Tactics

How To Use Anki To Memorize Japanese – Transcript and Video

Hey guys, this is a video I created on how to use Anki to memorize Japanese.

It’s got my whole process laid out so that you can copy what you like and leave out anything that you’re not interested in.

In addition to links for some of the things I talk about in the video, I have also included a (partial) written transcript of the video in case you prefer to consume the information that way.

Since I go over a lot of stuff in the video, you are definitely going to want to watch the whole thing. What I’ve written down below is just mostly the highlights and the important stuff from the video.

Here are the links to the articles I mention in the video:

Here is the video:

Here is the transcription of the video:

Hey, what’s up guys?

This is Nick and today I want to talk about How To Use Anki To Memorize Japanese.

So, once you’ve downloaded the free software, you’re going to go ahead and launch it and start a new deck.

Give your deck a name and then hit the “add” button to start adding your custom-made flash cards to the SRS deck.

Put the Japanese words and phrases on the “Front” of the card and then put the English translation on the “Back” of the cards.

That’s the short version on how to create your deck (just repeat that process) and then you can let the power of the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) take over and do all the heavy lifting for when to review the information.

One thing to note is that the default font is set to 20 pixels, which I feel is way too small. I increased it to 48 pixels which looks pretty nice. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. When you are looking at a card click on “Edit” in the button left
  2. The click on “Cards”
  3. On the left you should see “Font Size” and then the number 20
  4. Change that 20 to 48 (or whatever you’d prefer)
  5. Then hit “Close” and then “Close” again and you are done

Should You Use Your Own Deck Or A Premade One?

Instead of clicking “Create Deck” at the beginning, you can click on “Get Shared” to go to the Anki website and download decks that other people have made.

There are TONS of Japanese decks!!!

So what should you do?

I personally feel that you should make your own deck. The reason is because the premade decks contain tens of thousands of cards in them and, for the most part, it’s all new information for you.

That means that you are going to be spending all of your time doing research on what the new words and grammar are, instead of spending your time reviewing (and therefore memorizing) stuff that you’ve already learned.

The whole point of using SRS is to “review information in the most efficient way possible”

But you can only review information that you have already learned.

So, I feel that it is better to create your own decks so that the information inside of them is stuff that you’ve already gone over, and you just need to lock it in permanently.

When you are a beginner, you know five sentences and your deck is five cards big.

But after a few months you grow to knowing 500 sentences and your deck grows with you to 500 cards big. By using Anki with the information that you already learned once, you make sure that you never forget it!

On the other hand, if you download a premade deck, you will probably negate the power of Spaced Repetition because you will need to review all of the cards every single day since it’s all new information to you.

However, there is one situation where it is appropriate to use a premade deck. It’s when the deck contains information that you already know.

So for example, if you read the book Remembering The Kanji, you can then download the premade deck on it so that you don’t have to enter all of the data yourself.

That being said, it still contains 2,000 cards in it (one for each kanji) so you probably won’t be able to really use the deck until after you’ve completed reading the book.

In all honestly, you should probably be reviewing new kanji as you go through the book, and not wait until the very end.

But that’s just my personal thoughts on the matter. I am sure that some people have used premade decks with success before.

What Type Of Information Should You Put On Each Card?

Obviously you can put anything that you can think of!

That’s the power of Anki (^_^)

You can make cards that show:

  • Hiragana and Katakana
  • Kanji
  • Japanese vocabulary
  • Japanese grammar rules
  • Full Japanese Sentences (my favorite)

When I make new cards, all I do is put in full sentences and there are two reasons for this.

(1) People talk in full sentences. In the real world, people don’t just talk in vocabulary lists or in the 10 conjugations for the verb もらう.

Instead, they talk in complete sentences for manga, anime, video games, and so on. It’s just like all of these sentences that you have been reading in this post.

So instead of putting in little pieces of Japanese that you will then have to turn into real phrases later on, I recommend that you just start where you want to end up and have complete Japanese phrases as your cards.

(2) It teaches both vocabulary and grammar at the same time. In fact, it’s almost impossible to learn grammar outside of the context of a full sentence because grammar is “the glue that holds words together in a way that people understand.”

