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  • 8 Ways to Create Better Flashcards

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    Create better flashcards

    Create better flashcardsI’m an Anki nut. In some sense, I owe three of my languages to Anki. One of my favorite things about Anki is its flexibility; you can make flashcards in any way you choose.

    Once you’ve created and memorized a lot of flashcards (I recently passed 20,000 flashcards…geesh), you’ll start to notice that not all cards are created equal. Some flashcards are easy to remember, they teach you precisely what you want to learn, and they generally make you smile when you see them. Others make you want to throw your smartphone out the window. Good flashcards can make the difference between sticking with a language until fluency or giving up after a few months, so I’m making this guide to help others learn from some of my terrible, terrible flashcard-related mistakes.

    Principle 1: Use Pictures

    There’s a neat principle that came out of cognitive psychology in the 60s and 70s called the “Pictorial Superiority Effect.” The basic idea is that we remember pictures ridiculously well, and we pretty much suck at remembering words. Unfortunately for us, languages are full of words, not pictures, so at least on the surface, we’re screwed.


    But there’s a trick.

    If you compare your ability to recall a random picture like this and a word like “Apple,” you’re going to have a much easier time remembering the picture. But what about a picture with a word?

    images4Studies show that pictures with words are even more memorable than pictures alone. Why? You wrestle with the meaning of that word in conjunction with the picture. Why is APPLE there? What does that sculpture have to do with apples? In the process of wresting with the combined meaning of a word and a picture, you store both of them deeply in your memory.

    So add pictures. All the time (at least on one side of each flashcard). You’ll remember a bit better if those pictures have something to do with what you’re learning, but that shouldn’t be hard, given the 45 billion images currently hanging out on Google Images.

    I never used to do this (in my personal French deck, for instance, most of my grammar cards are just fill in the blank exercises without pictures), but I started adding pictures to my grammar exercises in Russian, and it made a hugedifference. Now I don’t make any cards without pictures.

    Principle 2: More is Better

    Some words are hard to remember, and some languages are full of hard to remember words. For the first couple of months, Russian kicked my butt. I dutifully made my cards, added pictures, and studied daily, and yet couldn’t seem to remember anything for longer than two weeks. Sometimes you need more stimulation than a single flashcard to remember information that’s particularly far removed from your every-day experiences. For me, Russian words were simply too weird to remember easily, with their strange sounds and odd-looking letters. Fortunately, you can make multiple, different flashcards for a single word. When I tried this in Russian, I stopped forgetting.

    The more cards you make for a single topic, the easier and better you’ll memorize it. At least for words, there are two main flavors of flashcards worth using: cards that test comprehension (what’s a chien?) and cards that test production (what’s a furry animal with a waggy tail that chases cats?)

    The former put the word alone on the front side of the card:

    Flash card - Comprehension

    Comprehension Cards

    Your job is to think about what the word means. These cards do an awesome job of building associations into a new word – pictures, sounds, bits of grammar, etc. That way, the next time you encounter that word in a new context while reading or listening, those associations will come right back. In general, these cards have a single word or two on their front sides without any added context. On the back, they’ll have pictures, example sentences, and any other goodies you decide to put on them.

    If you move the word to the back side of the card (and the picture or context to the front), you’re training a different ability:

    Flashcard - Production card

    Production Cards

    These cards require you to recall a word (“chien”), its grammatical features (un - masculine), its spelling and its pronunciation. They work as reinforcement for passive cards and make the words easier to recall when you want to use them in speaking or writing.

    I’ve tried to use exclusively production cards, thinking that I would save myself time, but it didn’t work; I couldn’t remember “chien” if I didn’t see the exact same dog picture, which didn’t happen very often in real life. Now, I do both types of cards whenever I can, and I only skip the productive cards if I’m sureI never want to say a word (but will probably read it). When in doubt, just make both. Anki makes it easy to do this without adding any extra time, and it will make your overall review process much easier. I keep grammatical and pronunciation information on the back-side of both cards, because if I can’t pronounce the word or use it in a sentence properly, then it’s basically useless for speaking or writing. I want to reinforce a word’s sound and usage whenever I can.

