Our Review of Anki
Anki is a highly effective way to memorize new words you're studying in a foreign language. It’s a must-have for anyone looking to make serious progress. The interface is clunky and plain, though, and can feel complex and difficult to understand at first. However, if you’re willing to invest time in learning how Anki works, we recommend checking it out.
Ease of Use4
Value for Cost10
Anki is, hands down, the most effective way to memorize new words you come across when studying a foreign language. Anki works like a super-smart flashcard deck, keeping track of all your vocabulary in one place and using an algorithm to show you reviews right at the point where you’d start to forget.
It’s a must-have for any learner looking to make serious progress in a foreign language.
Table of Contents
- Anki: a flashcard program that never lets you forget
- 4 things new users should know about Anki
- Our top tips for using Anki like a pro
- Can you learn a language with Anki?
Anki: a flashcard program that never lets you forget
Anki acts as one big flashcard deck that you can access on your desktop or on your phone (AnkiDroid Flashcards or AnkiMobile Flashcards for iPhone). It keeps all of your cards organized in one place and shows them to you at the exact right times with the help of a spaced repetition algorithm.
We use Anki to keep track of all noteworthy new vocabulary we come across while studying languages. When we see something we definitely want to memorize, we add it to a vocabulary list and then bulk-import to Anki later on.
For example, we’re writing this post from a coffeehouse in Vienna, Austria, and printed on the napkins is the German phrase, “Der Biss, der dir gefehlt hat.” which means something like, “the bite you needed.” The word “der Biss (the bite)” is new to us so we’ve added it to our Anki deck.
Anki will hold onto this new card for us and make sure we always remember it. We might see “der Biss (the bite)” today, then tomorrow, then next week, then next month, etc.
Instead of reviewing every card every day as we would with a paper flashcard deck, Anki shows us only the cards we need to review. If we know a card very well, we can mark it as “Easy” and not see it again for a while. The time between reviews will increase or decrease based on how well we remember the word, but the main idea is that we’ll never be allowed to truly forget.
In short, Anki saves us time by hiding the cards we know really well and showing us the cards we urgently need to review. Most importantly, makes sure we never truly forget the vocabulary we learn.
How much does Anki cost?
Anki is completely free to download and use on your computer (desktop download here). Anki is available for mobile devices (AnkiDroid Flashcards or AnkiMobile Flashcards for iPhone) but be aware the iPhone app costs $24.99 (single payment).
If you’re an iPhone user we’d recommend checking out the desktop version of the app first so you can see if Anki makes sense for you before you invest in a license for the mobile app.
4 things new users should know about Anki
If you’re new to Anki you should be aware that it can be difficult to get the hang of the program at first. The interface is simplistic and plain, you don’t have any of the bright colors and images you’ll find on popular apps like Rosetta Stone or Duolingo, and there are more settings than you could possibly count.
Nonetheless, there’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular vocab memorization apps out there. In the sections below we’ve highlighted a few things you need to know before you dive in.
1. Anki stores all of your cards in one deck
If you’ve used paper flashcards or another flashcard program such as Quizlet, you might be used to creating a new flashcard deck for every topic or unit. That’s not the case with Anki. With Anki, you just create one deck for each category of material. One deck for your Spanish cards, one deck for your French cards and so on.
For example, our German flashcard deck keeps all 800 of our German cards in one place. Every day, we study a sliver of that deck – 10 “New” cards and 50 “Review” cards, to be exact. New cards are cards that you haven’t seen before. If you upload 75 flashcards you won’t see them all at once, but rather a few every day (we’ve chosen to see 10 New cards per day). Review cards are cards you’ve studied before. You’ll need to keep studying them in order to move them into your long term memory.
Anki lets you choose how much you want to study every day. For example, for German we’ve chosen to study 10 New and 50 Review cards. Anki keeps track of what material needs to be studied and feeds it to us every day on a silver platter, making our lives way, way easier.
2. How Anki categorizes the cards you learn
Anki has a complex system for keeping track of your cards and knowing when to prompt you to review them. We’ll spare the more complex details, but here are the basics:
Every time Anki prompts us to review a card we’re presented with four “Rating Buttons” to describe how well we know the material:
- Again: Use this button if you had absolutely no idea what the answer was, you’ll see the card again in about 1 minute.
- Hard: Basically means, “I got it right but this was very difficult, so show me again”
- Good: this button will move your card to the next Learning Step (we’ll explain below)
- Easy: this button will automatically move the card into the “Review” stage
Anki uses Learning Steps to categorize cards and the delay time between each review. For example, the default Learning Steps for a new card are 1m 10m 1d (1 minute, 10 minutes, 1 day). Every time you hit the “Good” button on a card it will move to the next Step, for example from “show me again in 1 minute” to “show me again in 10 minutes” and so on.
3. The easiest way to make vocab lists and import them into Anki
Have you ever run into a word you know you’ve seen a thousand times before, but you just can’t remember it? Our brains are forgetful beings, so don’t kick yourself in the foot for not remembering – just start adding words to vocab lists so you can remember.
We use Google Sheets to keep track of all our new vocabulary. Whenever we run into something noteworthy we simply paste it into our list and keep on studying.
