Anki is an app for memorising anything. It is especially useful for language learners as it can save much time and effort on memorising vocabulary and grammar patterns. Anki helps you only practice the material that you are going to forget, therefore making your study time very efficient. However, learning how to use Anki takes time and can be confusing. So this guide aims to help language learners understand how to use Anki.
While my experience of Anki is for learning Japanese and Chinese the tips I suggest here (with a few modifications) can be used to learn any language. Without further delay, here are my 9 tips on how to use Anki:
1. Should you import decks or create decks?
With Anki you can make your own vocabulary or grammar decks or import ready-made decks on the shared deck’s pages :
My personal preference is to search for quality shared decks and then supplement them with my own information.
How do you find high-quality shared decks? One thing to look out for is the star ratings given to Anki decks by users. Anki decks are rated from 1 to 5 stars (with 5 the best), and the total number of ratings is a useful indicator too. The total number of ratings is the total number of people that have rated that deck.
Also, if you go to the deck’s download page you can read comments from people who have downloaded and used the deck. People usually comment if the deck is well made or has many mistakes and errors.
However, in the end, trial and error is the only way to confirm an Anki deck is good quality. As some decks have not been rated but are still excellent.
Another reason for downloading shared decks is that decks made by others, often have built-in fields or features that as an Anki beginner you would probably not be able to create yourself, or would not think of.
For example, the simplest decks just have vocabulary and meaning, while more comprehensive ones have vocabulary, meaning, explanation, example sentences, related vocabulary, colour coding, pictures, cloze deletions and useful mnemonics already built-in.
To make Anki decks with all that information would be very time consuming on your own.
However, if the opposite is what you want – a simple, high-quality deck but the shared deck has too much information, that is not a problem, you can just delete the field(s) you do not need in the edit field section.
In the columns above are the field names. The fields display information on the flashcards. If you do not want a field, say, of pictures. Just highlight the Pictures field and delete using the button on the right-hand side.
2. Add your own sentences/notes to already made decks
Adding your own sentences and notes may mean more time spent learning each word – but it also means that you will understand it better and you can make it more memorable.
To add my own information, I have a few online dictionaries and grammar websites that I check for meanings and example sentences. So for any vocabulary or grammar, I have trouble remembering or need to have more information to make sense of I can cut and paste this information into Anki. From then on this information will appear when I review the card and hopefully will help me retain its meaning better.
I also often note down any vocabulary or grammar that I’m learning in Anki, and later I can check them with one of my tutors.
3. Find a shared deck suitable to the level you are studying
While it is tempting to download a huge deck with thousands of advanced words. Think, is this is what you need to learn right now?
If you are a beginner prioritising the high-frequency vocabulary and grammar first will mean you will maximise your communication and understanding of the language you are learning from the beginning. After all, this is how language classes are structured. From beginner to advanced.
So for example, I am learning Japanese, and there are lists for each level of the Japanese language exams that can be downloaded. Some of these decks are based on textbooks, so I know that the vocabulary and grammar included on them would have been thoroughly selected and checked for students and therefore should be high-quality if all the vocabulary has been copied into an Anki deck accurately.
4. Find bilingual decks
The advantage of bilingual Anki decks is the clarity in meaning this gives you. While your goal will be eventually to understand the language you are studying without translation, in the initial learning stage having the vocabulary you are studying in your own language means you will be clear what the words meaning is.
5. Search for useful Anki plugins
A useful plugin is the night mode plugin. If you are studying at night, you don’t want the blue light from your laptop or smartphone to be keeping you awake. Installing the night mode solves this:
For students of Chinese, the Anki Chinese support plugin can add pinyin, traditional or simplified characters, colour code tones, give translation and even audio to your sentences. It can also fill in missing information (pinyin, traditional/simplified characters, etc.) from decks you already have. It is a brilliant plugin. Here is the link:
The Japanese support plugin can fill in the furigana of any kanji or sentences you are studying. This is an invaluable timesaver. It can save you many hours every year when adding furigana to your Anki cards. The plugin can be found here:
6. Learn how to use the import function
You can import vocabulary or grammar lists into Anki using the import function. This is another useful timesaver and useful because there are many high-quality vocabulary and grammar lists not on Anki.