    Principle 3: Keep it Simple

    Bad example #1 - Multiple answers required

    Bad: Multiple answers required

    When you see words grouped together on vocabulary lists, you may be tempted to keep them in their original groups. Why spend time making seven cards for the weekdays when you could make one or two? In my first French deck, I grouped together the days of the week, the months of the year, various types of fruit, and anything else I could jam into a single flashcard. This was unfortunate. Until I split them up, I wasn’t able to remember any of these words.

    Cards like these are problematic because your ability to recall each of the answers is different. If you start off knowing “Monday” very well, “Tuesday” decently and “Wednesday” poorly, then you’ll be repeating all three every time you have a problem with any of them. It’s too much, both from a time standpoint (why waste time repeating “Monday” when you know it well already?) and from a learning standpoint (you’re repeating the card too often to push any words into long-term memory). Separate cards like this into their smallest constituent parts, each with a single answer:

    Good Example #1: Single Answers

    Good: Single Answers

    Whenever possible, your goal is to test one conceptper card, because it will save you time in the long run. A simple card is easy to remember and helps produce a quick response; you either know it or you don’t, and if you don’t, then you’ll repeat it until you do. Net time wasted on “Monday”: seconds. Net time spent memorizing “Wednesday” very well: seconds. Sweet.

    A note: There are shades of grey when it comes to the one-concept idea.  “You’re welcome” is a single concept, but you certainly could make two cards out of it if you wanted to: (“Thank you!” “___ welcome!”) (“Thank you!” “You’re ___!”).  Over time, you’ll get a sense for how much information you can store at once, but to begin, I’d suggest that you aim for more, simpler cards rather than fewer, more complex ones.  Nearly every time I’ve had problems remembering a given word or grammar point, it’s because I’ve made my cards too complex. For languages like Chinese, you may need 3-4 cards to remind you of the spelling, the pronunciation, and the meaning separately. This saves you time in the long run, because remembering many easy cards is much easier than remembering fewer difficult ones.

    Principle 4: When you’re right, you’re right

    I just told you never to demand multiple answers, but what happens when you try to learn a synonym?

    Multiple equally correct answers (Synonyms, Active Card)

    Multiple equally correct answers (Synonyms, Production Card)

    Both plate and dish are perfectly fine descriptions of this picture. Do you have to remember both of them?

    Well, no. As long as one of those words comes to mind, you’re doing just fine. You’ll learn each word separately through your comprehension cards anyways, so if someone holds a gun to your head and demands synonyms, you’ll be ready for him (or her):

    Multiple Correct Answers (Synonyms, Passive Cards)

    Multiple Correct Answers (Synonyms, Comprehension Cards)

    Multiple Correct Answers (Synonyms, Passive Cards)

    Multiple Correct Answers (Synonyms, Comprehension Cards)

    This approach also works for words with multiple definitions. A bar is usually for drinks, but bars of gold and chocolate bars certainly exist. Cards like these aren’t a problem:

    Picture - Noun Cards for bar

    Picture – Noun Cards for bar

    Picture - Noun Cards for bar

    Picture – Noun Cards for bar

    But the other direction is trickier. What goes on the back side of this card?

    Front side of bar card

    Front side of “bar” card

    You have two options. You can either put the main definition on the back side, or you can put multiple definitions on the back side (and if you remember any definition, then mark it as correct):

    Back side of bar, multiple definitions

    Back side of bar, multiple definitions

    Back side of bar, main definition only

    Back side of bar, main definition only

    Neither approach is better than the other, and I tend to use them interchangeably. In both cases, you’ll tend to remember one definition best, which then becomes the anchor point for new definitions. With that anchor in place, it’s very easy to connect a new concept to the first one (“Chocolate bars use the same word as normal bars!”), and a single additional card (like card with the single picture of a chocolate bar, above) will be enough to create that connection, making you an expert in all things bar-related.

    Principle 5: Opposites Attract. Don’t let them.

    Once upon a time, I found a list of antonyms in French and decided to learn them like this:

    Bad: Opposites Attract

    Bad: Opposites Attract

    Bad: Opposites Attract

    Bad: Opposites Attract

    This was, arguably, one of the worst ideas ever. Weeks later, when I tried to remember any of these words, I would remember both instead:

    What’s the weather like today? It’s very hot … or cold … today.

    What did you think about the movie? Why, it was excellent/terrible. It was definitely one of the worst/best movies I’ve ever seen. The lead actress was so beautiful/ugly, and she played her part really well/badly.