Once we have a few dozen vocab words, we copy/paste them into an Excel spreadsheet and save them as a .txt file so they can be imported into Anki using the batch import function. In just a few easy steps, we can create dozens of new flashcards to memorize over the coming days or weeks.
4. Level up your learning with images and audio
Anki is really flexible with the types of media you can add to your flashcards. Having trouble remembering a certain word or phrase? Copy and paste an image from Google to help reinforce your memory!
We’re in the process of reviewing our German study deck and we keep forgetting the word “versteckt / verstecken (hidden / to hide),” so we decided to add an image to our card to help us better remember. Upon typing “versteckt” into Google we found a picture of a cute dog hidden under a blanket. Adding images to flashcards is an excellent way to help your brain build stronger neural connections so you can remember things more easily.
Additionally, Anki allows you to attach audio clips to your flashcards. We use an Anki add-on called HyperTTS to create text-to-speech audio for each one of the cards we make. That way, every time we view a card on Anki we can also listen to its pronunciation.
This helps us train our listening skills and also ensures we don’t mispronounce new words when we’re first learning them.
Our top tips for using Anki like a pro
We’ve been learning languages for years using Anki – we use it every day to memorize vocab, no matter what other apps or methods we’re trying out at any given time. Here are a few vital study tips you’ll want to keep in mind:
Take the time to look words up, then memorize them
Have you ever come across a word so frequently you feel like you know it – except you actually don’t? This used to happen to us all the time. We assumed we’d just pick words up through osmosis without having to ever actually spend time memorizing them.
One German word in particular, “Verteidigungsminister,” seemed to pop up everywhere in news articles and podcasts, but we never bothered to run it through a dictionary and memorize it. When we finally took the time to look it up, we learned it means “minister/secretary of defense.” These days, if we see an unknown word more than once we’ll add it to our vocab list so we can learn it later.
When you read news articles, study lessons from your language tutor or see particularly useful words in a language app, take the time to add them to your Anki deck. Check out our article on the Reverso Context dictionary for more info.
Make your own decks
Anki offers users the ability to share decks and download decks created by other users. If you’re new to using the program you might be tempted to just download one of the pre-made decks, however we’d really recommend not doing this.
A flashcard deck made by someone else will just look like random words and phrases when you look at it. For example, our German deck probably contains a lot of news/political vocabulary we’ve taken from articles and podcasts. It wouldn’t make sense for you to try to memorize the seemingly random words and phrases we’ve found in our personal language studies – focus on learning material you’ve found yourself.
The vocabulary you spend time memorizing should always be relevant to you, your everyday life and your current study environment. Our brains want things to be relevant to us in order to store them in long-term memory. A list of 10 words you took note of while watching a YouTube video is going to be a lot more memorable than a random list of 10 animal names you found on a vocab website.
Long story short, make all of your own flashcards and focus on the vocabulary you encounter elsewhere in your studies.
Don’t stress if you fall behind
Have you ever woken up one day and realized three weeks have somehow passed since you last studied? It happens to all of us and it’s one of the most frustrating parts of language learning. As demoralizing as it feels, however, it takes just a few days to get back up to speed.
Anki decks are meant to be studied every single day, meaning if you miss several days of study you’ll have a lot of Review cards to catch up on. Don’t worry about this – just see it as an opportunity to get a good review of your existing knowledge and start fresh.
If you’re just getting back into an Anki deck after lots of time away, we’d recommend creating a Daily Limits preset focusing only on Review cards. That means you don’t try to learn any New cards; you’re only focused on catching up on your old cards.
We haven’t studied French in ages so we have 831 cards that are overdue for Review.
That sounds daunting, but it’s a lot easier if we decide to budget our review cards over many days. If we were to review 75 cards per day we could be caught up within just 11 days.
Most importantly, don’t feel discouraged if you fall behind. Just set a daily review goal and allow yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment when you finish your day’s cards.
Can you learn a language with Anki?
The bottom line is – yes, definitely, Anki is a very helpful memorization tool and you can definitely learn a language with it.
Anki uses a spaced repetition algorithm to ensure you never truly forget the study material you memorize. Once you create a flashcard, you’ll see it over and over again with increasingly long delays between each review. If you know a card really well, you can mark it as “Easy” and Anki will wait longer before showing it to you again. Alternatively, if you’ve forgotten a card you can hit “Again” to get some extra practice.
We really like that Anki allows images and audio files on flashcards, since sometimes it can be hard to remember certain difficult words without a bit of extra media. We add text-to-speech audio to every single card we make, which helps us to get a better understanding of the pronunciation while also training our listening skills.
Anki isn’t for everyone, though. The interface is clunky and plain, and the settings are often complex and difficult to understand. If you’re brand new to Anki you’ll definitely need to spend a bit of time exploring the features and reading up on what various things mean.
If you’re less tech-savvy or would prefer a more straightforward learning experience we’d recommend using an alternative app, such as Rosetta Stone or Memrise, which offer loads of curated content and straightforward lesson progression.
If you don’t mind Anki’s ugly interface, however, and you’re willing to invest some time in learning how the program works, we’d highly recommend checking it out. It’s by far the best way to effectively learn and remember vocab in a foreign language.
Disclaimer: Rosetta Stone is a property of IXL Learning Inc.