Motivation: studying Anki

If you are learning a foreign language, you are certainly using a spaced repetition system (SRS) to memorise vocabulary. I personally use Anki and created my deck from scratch when I started learning Japanese. Today, it contains more than 7000 words and expressions and I can say that, contrary to any other material, this Anki deck has been with me all the way long from the very first day and is still the most solid pillar of my learning Japanese journey. It has witnessed all the phases of my studying process and contains some irrelevant words that make it very personal.

Without Anki, I could not have remembered so many words. Still, more than often, I sigh before opening my deck and what motivates me is not as much the perspective of learning new words as the fear to procrastinate and find myself with double work the next day.

I think that the main source of demotivation concerning Anki (or any other SRS) is the feeling that we are studying our deck for the sake of it, not to improve our Japanese. I often go through my cards thinking that I want to finish it as quickly as possible to have time to do interesting things like starting the next lesson of my textbook. It is as though studying Anki would not belong to the general “study Japanese” plan.

So what can we do to give more meaning to the 20 or 40 minutes we spend each day with our RSR? These are some ideas I try to apply and that seem to help. This being said, I still don’t have a magic formula to make memorising vocabulary something fun, but I keep searching.

Add sound to Anki

One thing I did that really gave a new value to my deck was to use the Awesome TTS plugin. I don’t know how it works for other SRS, but if you are using Anki, the Awesome TTS plugin adds sound to your cards. There are two ways of incorporating sound, one is to add it to each of your notes, which takes forever if you already have a consistent deck. The second method is to generate the sound “on-the-fly”. If you follow these steps, it is very quick and easy to do, no matter how big your deck might be. There are several voices available for Japanese and some give an impressively good result.

Connect it to the “real world”

Another thing that I do systematically is to try to find the words of my Anki deck outside of Anki, in the “real world”. Whenever I find a word I learnt through Anki in a novel, for example, I would pause for a second and tell myself “This word is my Anki deck, it’s a good thing that I learnt it because thanks to it, I can understand this sentence”. The next day, when I study my deck, I would feel more motivated because I would know that studying Anki is useful. Even if Anki may seem disconnected from the “real Japanese”, seeing that the hours spent on my deck allow me to read a novel in Japanese today, encourages me to keep on studying Anki. Revising 200 words every day may be boring but I know that it will make me able to read more challenging novels one day.

Associate words with positive emotion

I once read that emotion was involved in learning. I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but to talk about my own experience, I can say that what determines whether I will learn and memorise a word easily or not is not the word in itself but the emotion attached to it. Some words come from a novel or a manga I liked and when I study them, I can say exactly where I found them, in which scene or which book. These are words I remember without efforts. They are words that I read and found interesting or useful and decided to enter them in my deck, they are associated with a positive emotion. On the contrary, I have a lot of words coming from my JLPT N2 vocabulary textbook. All I can say about these words is that they were part of a list of 20 similar words. These are words I tend to forget regularly. The only thing I can do to make these words interesting is to find them “in the real world” and associate them with a new context.

Add patterns?

Finally, I still hesitate whether I should add more patterns (expressions or sentences) or stick to words. I do have some expressions and short sentences that come from my N2 textbook and I must admit that it helps to remember both words and grammar. On the other hand, I am afraid to overflow my deck with sentences and spend too much time studying it (recalling a whole sentence takes more time than just saying one word). I think I will give it a try and add a special tag to all the “pattern” notes so that I can delete them easily if I am not satisfied.


I wish I could say that I am studying Anki because I know that it helps me build my vocabulary and that vocabulary is the key to read fluently. But to be honest, the real motivation that makes me open my deck every day is the idea that if I don’t do it, I will have a double charge of work the next day. One might say that the source of motivation does not matter, as long as it works. But as I am learning Japanese for pleasure, I prefer being motivated by positive perspectives rather than negative consequences. Let’s see if I can stay motivated enough throughout the year to reach my goal of 10,000 words at the end of 2018!