    It took me months to fix the damage to my poor French, and I don’t know if my French ever forgave me. Pay close attention when making cards for closely related ideas, and make them as independent as possible. Your language will thank you. This applies to thematically related words like stoplight, crosswalk, street and sidewalk and antonyms like cold/hot:

    Good example #5: An independant card for every concept

    Good: An independent card for every concept

    Principle 6: Keep it Short

    Bad: Question overload

    Bad: Question overload

    Your brain is quite good at being lazy (and efficient). Over the course of practicing a card, you will memorize the words closest to the missing word, and you’ll tend to ignore the rest of the card. In this case, you will commit to memory the following: “in some month of some year, the spork is the.” Unfortunately, this is totally useless. Keep your questions as simple and direct as possible, and you will be rewarded with robust, useful memories:

    Good Example #6: Short and sweet

    Good: Short and sweet

    Principle 7: Learn, then memorize

    Bad Example #4: What?⁠


    Understand what you’re teaching yourself before you memorize it. While there is a place for uncertainty in foreign language study, memorizing mostly incomprehensible language isn’t the most effective use of your time. Use examples you can understand, and you’ll learn more from them:

    Good: Straightforward, comprehensible examples work best

    Good: Straightforward, comprehensible examples work best

    Principle 8: Be careful with corrections

    Bad Example #5: Showing yourself mistakes

    Bad: Showing yourself mistakes

    This card is concise, clear and comprehensible. Here’s the problem: When you read an incorrect sentence, you’re more likely to believe that it’s correct in the future, even if you know it’s incorrect originally. I just made you more likely to say “you eats hamburgers” in the future. Now I’ve done it twice. Sorry. Known as the “Truth Effect,” it makes familiar things more credible than less familiar things, no matter how untrustworthy the source. Every time you read a mistake like this, you’re more likely to do the mistake in the future, so if you wish to put corrections into your flashcards, do it like this:

    Good: Replace mistakes with blanks

    Good: Replace mistakes with blanks

    If you rearrange mistakes into fill-in-the-blank tests, you eliminate the Truth Effect, and get an effective, concise flashcard in the process. You can use this type of card to teach yourself grammar.

    What about when you make a mistake by accident? You’ll be making thousands of cards, which nearly guarantees that you’ll screw up somewhere:

    Unintentional Errors (And that’s the last time with the hamburgers. Sorry.)

    Unintentional Errors (And that’s the last time with the hamburgers. Sorry.)

    Do whatever you can to avoid this, but if it happens, you’ll find that these cards will cause trouble all the time. You’ll have serious trouble remembering erroneous cards for more than two weeks. This is a good thing. Your brain is very good at picking out inconsistencies. If you feed it flashcards with conflicting information, it will sound an alarm by preventing you from remembering those flashcards.

    If you notice that you’re having major difficulties memorizing what appear to be easy cards, double check to make sure that you don’t have an unintentional error lurking somewhere. Either you will find an error, or your cards are too hard. Thank your brain, fix your cards, and move on with your day.

    That’s it! If you have questions and additional suggestions, leave them in the comments!

    25 thoughts on “8 Ways to Create Better Flashcards

    1. Pingback: Language Link Roundup (May 14th, 2013) | Language Geek

    2. Kurt

      Awesome post. I’m learning French, I just hit 3550 Anki cards…I’ve been thinking about this exact topic. Really all of my cards only teach pronunciation…I could produce the IPA spelling/pronunciation of all the words I know…I could spell some of them, and some of them I would struggle to know their meaning if I heard them even though I recognize the pronunciation.

      I used Rosetta Stone at first, and I think Rosetta does a decent job of teaching you the meaning/spelling with their various exercises, but now that I’m done with level 5, I’ve noticed I’m lacking in spelling and listening/reading comprehension in the new words I’m learning.

      I’m reading Harry Potter in French to learn more words…I’ve been including an abbreviated French dictionary definition of the word and the Harry Potter sentence where it came from as the clue, then I pronounce the word. In general, I can remember the word much easier by using the fill in the blank Harry Potter sentence than the dictionary definition. But I noticed what you mention…I read the first few words of the dictionary definition/Harry Potter sentence and then I remember the word…I don’t necessarily need to know what it means or how the connection works.

      To know a word is to know:
      1. Meaning
      2. Pronunciation
      3. Spelling

      Should there be a 3 cards for every word?

