How I Spent 8 Years Together with Anki — 34 Comments

  1. “1. If I missed a sound, but this was due to a careless miss, I would still mark it as 3.
    2. If I somewhat understood the meaning, but was a little hazy, I would mark myself a 3.”

    I really really needed to hear that. Thank you so much for this article Adam, it has made me feel so much better about becoming more lenient regarding reviews. Up until a few days ago I was at the ‘beginning Adam’ style of strict reviews. Even a single mispronunciation or hazy definition would mean a fail. was getting 500-600 reviews a day as my J-J One deck nears the 2000 mark. I was already at 140,000 reviews at 5500 cards, which com paring with my other Anki, seemed a lot higher. This strictness was never a problem with your Jalup series, so I had a rude shock when I saw my reviews skyrocket as I approached the less intuitive and more chaotic One Deck. The way that each card builds off the last in the JALUP series means that being strict simply didn’t matter, as cards would normally become correct in groups rather than singularly. With the one deck a lot of my cards are single standing and are unique concepts maybe relating to 2 or 3 cards at the most in a row. Despite being easy to understand cards with few unknowns, the retention in the exact manner i had with the JALUP series had vanished. My pile of reviews was growing out of control and something had to give. This is easily one of my top 3 articles now, alongside your personal Story.

    I really enjoyed you sharing your Anki Journey with us. I feel inspired and ready to continue on to what hopefully will become fluency.

    I’d also like to extend a special thanks to Matt, who helped me realise that there was another more realistic way to learn on Anki. I think his words were quite moving, and helped spur Adam into writing this Article. I’m very happy with the answers I’ve received, so I thank you two very much :)

    • Thanks for inspiring the creation of the article. It’s great that you are finally finding the best Anki route that works for you.

  2. It really does take quite a bit of experience to use Anki ideally. I was super strict as well in the beginning. But you have to find a balance and realize that most of the time it’s better to ‘mostly’ know a card rather than take the time to ‘fully’ know a card. I think Anki is more of a reminder tool than a teaching tool. Native material becomes the best teacher, Anki is just there to keep things in memory.

  3. I’ve always really been the same with Anki. I primarily use 3 (good) or 1 (wrong), seldom 2, and almost never 4. I don’t know why, but it’s been like that since I started day 1 with RTK, probably because I thought it’d be better for memory if I saw it sooner, while still marking it right, and it still continues to this day.

    It doesn’t even matter for a lot of my old cards though. Whether I mark a 3 and see them in 7.4 years or mark a 4 and see it in 11.2 years, the difference is so great that whatever I mark, it won’t even make a difference likely, but I still always mark for the lower number.

    As a matter of fact, when I do my reviews, I have a writing pad and pencil in my right hand, my index finger on the 3 key, ring finger on the 1 key, and thumb on the space bar, so I just fly through only marking 1 and 3 really, no need for a clunky mouse either.

    • that’s impressive that you were able to keep up with your J-J reviews even just using 1 and 3 keys. I got myself in quite a slump as of recent adding at a similar pace to your peak from just using those 2 keys. Maybe you had softer criteria for ‘good’ though. I’m trying to be a bit softer on myself for seldom using 1, its helped a lot with reviews so far. I hope it doesn’t hurt my retention too much, but I guess at worse it’ll just slow down the speed I remember. Eventually it’ll end up the same as using just 1 and 3, I assume.

      • For me, it’s mostly either I get it or don’t, which is why I mostly use 3 and 1. Lots of cards that I mark 3 should definitely be a 4, but I just zoom through them and mark a 3.

        Basically, if I get it right, it’s a 3. If I mostly get it right, like mix up the reading a little bit, but when I see the answer and go “oh, that’s what I meant”, I’ll still usually mark it a 3.

        If I get anything just plain wrong, I’ll give it a 1.
        Sometimes depending on how I feel, I’ll give it a 2 if I feel that I want to see it sooner (which doesn’t really make sense anymore since even putting a 2 on some cards I won’t see them for years)

        I’m not too strict with what I mark as right. If it’s 90% right, just a small mix up maybe because I was a bit confused or maybe I thought I read something other than what is actually written, It’s still a 3 for me, since I meant to do it the correct way. Sometimes I’ll give them a 2 as well.

        As for my pace, I usually go through 15-20 sentences per minute. Just say them fast, mark it, and go to the next.
        Kanji is around 10 or so per minute, since I like to write them out nicely. But I only get like 8 due a day anyway, lol.

    • Thank you for the suggestion on the hand placement for Anki. I just tried it out as you described and it seems to work really well for me, thanks!

  4. For me it’s less about literal grading, and more about “when do I want to see this card again?”. I have no problem selecting “Hard: 6 months” on a failed RTK review of a kanji I never use. When I learn a word that uses it, I’ll start to care more, but until then it’s kind of a waste to reset it and drill it dozens of extra times.

