese I’ve learned almost as much about how I learn as I have of the language. For example, if I try to go through a chunk of cards my retention is going to be very low. There is no set number of cards, I think it’s more related to the effort required as I start to feel my brain fuzzing out. When I take a short break (3-5 min) and return to the deck my brain has recycled and is ready to learn again. Usually I’ll just shuffle my ipod and listen to whatever song comes on and then get back to it, or watch an episode of Chi’s Sweet Home since they are short.

    Learning these things about yourself will enable you to optimize your habits and increase your workload over time as you integrate the JALUP method with how you learn!

    • I’ve also found that if I break up my Anki reviews into chunks of 50, it’s more doable. It’s also easier for me in the mornings than in the evenings, but I think everyone’s productivity follows that pattern naturally. I’ve also read that your willpower is highest in the mornings too.

  7. I am just like Kevin. I’m not sure how to see average time a day on anki but it’s definitely not much more than 10 minutes a day. Do my low amount of review, and only 10 new cards a day (not even creating them! as Im using Jalup beginner). In the past I have tried doing more anki; doing 30 new cards a day and being almost at, if not over, 100 reviews a day! But I would always give up because of burning out. Was that because I didn’t have enough passion, or was it truely too much for me? Possibly a mix of both. I want to do too many things in my life, I think that’s a problem I have. I am stretching myself too thin and so I progress too slowly on everything. I mean, I have played guitar for 7 years and I would like to keep improving, I want to become fluent in japanese, I also want to become a successful youtuber, being able to make a living through it, Id also need to start working out and eat better as I am in bad health, start meditation because of too much stress, I’d also like to read books at least a bit, and watch documentaries, but I also want time to read manga / watch anime / play video games, on top of working full time, seeing friends, and wanting to go back to school next year, and more that I’m forgetting. My point is, I cant seem to put some order, to find a priority, to focus on a few things instead of trying to do everything. I want them all badly, but I cant have them all, so everything ends up suffering, including japanese, and I end up just… not doing more than the minimum and then spend the rest of the time with entertainment.

    This turned out into more of a ramble than anything, but yeah. Thanks for this post.

    • If you look under the stats option, there should be a stat there on how much time you take on reviewing your cards. You may not be able to determine your actual motivation level, but your stats will never lie to you.

      I think there are more of us than people realize. Being a beginner is pretty rough, all we can do is memorize at this point. The good news for us, is that what we are trying to do is not impossible. There is nothing different between you, me Adam and Khatz (AJJAT). Except of course, that they made a decision, and we have not.

      At this point, I’m fed up with not being able to understand what my favorite Idols are talking about. I’m fed up with having to wait for other people to subtitle my favorite media just so I can enjoy it. I’m fed up with telling people I’m studying Japanese and then saying I don’t really understand anything. This feels like a turning point for me, and I’m going to ride this wave as long as I can.

      When you look at Adam’s stats, notice that he wasn’t crazy the entire time. He was only in crazy mode for a few months out of the total time he was adding cards. We don’t have to maintain that level forever, but when we feel the urge, we gotta run with it and push as hard as we can until our motivation levels return to normal.

      I know I’m not going to quit at this point, I’m past that. I don’t even own a TV anymore, everything I watch is Japanese, movies, tv shows, concerts etc. Even if I quit studying, all that stuff I watch in Japanese is not going to stop, I’m hopelessly addicted. So why bother quitting at this point? I’m still gonna watch Japanese stuff I can’t understand anyway.

      Make the decision.

      • Aww, reading your comment makes digging through The One Deck for the stats and compiling the article worth all the effort :) Good luck!

    • Yeah, there are opportunities costs. Priorities. 10 years down the line, which would give me the biggest regret: being illiterate in Japanese, or being unable to play my favorite songs on the piano. Being illiterate in Japanese would make me more unhappy for sure, so I know what needs to be done.

      • That’s a nice way to look at it. I think I would be more sad if my guitar skills have gone down, BUT as far as them going UP, I think japanese comes first. So I guess I just need to play enough guitar to not become worse; and then spend more time on japanese! (As an example)

    • Not related to Japanese, but hopefully helpful… there is a book written about people like you (and me): “Refuse to Choose!” by Barbara Sher (it’s on Amazon.com). Read it and put an end to doubting yourself. You have a gift of being hyper-motivated (not many people want to do so many things all at once!), you just need to harness it. It seems that the standard definition of “priority” and “focus” does not apply the same way to all of us. So instead of wondering why you can’t create 40 Anki cards a day (or follow any other method for any decent amount of time), work out what it is that motivates you and do that (in Japanese, if you want). You will be amazed! Good luck!

  8. 75 minutes a day on Anki stats. It takes me a lot longer on the clock though. I struggle to focus. The trouble is I study when I get home, usually about 9 or 10pm and I am so tired. Once or twice I’ve been able to study during the day and it’s ridiculous how quickly and easily I get through it all.

    • I’ve also noticed that the time Anki has me down for studying is a lot less than what I’m measuring in real time. I wonder how they measure it…

      • I know it caps the time per card at about a minute by default. It will often take me longer than that to puzzle out a sentence, browse for a confusing conjugation, double check a kanji against the RTK keyword, look up a grammar point in a book, and finally decide I know what it means!

  9. I created my anki deck about a year ago and have just passed over 6000 cards. All my cards are j-e though but i read a lot of manga in japanese and watch everything without subtitles. I know everyone says you have to do jーj but i do what works for me and i know so much japanese now without even having to translate it, i just feel and know what the words mean. My new goal is to add at least 100 cards a day and get to 9 or 10 thousand cards in a month

    • Awesome. I actually cheat a little by looking up the J-E along with J-J definition these days, although I make it a point in understanding and creating the cards using J-J. A few times, I had the embarrassment of committing into deep memory a completely incorrect meaning of a word. Also, J-J definitions are kind of vague sometimes. What also really, really helps for me is looking up example sentences in the J-E Kenkyuusha dictionary.

  10. My Anki deck insists I’m a lazy buffoon and we’re no longer on speaking terms.

    My current plan is to focus exclusively on subtitled dramas and achieve fluency sometime in the next 20 years!

  11. when i had 1500 cards i remember having 1000 young+learn cards in the card types.
    now i have 5400 cards and i still have 1000 young+learn cards… does this mean i’m consistent or something lol

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