If you’re a student that has lots of information to learn languages, you may have heard of the study program Anki.
It’s very popular with language learners especially due to its structure and use of flashcards and many medical students are great enthusiasts of Anki and its ability to help you learn.
But what is Anki? How does it work? What type of learning is it suitable for and will it work for you?
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at Anki, and the system behind it, and will give our honest opinion.
Let’s get started with this detailed Anki review!
What Is Anki?
Anki was first released in 2006 by developer Damien Elmes as a website. It was designed to be a flashcard website where people could create an account and make their own flashcard decks.
The name comes from the Japanese word for memory.
Flashcards are a common study aid that are used by students around the world. They’re a great tool for memorizing information and their premise is simple.
They have information on both sides of the card but the student only sees one side and has to try to recall the second.
This makes flashcards suitable for many different types of subjects but they’re especially popular with language learners.
They’re commonly used for memorizing vocabulary and phrases as the target language can be written on one side and the translation on the other.
In the years that followed, Anki moved away from being only web-based and is now also a stand-alone application for desktops and laptops, as well as being available as an app for cell phones and tablets.
How Does Anki Work?
Anki shows the user the front of a flashcard and asks them to recall the information that is written on the back.
Although this sounds very simple and straightforward, it uses an algorithm to control which flashcards a user sees in any session. This algorithm uses a spaced repetition system (SRS.)
What Is Spaced Repetition System?
SRS is at the core of Anki and is used by many other learning programs as well. Anki shows the user a flashcard and asks them to recall the correct answer.
Although some flashcards ask the user to type in their answer, many simply reveal it so the user is then asked to rate their own recollection.
Usually, there are four options present. These are Easy, Good, Hard, and Again. The way you answer this question will influence the SRS algorithm and dictate how frequently you will see the card.
Spaced Repetition system is key to learning and Anki uses the SRS to show the card again at the right time. If you answer that recalling the call was ‘Easy’, you won’t immediately see that flashcard again.
If you answered that it was ‘Hard’ or ‘Again,’ the card would be shown sooner.
The idea is that you will see the card just before you’re likely to forget it, thus keeping the information fresh in your mind until it is moved to your long-term memory.
As you’re asked to rate each card every time you see it, a card that was once ‘Hard’ and seen frequently can eventually move to be ‘Easy’ and rarely seen at all.
This also works in the other direction, of course, so if you find that you’re forgetting something you thought that you knew, you can bring it back more frequently.
To get the most out of Anki, it’s imperative that you rate your recollection truthfully.
When you start a batch of new words for the first time it’s only natural that you won’t remember them and will need to select ‘Again’ or ‘Hard” for everyone but eventually, you will begin to remember them and can bring in new cards to start the process all over again.
Anki only works because of the flashcard decks. These are groups of flashcards that are usually on the same subject or theme and can be studied together.
Think of them like a deck of cards that belong together and can be worked through.
In practical terms, there is no real limit to how many flashcards can be in a single deck.
Anki does have size restrictions for decks and the number of Anki decks users can have, but these sizes are so large that it’s highly unlikely you will hit them.
In fact, Anki suggests that you’d need around 100,000 average-sized cards and decades of review history to hit this limit.
It’s best to aim for decks that are between 20 and 200 flashcards, however. If there are fewer than 20 cards then you may find that the SRS algorithm doesn’t work as effectively as it won’t be able to space out the cards correctly.
More than 200 can become too cumbersome and difficult for learners to deal with.
You have the option of using flashcard decks created by other users or you can create your own. We will speak a little more about this in a later section.
The flashcards themselves can be entirely text, but they will also support images and sounds. They can have a single word or chunks of text on them but from experience, it’s best to keep flashcards to all the words and phrases.
Customizing Anki For Your Needs
There are many flashcard apps and programs out there but what makes Anki so popular is how customizable it is.
Create Your Own Flashcard Decks
Using another user’s deck is a quick and easy way to get started with language learning on Anki but we would recommend taking the time to create your own deck as this will get the most from the program.
When you use someone else’s deck, you’re overlooking your own knowledge.
Many languages have core vocabulary lists to work through that are dictated by learner level and you will find many decks that are tailored to these specific lists.
Using these is easy, but as you’re bound to know several of the words in these lists already, you will be wasting time by going through the information you already know.