    On the flipside, I might Hard or even Again a card I just barely missed, because I feel like it’s worth the time to get it down really well.

    It sounds like you take a similar approach of being very flexible with your grading, so that’s good to hear. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes this kind of flexibility is key. I like your concept of focusing on when you want the card to return rather than just a grade.

  5. A great read. It was very interesting to read about your journey.

    This has reassured me that I am going in the right direction at the moment. I have started worrying less about whether I am pushing the right button for each card. Instead I just see Anki as a structured way to practice the cards.

    The main point I am currently trying to improve is to spend less time on each card. I tend to slow down when I don’t get a card and can sometimes spend minutes on it. I don’t really learn the card from this anyway, and experience is showing me that I will get it soon enough, so I have started just either pushing Hard or Fail and these and trust that I will be better equipped to understand the card a few days later. So far this has drastically reduced my Anki time, which is allowing me to spend that time on other more efficient ways of studying instead. For instance, looking up grammar points that confuse me.

    • Yes, less worrying about Anki = more time enjoying Japanese. You do your thing, you let Anki do its thing, and all is well.

  6. Have I mentioned recently how much I love this website, or how awesome Adam’s sentence packs are? If you are having trouble with the beginner barrier, take a look at Adam’s beginner sentence pack. I would not be studying right now if it wasn’t for that. Uh sorry, anyway…

    When I first started hearing about this idea of just marking it as a 3 even if it’s a bit hazy, I was pretty darn skeptical. Recently, I saw a beginner card I hadn’t seen for like 3 or 4 months and as soon as it came up I remembered that my understanding of it was really hazy (and that I felt a little guilty after marking it a 3). So I read the card, and was blown away that I completely understood every part of that sentence, even though I hadn’t seen that same sentence for like 3 or 4 months! Then I understood, all the sentences that came after it (and my immersion) reinforced different parts of that sentence, and so when I hit that sentence again it all fell into place. Sure, I could have drilled that into my head over and over and over (and honestly I still do that quite a bit) but I learned that darn sentence anyway, so at the end of the day I guess it didn’t really matter if I hit 1 or 3.

    I’m kind of to the point where I don’t really give a darn how I’m doing it. All I care about is “am I going to quit?”. I adjust my study habits all the time, I only adjust them based on the likely hood of burnout, but never (am I doing this the right way?) screw the right way. I don’t care one bit about the right way. I just have to worry about not quitting and let everything else take care of itself.

    I know for a fact, if I truly and honestly study, for x hours per day, I will become fluent after x years. That is a fact. How we decide to study today is just a drop in the bucket when you add it all up.

    • Taking the dive into trying to do it definitely seems to have had great results!

      And I have a post coming up regarding your last paragraph about time.

  7. This article is very interesting. Your liberal Anki scoring means you see a lot more material. This reminds me of Tadoku (Extensive reading). One of the rules of Tadoku is to skip over parts and words you don’t understand. The sheer volume of reading helps you learn new words from context.

    Seeing the same sentence over and over because you keep getting the kanji (that’s similar to another) wrong is boring and frustrating. I am going try to be less strict in Anki scoring. Maybe this will make doing Anki reps less of a chore. Thank you Adam.

    • This.

      That’s exactly the reason I justified the change a few days ago. Not only was I was receiving an incredible amount of reviews, they were on a limited number of words. The entire point of anki and sentence method is to avoid that. It’s about exposure to new material and reinforcing it with native material. The point is to get as far away from the structured and small vocabulary pools you find in your local university course.

    • Anything to remove that frustration is valuable. There were times where I would hit some troubling cards that just kept repeating, and while I still wanted to learn the card I decided to push it off into the future anyway just to take a break from it. When it came back surprisingly the frustration was gone and I could finally remember it.

  8. I really needed this read, always nice to go back to these! I am having so much trouble not doing it so strictly haha. If I make any sort of mistake, whether it be a real mistake, or a “ah of course! I misread the card!” mistake, I mark it wrong. I only mark it 3 if I read it properly, and I understand it completely (although I have recently, with Jalup Intermediate, gotten better at marking 3 even if the meaning is hazy).

    There are still way too many words though that I just never remember the readings. It makes me wonder, I’m I doing New Cards the proper way? Up until now I have just been doing them as a review; see the card, press space to learn the reading & definition, mark it 3 and onto the next day. But maybe I should be checking them out in the browser before hand, and then using the new card “reviews” as an actual review of what I have just learned? I’m not sure if any of this makes sense, but I think I might have to experiment with this.

    • What settings are you using for New cards? When I see a New card for the first time, marking it “Good” pushes it back 10 minutes, so I get a chance to review it same-day.

      I definitely recommend at least one same-day review after your first encounter with the card. It’s really important to help it stick.

