No-one likes studying. Well, I don’t, at least.
Among many other reasons, this is because it’s hard to optimize exactly what and when you should be reviewing, lest you end up simply wasting your time going over things you already know (and spending too little time on the things you don’t).
Luckily, science has thrown us a bone.
The spacing effect is the psychological phenomenon where we remember things better if we study them bit by bit over time instead of trying to cram everything into our heads all at once.
The spacing effect is an amazing tool for helping you memorize things, and as you may have noticed, language-learning involves a lot of memorization.
So how can we incorporate the spacing effect into our learning strategies?
A beautifully simple spaced repetition software called Anki.
Anki lets you set up a collection of flash cards and helps you study based on how well you know each one. If you know a word really well, you probably won’t see it for a while – but if you’re struggling to retain that word, it will show up more frequently until you start to get it. Occasionally, the cards you do know will show up in your study sessions to make sure you don’t forget them over time.
So for any given deck, if you make sure to start a study session at least once a day (or whatever frequency suits you best) you should find yourself remembering more and more.
I’m currently using Anki to manage Spanish, French, and Japanese vocabulary with absolutely no problems. It takes probably less than 10 minutes of my time each day to achieve huge results by simply running through the day’s requirements in Anki.
If that wasn’t enough, Anki isn’t just for text – Anki can store audio and images to help you learn even more.
Adding cards is as simple as going to the deck you want and clicking the ‘add’ button, but you can also get a ton of cards set up without typing a single one yourself.
Anki allows you to import/export your decks so you can share your study materials with your friends or classmates, or download decks from the internet. TextFugu does this for Japanese learners, and Anki’s web client has a large database of shared decks at your disposal.
To use these features, simply go to File->Import/Export from one of the desktop versions of Anki – you’ll be using the .apkg file type to store/retrieve your Anki decks.
Setting up subdecks (as I have with the chapters of my French book above) is as easy as dragging a deck onto another deck. You can reverse the process in the same way – keeping things organized is practically effortless.
The best part about subdecks is that you can choose to either study just a subdeck like chapter 6, or you can have an overview of everything.
By default, you can only study your cards in one direction – for example, Spanish on the front side of the card with the English word on the back.
But what if you want to study the other way around, just because you feel like being extra badass at language?
With a few extra steps, you can implement reverse cards into your Anki decks. This is completely optional, but it’s worth the effort.
First, click the ‘Browse’ button at the top.
Next, click ‘Whole Collection’ at the top left to show the cards. Click on any card and click the ‘Cards…’ button in the middle.
See that little plus button in the top right corner? Click that to add a new card type.
You’re now looking at your future reversed card template. Change the text on the left to match mine – you can just copy the text from below.
Now, Anki will probably warn you that this change will require you to re-upload your whole collection – go ahead. As long as everything was synced up before, this will just make sure your new settings get saved everywhere.
If you go back to your card list, you should see that everything has doubled! This also applies to any cards you add in the future.
Now when you study, you will see both normal and reversed cards – making sure you can translate both to and from your target language with ease.
Anki also allows for the magic of cloud synchronization! If you set up an Anki Web account you can sync your cards between all of your devices, allowing you to use that extra time on the bus or subway to do your studying for the day. Anki has a client for web, OS X, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS. Other than the iOS app, which is an oddly expensive $25, they are all completely free.
To make sure all of your cards get synced, you’ll probably want to set up your Anki Web account before installing the other versions, but it’s totally up to you.
Anki isn’t just for language either. You can use the power of spaced repetition to help you learn anything where memorization is a factor.
Study smarter – use Anki.
P.S. – A Note on “Leech” Cards
It has recently come to my attention that if you fail to remember a card enough times, Anki will mark it as a “leech” and suspend the card. This is because it wants to alert you that you should consider trying to study that card in a new way to help you remember it.
That’s fine and all, but I don’t want my cards suspended – they still need to show up when I’m studying to help me.
If you want to turn off this feature, simply press the options button to the side of any deck (this will affect all decks, so it doesn’t matter which), go to “Lapses”, and set the leech action to “Tag Only”. You’ll still be alerted when an item is marked as a leech card, but it won’t be suspended.
Now that that’s fixed – back to studying!