Anki: Bringing flashcards out of the stone age

This is the text of a guest post I wrote for the Everyday Language Learner blog.  Unfortunately, the link is no longer current, so I thought I would re-post it here.


Anki: Bringing flashcards out of the stone age

Let’s start out with what I really think.

If you are not studying using Anki on a mobile device , then you are wasting your time.  And, that, my friends, is the worst possible thing in the world.

I am going to assume you, the reader, are a serious language learner.  You already study a lot, and by that, I mean hours a day.  You’re not one of those many people who say they really want to learn a language but don’t actually give it any time.

Why do I keep going on about time?  Because it is your most precious resource.  You never have enough of it; we’re all super busy.  You can’t buy any extra.  You get a finite amount and then you’re done.  It’s a harsh reality, but it’s true.  And, if you are a serious language learner, you know that it is time spent with the target language that gets the job done.  So, desire and motivation are great, but without time – You. Will. Not. Learn. Period.

Now, hear me out before you get all bent out of shape about my apparent ultimatum.  I’m not saying that you can’t learn a language by other means.  In fact, I don’t think you could learn a language just using Anki.  You still need conversation, grammar, music, classes, books, listening, and everything else that we are all desperately trying to find time for.

However, to be able to communicate in your target language comfortably and confidently, you need all that raw material cemented in your head.  It needs to be automatic.  It needs to be instantaneous.  And it needs to be there all the time.

How do you burn it into your brain?  By repeated exposure – time and time again.


That’s where the beauty of Anki comes into play  It shows you the material time and time again, but by using it’s spaced repetition algorithm, you only study what you need to study when you need to study it.  Based on cognitive research, there is no more efficient and effective way to learn something.  For that alone, you need to start using Anki.  Anything else is a waste of your time. Let’s start out with what I really think.

However, to take it one step further, it is the ability to use Anki on the go that makes it the most amazing thing since beer in a can.  When I first started using Anki, I spent hours sitting in front of my computer.  I was learning, but it was killing me (please read this article about sitting too long).  It was also easy to get tired, bored, and distracted.

Once I discovered the ability to use Anki on my iPod, I was off and running – well, walking actually.  I started studying EVERYWHERE: on the walk to work, on the train, on the exercise bike at the gym, while waiting for students, and, in the spirit of full disclosure, on the toilet.  My wife and I have become so addicted to moving and studying Anki that we actually bought a folding treadmill so we can study in the apartment during bad weather.

Suddenly, we were finding hours of extra time to study.  And that, in a nutshell, is why you should be using mobile Anki.

So, let me tell you what else I think.  If you are serious about learning your target language and you have a mobile device, you need to get the Anki app right now.  If you don’t have a mobile device, go buy an iPod (new or used) right now.  Yes, I know it’s not cheap, but you need to put your money where your mouth is.

It’s time to stop wasting time, and it’s time to start learning.

P.S. I don’t work for Anki, nor do I have any commercial connection.

What you need to know to get started

You can find very detailed information and instructions on how to setup and use Anki at its website:

If you have an Android based mobile device, you’re lucky – the AnkiDroid Flashcards app is free.

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you’re not so lucky.  The Ankimoble Flashcard iPhone app is $25.  Yes, I know it seems expensive compared to most apps, but in my opinion, it is worth much more. If you are reluctant to pay for the app, one option is to learn how to use the free PC program and website study option. If you find that it is effective and want to reap the benefits of the app, you can buy it and sync to your account so you do not lose any progress.




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