      For me it makes sense to group verb conjugations together (je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles) forms etc on one card. I started by doing them separately, but then you end up with so may cards for one verb that it was time consuming to make them and aggravating to do them.
      Another question…as your vocabulary increases and you want to distinguish between similar words (lever, soulever, relever), or (enmener, mener, amener) etc …it seems this is impossible without context and dictionary definitions. Is the solution to force yourself to read the entire definition and entire sample sentence without cheating…to visualize it, etc?

      I don’t know what to do. I learned to distinguish between similar English word pairs by being exposed to a lot of English. Over time, the context surrounding the words gives each word it’s own meaning or sense. So perhaps the solution is to simply read/hear enough French in the same way?

        1. Kurt

          Yes. I essentially have 4100 production cards. Their focus is primarily correct pronunciation. Sometimes, I will see a card, remember how to pronounce the word, but not remember exactly what the word means.

          I’ve thought about this for awhile. Right now, I like using only production cards, but also reading and listening to French…IE anki is not my only learning source. But doing the cards backward might help (hear the sound and see the word, and I produce the meaning).

          This might be why I continue to struggle with frequency list words. Rosetta Stone/Books+Audio book gives me practice remembering meaning when I see/hear the word. But since I only have “production” exposure to frequency list words, I struggle to remember them.

    3. Zack Flummerfelt


      What an accomplished person and an excellent website. I just bought your IPA English deck and I’m looking forward to your book when it comes out. I wish I would have found this site and your Lifehacker article last year.

      Anyway, I have the sad yet so typical American second language story. I had my two years of Spanish in high school and two semesters in college. I wasn’t a good student and didn’t remember much. Let’s go forward about fifteen years to spring of last year when I finally decided to “pick up Spanish.” In the past year I would say that I’ve gotten myself to a sturdy A2 or a wobbly B1 depending on the assessments I’ve taken lately. In any event my Spanish is not very usable without getting the other person to slow down considerably, especially on the phone. I had a goal of B2 by the end of 2012 with a C1 by the end of this year. I was hoping with my current knowledge I could salvage the C1 goal. With job changes and some family tragedy it hasn’t been a steady stream studying the past year but I should still be further down the road. I’ve been using some traditional methods, courses and so forth. I came across your site while Googling about thinking in a new language as I was getting concerned about being in a translation rut. Right now I have to translate everything I hear, or what I can pick up anyway. How would you suggest migrating to your system when a person is not a beginning from scratch? I live in Kansas and most of the Spanish speakers are Mexicans or Mexican descendants. My goal is a just a garden variety educated Mexican accent.


      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        Hi Zack. Thanks for your kind words! At your level, here’s what I suggest:
        Jump straight into frequency lists (usually I’d do base words -> ~1/2 of a grammar book - Frequency lists - everything else (reading, the other 1/2 of your grammar book, movies, lots of speaking practice).

        Go through a 1000-2000 word list (links in the language resources section) and whenever you spot a word you don’t know, make 2 flashcards for it using sentences and pictures from Google Images and a monolingual spanish dictionary.

        Alternatively, go through that same list with a tutor on iTalki.com, and discuss every problem word with that tutor in 100% Spanish until you understand it and can create an example sentence (and a definition, potentially). Then make flashcards from those example sentences.

        1. Zack Flummerfelt


          Thanks so much for your attention to this and your helpful advice. I think it is also just a matter of keeping on keeping on. There is a reason why B1 is called threshold. Until one has reached that level solidly the language doesn’t feel readily useful despite how you may have communicated with anyone. Ordering a burrito isn’t the same as a real conversation. It’s about reaching that moment when don’t have to ask someone to slow down when the topic moves past the weather.

    4. Pingback: How to learn the alphabet in any language

    5. Meirav

      Hi Gabriel!

      Sorry, you’ve lost me!
      I came to this page from the Japanese resources one and the post where you discuss how to make cards for Chinese and Japanese. I like that in this post you have images. I get lost very easily on lengthy written explanations without them. Excuse me for writing this without pictures!