So instead of learning vocabulary and grammar in isolation, you can learn them at the same time, and in a way that they nicely complement one another.

In my experience, it is far easier to learn full sentences and gain an understanding of how exactly grammar works, than it is to first focus on grammar and afterwards look for examples that illustrate it.

When it comes to nouns and individual words, they are pretty much the same inside of and outside of a phrase, so there’s no downside to primarily learning them inside of one.

And in my personal experience, learning phrases that you can immediately use is far more useful and gratifying than learning either “all the animal at the zoo” or “the 10 different functions of the particle に”.

What Is The Format I Use For Each Card In The Deck?

I keep it really simple:

  • On the front I have the complete Japanese sentence in full kanji / kana.
  • On the back I have the English translation for it.

That’s it!!!

Do you notice anything that’s missing from my cards? How about:

  1. Furigana for the pronunciation of kanji
  2. Audio of native Japanese people speaking the phrases
  3. Pictures that illustrate “what’s going on in the sentence”
  4. Cultural notes on anything unique about the particular words

In fact, if you compare my cards to most other people’s, mine look really simple and really bare bones. But there’s some very good reasons for this. Do you want to know why?

Reason #1 – It’s Japanese at the highest written level.

If you are planning on becoming fluent in Japanese, then at some point you are going to have to dive into a lot, and I mean A LOT, of Japanese material that gives you absolutely no help when it comes to the correct pronunciation.

Japanese websites, books aimed at adults, forms you have to fill out while you live in Japan and many more things are presented to you as if you can read them 100%!

So again, it goes back to the saying of “practice the way you want to perform.”

If you want to be able to eventually read Japanese without any training wheels, then you should practice without them too.

Remember, I recommend that you use SRS on stuff that you have already learned before. That means that you have gone over the correct way to say all of these words at least once before.

If you need a little help remembering how to say a kanji, you can copy it from the card and then past it into Jisho so see the correct pronunciation.

A lot of the words in Jisho have an audio file that you can click to hear what it sounds like too. I highly recommend that you do that every time for extra reinforcement on the kanji’s readings.

If, for whatever reason, Jisho doesn’t have an audio file for the word, then I would recommend you search for it on Forvo. They’ve got an insane amount of Japanese on that site, and it’s getting bigger every day.

Reason #2 – You get (surprisingly) good at On’yomi readings

As I’m sure you know, most kanji have two separate readings, or pronunciations:

  1. Kun’Yomi – Also known as the Japanese pronunciation
  2. On’Yomi – Also known as the Chinese pronunciation

Since the written part of Japanese originally came over from China, there were a lot of “Chinese ways of saying things” that got carried over back in the day.

The basic rule is that when a kanji appears by itself, it uses the Kun’Yomi and when it is used in compound words (two or more kanij) it uses the On’Yomi.

This doesn’t always hold true, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s pretty good.

What happens then is that, since you are practicing lots and lots of full Japanese sentences with full kanji and no shortcuts, you end of getting pretty good at remembering the way a kanji is said when it’s part of a bigger word.

So you memorize the word for “lawyer” in Japanese as 弁護士 (ben-go-shi) and then latter on when you see the word for “nurse” as 看護師 you say to yourself, “Hey, that middle kanji is the same as in the word for ‘lawyer’ so I bet it is also said the same way as ‘go’.”

And it is! 看護師 (kan-go-shi) uses the kanji (go) for both words, and they sound the same in each.

This kind of situation is going to start happening to you a lot. You will get to the point where you will actually be able to read all of the kanji without any problems, it’s just remembering what they mean that might give you a little trouble, lol!

Reason #3 – It’s really quick to make new cards.

Look, the name of my SRS deck is “10,000 Japanese Sentences”!!!

How long does it take to create a single card in my deck?

Well, you gotta’ enter the Japanese phrase, and then you gotta’ enter the English translation of it, and finally you have to check both of them for errors.

In all, it might take me a full minute to make one card. Not too much right?

Wrong!

How long is 10,000 minutes? It’s just under a week!

A week of nothing but data entry! That’s a lot!!!

But here’s the thing, what if I was adding audio to all of my cards? What if I was adding pictures to all of them? You see where I’m going with this?

