Unclutter Anki

I am struggling with Anki lately, and I have, therefore decided to do something to make Anki fun again (at least, if not fun, associated with positive feelings).

There are two reasons why I hate studying Anki now:

  • I have too many cards a day
  • There are a lot of cards I actually don’t like

From now on, I will try to improve Anki every time I study it. This means clean it a bit by removing some notes, make it more efficient by adding tips and changing the settings to find a studying pace that suits me.

Unclutter my deck

I think that I have been obsessed with numbers: how many words do I know, how many words do I have in Anki, can I reach 10,000 words at the end of the year, and so on… My deck has now a little less than 8000 words. I would never have thought of deleting notes because my goal was to see the number growing, not decreasing. When one is self-studying, numbers can be very rewarding and act as a source of motivation. But it is also important to study without numbered goals, just for the fun of Japanese.

unclutter anki 3

As a consequence, I don’t really care if the number of notes in my Anki deck decreases a little. These are the cards I am deleting:

  • All the onomatopeia because I have a separated deck for them now.
  • All the words that I don’t really understand or don’t know how to use. I may come across them later and add them again if I have gained a better understanding at the time.
  • The words I don’t like and never learned properly. It may sound strange, but there are words I never could remember. For example, I deleted the word 半ば・なかば because it was a real pain to see it coming over and over again. (but somehow, I remember it now, just because I wrote about it!)
  • All the sentences I added from my N2 textbook. I don’t know why I added sentences at the time, I thought it would help me to remember the words. I like adding sentences or expressions to Anki, but only when they are useful to understand how a word is used or when they are sentences I could use myself. But the example sentences from N2 are not at all things I would like to say or write. I am therefore deleting them all.
  • Adverbs. I am struggling to remember adverbs in Japanese… It never works to add them in Anki because a lot of them share the same meaning. Furthermore, the same adverb can have several nuances according to the context. In other words, I find that learning adverbs out of context is very difficult, I cannot associate them with one meaning or one translation. I really don’t know how I can do to learn them, but for the time being, I delete most of them in my deck.

That’s it! I think that how efficiently we learn is closely linked to how we feel about what we learn. There are maybe some words that I can’t remember now because I associate them with negative feelings: there are boring, and I feel bad because I can’t remember them. I am sure that one day, I will see these words in a context I like (for example in a novel). If I am able to associate words with a particular scene in a story, I usually remember them without much effort.

Add hints

I keep telling myself that I should add more hints on my cards but I haven’t done it enough. Now I try to do it every time I have difficulty answering a card because I have several synonyms in my deck.

There are two kinds of hints:

  • When English is shown, and I must find the Japanese word but have a lot of cards that could fit the English translation. In this case, I add a hint about the form of the word I am looking for, for example, whether it is a “na” or “i” adjective. I also specify if the word’s origin is Chinese or Japanese. Some synonyms are so similar that I end up writing down the meaning of their kanji.
  • When the Japanese word is read by the Awesome TTS plugin, and I have to find the English equivalent out of context. I find it very hard, and there are a lot of homonyms too. In this case, I add a word or two that tell me in which context this word is used.

Some of my hints make the card easy to find, and it looks like cheating, but I think I would prefer to cheat a little and have fun studying Anki rather than accumulating cards that I can’t remember.

I realised that if I keep forgetting a card, I end up hating it. It comes over and over again, and the more I see it, the more I hate it, the less I remember it! If this phenomenon happens too often, I end up hating studying Anki, and this is how I skip days and find myself with hundreds and hundreds of words to go through.

Change Anki settings

When I said last week that I had trouble with Anki, Choronghi suggested in the comments that I should change the settings. This is something that I never did before, partly because I didn’t understand very well how it all works. However, adapting Anki settings can really make a difference, and I am grateful to have received this tip.

I am still playing around with the settings now, and I think that it will take some time before I find the perfect intervals. One thing that I changed is that a forgotten card does not come back the next day anymore. This has been a real pain since I started doing Anki. I know that from a spaced-repetition point of view, it is best if a forgotten word comes back the very next day. But it had two negative consequences on me:

  • First, I didn’t make any effort to remember the forgotten word since it would come back tomorrow anyway. I didn’t feel the urge to remember it because I knew that I would see it again very soon. As a result, I tagged the card “again” and forgot about it. In other words, I relied exclusively on Anki to learn the words, as if seeing the word over and over again was enough to learn it, and I needn’t make any kind of effort to consciously remember it.
  • Secondly, I just stop tagging forgotten words with “again”. Why? Because they would come back the next day and I felt like I was setting a trap for myself. I hate having a lot of words in my study session, and of course, I was not willing to add even more work for the tomorrow-me.

By playing around with the settings, I managed to make sure that a forgotten card will come back soon but not on a fixed day. It depends on the card, some will come back in three days, some in ten days and so on. I am not sure that I know how it works exactly…

It helped me solve my two problems:

  • If I see that a forgotten card will only come back in 10 days, I make some conscious effort to remember it. I don’t only rely exclusively on Anki anymore, but I also use my brain!
  • All forgotten cards will not all come back on the same day, so it becomes easier to use the “again” button, without having the feeling that I will be overwhelmed the next day.

I do think now that my settings were wrong. I had far too many cards to review every day, and I knew well the majority of these cards, this means maybe that I didn’t need to see them yet. Anki is supposed to show you words just before you forget them, but in my case, it was showing me words much too often.

The problem is that going through all these cards was tiring and I had no energy left to work properly on the difficult ones. The idea would be to have fewer cards each day and only the ones I really need to revise. To do that, the cards answered “good” should come back less often, or I should use more often the button “easy”, to increase intervals.

I have a tendency to only use the buttons “hard” and “good” because, as I said, I didn’t like the way a card tagged “Again” would systematically come back the next day and I wasn’t confident enough to mark a card “Easy”. Now I am trying to really use the four possibilities that Anki provides us with:

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Before using Anki, I had no choice but to try to learn new words consciously and make real efforts to recall the words I had learned. But since I am using Anki, I have a tendency to stop making efforts and rely exclusively on the spaced repetition system. Seeing the same words again and again somehow makes them stick, but studying Anki is no fun if I only go through all my cards as rapidly as possible, without thinking or actively participate.

I think that the core of the problem lays in my attitude towards Anki. Anki is a tool that I should use to progress, this means that I have to be active when using it to make the best out of it.