I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

As the title suggests, my relationship with Anki has its ups and downs. I haven’t been using Anki for vocabulary reviews on a regular basis for a couple of months, which I have been feeling guilty about recently. The main reason for my guilt is that when I am consistent with Anki, I retain so much more information. Unfortunately, the problem I have is that I always end up falling off the bandwagon.

A few months ago, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with Anki reviews. I felt that I was retaining more vocabulary, especially in conjunction with daily tadoku reading. At first, I could get my reviews done in 20 minutes or less, which felt achievable even on a busy day.

But then I realised that I was spending more and more time reviewing cards – my review sessions were now at least 40 minutes. I began to dread opening up Anki and seeing how many minutes it would be until I finished my reviews, especially if I had missed a day. I stopped reading in Japanese as much because I felt that I needed to prioritise flashcards instead.

It seemed as if my Japanese study was being entirely dictated by Anki reviews and not any of the more exciting stuff. So at that time, sticking with Anki didn’t feel like the sensible choice and I stopped using it.

For the record, I do like Anki (and similar spaced repetition programs) a lot, but I find that after a couple of months I get burned out and have to take a break. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been in this situation, so I thought I would take a step back and think about how to be more consistent.

On reflection, here’s where I think I was going wrong:

  • I was learning stuff that was not important to me. I was using shared decks, which can be great, but it meant that there were words I was learning that I didn’t have any real interest in learning. I usually add interesting words I come across directly from Akebi (a wonderful free dictionary app) to Anki, which I find easier to learn because I discovered them in a context that interests me. Eventually, I want to transition to making all of my flashcards myself but thinking more carefully about what vocabulary I want to learn is a good first step.
  • I was trying to do all reviews in one long session, rather than breaking it down into smaller chunks. Using the Pomodoro technique could work, but as I find it difficult to focus solely on flashcard reviews for 25 minutes at a time, I will change the time spent a little bit. I think I should be looking at focusing for 10 minutes at a time, perhaps at different times of day (eg. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during my lunch break, 10 minutes in the evening).
  • I wasn’t balancing flashcard reviews with the fun stuff. Flashcards are not a replacement for reading, listening and speaking the language. For every 10 minutes I spend in Anki, I want to be spending another 10 minutes practising Japanese in another way that I enjoy (such as reading, or watching TV shows).
  • The limit on the number of new cards was too high. If you miss a day, the number of cards that I had to review the next day was very disheartening. Going forward I will experiment with how many cards I can comfortably review in about 20 minutes, and set a limit accordingly.
  • I wasn’t being honest with myself about whether I had actually learned the card or not. It is very easy to conflate recognition of a kanji with knowing how to write it, which doesn’t help me in the long term. So following on from my previous point, I want to limit the number of cards I review, and then I can spend more time reviewing each card in more depth.

There are a lot of ways to customise Anki, and I think that making better use of these will help me stay engaged with my vocabulary reviews.

It’s going to be a bit tough getting back into the rhythm of daily Anki reviews again, but I hope my new approach means I can keep an Anki habit for longer!

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Ways to stay motivated in your Japanese studies

Learning Japanese (or any language) is a long journey, no matter what articles you read that promise fluency in 6 months.

Inevitably, there are going to be times along our journey when we lack the motivation to keep going. I’ve been a little bit unwell recently and after a few days rest I have found it hard to motivate myself to get studying again.

Here are some of the things I try to do when I need to find motivation to study Japanese:

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  • Watch a video of something that reminds you why you started learning in the first place.

It’s easy to lose sight of what initially drew us to our target language. Whether it be the culture, connecting to your roots, or to watch your favourite TV show without subtitles, there’s so many things that learning another language gives us an opportunity to experience. Whatever it is, watching a video relating to that topic is a great way of getting you back on track.

I personally find watching videos of people who have been able to learn Japanese to a high level really motivate me to keep studying. Kemushichan’s videos are always inspiring for me; my other personal favourites include Dogen and Renehiko.

 

  • Visualise your goals.

Take some time to think about your language learning goals. What is it that you want to achieve in the future with your target language; is it passing language exams? Holding a conversation with a native speaker?

If this is something you haven’t decided on yet, I recommend taking some time to define your goals in detail. When I am lacking in motivation, I remind myself of my short-term and long-term goals and how I will feel being able to achieve them.

When it comes to setting short-term goals, you might find the #clearthelist language challenges helps you to formulate and work on the goals more effectively. Here is an example from the amazing Fluent Language from May 2018.

 

  • Make sure to celebrate little victories.

Every time you feel yourself making progress, make sure to pat yourself on the back. It is easy to be demotivated when we experience setbacks, but it’s important to acknowledge the positives at the same time.

Let’s say you were having a conversation with a native speaker, but it was a little stilted. Whilst the conversation may not have flowed the way you wanted it to, you managed to get your point across and this is always something to celebrate. After all, languages are a form of communication, and being able to communicate is the important part – with more practice you will learn what sounds more natural.

When you are lacking in motivation, thinking back to the progress you have made will really help.

 

  • Take time to look back at what you’ve achieved.

This is similar to the previous point, but I find comparing what I understand now to what I understood either a few months ago or even when I first started really helps put my progress in perspective.

Think about what level you were at the start of the year – it’s quite likely that you have made more progress than you think and is a great reminder to keep going!

Having taken some time away from studying Japanese, I do tend to think about the words I used to know but have forgotten the meaning of. In order to combat this, I like to I look back at my old study notes to remind myself of the progress I have made since then.

 

  • Make or evaluate your study routine.

Sometimes a lack of motivation is linked to the nature of your current study routine. If motivation has been a consistent problem recently, it might be worth taking a look at your routine.

Are there any things that need changing? It might be that your expectations are too high and you need to set yourself a series of smaller goals every time you study. My post on simplifying your language routine might give you some ideas on how to do this.

 

  • Surround yourself with positive people.

The people that we choose to surround ourselves with can have a large impact on our motivation. By surrounding ourselves with people who understand our journey, we can get support and encouragement from them when we are struggling to carry on. This can be in the form of other language learners, teachers and tutors.

You might not know any Japanese learners in your area – don’t worry, because this is where social media is incredibly useful. I’ve found Twitter and Facebook groups in particular to be a great place to find inspiration, share stories and ask questions when you get stuck (Twitter is super popular in Japan so is especially useful!). There are also lots of great blogs out there for learning Japanese that I turn to when I need to stay motivated.

Language challenges are a great way to feel involved in the language learning community. For example:

I’ve also done my own 30-day Japanese writing challenge before which really helped motivate me to keep practising my writing skills, which I don’t practice as much as I should.

 

  • Make sure to reward yourself when you’ve finished your study session

Having a reward to look forward to at the end of the session is important, especially when faced with something that seems particularly daunting (for me, this is usually my kanji flashcard reviews!). I will treat myself to an episode of a TV show or time to play video games, with a bit of bonus time after a particularly long study session. When working towards a bigger goal like the JLPT, I tend to treat myself to something more special if I’ve hit my weekly study goals.

I hope this post helps if you’ve been finding yourself in a bit of a slump lately. The hardest part of studying is normally just getting started, so finding enough motivation to simply start is often all you need. The best thing I can recommend is to build helpful language learning habits wherever you can.

 

Have you got any tips or tricks for boosting your motivation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!