The Day: December 27, 2007
One freezing morning during the winter holiday season, I started using Anki. New software merely a year old, I added my first Japanese sentence (which was awkwardly broken from a larger sentence), with multiple definitions, and a dream.
I was almost 3 years into studying Japanese with moderate levels of success, and I made a gamble on a tool I hoped would propel me to success.
- 13,391 self created J-J cards for personal use
- 9,532 cards created for Jalup users
- 1,800 cards created to learn Chinese
- 3,000 cards created to study Law
- 5,000 cards created to learn various programming languages
I’ve done a lot of Anki. My longest interval is 21.3 years (using the default settings). If there is a record for Anki out there, I hope I’ve broken it.
However, we are now parting ways, inspired by my own recent post. Jalup has often been a therapeutic way for me to reflect on how I study myself, and my own goals, and writing this post made me realize what I actually need and want. Since Anki and SRS are the most talked about topics on this site, I thought I definitely needed to explain what happened.
*While this post discusses Anki, a specific app, it can be applied to any SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) out there (including the Jalup app).
Why I started using Anki
I started studying Japanese in 2005. Like any overwhelming subject, I was always doing a balancing act between learning new information and reviewing old. Before electronic SRS existed, most people have done some kind of manual version of it without even thinking about it. You learn something; then you review it later. You don’t sit there practicing the same thing daily for a week.
When I heard about Anki, I knew I had to try it. 3 years of compiling Japanese knowledge in no real order and I finally needed something to “manage the mountain.”
What Anki meant to me
Anki massively boosted my confidence in studying and moving forward. It let me avoid worrying about the process, and focus on the actual studying. This was big to me. Create new cards, review, and repeat. That’s it. No more crazy textbook addictions, or wondering what I should be doing next.
I always felt I was in a state of progress. Progress that I could see, and progress that was giving me power. Watching intervals grow was magical.
What Anki did for me
Made me fluent. Made me beyond fluent.
Why I continued using Anki for so long
The time requirements of using Anki grow less and less the longer you use it. This is the appeal. There was always something new to learn in Japanese no matter how good I had gotten, and using the same tool made it easy to keep that continual growth.
Why I am quitting Anki
I’ve talked about “eternal Anki.” Keep doing it until the intervals grow so large you will be dead by the next time they come around. The logic was simple and effective:
Minimum time commitment (5-10 minutes a day) to keep strong something I’ve spent years building. I enjoyed it. It was the perfect time filler for those “lull moments” throughout the day. I didn’t see a reason to stop.
Until I did.
Anki became a habit out of duty. Out of fear. And I wasn’t actually enjoying it anymore despite convincing myself otherwise.
Cards never disappeared forever
The great promise of Anki: forget forgetting. It does a great job in keeping its promise, for the most part. But not completely.
I still fail cards, and probably more than you would expect. While pushing cards into eternity feels great. Failing cards that come back years later? Not so great. Why does this happen?
Memory is imperfect. You forget stuff that you use. You forget stuff that you don’t use. Immersion is an assistant that reinforces everything you’ve learned in Anki. But there is no guarantee that you will encounter everything you’ve done in Anki out in the wild. And even if there was, that doesn’t guarantee perfect recall.
The result is a daily mix of forgotten cards, cards that I didn’t see much in the real world (even if they weren’t technically uncommon words), and the annoyance of having to encounter them every day. Annoyance is the ultimate fun killer. It doesn’t matter if it is only a few minutes of annoyance. That’s a few minutes too much.
This daily annoyance could be handled easily if there was a good reason behind it. But for me, there wasn’t any longer.
Perfection and fear
Perfection. Grading yourself too harshly on your reviews. Expecting too much out of yourself. Being too strict with yourself. I warn people about this a lot on Jalup because I always did this. It’s one of those “never feel good enough no matter how good you get” issues. While this can motivate you to work harder and longer, when you do eventually get good enough, it’s hard to ever leave that mindset.
I used Anki to build myself up. If I let it go, what if things crumbled? As long as I kept reviewing Anki, I had reassurance that my Japanese would always stay good/get better.
But this is nonsense.
Anki is the perfect tool to help build your Japanese. But what makes you/keeps you amazing are the books you read, the movies you watch, the podcasts you listen to, and the people you talk to. Anki gets you to immersion, the natural SRS.
Daily, I would spend 5-10 minutes a day on Anki reviews, going through 20 sentences, all in order to keep up my Japanese.
Daily, I would also read 40 pages of a novel, watch an hour of a J-TV show, listen to a J-audio book for 30 minutes, listen to a J-podcast for 30 minutes, and have several Japanese conversations. Add this all together and you have thousands of sentences.
Which do you think is really maintaining/helping me grow my Japanese. Which do you think can be removed?
The answer became so obvious. So I let go. It’s been about a month now. Did anything bad happen? No. Do I regret it? No.
When I should have quit Anki
Oh the ease of looking back and pinpointing when you should have done or not done something. But if I’m time machining here, I’d probably finish up somewhere in 2012.
Am I really done with Anki for good?
With Japanese, yes. Absolutely.
With other future subjects I might want to learn (which there will be), I’m positive Anki will make a comeback. In a future post, I’ll talk about how I used Anki (and the Jalup methods) to learn programming, which led me to change careers and become an iOS engineer.
The point of this isn’t to say you should quit Anki or any SRS. Far from it. Anki is still awesome with great results and I would never change that recommendation. This is for all the people that get stressed about reviews forever, and holding on too long.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.