Spaced Repetition Study with Anki

Old School Spaced Repetition - Chinese flaschardsKeeping up with our languages is tough. Ideally, we would live in an environment where we use them every day, have a language partner to practice with, or regularly listen to and read media from each language. When time or circumstances do not admit, at least for vocab and grammar brute force can also work: flashcards. For many years now, reviewing my flashcards has been as normal a daily part of my life as breakfast and email.

There are a bewildering number of flashcard applications out there. There are also growing number of increasingly elaborate online services which not only host collections of flashcards but provide an online environment for practicing them. Though this was rarely the case in early days, now almost all of them implement some sort of spaced repetition system (SRS) or interval study, which is the most basic and most important part of any long-term flash cards study. SRS applications space your reviews at increasing intervals of time so that you, ideally, only review cards that you are on the verge of forgetting.

Japanese FlashcardsAfter abandoning my own personal paper based system, and later abandoning software I designed to replace it, I’ve been watching the development in this field for over 10 years, and for a year or two I even wrote reviews of many of the new offerings. During this time I’ve come up with a set of basic principles that I think the strong applications stick too (looking back I would add a few). I also identified a number of common issues or simple flaws I see in a lot of flashcard applications over the years, including what I call the Flip fixation flaw, the Cookie Monster flaw and the Insatiability flaw.

There are now lots of good choices out there, some of which have paid great attention to visual aesthetics, rich web-based interfaces, or are backed by large flashcard depositories. However, the most powerful, flexible, and dependable long-term-use application I’ve come across for reviewing vocabulary and grammar is the open source application Anki, which I switched to only after watching the application evolve over the course of a year. It’s available for free and runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X. Anki has a rock solid spaced repetition system, complete data portability, server syncing, facts plus cards approach, support for multiple card models, and availability for various portable devices. After years of giving his software and its code away for free, the creator of the software has decided to charge a well-deserved price only for the native iPhone version of the application ($25, there is a more slow and limited but free web-based alternative). I now use it more regularly than any other application on my phone and iPad.

Does anyone else have a favorite spaced repetition flashcard application they have found robust for long term review?

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Konrad M. Lawson]

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