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Do I Need to Use Anki to Learn Japanese? — 33 Comments

  1. Props to you for expanding out to other study methods! I think it’s important to find the method that works best for you as we all learn a little differently. Anki is and has been a great tool for many people, but I too struggled after a while with creating and maintaining my decks. After some time it felt like I was spending most of my time on making good cards and hardly having any time to actually study.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with things not being fun nor efficient anymore. With so much inertia to get over just to start learning, the task of studying became daunting and demotivating. I want studying to be fun and exciting again! (don’t we all?).

    Your alternative method is great too. Finding words out in “the wild” and looking them up on the spot is a really awesome way to solidify them in your memory. You’re there, in the moment with the sights, sounds, and other senses, so learning the definition will mean so much more to you than just looking at words on a page. I used to live in Tokyo and would look things up while going around. It’s really helpful.

    As for other methods, I started wanting a study tool that could combine the convenience of SRS like Anki but with the context that you got from seeing words out in the wild. It’s so helpful to SEE the word ラーメン (ramen) on the menu at a ramen shop while you smell and taste the soup, FEEL your mouth burning on fire, and then SEE the word 辛い (spicy) next to it :) All of a sudden the pieces start to come together to reinforce each other and you remember it forever.

    I didn’t know any tool like this existed, so I set out with a buddy of mine to make one. It’s called Goi (http://www.goiapp.com) and it uses relationships between words to intelligently teach you what’ll be easy for you to learn next. It’s kind of like flashcards, except it also teaches you words in groups so that you can benefit from context as well. It’s the closest thing I’ve been able to come up with that has the ease of an automated study tool and customization of slaving hours over detailed Anki decks :)

    • Thanks! I’m glad to hear you’ve found success as well. Goi looks pretty interesting, but, as luck would have it, I’m an Android fanboy. :) Is there a desktop version available or in the works? It looks quite impressive.

      • Bummer! Unfortunately it’s iOS-only right now. We’re looking toward building a web version and possibly expanding to Android in the future here though. Small team here so we’re trying to make sure we don’t spread ourselves too thin and affect the quality of the app. If you’d like to stay in the loop on its development you can sign up for our (infrequent) newsletter at http://eepurl.com/yIxFH

        Looking forward to more posts :D

  2. I recently came to a similar conclusion. After the bootstrap phase, learning a new language isn’t that different from improving vocabulary in one’s native language. And this method of looking things up when you encounter them is a really effective strategy there. Also I realized that I remember way more of my French from college than one would expect if anki were really necessary.

    But there’s so much to learn and Anki really helps, especially as a productive way to use spare moments.

    I decided to reduce my new Anki cards per day and try to learn more than things than I Anki.

    I think a balance between the approaches is good – which is why Anki seems like the solution to people who have already been learning other ways, and people like us who used Anki from the very beginning find some value in stepping away from it.

    • Right on! I actually started using Anki a bit again recently along with Subs2SRS. Just a few cards a day – I’m not back to my usual tricks again, but it’s still quite useful to me. I like the idea of a happy balance.

  3. 烈火の剣 is a respectable answer for “best Fire Emblem” (as are Path of Radiance (can’t remember the Japanese title) and Tear Ring Saga (why bother with one)), but the only right answer is 聖戦の系譜. There’s just no way that Eliwood can best Sigurd, and the maps are absolutely huge.

    Also, I’m guessing that “魔道士” means something along the lines of Mage Knight?

    I’d say something more relevant to Japanese, but I assume it would be far too negative and therefore not welcome.

    • Ha, 聖戦の系譜 comes pretty close. :) I started out with the GBA installments so they are a little closer to my heart. They’re both a lot of fun.

      “魔道士” is translated to “Mage” in the official translations, but “Mage Knight” is probably closer.

      Feel free to post negative thoughts as well, I’m not too proud to take criticism. :) I haven’t gotten everything figured out yet, and I’m always interested in other opinions. :)

  4. “So do you use Anki or not? Have you ever tried the method I’ve discussed above, and has it worked out for you? What are some of your other non-Anki learning methods, conventional or unconventional?”