Now it doesn’t take me 1-minute to make a new card, it takes me 2-minutes, 3-minutes, maybe even 4-minutes to craft the perfect card each time!

And now that week of solid work has turned into A MONTH!

That’s way too long. I would much rather spend that month’s worth of time learning and reviewing Japanese, rather than entering data into my SRS deck.

That’s why having a quick system for creating new cards is essential in the long run.

Where Can You Get Full Japanese Sentences For Your Cards?

There are a few places that you can get great, quality sentences for your deck.

And by the way, if you’re not sure why it’s important to pull sentences from a quality source rather than create your own, then you need to read this article. Come back here once your done.

Here’s the basic version: Open up the books and courses that you have now for learning Japanese and rip those example sentences over.

Let me recommend two sources just in case you don’t have any quality material just yet.

The first one is a book that is phenomenal when it comes to learning Japanese withing the context of patterns and phrases. It’s called Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication.

Kind of a boring title to be honest, but an incredible resource nonetheless.

I’ve done a full review on it that you can read by clicking here now.

The other resource I want to mention is an online Japanese course called Rocket Japanese.

I have tried a lot of different courses over the years. Some are great, and some are crap.

Rocket Japanese is definitely one of the best ones and you can read my extended thoughts on it by clicking on this link here.

If you only had to pick one, a book or a course, I would suggest you pick an online course. Here’s why:

COPY + PASTE!!!

That’s right, if you’ve got an online course, then all you have to do to create new SRS cards in Anki is copy the Japanese phrase and paste it in. Then you can copy the English translation and paste that bad boy in as well.

This means that you can reduce the time it takes to make each card from a full minute to just 10 seconds or less.

Now it doesn’t take a week to create 10,000 Japanese cards. It only takes 8 hours! A single day at a full time job.

Pretty crazy, right?

Here’s the thing: Any time you can reduce the amount of time you spend doing busywork (like creating new cards) and instead, spend that time practicing Japanese, you should absolutely do it.

It might not make a huge difference in a single day, but over the course of a month, or several months, it can change your life when it comes to learning and memorizing the Japanese language.

That’s my take on the matter, and now you know how to use SRS to memorize Japanese so you never forget again.

So what do you guys think?

Do you agree with my methods for using SRS? Do you disagree with them?

Share your own personal thoughts on the matter by leaving a comment below! And as always, thanks for reading!

4 Comments

  • Antonis Christonasis

    Seems like an interesting tool for someone to learn japanese. Being an avid anime lover and blogger, I’ve always wanted to learn japanese but hadn’t gotten down to it yet. I also want to travel to Japan sometime in the future and experience the culture of a really interesting country. I’m from Europe, Greece, so you can understand the difference in those two cultures!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Haha, yeah Japan is pretty different from every non-Asian country out there. And it’s probably pretty different from its neighboring cultures as well!

      I think that’s one of the main reason it is so popular around the world. A lot of people want to go there and learn some Japanese so that they can converse with natives and enjoy the wonderful things that come from there.

      When it comes time to learning Japanese, there are many different ways that you can approach it. But when it comes to reviewing the stuff that you’ve already learned, I feel that a good SRS system like the one I’ve gone over is the most optimal way to go about it.

      It really becomes a game changer once you start to get into the hundreds and thousands of Japanese words and phrases. 

      Plus, Anki is free! So why not, right?

  • Beth

    Great tutorial! Totally agree that it’s important to learn without extra visual aids. When you’re reading things on signs or speaking to someone, you need to be able to identify what’s going on without having the extra help. Starting like this from the beginning will help you become a stronger learner. Loved it!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah I think that using visual aids is fine at first, and really useful when reading manga to learn Japanese, but you gotta’ drop them at some point so you might as well omit them when you create your SRS cards.

      There is a tendency for people to always do what’s easiest, so if you’re materials have furigana on them, then most people will simply read those instead of looking at the actual kanji and forcing themselves to recall how to say it.

      Again, that just goes back to why I feel you should only put stuff in your SRS deck that you’ve already learned before. That way you know that you’ve learned the correct readings already, you just might need a little work to lock them in.

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