      I am getting ready to create a card set for vocabulary in Japanese. I want to learn Kanji right away as well. If I am understanding you correctly, I would make all these separate cards for say learning “neko”cat:

      1.- Image of cat / audi recording ‘neko’
      2.- Image of cat / kanji
      3.- Kanji / audio recording ‘neko’
      4.- Kanji / radical components with furigana (reading aid in hiragana)
      5.- Kanji / radical components with meaning for each (in images)
      6.- Kanji / stroke order
      later on….
      7.- Image of cat / sample sentence

      + Per this post – you suggest images with words are easier to remember – so I can write in hiragana ‘neko’ instead of english under the picture of the cat.

      + On your example of the production card for un chien, you actually have three different concepts working at the same time. (gender, pronunciation, spelling) this is throwing me off – would it then ve ok to combine different functions in one?

      Do these all go in one set? Do I study them one right after the other, or are they shuffled with other cards pertaining to other vocabulary words??

      I personally work with images well. If I am trying to recall a word when speaking, I quickly picture it and it comes to me. THis is without any anki training – just the way my brain works.

      Thanks for your advice!

      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        You’re bringing up a lot of good points, and as I go through the website and rewrite everything, I’m definitely going to need to rewrite the Chinese/Japanese section to be clearer. Thankfully, I’m actually going to be learning Japanese in January, so that’ll give me a better sense of the challenges here.

        Here are my first impressions:
        - I’m going on the assumption here that you know the Kana very well. If not, go to the Alphabet post (http://www.towerofbabelfish.com/how-to-learn-the-alphabet/ ) and learn it that way, with examples.

        -Here’s your card list:
        Card 1: What’s the Picture/Furigana/Pronunciation for [Kanji]?
        (Kanji on front, furigana/pic/recording on back)
        Card 2: What’s the Furigana/Pronunciation for [Picture]?
        (Picture alone on front, Furigana/Recording/Kanji on the back)
        Card 3: What’s the Kanji for [Picture+Furigana+recording]?
        (Furigana+Picture+Recording on front, Kanji on back).
        (Only in the beginning; eventually this card will get easy/boring and at that point, stop making new ones) – Card 4: What’s the stroke order for [Kanji]?
        (Kanji/pic/recording on front, stroke order on back)

        I would use cards to learn the radicals first, then start learning the words from the base word list. If you run into radicals that would make awkward pictures (力 Power, 了 Finish, End, 攵 Literature) then I would simply decide upon pictures to symbolize them (A clenched fist, the finish line of a race, a book). Make some note, in English or Japanese or whatever that these are radicals, and if you’re using an image that doesn’t correspond with the meaning, then personally, I’d be ok with throwing in a translation here [and only here!]. You’re not really learning them for their meaning as much as you’re learning them for their structure, so that you’ll recognize them inside of future characters.

        Then, for cat, do the same 4 cards.

        Yes, you’re combining multiple things here in each card (pronunciation, spelling in kanji, spelling in furigana, stroke order, meaning), but the 4 cards above should work fairly well to teach you all of those things without being overly difficult. If you run into difficulties with some aspect (say, the furigana), then by all means, add another card (Recording/Pic on front, furigana on back) to help reinforce it, but you won’t need supplementary cards like that for long. This is mostly trial and error; if you have too many cards per word, you’ll find that they get a bit too easy and are boring. If you have too few cards, then you’ll feel frustrated and you’ll forget each card constantly.

        You won’t need your card #7 (Image of cat / sample sentence). Eventually, you’ll reuse cat when you want to learn, say, Japanese’s equivalent of “on”: “The cat jumps __ the table”. Then just add the blanked-out example sentence to the picture:

        Card 1: What’s the Picture+Example Sentence/Furigana/Pronunciation for [Kanji]?
        (Kanji on front, furigana/ Picture+Example Sentence/recording on back)
        Card 2: What’s the Furigana/Pronunciation for [ Picture+Example Sentence]?
        ( Picture+Example Sentence alone on front, Furigana/Recording/Kanji on the back)
        Card 3: What’s the Kanji for [ Picture+Example Sentence+Furigana+recording]?
        (Furigana+ Picture+Example Sentence+Recording on front, Kanji on back).

        The cards go in one set. Set the review order to “Random.” Anki does a pretty good job of making sure you learn all 4 cards on the same day, just interspersed with the other cards you’re learning.

        I think that’s everything! Thanks for the questions; they’re super helpful for figuring out where I need to clarify a bit more! :)

      2. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        Oh yeah, as you try stuff out, keep me updated and feel free to keep asking questions. I won’t get a chance to personally try out Japanese for another 5-6 months. By then, you’re going to know precisely what works for you and what doesn’t (and I’d love to know your thoughts at that point)

        1. Meirav

          Hi Gabriel!