    I’ve used Anki since Winter 2010, and I don’t plan on stop using it for at least another few years. (I use the old version though, I accidentally updated to 1.2.8 when I was using 1.0.1 and the decks aren’t compatible. I will never used 2.0 because it totally changed everything)

    When I don’t use Anki, I will probably forget the word, because if I just see the word once, look up the definition on Yahoo Japan Dictionary, I will forget it before the next day, because I probably won’t see it again. For example, a word like 揶揄 (I know this word) isn’t super common, so chances are you won’t see it too often, so without Anki showing it to me every so often (Which is probably more often than you’d see that word) I would probably forget it. I guess the method could work for more common words, but words that aren’t used as often, like 魑魅魍魎、絨毯(I don’t know how often you say carpet lol)、 or other stuff, I still think Anki would be the best, because In real life you wouldn’t be encountering those words too often.

    Lately for me though, It’s been getting harder to do sentences, just Because I can’t find as many as I used to. I’ve added over 8200 sentences to my deck, so I sort of know a lot of words ;) So it’s harder for me to find words I don’t know in stuff I actually like. Most of the words that I don’t know are in politics, science and other stuff, that I sort of wouldn’t care for in English anyways. (I don’t even know the differences between a republic and democracy lol)

    And about how long it takes to add sentences, it will get easier and faster. When I started monolingual sentences, I would do like 10-15 an hour. Last summer, I cranked out 35-45 monolingual sentences in an hour every day. Now…I just can’t find enough sentences to add because My knowledge is higher, so I can add 10-20 in about 15-20 minutes.

    For me, immersion is wonderful and I do it everyday, but I need immersion injected with some steroids (Like Anki, or listening to japanese for 18 hours a day).
    I went to Japan for 9 days on July 27th, and in those 9 days, I learned probably 1/20th the Japanese that I do at home in a 9 day period. (Probably because I was fine with my Japanese ability to function like a normal citizen, sort of) :P What I mostly learned was customs. My first day was awkward because that was the first time in my life I spoke to a Japanese person in real life, so I didn’t have a great grasp on the protocols and what to say, in commercial transactions or such. (What a joke, Being around level 60 and never spoke to a Japanese person in my life)
    But starting my 3rd day I pretty much absorbed in everything I needed to and from then I was able to function like a normal human being. Having conversations with the waiters and 軟派ing and starting conversations with High school girls lol. Oh, the joys of being adolescent.

  5. Personally I think Anki is the best thing since sliced bread! I’m not a native English speaker, and I remember back in high school we got word lists with English vocabulary we had to learn and got tested on. The way I studied back then was by going through each word on the list and if I didn’t know it I would look it up in the dictionary. This is so inefficient compared to Anki because you have to waste time looking up the words you don’t know (in Anki you can just flip the card) and you waste time looking at the easy words you already know. If only I had had Anki back then I would have been able to learn so much faster and easier.

    I agree that it’s a bit of a pain to add cards when you just want to study. But here is where you can use a pre-made deck so you don’t have to create cards at all. For the Japanese-English phase I really like the Japanese Core 2000 deck that’s available on Ankiweb here: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/4271439873 (this is part 1 of 10).

    This deck will give you a card with a Japanese word and then a sentence or two where the word is used. If you prefer only sentences you can easily strip out everything else in the card browser. What I like about this deck is that every word and sentence is read by a native speaker and there are pictures for every card. I’m only on part 2 of 10 in the deck, but so far I find the sentence quality to be very good. They also got some funny sentences in there like その子は体が少し弱い。Hahaha I just find that funny but I can’t think of a situation where I would say that. :)

    I also know that Adshap is working on a Japanese-English deck so if you don’t like Core 2000 maybe wait for that one to be released? I just think it’s a pity that people give up on Anki because it’s too much effort to create cards. Personally I will never go back to looking up words in the dictionary and trying to remember them as my primary way of learning a language, because I remember how painful that got when learning English. It’s still a valid approach certainly, especially if you combine it with a lot of listening so you get reinforcement that way, but for me Anki is the ultimate method when it comes to active learning.