      • Really? When I see a new card it pushes it to the next day o_o how would I change that setting?? Sounds like I have it wrong indeed

        • It’s a setting available under Deck Options -> New Cards, called “Steps (in minutes)”. (the setting is per Options Group, so changing it for one of your decks may not change it for others)

          My current setting is “1 10”. I’m unsure if this is the default for the program, or just the default for the JALUP decks, but it’s been like that for as long as I’ve used Anki.

          • That was the problem; I can already see that this is going to be a lot more helpful haha. Not sure how my setting got changed. Thanks!

    • I’m glad the article is still helpful!

      Don’t be too overly strict on yourself, as it can impede moving forward at a pleasant speed.

      And yes, try changing it to the way Matt suggested. I believe this is the Anki default.

  9. OK, random Anki problem fix, in case anybody else runs into this same issue: I kept getting cards with multiple new undefined words, and it was driving me crazy. (I’m in the JALUP intermediate 1000.) My deck was properly sorted (by date created), so what’s the problem? Finally today I notice that in the *deck-specific* settings there’s a setting for “new cards” that was set to “random order” instead of “order added.” Once I changed that, everything became SO MUCH easier and faster. No idea how it got set to random, but man am I glad it’s fixed now.

    • Thanks for listing that here. I’ve heard of some people having that setting for some reason in their Anki and having the same issue so this definitely helps.

  10. Here is the secret to anki. Stop relying on it to get self-satisfaction. In other words, stop using it so much. Why? I’ve been using anki for several years now. I was doing 3 to 4 hours a day in the beginning, but now I touch anki around 30 mins a day tops. Treating anki like it’s the holy grail of language learning is the hidden killer I think every SRS flashcard user should come to realize. I bet the leitner box system fairs just as good as anki. The only thing I really rely on anki to do for me now is be a scheduler for reviewing conceptual stuff, immutable stuff(things that don’t change in the foreseeable future) and “high level” exercises. Do you really want to be fluent in a language quickly? Start speaking it with a native speaker. Not just any native speaker, but one that will be honest with you and correct you with any and all errors. Anki doesn’t admonish you for errors so you don’t have that fear of making a mistake. In real life that fear faces you everytime you open your mouth. That fear can be several things like embarrassment, inferior/superior complex, etc. The secret to overcoming these superficial things is get off your high horse and get humble. Move to that country if that’s what it takes. Anki only gives you 1 context of something. That’s why you can’t even hold a conversation with a native speaker even after several months, and thousands of cards of anki. You have no context and 1 link for your brain to rely on. Dialogue is creative and stems out of your thoughts and interests, so by conversation with people your brain will automagically start build a network of information. When they start talking back, which anki can’t do(yet), then you get ‘red’ faced and look like a dumbass. When you remove the fear from responding and open your mouth is when real learning happens. Yes the simple old adage remains true to language learning too, no pain no gain. So am I suggesting you get rid of anki altogether? Of course not, I still use it everyday. But keep it in it’s place: it’s just one tool in your tool bag(that’s full of tools right?). Here are some of things I do with anki that may or may not fit your needs:

    1) I often edit cards when I learn new information. eg. front:How are you? (response) back: I’m doing fine. How about you? (add new response: How’s your day?)

    2) Create cards centered around a concept or word, this is to build more links. A template for this is utilizing Tim Ferris’s method(google Tim Ferriss red apple)

    3) Build cards from material that you know you will be reviewing in the near future. eg. school lectures.

    4) Don’t let anki be the thing that keeps you from doing the more critical and hard things like TALKING TO SOMEONE.

    Keep it simple. Use other tools like duolingo, memrise. Have fun with the language(A tale tale sign is when you’re burned out and want to give up-you are not having fun with it). Some ways to have fun are to get together with a friend/co-worker whose interested in the language as you are and commit to speaking with them everyday. Watch your favorite movies w/subtitles. Listen to some music or podcast in a genre you like in that language. In everything you do make it a life long commitment, otherwise, what are you doing it for?

    • I agree that it isn’t the end all of Japanese learning. Which is why it starts off playing a big role, and then slowly fades over time. Immersion is what takes its place, and in a big way.

  11. This’ll sound silly, but just reading “Anki works better when it’s used faster” made a massive difference for me! I was reading the article because I was doing Kanji Kingdom and I wanted to remind myself of the kind of grading standards you held yourself to, and I switched back to Anki and just fired through both it and my Jalup Beginner stuff for the day far quicker than I usually would. It was a lot more engaging and I feel that it helped to eliminate English creeping into my mind during the latter deck. I think going far too slowly was contributing to my kanji fatigue.

    • Not silly at all. It’s hard to know till you try it, and once people try to go through quicker, they often feel significantly better about using Anki. I’m happy to hear it worked for you!

  12. Adam, so appreciate you sharing how you’ve applied RTK. I have heretofore not used Anki with RTK. I’ll be plunging in / combining from now on. Btw, did you enter the Heisig stories in your Anki, or did you skip that part? Sorry if you stated that and I just missed it :(

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