          Thank you for your replies and posting this information online. It has taken me a while to figure out just what my approach should be for learning – I know I am stronger visually, so I start out with the alphabet right off the bat. That eliminates translations.

          One thing I see might not work is card 4 for stroke order. For example cat has three different radicals, so it would take up a lot of space on the card – and maybe way too much information to remember at once. PLus, I think what will work for me is to actually write it – once you learn the general rules for the order, and start putting them in practice, there is some memory developed in the hand, kind of like sports.

          When I am reviewing the cards, it is enough to get one of the elements correct? because they are all linked up with the different cards, so eventually they will all be connected in my brain? Or I have to get everything right on the other side?

          We haven’t even addressed all the different meanings and readings of a Kanji – but I think it would be just the same set of cards for each reading right? And eventually once I got those down, throw in one card that has the kanji on front with the all different onyomi/kunyumi on back? (hiragana/audio/picture), and also when I start using sentences it can exercise those different meanings (because it depends on context how the character is read)?

          Oh and by the way, Furigana is a reading aid that is used to help read a Kanji – small hiragana letters above/beside the character. Like this http://tinyurl.com/mdzzark

          So… complicated. I will start with radicals – not all, but a good base. The thing is I am already learning vocabulary naturally just by being here in Japan. I actually practice just by going around and naming what I see. As in I see a cat crossing the street – I say neko to myself. Virtual flashcards!

          I’ll let you know how it goes!

          Muchas Gracias

          1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

            Is Furigana always in Hiragana? Man…I can’t wait to start Japanese. Anyways, with the cards I listed earlier, every time I say “Furigana,” I mean “Spelling in Hiragana/Katakana”

            I think the single stroke order card will be feasible if you start with the radicals. In fact, I believe one of my readers learning Chinese started skipping stroke order altogether after a few hundred characters, because he started to intuit the proper stroke order, even of new characters. See this link for a simple way to do it: http://www.nihilist.org.uk
            Try out a few options and see which ones work for you.

            When reviewing the cards, there are some things I *have* to know, and some things that would just be nice:

            Card 1: What’s the Picture/Kana/Pronunciation for [Kanji]?
            (Kanji on front, Kana/pic/recording on back)
            MUST KNOW: Picture, pronunciation
            (Would be nice: Kana)
            Card 2: What’s the Kana/Pronunciation for [Picture]?
            (Picture alone on front, Kana/Recording/Kanji on the back)
            MUST KNOW: Kana, Pronunciation
            (Would be nice: Kanji)
            Card 3: What’s the Kanji for [Picture+Kana+recording]?
            (Kana+Picture+Recording on front, Kanji on back).
            MUST KNOW: Kanji
            (Would be nice: Stroke order)
            (Only in the beginning; eventually this card will get easy/boring and at that point, stop making new ones) – Card 4: What’s the stroke order for [Kanji]?
            (Kanji/pic/recording on front, stroke order on back)

            Additional meanings for a single kanji:
            add them in using (only) card #2, above. You COULD try adding in card #3, too, but it might not be necessary.

            1. Meirav

              HI There Gabryel!

              Yes, furigana is mostly in hiragana and smaller type along a kanji.
              I have been taking a rest from studying Japanese.
              It takes quite a while to figure out what is the best way to learn. For example, I started with the radicals (bushu), and then it turns out that not all of them have meaning and not all have pronunciation. Those radicals that you can find online by stroke order – what they are giving you is the name of the radical. Which doesn’t help much when combining them. It’s kind of like the alphabet – say when you learned Russian, the letters have names but that is not how they are pronounced when strung together to form words.

              At least that is what I am understanding so far…

              I think this guy gives a good explanation (and entertaining) http://kanjidamage.com/kanji_facts

              I was wondering if you could share a few of your vocabulary cards so that I can open them in anki and understand how you are setting them up. Again, I get lost with verbal/written directions, and I check out after a while of following anki’s how to guide. Kind of like taking apart a machine to understand how it works instead of following a manual.

              Thank you -

            2. Meirav

              Ah, Gabriel – I looked at the French deck, that works.
              Also, re: what is nice to know vs. what you must know on the card – really the hiragana is not a must. Because the aim is to learn to read & write the kanji. I am going to experiment with it: taking it out, or adding it as furigana – smaller type along the kanji if needed just as an aid. It does help with learning pronunciation of double vowels or consonants, SO i will see.