    • I have to agree about Anki. Without Anki, there is no way my Japanese ability would be where it is if I had did Japanese for the same amount of time (currently it’s lingering around 60, I would say.) If I had studied Japanese for the same 2.5 years without Anki I don’t think I could be higher than 20.

      Doing Remembering The Kanji without Anki for me seems almost like a death sentence. :p

    • Card-making isn’t the only reason I took a time-out from Anki (but it is the big one). I also found it too boring and I found myself skipping over cards I didn’t like without remembering them completely just to get through the deck faster, which wasn’t good. But if you don’t find those to be a problem, you should definitely stick with Anki.

      This is mainly a post for people who are already starting to have doubts about Anki or are getting tired of it. If you’re still having great success with it, feel free to ignore me! :)

      There are a few things I don’t like about pre-made decks. The first is that the sentences are usually pretty simple with easy textbook-grammar. After reading a few mangas, I found the sentences to be very oversimplified. Also, I like choosing for myself what words I want to learn. I don’t want to learn cat/rat/sat/bat because they’re next in my deck, I want to learn the words in the manga or book I’m reading now!

      Another thing is once you’re out of the J-E phase they become pretty useless.

      I can’t vouch for other decks as much as I’ve mainly used Core2K. I hadn’t heard about Adshap’s project. (Hey. I work here. I should know these things! :P) Maybe it’ll change my mind a bit. :)

      • Hmm I guess I don’t find studying with Anki as boring as you do. I actually think studying the Core 2000 deck is fun, especially compared to doing RTK reviews. :) As for skipping over boring cards it might just be better to delete them out right. I know Khatzumoto has written a bit about this, for example: http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/srs-if-in-doubt-throw-it-out-ambivalence-is-the-greatest-enemy

        So what’s your plan when it comes to the J-J phase? If you’re not doing sentences any more you don’t have the 1000 sentences -> J-J goal any more. I guess if you are not using sentences the transition would be simply switching form a J-E dictionary to a J-J one?

        Edit: also, just out of curiosity, did you finish RTK using Anki?

        • I went through the transition while I was still using Anki, so I made the switch at (around) 1,000 cards. I also used Anki (actually another SRS, but similar enough) a lot for Reviewing the Kanji. If I had to do it again, I would have done the same thing. Anki helped me a heck of a lot when I was first starting Japanese-learning because I knew so few words and grammar points. I only found it less useful once I started the “reading world” in the JALUP walkthrough.

          I like Khatzumoto’s SRS strategies, and I deleted plenty of cards. But there were some that I couldn’t get right, even after ten tries, and these were cards I really did want to learn, I just got stuck in the mindset of “Oh, I always get this one wrong so I’ll probably get it wrong again”. Yeah, my own brain is against me. I think that’s more of what I meant about skipping over cards I don’t like.

          But yeah, we both agree on RTK reviews. Blech! :P

          • Hi Eric,

            Thanks for the article, I found it quite thought-provoking. Two interesting things happen for me in January: I’ll have somewhat over 1000 J-J cards, and the 2014 Tadoku starts. I’ve been toying with the idea of suspending Anki additions for the month to focus on reading, so hearing that you moved away from Anki at about that many cards and when you reached the reading world struck a chord.

            On another point, Lingq and Learning with texts are sort of in-between Anki and reading-based approaches. The general idea is you build up a library, marking words you want to learn. As you re-read documents you can hover on words to quickly look up anything you’ve forgotten. I like the core idea and tried lingq for a while, but there were too many things about the implementation that I personally didn’t like. Plus, lingq is J-E. Maybe I’d like LWT better. Anyway, just thought I’d mention these for anyone looking for an Anki alternative.

            • Tadoku is great. I’m thinking of joining it too. Don’t neglect intensive reading, though, or, if you’d rather, learning new words with Anki. Extensive reading (aiming for overall understanding of the work instead of worrying about every grammar point or word) is a lot of fun and does a lot of good, just make sure to supplement it with other more intensive forms of study.

              Lingq and Learning with texts looks interesting. I haven’t heard of either of them, but I’ll take a look.

          • Personally I did RTK differently than most people do it.

            I completed all of RTK initially using the method from this site, but shortly after finishing I just thought to myself, there has to be a better way…

            So instead of going though studying kanji in RTK order, I made a separate deck, picked out all the kanji that appeared in my sentences and studied them that way. (still using the RTK anki card format).