To import Chinese and Japanese vocabulary from Skritter, I first found the list on Skritter I wanted then exported them. Then after changing the encoding of the files, I imported them into UTF8, as Anki only accepts files in this format.
For Japanese or Chinese learners, Skritter has many excellent vocabulary lists that have been made in conjunction with textbook publishers and the Skritter developers. Therefore I feel that it is highly likely that the Skritter vocabulary lists are error free and usefully the vocabulary lists are already categorised by level.
7. Learn how to use the statistics function in Anki
This is useful to see if you are using Anki appropriately. Anki works on the basis of spaced repetition. The Anki algorithm works out the next time you need to see the vocabulary or grammar again, and on that day Anki will show it to you.
This means that you will streamline your learning by only reviewing words you need to review on that day and not those words that you already know and haven’t forgotten. Thereby, saving you time and effort.
However, to use this function correctly, you need to know how many Anki cards that you learn each day and how many you review.
The Anki statistics can show you this information. One recommended method is to set new cards to 100 and reviews to 100 for a week or longer.
After a week of Anki practice then check the statistics and see how many new cards you learn and how many you review on average and then tweak the new cards/review settings to this average number.
For example, if you find that you are learning 50 new cards, and reviewing 50 a day, then this is what your Anki settings should be set to.
This way, you will be able to review the cards you need to review on time, maximising the spaced repetition function that Anki is based upon.
8. Study anywhere, anytime.
Add Anki to your smartphone or tablet so you can study when you are on the move, or away from your computer.
If you have a few minutes or longer when you are not doing anything, and you have Anki on your phone learning new words or grammar is very easy.
I have studied vocabulary while on the bus, in bed, secretly at work while the boss is not looking, in the queue at the post office, and in the 5 minutes before dinner.
You may be surprised how much time you can find to study if you have the Anki app on your phone and in your pocket ready to go.
9. When you have finished a deck do not delete it.
You may think when you have seen all the new words in an Anki deck you have completed the deck. And you might then think you can stop reviewing cards from the deck.
But I suggest you do not. Instead, keep reviewing the words. The interval (the time between reviews) may be long (months or years) but continuing to review the words can be useful.
There are a few reasons. The first is that just getting to 0 in the new cards column doesn’t mean you have memorised all the words in the deck. It just means you have seen all the cards in the deck at least once.
A second reason is that reviewing words you have seen before is not as time-consuming and difficult as when learning the words for the first time.
Therefore, keep reviewing the words and keep them fresh in your memory. It won’t be taxing for your brain and won’t take much time. It also helps push the words into your active memory.
Having something in your active memory means you can use the word rather than just recognise it.
The third reason is that as your vocabulary grows, you will increasingly learn rarely used words. Keeping these words in your memory is harder as you will come across them less in your daily life.
As Anki’s algorithm learns when you are likely to forget words it is specially designed for this issue.
The tips for using Anki above show just a part of what Anki can do to enhance your vocabulary, grammar and overall language skills.
If you are new to Anki, the tips may seem difficult to understand at first. But after using Anki for a few months, you will soon see how it works and realise how to use the functions it has.
If you have just started to use Anki, I recommend coming back to this article after playing around with it for a while and re-reading it as it may make more sense after you have had some experience using it.
Lastly, I want to emphasise that using Anki is only one part of language learning and it is also important to do as much reading, writing, listening and speaking as possible.
To that end, if anyone would like to practice English speaking with me, please see my teacher profile here:
Have you been using Anki for some time and worked out some cool ways to use it? If so, please leave a comment in the comments section below and tell other readers and me about it. I’ll be glad to hear about your Anki experiences. Cheers.