On Anki: 14 months on

Since January 27, 2015, the first set of cards that I had inputted on Anki, I have learned 550 kanji. No, not just stared at for 5 minutes… LEARNED!

When I first heard about spaced repetition, I thought the forum posts were too good to be true. But they prescribed the same advice: Anki. Anki. Anki. Study every day. Mine the crap out of Japanese and fling it into Anki. And I haven’t had any complaints about the system ever since that day, not because I’m an optimist who only looks at the positive side of “good” things, but rather because it’s (1) a scientifically proven model that accurately works with, not against, the dynamics of the brain, and (2) because once you set it up, you can study from wherever the heck you want. I study on my phone because it’s the most convenient, but I have to input new notes on the computer because it would take an eternity and a half doing it on a tiny phone with an even tinier keyboard.

The cons

I’ve generally been satisfied with Anki, but there a few things surrounding human cooperation with the system that bug me a bit.

First, 5 minutes every day turns out to be a lot of time. I tend to multitask so it’s quite difficult allocating a contiguous 5 minutes where I’m 100% concentrated on my task. Yet Anki demands this; as a result, I simply push it over to bedtime, which has its own pros and cons: the material is retained a bit longer since this part of the brain seems to become active after an Anki session and thus enjoys more the benefits of brain development during REM sleep. (I B.S. this “scientific” information as I go along, sorry for offending you.) However, pushing it to bedtime means that my bedtime simply get pushed back, leading to a circular conundrum that brings my bedtime to 11 PM. Thanks a lot, Anki.

Moreover, after a while or due to desperation to go to sleep, I tend to misjudge my retention of a card due to an exaggerated sense of hindsight bias when you’re sleepy. (Seriously, nowadays when I feel horrible or extremely sleepy, my mind starts thinking garbage. One time I was asked, “What’s wrong?” and I almost uttered something like, “I couldn’t put the array into the indexes…” See people, don’t do JavaScript all day.) So the card could be “mature” but if I saw it again a month later, I wouldn’t come up with the answer but mark it “hard” or “good” anyway for feeling bad that an interval of 2.2 months would be reset all the way back to 0.

Thus, Anki doesn’t really quantify or question how fast you seem to be learning. If your average ease is 105%, it doesn’t care. If your average ease is 500%, doesn’t care either. It doesn’t make any suggestions to tune the algorithm, such as max new cards or default interval on pressing “easy” on a new card. Thus Anki may not (ever) be fully adapted to your brain, regardless of variable spacing of repetitions.

The pros

After setting everything up, it takes only about 5-10 minutes to input a new set of kanji, which I do every week. Each set is 5 kanji, but includes 20-30 compound kanji (these can be words or phrases from the packet). Each note contains one compound kanji as well as its meaning, reading, and AP number (which corresponds to one kanji sorted by onyomi, in kanabetical, which is from あ through ん order).

If you’re interested in starting Anki, this I will tell you: do not input everything at once. You will drown in the load. My limits are 24 new cards (8 new vocabulary words) and 100 young/mature cards per day. Why?

  • 24 cards/day is set high so that I can finish a set quickly in time for the quiz, which are Tuesdays and Fridays every week, each one covering a new set.
  • 100 cards is a somewhat low limit, but it just insures me from falling in an Anki avalanche. Besides, it’s rewarding to see when you’ve studied the most cards this month out of any other month in your deck’s life. (I may be a masochist. Err.. moving on.)

Learning in Anki takes little effort. I just stare at the card for a few seconds and go to the next one. Recalling sometimes can take a few seconds but it’s nice to feel the hard drive platters in your brain churning.

le Infographies

Anki StatsYou can, uhh.. see all that for yourself.


Thanks to Anki, I’ve been for the most part saved from cramming, and the words I’ve learned are retained long after the quizzes, which don’t represent any level of mastery on the kanji at all at this point if you’re one of those who crams for the kanji quizzes and never looks behind. And yes, there are people in my class who get 60s and 70s on these quizzes, forget about them (even though they’re twice a week!), and don’t even care at all. They just take the grade.

Plus, Anki prevents me from having these terrible brain farts that I had when I was taking my first kanji quizzes in Japanese 2 (these were only once a week, but it takes a substantial amount of work constructing a foundation since there are few mnemonics or connections that can be made to other words).

Next year, I will be the only non-native speaker taking Japanese 4. Anki has been a great success.

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