            My theory was if a kanji hasn’t appeared in any cards I am trying to read, then I don’t need to learn it yet.

            Anyhow, Ive been doing that for about 2 months now and I have to say it was probably one of the best decisions I have made. Its really going great. And significantly reduced my reviews.

            I think I’ve plucked 650ish kanji just from my Genki 1 and 2 sentences so far.

  6. Interesting article!
    When I added most J-J myself (Right now I’m going up(!) the paved yellow brick road known as The One Deck + some occasional of my own.) I would mark the unknown words
    put them in the English option of Japanese Yahoo (http://dic.yahoo.co.jp/), to get the best example sentences, but still use the Japanese definitions.
    Often the ones from Sanseido (http://www.sanseido.net/).
    Sanseido is GREAT for plain, easy to understand definitions! Try it :)
    I still mark almost every unknown word and keep them in a dictionary list on my iPhone though, I’m convincing myself it’s doing some good but it’s no Anki.

    • I’ve tried but never really got into J-J decks. I understand the concept—whatever you’re doing, even if that’s just typing in or reading definitions, you’re learning—however, I just found there to be way too much friction. Also, complicating cards makes the already difficult task of appropriately grading onself even more difficult. For example, “I understand 5 of 7 words and I have a pretty good understanding of the grammar aside from that strange 「べき」, do I give myself a 3, or a 4? Or, do I just create one card to test each thing (meaning, reading, grammar point n. But, if I do that, how do I know which point I’m testing.” and so on and so forth. I cover this bit in more depth in a blog post of my own (http://bit.ly/1cm301h).

      Saving known words is huge, at least for me. Otherwise, I feel as though I’m reinventing the wheel every time I study. I built an app with a friend (called Goi, my friend posted above, http://www.goiapp.com) for learning and reviewing Japanese vocabulary that has an inbuilt dictionary with two modes:

      1. All Words — Regular dictionary mode
      2. My Words — keeps track of words you’ve learned

      Anyway, I completely agree with Eric in his post that it’s most fun (and therefore best as things that are enjoyable are things you keep doing) to use native materials, i.e. read, watch, listen. Reviewing vocabulary on the side is kind of like priming your subconscious memory with words which will then be solidified through seeing them in real usage. SRS is artificial; I feel like so many “Anki hacks” are trying to make an inherently artificial tool into native materials instead of accepting it for what it is and getting your native materials from, you know, actual native materials :)

      • “Also, complicating cards makes the already difficult task of appropriately grading onself even more difficult. For example, “I understand 5 of 7 words and I have a pretty good understanding of the grammar aside from that strange 「べき」, do I give myself a 3, or a 4? ”

        If a card is too complicated for you at the time, you should

        1. Delete it
        2. Not make it in the first place

        Assuming you are making your own cards instead of other people’s cards, then you should just choose something in your level, if it’s too high you won’t really learn anything anyways.

        “I feel like so many “Anki hacks” are trying to make an inherently artificial tool into native materials instead of accepting it for what it is and getting your native materials from, you know, actual native materials :)”

        If people are using Anki as a method itself they are using it wrong. Anki is just a tool that helps you remember stuff. So if you fill Anki up with excerpts from native materials and only read native materials and such, what’s the problem?

        • I would argue that the meaning and reading of a card is what you grade yourself by in Anki.
          I agree with Shirobon with the addition:
          If the definition you have chosen is too hard but you still know what the sentence means, don’t worry about it. You will understand them later.
          I have had plenty of cards that I fully understood way down the line from the entry date.

          +I know the description words aren’t very fun but they help a lot when going J-J: http://japaneselevelup.com/achieving-dictionary-zen-1-increased-awareness/

    • I love Sanseido. It saved my J-J life. I was getting really frustrated with Yahoo!’s dictionary. Their definitions are better than Sanseido’s, of course, but much harder to understand. I still don’t use Yahoo’s dictionary full-time.

      That’s what I did with the J-J cards as well. I always grade myself on the ability to understand the sentences, not every single word in the definition. The One Deck is great for showing how to do J-J cards right.