By creating your own decks, you can curate the information so that you only have the information you need to learn.
The act of making multiple cards is also part of the memorization process as you’ll need to physically find and input the words yourself.
This means that you’ve already started the process of learning the information before you’ve even turned over a flashcard.
You can also ensure that the cards are tailored to your learning style.
For example, if you find learning languages easier when you have a funny picture to accompany it, you can add whatever picture you wish. You can add this to your cards if you need additional clarification on certain points.
Make your flashcards work for you to get the most out of Anki.
Although it takes time to make your Anki flashcards, there is a lot you can do with them when they are finished.
When creating the flashcards it will ask you to input some text on the ‘front’ and the ‘back’ of the card. By default, it will show you the front and then ask you to recall the back.
However, you can switch this around so that Anki shows you the back and asks you to recall the front. This is a great way to mix up your learning and approach it from a different angle.
If you find that you waste time staring at cards when you don’t know the answer, you can also set the cards so that they will automatically turn around after a set number of seconds.
This is great for procrastinators and can keep your study same session moving at a faster pace.
There are also options for adding audio to your own flashcards. You can use a variety of Text-to-Speech services to read out your cards and add audio to your cards to practice your listening skills.
The Positives Of Anki
Let’s look at some other aspects of Anki that make it a great program to choose.
Integrations and Workflows
As making flashcards can be such a time-consuming and dense process, there are several ways available to make this easier. There are several add-ons, plug-ins, and integrations that can make flashcards for you.
For example, there are browser extensions that can make cards from information and words you find online. These will make flashcard creation much easier without losing the customization.
Anki is free for computers and is also free to download on your mobile devices and Android devices. If you’re going to be using Anki on either of these, then you have nothing to lose by downloading it and trying it out.
Unfortunately, it has a hefty price tag of $25 on iOS, so iOS users might want to consider using one of the many other flashcard app that is available instead.
The Drawbacks Of Anki
So far, we’ve only looked at the positives of using Anki. Now, let’s look at some of its flaws.
Anki can take a lot of your time. Making your own free decks can take hours, especially when you’re the users and are still trying to decide how to use them.
Although the process is pretty straightforward, it still requires a lot of thought and input to make a flashcard deck.
It’s also very easy to get behind on your studying and never catch up. Anki will tell you how many cards and reviews you have to do and sometimes this number can seem daunting.
If you’re having a bad day and are struggling to recall anything it’s easy to walk away from the time investment and never come back.
It Requires Honesty
Anki will only work if you’re honest with yourself. If you mark every card as being ‘Easy’ or ‘Good’ recollection when they were really ‘Hard’ or ‘Again,’ then Anki will not show the cards at the frequency you need the program to.
This will hinder your chances of memorizing the information.
You need to be honest with yourself and with Anki to get the most out of the SRS. Don’t be afraid to mark everything as ‘Hard’ or ‘Again’ if you need to as eventually, you will begin to remember them.
When you first download Anki it is completely empty. Adding new language and creating your own decks isn’t as intuitive as it could be and the program itself is lacking in instructions.
There is a user manual on the Anki website and there are many websites and tutorials dedicated to using which Anki supports the program itself is severely lacking.
Not A Complete Learning Tool
If you’re looking to use Anki, this app is extremely helpful you learn a language, then you need to be aware of its limitations and what it is designed to do.
Anki can help you memorize things, but it won’t help you with your speaking or ability to freely produce language.
Its primary focus is rote memorization and although this is perfect for vocabulary, it fails in other areas.
Anki is one of the most powerful vocabulary learning tools you’ll find but you won’t become fluent in any language by using Anki alone.
You will still need to practice the language and try to immerse yourself in it as much as you can.
We found Anki to be an invaluable tool for learning vocabulary, formulas, dates, or any other pieces of information that need to be committed to memory.
It’s commonly used by language learners as a vocabulary tool and for this, there aren’t many programs that can beat it.
The customization options are immense but you will need to dedicate time and good understanding the program and setting up your flashbacks as you want them.
In our opinion, Anki is best used by intermediate language learners that are looking to add more words to their vocabulary list and are willing to study in other ways, too.
We would recommend Anki to anyone who needs to memorize information.