Anki Review | The Best Flashcard App Ever? (FREE Decks Included)

Anki Review // Is It Really The Best App To Learn Chinese?

Anki Review (2020)
Anki Review (2020)

Welcome to another app review blog! Today, our LTL Taiwan School Director, Alex shares with us his Anki Review.

As an avid language learner of many years, I have gone through many different methods of learning languages. I have also used many different software, apps and tools through many of my languages. 

It is a guilty pleasure of mine in fact that whenever I tried out a new tool, to get the most objective results, I also started a new language using that tool.

This in turn resulted in me studying many different languages using many different tools. 

Among the tools I’ve used, I’ve used Anki Flashcards the longest. The current statistics of my account show that I’ve been using it for 1132 days of out of a total of 1488 days since I first started using it. So about 4 years now, as of December 2020. 

As such, I believe I have reached a good understanding of the app and its methods to be able to give a relatively objective and comprehensive review of it. 

Anki Review || What is Anki?

Anki Review || How does Anki work?

Anki Review || Who is Anki for?

Anki Review || Anki Customisation

Anki Review || My Method

Anki Review || Full Review

BONUS || Our FREE Anki Decks

LTL student Van talks about learning Mandarin including using Anki

What is Anki?

Anki was originally created as an online flashcard website by developer Damien Elmes back in 2006.

Originally, the app was not even an app, but rather just a website where people could sign up for an account, enter their own flashcards in their own decks, and review them. 

Since then, Anki has grown to have a huge following, with apps both for the iOS and Android devices (called Ankidroid). They’re even having clones of it made by other developers!

The app as it stands is completely free both on the computer and on Android devices, with a somewhat hefty cost on iOS devices, price at 25$ USD. This is the one that I have. 

As the app works based on an account, all information can be synced between the various devices one has with relative ease. 

How does Anki Work?

In essence, Anki is a Flashcard app that uses Spaced Repetition System (SRS). 

As one begins using it, one would normally create a deck for information one would like to learn.

This means you can use the app not only for learning languages, but also any other topics you might be interested in. 

Once you have created a Deck with questions and answers (or “Front” and “Back” as it would normally be called in Anki), the system will allow you to review the Cards in the Deck.

It will show you the question first, and once you tap again, show you the answer.

At the answer page, it gives you an option to let it know whether you got the answer right easily, with some difficulty or didn’t get it at all. 

The above is the main crux of the SRS method, as based on the option you chose (Easy, Hard, Again). Anki will then place the same card to reappear later again based on a specific duration, for example, 3 days later, 1 day later or in 10 minutes, respectively based on your choice. 

The more often you see the card and more often you get the correct answer, the farther away the next time the card reappears.

This allows you to strengthen your memory of the card by giving you bigger and bigger spaces in between repetitions, allowing your power of recall to become stronger. 

Everyday you will have a certain amount of cards that are reviews of previous cards you’ve seen, and new cards that you haven’t seen before, but will start reappearing after their first appearance. 

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Who is Anki for?

Anki is built for all learners who wish to learn and memorize information that they want to focus on. 

This is mostly great for specifically learning languages, as a language requires accurate memory of pronunciation and the exact sound of the word. 

It however also works for topics unrelated to languages, such as if you are preparing for an important exam and need to cram a lot of information in advance.

Or, as an even more exaggerated example, cramming information for a quiz, such as the famous example of Roger Craig, who in 2010, obtained a record for single-day winnings in the TV show Jeopardy by using Anki to memorize a huge number of facts in preparation. 

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Anki Customisation

Aside from the normal way Anki is used, the real aspect where Anki shines is its ability to allow for customisation.

This means that any person can create the cards exactly as he/she wants them to appear. 

For example, instead of showing the question and answer, you can change it to show the answer and then the question.

Or for example with a language like Chinese, you can customize Anki to show you the word in Hanzi characters only, and then show you the Pinyin as the answer.

Alternatively, if you are practicing reading Pinyin, you can have the cards appear as the Pinyin first and then as an audio file to listen to the exact pronunciation. 

Based on this question and answer method and multiple fields you can separate by and show in one or the other side or both (for example, Chinese in Simplified Characters, Chinese in Traditional Characters, English, Chinese audio, English audio, Pinyin and even frequency of the word), the options for how you wish to make the flashcards your own is virtually limitless. 

An even bigger gem in this whole process is that thanks to the big following Anki has online, people can share their cards with each other through the Ankiweb online database.

Learn Chinese with apps

As such, everyone can enjoy lots of decks of loads of topics, languages and materials. 

Aside from the shared decks, there are also many add-ons one can install into Anki to allow for special options and abilities.

Some of my favourite are the ability to auto-advance (question turns to answer and answer turns to the next card after a set amount of seconds), which I use to listen to the language and immerse myself in it.

Let’s not forget the Text-to-Speech (TTS) add-on! It gives an option to have different TTS sources, such as Google, OSX Speech, Microsoft and others read out your cards and save them as an audio file, which you can add to the deck. 

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My Method

As I am a big proponent of listening to and realising patterns from common phrases and sentences. I use Anki mainly as a tool for repetitions and review of sentences. 

For many of my languages, I collect them from Shared Decks created by other users, with some of them coming from the Tatoeba Project sentence database (https://tatoeba.org/).

For other less common languages, such as Taiwanese and Shanghainese, I have my teachers translate the English sentences into Taiwanese/Shanghainese and record those for me, so that I can review them later on. 