              Alright! I’ll let you know how that goes!

              Thank you!

    6. Kurt

      I think this is a very fascinating topic. I hope you spend a lot of time on it in your book (I look forward to it coming out). I’ve recently gone back, and I am adding the reverse cards per your suggestion (I like it). Some of my thoughts in general:

      1. Pictures are very memorable, but they need to be good. I have plenty of cards where I remember the picture and associate it to the word, but I’m not really sure what the word means b/c I’m not sure what the picture means. Right now, I have a hard time finding pictures for abstract words; I don’t have a solution. Also, it’s best to use a very striking/unique picture whenever possible. Basically the easier a picture is to remember, the better.

      It seems we remember what is most directly linked to the 5 senses easiest. So we remember what we can see, hear, touch, feel, smell, etc. For our purposes, we’re left with sight and hearing (wouldn’t it be awesome to find a way to include smell, touch, taste with learning a language). If you can’t picture the meaning, perhaps the next best thing is a recording of the definition or a sentence where it’s used (the actual word being blank). Actually I’ve had some success with this. It’s easier to remember a recorded definition then one that I can only read (google translate is great for making these). Of course the sentence/definition must be like a good picture, unique and striking. Finding such a sentence/definition can be as hard as finding the picture.

      Also I’ve found I remember a sentence where a word is used much easier than it’s definition.

      1. Picture (best)
      2. Recording of sentence/definition
      3. Example sentence

      I don’t include all three in my cards because then they would take to long to go through, but perhaps every card should have at least one of these?

      I have something like 4300 words in French now, so I’ve spent many many hours using Anki. I would love to hear your thoughts…particularly on picturing abstract words.

      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        Hi Kurt. As soon as I can, I add example sentences. Once I’m there, I *always* have a picture together with an example sentence [with the word blanked out]. That way, the accuracy of the picture stops being particularly important, because the combination of words and pictures is much more memorable than either alone.

        As soon as I can after that, I add short definitions, too. (So I have picture + example sentence + definition where I used to use only pictures)

        I don’t go back and change my cards; I just add these elements to new cards.

        Yes, the sentences/definitions must be decent. You won’t teach yourself “honesty” with “__ is good” [although, when combined with the right pictures, you can often get away with it. "__ is good" with a picture of Abraham Lincoln might actually work]. But it’s usually not hard to find an acceptably good example sentence/picture combo with Google images.

    7. Simon

      Its all great as are many of the tips on this website. One thing I don’t like though is the correction idea. Three problems: 1 Even though you are correcting the error, you’re still seeing the incorrect sentence again and again and to some extent committing it to memory. 2 You will obviously know that the card is about corrections as soon as you see it so will already be looking for an error which will make it a pointless card. 3 If you make these cards yourself (which is what you advise) then surely you will know the correct way to write it anyway otherwise you can’t make the card in the first place.

      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        Hi Simon! I might be wrong, but I think you misread what I wrote about corrections (which means I probably should re-write it!). I agree with everything you’re saying; you *shouldn’t* make correction cards that look like “Fix the error: You eats hamburgers every day,” for exactly the reasons you say. Instead, errors are best addressed with fill in the blank cards: “You ___ (to eat) hamburgers every day.”

    8. Rob

      Hi Gabriel,

      As a fellow language and Anki lover I have to say that your site is very refreshing. Actually, I try to police myself against language learning sites and forums because for me the language learning process is so fascinating that it can and often does get in the way of actually learning the language. I decided to make an exception after reading some of your ideas though.

      I’m curious what your thoughts might be on using animated gifs instead of still images in Anki cards. I started doing this about a year ago and it does seem to make a difference. Have you ever tried that?

      Also, any updates on your book?

    9. Teh

      Hi, I am listening to you to create reverse cards from shared deck but it has no audio for 2nd card. What should I do? Thanks.

    10. Rob

      It’s too bad you’ve given up on this site. I really thought (think) you had a lot to offer the language learning community. Maybe it was a case of pacing. At any rate, I hope you are well and will one day return to posting on this site again.

    11. Pingback: 11 Principles To Unlock Foreign Languages | The Blog of Andrew Skotzko

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