January 9, 2013

I’ve recently begun using Anki, a “spaced repetition system” (SRS).

Anki is software that helps its users to remember large amounts of information in an efficient way. It can be used to learn many things, but it is especially useful for learning vocabulary.

An SRS is an efficient way to learn vocabulary words. In Anki, you can create “decks” of “cards”, metaphors taken from traditional “flash cards”. On each card, you can enter information, including the word or phrase that you want to remember (i.e., the “front side” of the card) and its translation or meaning or an example (i.e., the “back side” of the card).

For instance, you could enter “खुश” one the front side of a card, and “happy” on the back side, or you could enter “X को Y पता होना” on the front and “for X to know Y, e.g., मुझे यह पता है” on the back.

However, Anki is far more efficient than traditional flash cards. When you study using Anki, the software presents a card to you, and you can rate your confidence (e.g., “I have no idea” / “I know that” / “I know that very well”). Based on your rating, Anki adjusts the cards it will present in the future. Anki uses a statistical algorithm to select which cards to display. This is vastly more efficient, because Anki will only present a small subset of the words to you each time, and it presents the words that you need to study the most. Thus, you spend your time studying what you need to study, and you don’t spend too much time studying. The idea of spaced repetition is that the better you know words, the less often you need to study them. Anki exploits this fact to make studying more efficient.

Anki can be fun – it’s almost like a game, and the sessions don’t last very long. There’s no need to stare at long lists of vocabulary for hours.

Anki offers a lot of additional features too. It can be used online, and you can synchronize decks across multiple computers, for instance.

I’ve enjoyed using Anki so far. Here’s one way that I use Anki: I read news articles online, such as BBC Hindi, and I enter any words that I don’t recognize into Anki so that I can learn them. I also enter some words that I know but that I want to remember. I typically do this in the mornings, then review in the evenings.

There are many other SRS available besides Anki, but Anki is very popular.

Try Anki, and let me know how your experience is.

  • Hi David, thank you, very interesting blog. Anki is really a great software, I have been using it for more than 1 year and like it very much. Especially I like the test mode when I have to type Hindi words, as for me, it is more efficiently than simply try to memorize them.
    Regarding the small subset of words, it is so in beginning of the study, but for now I added more than 3,000 words to my Anki deck, and for some days when I have many recently added words it gives me 200-300 and even more words expecting study, and if I don’t repeat them today, for tomorrow it will be already 400-500 words. This is not a drawback, it just reflects real situation – the more words we studied, the more words we need to repeat.
    I have tried other software for European languages but no one of them worked with Devenagari script, and in Anki this is very good feature that it supports different scripts, import of pictures and audios.

    • Hi, Kateryna! Thanks for sharing your experience. I was wondering what will happen when my deck becomes larger, so I’m glad that you mentioned that. Yes, Anki supports Unicode, which is an advantage.

  • mike

    do you have an Anki Hindi deck for a beginner? maybe just 300-500 of the ‘most’ common words. This would just be for travel and casual conversation.

    • Hi, Mike! That’s a good suggestion. Unfortunately, no, I don’t have such a deck. I’d like to add something like that, but I can’t devote the time to creating it. However, there are several Hindi books, dictionaries, and phrase books that contain essential Hindi vocabulary that would be useful for travel and basic conversation.