In my case, as I am more of a fan of repetition over recall, I have Anki show me the full information (Target Language, Source Language and Audio of Target Language) in both the Front and the Back of the card. I simply review it over and over.

The more the cards appear, the better the sentence patterns get stuck in my head.

This results in me internalizing many of the sentence patterns, with many of them appearing in my head even if I don’t try to recall or remember them. 

Using this method, I make sure to do 30 minutes every day of Taiwanese, and 30 minutes of random languages 5 times per week.

My aim is to reach 100,000 repetitions in total per each language I’m focusing on. So, that the language actually becomes part of me and the pattern sticks in my brain. 

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A Full Anki Review

Now for the review itself.

Anki is a great tool and extremely popular for learning and practicing. However, it is far from perfect, and has some glaring issues.

Some of these might be fixed in the future, while others are inherent in its system, for which the learner would have to find other resources. 

I would like to discuss them below 👇

What is Anki Good at?

Anki is amazing for memory and improving recall. It is great for studying vocabulary, as well as answers to questions in quizzes and similar. 

Thanks to its customisation, there is also a huge amount of material and resources already existing in all kinds of languages and topics that other users are studying.

I use the Shared Decks to find material for Hindi, Vietnamese, Indonesian and even Ukrainian, all of these being fairly well made. 

Some of the more common languages have huge amounts of data, such as the German and Russian Sentence decks, taken from the aforementioned Tatoeba project, that have more than 50,000 sentences in one deck. 

What is Anki Bad at?

Anki still lacks some usability features that users would have liked to have. 

For example, as I mentioned, I prefer repetition over recall.

As such, I would have preferred each card to appear with both the Front and the Back together, instead of double tapping each time to pass to the next card.

This is not something that can be changed using an Add-on, as the question and answer method is a key feature of Anki. 

Likewise, one finds that Anki can not be used alone for languages, where you do not have a basis or can use another language as a crutch.

For Ukrainian, I can guess quite easily which words is which when comparing to the English sentences, as I speak Russian.

However, I cannot do the same for example with Hindi or Berber, where I do not know which word means which word when comparing sentences, as I do not have other languages that help me connect.

Anki does not currently have an option where I could click on one of the words and see a definition of just that word alone, similar to what Duolingo for example has, when it shows you a fixed phrase. 

A third issue with Anki is its business model.

Having no charge for computer and Android devices, but charging an extremely high price for the iOS option creates an issue where people who do not have experience with Anki choose not to try it out because of such a high price. Which actually comes with a high risk (“What if I buy and download it, and find out that it’s not suitable for me?”).

25$ is a lot of money for an app, when people are used to most apps costing a max of 5$.

This hits the nail on the head even more, when you do choose to download the app (or even the computer version) and it appears empty.

A user with no experience with Anki might not know how to create their own decks or download Shared ones just yet, and is lost due to the lack of instruction.

Noted, Anki does have a user manual on their website. However, it is so detailed and drawn out that the opposite effect might happen, where new users will treat it the same way they treat the Terms and Conditions lists of software: “Ain’t no one got time for dat!”. 

As a result, Anki has a very steep adoption curve, where the only people who would indeed download and use it would be people who are already sold on its idea and know the basics of its use through either instruction by friends or experience through the computer interface.

In our mobile age however, most iOS mobile users cannot be bothered to accept an incubation and learning period through their computers before they get to “graduate” to the mobile app. 

Anki Review – Summary

In summary, Anki is amazing tool that can be used to extreme effect.

It is definitely one of the best apps out there for learning not just languages, but really anything. 

However, its developers not being the best in terms of User Experience Design, it is quite hard to begin using it, as opposed to more friendly apps, such as Duolingo, Memrise and others. 

Anki is a great tool, but only starts to shine when you know how to use it already. 

Let us know what you think in the comment section!

See our FULL list of websites to learn Chinese.

BONUS // Anki Decks For You To Use

Here are the links to all the current LTL Anki Decks.

As you’ll see we don’t just cover Mandarin and the dialects of Chinese, but also a host of other languages including Vietnamese, Thai and even Mongolian!

We’ll continue to add to this list going forward.

Mandarin

Cantonese

Shanghainese

Taiwanese

Korean

Japanese

Russian

Vietnamese

Thai

Mongolian

Italian

Spanish

If you like the Anki Decks we’ve shared we’d really appreciate a big thumbs up from inside the Anki app!

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Anki vs Quizlet (for 2022) Which is Better? Plus a Bonus Recommendation

When trying to learn Chinese vocabulary, flash cards are one of the best methods, so let’s put two of the most popular flash card apps to the test: Anki vs Quizlet.


Anki Review – FAQ’s

What is Anki?

Anki is an online flashcards website and app, allowing you to learn languages and many other topics.

It was originally created by developer Damien Elmes back in 2006.

How to use Anki?

At first you will need to create your own deck of flashcards.

Once you have created a Deck with questions and answers (or “Front” and “Back” as it would normally be called in Anki), the system will allow you to review the Cards in the Deck, showing you the question first, and once you tap again, showing you the answer.

Anki function with a Spaced Repetition System (SRS).

Where to download Anki?

You can download Anki from their website, or in the Google Play Store and Apple Store.

Can I study Chinese on Anki?

Yes, you can study Chinese on Anki.

You can learn new vocabulary with user created decks such as HSK based decks, for example.

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  • LTL Avatar Alexander Krasnov
    Alexander Krasnov , Student Advisor

    Welcome to LTL Language School!

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