  7. ha! I know what 魔道士 means, its a 魔法使い (<-that word actually exist), that sunday afternoon reading フェアリーテイルー wasn't in vain. Anyway, I always loved anki, despite living a "full time routine" I was able to learn 60 words a day studying while I was in the bus going to work or school, which takes me about 70~75 minutes, I guess this was due to the fact the my relation with anki never was too perfectionist, a never care to search for "good example sentences" I didn't search any example sentences at all, I just pick the sentence where the words were, put them into my deck and looked up whenever unknown words (regardless of how many)

  8. I still use Anki for Japanese and I guess I rank up around 75-80 on the level system of this site. Thing is that I don’t add many words, mostly just review. I would say that I add only a couple of dozen words a month if that. I am more likely to add a word to my deck if I find it online, so its just a quick copy paste. I’m also more disposed towards adding a word or phrase if I think I would like to be able to use it myself. A good deal of rare words which you will only find in literature I am happy to simply encounter without memorizing.

  9. I understand those feels. Honestly, I just use tangorin.

    tangorin.com
    Maybe you already know about this but…
    THIS DICTIONARY ALLOWS YOU TO QUICKLY PLACE WORDS YOU LOOK UP INTO LISTS that can be EXPORTED TO ANKI.
    (just click the little plus button to the right.)
    Sure, single word cards aren’t as powerful as sentence cards, but if you are reading a manga series, these words will show up in later manga in a sentence.

    • sounded cool until I saw it was J-E only </3. The no example sentences isn't really a problem, they are pretty easy to find.

  10. I used Anki for about a year to learn German. After about a year a switched over to just reading full time, using a pop-up dictionary on the Kindle made the process of looking-up words on the fly really easy. In the year and a half since I stopped using Anki my vocabulary has just continued to improve normally. My problem with Anki, like yours, was that it was simply taking up a lot of time and not really any fun anymore.

  11. I think ive gotten to the point where anki is holding me back. Im sick of spending a couple hours doing boring reviews and then a couple hours making new cards a day and then having no time for reading manga, japanese news, Wikipedia and rpgs. I also find its easier to memorise a large chunk of words in writing than it is in random flashcards. I can remember and could tell you now every word i learnt from playing pokemon, reading about super mario on wikipedia or my favourite episode of great teacher onizuka but not from my anki flashcards. I love anki and my japanese skyrocketed faster than ever when i started using it a couple years ago but now i feel its actually holding me back and slowing down my japanese learning. Ive had this feeling building up for a while now and i think im finally ready to retire my anki deck

    • Maybe consider a premade for adding, and adding less new cards a day? Dropping anki all together isn’t optimal I believe. At the very least I think you should never stop doing your current reviews, even if you decide to permanently stop adding. Maybe when your reviews get reasonable you can add at a slower pace while upping immersion by a huge percentage.

      Keep anki reviews up till they lessen, continue to add less cards from a premade, and up immersion to your liking. Bottom line is DONT STOP REVIEWING WHAT YOUVE ALREADY ADDED. Those reviews will drop down to nothing in a couple of weeks anyway, no point letting them go to waste, I’m sure you can bare anki a little while longer if you decide you want to quit all together :)

      I spend more time in anki a day than you do, difference is I feel it has a profound effect on my japanese. But I can see how some people find IT like torture. Maybe I’m a little masochistic :p subconsciously of course.

    • It’s natural that you can confidently remember key vocab from things you’re excited about spending time with. I play a lot of RPGs, so I don’t feel the need to make Anki cards for words like 攻撃 or 魔法 or 装備, etc. I think there’s huge value in spending a lot of time doing what you love, and I think it’s totally fine to learn many or even most of your new words that way.

      Where Anki really shines is in covering your gaps. It’s great at letting you know what you’ve forgotten, so you can spend your study time efficiently. It might be worth switching your focus to just that aspect of it, stopping new cards entirely, and burning down your review count until it drops by ~75% within a month or so. I think you’ll find you have way more free time that way, but are still getting the basic safety net of “oh yeah I forgot this word” for the things you’ve already gone to the trouble of making cards for =)

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