Anki. We talk about it a lot here. Many people use it and swear by it. I think it’s time it gets the proper introduction it deserves. Where to begin…
Anki is a popular flash card application developed in 2006. Anki comes from the Japanese word 暗記 (あんき), meaning “memorization.” The app has significantly changed over the years, but at its core, it is an SRS memory flash card application.
Spaced Repetition System (SRS)
Spaced repetition is simple. After you learn something, if you review it over increasingly growing timed intervals, you will retain it longer.
Start off with the common sense way you think about memory:
Step 1: learn something
Step 2: review that something
Step 3: have the ability to recall/use that something
This is how people get smarter. The problem is how step 2 is approached. You know that to remember what you learn, you have to review. The question is when should you review.
Bad reviewing habits
When you are in school, the things you learned need to be recalled/used for a test. When you review something, it is fresh in your memory. The unfortunate path most students take is to review everything right before a test. This leads to cramming, which is a terrible way to work with your memory, despite so many people doing it.
The polar opposite of last minute reviewing has different problems. For example, in order to memorize a word, you repeat it 10 times in a row, then the next day you repeat it 10 more times. This is inefficient, because in an effort to cement it into your memory, you end up wasting time. You don’t need to repeat it 10 times right now.
Adding “spaced repetition” to your reviews
When you learn something and don’t review it, it will continually be on the decline over the upcoming days, weeks, and months, until it fades away.
If you didn’t review it slowly over time, and you try to review it much later (example, before a test), you often have to spend the time to re-learn it. It is less a review, and more a re-learn, which is a another major time waster. A re-learn then quickly heads back down the same path towards forgetting.
If you place points in time where you review that start off soon (a few days), and increasingly grow over time, not only will your ability to remember it not drop, but it will increase. The more you review something, the stronger your grasp of it is.
Keeping up those reviews requires minimal effort. Since it has never significantly been pulled away from your memory, you can review much quicker. Even though there will be a slight memory decline between reviews, it is minor, and not enough to cause you to forget it. This energy spent over several perfectly timed reviews will make it so you have almost no chance of ever forgetting it.
How to review on spaced repetition
The concept is easy, but the process used to be incredibly difficult to practice. Deciding when to review something is hard to know. Combine that with hundreds or thousands of other things you are trying to review.
The easiest solution that most students go with is to just review everything together. You take all your beginner material and review it in a few days, then in a few a weeks and so on. The problem is that every individual item of information you learn and are trying to remember will vary with time. When you first learned it,
1. Was it hard?
2. How well did you truly understand it?
3. Did you develop a personal connection with it?
4. Did you develop an emotional connection it?
5. Did you have a good mnemonic?
6. What was your physical state (tired?)
7. What was your mental state (stressed?)
These and more factors all go into each and every card, and to how well you will remember the information the first time. If you learned 100 new cards, it might look like:
10 cards: have a lot of trouble remembering
20 cards: have a little trouble remembering
50 cards: can remember easily
20 cards: can remember very easily
You wouldn’t want to review all these cards at the same intervals.
The old solution
In the 1970s a solution was created known as the Leitner system.
You’d try to accomplish spaced repetition by physically moving cards into new timed intervals (boxes).
Your new cards start in the first box. When you learn them, you move them to the 2nd box. Then a day or so later, you’d review those cards. You move what you forgot back to the first box, and put what you remember into the 3rd box. You continue pushing cards you remember to the higher number boxes, and what you forget back to the lower number boxes.
This type of manual work was useful for a limited amount of information. But when you have thousands of cards, it’s impossible and prone to mistake.
The solution? Computerize it all. Create an algorithm. That’s what one of the first computer SRS systems did in the 1980s, known as SuperMemo. Then 2 decades later in 2006, Damien Elmes created Anki, taking SRS and just making it look and feel better. And it was free.
While Anki’s algorithm has evolved, and it’s features have grown, Anki is still all about SRS. Its main user base is language learners, but it has expanded to many other subjects.
Anki is great because it lets you focus on learning and reviewing, not the process behind it. However, Anki is only the platform. It doesn’t provide the actual language learning material. While there is a shared Anki deck community, with plenty of valuable resources, I wanted to come in and create something extremely high quality from scratch that works with the Jalup method. The result is the Jalup Anki series, and the thousands of flash cards to be used on the Anki platform to guide you towards fluency.
Final thoughts on Anki
What do you think about Anki? How has it influenced your Japanese studying?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.