Thanks for commiserating with me last week during the Great Whine-Fest of 2014™. I’m happy to report that I didn’t quit, and that taking a big step back this month was a great idea. My motivation is climbing once again. I may even start a new lesson in my Tagalog course next week.
In the meantime, I’ve been doing fun, unstressful language activities: reading books in Spanish, listening to a few podcasts while doing errands, and running through my anki decks every day.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with anki, it’s a free* spaced repetition software that allows you to build your own decks and practice what you’re learning. Difficult words come back more often, and easy words are spaced farther and farther apart,. The algorithm allows you to spend the bulk of your time on new or difficult stuff, while reviewing stuff you already know just often enough to ensure that you don’t forget it.
* Anki is free for desktop and android. The iPhone app is quite expensive at 25 dollars.
I started using anki in May 2013, and – with the exception of a 6-week break in March/April while I was walking the Camino de Santiago – I’ve used it nearly every day since.
Here’s a look at anki when I opened it this morning:
I have five decks that I run through most days:
French – vocabulary: words that my students stump me with. Sometimes a student will ask me something like “How do you say hinge in French?” and my mind draws a blank. I add those words to anki to help me become a better teacher. This is my smallest deck, with between 0 and 3 reviews most day.
Spanish – basic vocabulary: English-Spanish deck that I started in May 2013. I don’t add new words every day, although I do try to add a bunch every week or two. Most of the cards are very simple word-for-word translations, sometimes with a few examples. As I’ve grown as a language learner, my cards have gotten more varied.
Spanish – practice makes perfect: cards built from the exercises in the Practice Makes Perfect workbooks. Most of them are either English-Spanish translations of sentences, or else cloze sentences with missing words.
Tagalog: a variety of cards all mixed up together. By the time I started learning Tagalog in May 2014, I didn’t want to clutter up my anki dashboard with more decks. My Tagalog deck includes vocabulary cards; grammar cards; translation cards; audio cards; and conversation cards. This deck takes about 3/4 of the time that I spend on anki every day.
libros: sentences pulled from novels. These are mainly words that I want in my passive vocabulary. Reviewing the cards in this deck is pleasant, quick and very unstressful.
So what might you see if you opened one of my decks?
1. vocabulary: L1 -> L2
These are words that I want to be able use when speaking or writing. They come from everywhere and anywhere: Skype conversations, books, courses, articles, texts that I’ve written, movies or TV shows. A lot of the cards in this deck are very simple (one word on each side), while others include example sentences.
2. vocabulary: L2 -> L1
Most of my Spanish vocabulary cards go from English to Spanish. They worked very well for me, so I followed the same pattern when building my Tagalog deck. Except that I found myself reading or listening to a sentence filled with familiar words that I couldn’t process!
I knew that happy = masaya, but for some reason this didn’t necessarily translate to masaya = happy. And so, for tricky words in Tagalog, I build two cards, one going from English to Tagalog and the second going from Tagalog to English.
3. picture vocabulary
Don’t like translations? Picture cards are great for concrete nouns and verbs. I really like picture cards, but they do take longer to create.
4. sentences from novels
I started creating cards by pulling sentences from novels this month, when I realized that using an ereader meant that I could both read extensively and highlight unknown words without breaking my flow. After finishing En Llamas, the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, I went back through the highlighted words and added some to anki. These are often words that I was able to understand from context, but that I’d like to add to my passive vocabulary.
5. sentence translation
While some learners will avoid translation at all costs, I find it very useful at times. I use translated sentences to practice grammar and sentence structure:
I also use translated sentences to help build my ability to carry on conversations:
6. cloze deletion
I use cloze cards in a relatively unsophisticated way, usually to practice grammar concepts (por vs para; ser vs estar; verb tenses). There are some much more creative uses of cloze deletion in language learning, and it’s definitely something that I’d like to explore further!
7. conversation practice
I created these cards when I was first starting to learn Tagalog. I found myself needing to repeat the same short conversations or descriptions over and over again. While I did this with tutors and with my husband, I also found it very useful to practice out loud by myself.
In this card, I’ve put a question on the front (Do you have any siblings?) and prompts on the back (name, work, residence, description, etc)
I add audio cards very intermittently. On the front, I add an mp3 audio clip from one of my courses (nothing is actually written on that side of the card). On the back, I put the transcript in Tagalog. I find spaced repetition of audio extremely useful, but I’ll admit that these cards take a bit more effort to make – and so I don’t make as many of them as I might.
So there you have it! My anki decks!
It might seem like a lot, but I’m actually kind of lazy.
The vast majority of my anki cards are very quick to make (hence the very limited picture and audio cards).
I like to keep my total daily time on anki at around 20 minutes, so if it starts taking much longer than that, I lower the number of new cards per day.
I hope that you found something in this post useful! If you use anki, please share in the comments how you organize your cards or decks!