Monthly Archives: October 2014

Eight Different Anki Cards: a Peek Inside my SRS

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.

I love anki.

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)


8. audio

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!

Motivation (Or Lack Thereof): a Rant of Sorts

OK guys, let me just say it:

I’m seriously struggling with motivation right now.

Not with Spanish. My love affair with Spanish continues unabated. If I could do nothing but watch TV in Spanish, read books in Spanish, twirl in flower-filled meadows with Spanish, then I’d have no major complaints.

But Tagalog? Tagalog and I are going through A Rough Patch.


Please…tell me more.
(source: ambro on

I’m not sure what it is…

  • The fact that I still babble like a toddler after nearly six months of daily study?
  • The fact that native material is so far beyond my grasp that the only texts that I can sort-of-kind-of-mostly understand are in my textbook?
  • The fact that I still find myself falling into the trap of translating word for word every time I try to express myself?
  • The fact that I can understand every single word in a sentence, and yet have no stinking clue what the sentence actually means?

I’m going to go with all of the above.

This isn’t a post about ways to keep up motivation when it’s lagging. It isn’t a post about pulling the positive from the negative. I’m not looking for encouragement, or tips, or suggestions.

No, this post is about complaining! Whining! Grumbling and groaning! 

Oh come on, don’t tell me that you don’t enjoy a good whine every now and then.

Here’s the thing: I don’t really like doing packaged language courses.

When I was learning Spanish, I had so many resources to pick and choose from. I could play games, read interesting articles with full audio, watch TV made for learners, listen to great podcasts, even read simple books within a few months.

(And yes, I do realize how annoying that last paragraph is if you’re currently feeling about Spanish the way that I’m feeling about Tagalog. Sorry. Please feel free to tell me off in the comments.)

Only a bit of what I did in Spanish felt like work: anki, grammar exercises, audio drills. But it was ok to do the boring stuff, because it helped me have more fun with the fun stuff.

Well, in Tagalog right now, everything is the boring stuff.

I want the fun stuff! Where is the fun stuff?


It’s OK. I’m OK.

This is just that predictable 5.26 month itch.

I’ll keep doing my daily study for the month of October: anki, memrise, reviewing what I’ve already learned, working a bit in Elementary Tagalog, clawing my way through every painfully tiny bit of progress.

This too shall pass.



Graeme Weatherston

In the meantime, please grab some cheese and a glass of whine, and share your language-learning woes in the comments. Come on guys…tell me I’m not alone in this.

(Please note: this is a positivity-free zone. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriately upbeat or helpful comments. Remember what no one’s mom used to say: if you can’t say something grumpy, then don’t say anything at all.)

Let’s Talk Languages! Connecting With the Online Language Community.


A few weeks ago, I shared some of my favourite language blogs with you. While blogs are great for motivation and tips, some people might not feel comfortable – or even interested – in connecting with the authors by leaving comments.

Besides, leaving a comment might help you connect with one blogger and his or her readers, but it won’t help you connect with the thousands of non-bloggers who are out there talking languages – people just like you who are working hard to learn their first, second, or tenth* foreign language.

*Ten languages! Ha! I can barely keep up with two. 

I highly recommend that any language learner connect with other language learners. Message boards and forums are some of the richest places to ask for advice, share resources, commiserate, seek out inspiration, or just chat with other language geeks who actually get it.


Let’s connect! (image by renjith krishnan on

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 9.18.34 PMHow To Learn Any Language

HTLAL is a well-established and well-respected forum that’s been around for years. It’s the place to be if you want to talk about languages – learning them, speaking them, dreaming about them, maintaining them, living them. New posters are made welcome, and many of the regular posters are extremely experienced and generous with their time and advice.

The real gold nuggets are hidden in the language learning log board, where learners of all levels can post their thoughts, experiences, suggestions, questions and complaints. I keep two logs on HTLAL: Stelle Speaks Spanish and Stelle’s Taga-Log.

(My super-top-secret user name is Stelle. Shhhh. It’s a secret.)

HTLAL isn’t perfect. It suffers from a clunky interface, an absentee administrator, and intermittent loading problems (although it hasn’t had any load time problems for the last few months). The forum software hasn’t been updated in years, making it hard to use on mobile devices. With the lack of updates and the benign neglect, it seems inevitable that the forum will one day disappear.

Until that day, though, it remains one of the best places I’ve found to talk about languages with serious, committed learners.


I’m not an early adopter. No, really. I had never even listened to a podcast before I started learning Spanish last year.

That explains why it took me so many years to start using the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet”. Reddit is basically a site where people can submit content – links, videos, discussion topics, images, articles – which is then commented on and voted up or down by thousands of other members.

Reddit can be a bit overwhelming at first. It’s an extraordinarily busy site with thousands of subreddits (or areas of interest). To use Reddit to talk languages (which is all I’m interested in doing on that site), I would recommend following only related subreddits, and unfollowing anything else.

I read (and sometimes comment on) the following subreddits:

The best thing about Reddit is that its membership self-moderates. Spammers and trolls are quickly downvoted and disappear before long.

Lots of the language discussion on Reddit is actually beginner-focused. There aren’t as many serious and useful discussions as there are on HTLAL or on Polydog. But it’s an excellent source of free resources, and there are subreddits for just about any language.

(My super-top-secret name was already taken, so I had to go with stellere.)

fluentin3monthsFluent in 3 Months – forum

The popular language learning blog Fluent in 3 Months also has a forum. While, not surprisingly, many of the posters adhere to Benny’s “speak from day one” philosophy, it’s open to any language learner, regardless of his or her approach.

Fi3M not as busy as the other forums and message boards mentioned in this post. It’s also heavily weighted with beginner language learners. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a beginner – everyone was a beginner at some point – a well-balanced forum also needs some more experienced members to provide a different perspective.

The Fi3M forum can be a good source of encouragement and suggestions for resources if you’re learning a new language. There are some gems in the language mission section.

(Again, I had to go with my second-favourite super-top-secret user name , stellere. I’m very unlikely to start new posts on Fi3M, although I do try to encourage people learning Spanish and share suggestions and resources when I can.)

If you’re passionate about language learning, it can sometimes be hard for the people around you to understand why – especially if you’re learning a language that isn’t widely spoken in your area. Forums and message boards can help make language learning seem a bit less solitary!

Why not start by browsing the learning logs on HTLAL, Polydog or Fi3M – and maybe creating one of your own? You might be surprised at how much fun it is!