Anki: the Best Tool for Chinese Vocabulary Retention

Anki is a spaced repetition software that is perfectly designed for language learning – especially for character based languages like Chinese where memorization is key! This is Mandarin Study Guide’s #1 tip for Chinese vocabulary retention. Powered by the science of memory curves, the program waits to tests learners on flashcards until they’re about to forget them. This review method allows learners to focus on new and more difficult vocabulary terms without getting bogged down reviewing everything they already know. In answering flashcards, Anki users select if the card was “easy,” “good,” “hard,” or needs to be seen immediately “again.” Depending upon the the number times each of these options is selected for a given card, review times are updated. For example, if a card is given two “easy” reviews after being created it won’t appear in a users daily deck again for five days. With spaced repetition Anki allows you to seamlessly maintain vocabulary, preventing you from wasting time relearning old concepts. For Chinese vocabulary retention, Anki is king. Here are Mandarin Study Guide’s 4 top tips on using Anki.

#1 Use Anki everyday

Researchers agree that daily practice is the best spacing method for learning a learning foreign language. This is especially important for those just starting Chinese; compared to those who infrequently or binge study, learners that study every day for short chunks of time are two times more likely to [i] retain the information that they study and [ii] stick with their study regimen. Better yet, Anki is designed as a daily study tool. The algorithm creates a daily deck for users to review based on what they might soon forget. Skipping a few days worth of reviews means users may forget cards and must spend longer relearning them down the line. Everyday Anki use saves time in the long run and fuels your Chinese language progress!

#2 Learn vocabulary before you begin reviewing in Anki

Anki is an amazing tool to practice your vocabulary, but it is no replacement for learning in the first place. Some learners may find it easiest to begin their learning process straight away with flashcards, for these learners starting with Anki is great. However, flashcards aren’t the best first round learning tool for everyone. If writing down characters helps you learn vocabulary faster, then start with writing them down! Then, once you’ve moved to the review stage for the given vocabulary begin reviewing in Anki.

#3 Edit tricky cards to make them more memorable

Once you get into a rhythm with Anki individual reviews often take less than a second and you can tear through hundreds of cards in under an hour. For max efficiency it is important to maintain this groove. Vocabulary words that you must pause on to think about, habitually get wrong, and don’t seem to make progress with are labeled as “leeches” by Anki. If they are answered incorrectly enough times, then Anki will automatically suspend them from the deck for you in order to reestablish your rhythm. However, you shouldn’t let things get to that point! Moreover, those could be key words (airport, bathroom, please) that you might need one-day. Instead, consider using Anki’s features to edit your card and make it more memorable. You could: include an image, audio recording, or contextualize the word within a sentence. Moreover, research shows that using visual and aural cues in addition to text better cements information into individual’s minds. These detailed cards will supercharge your Chinese vocabulary retention efforts.

#4 Utilize pre-made Anki decks

If you are using Anki as a review tool for characters and vocabulary that you already know, then making the flashcards is a huge waste of your time! Fortunately, there are tons and tons of publicly available Anki decks that you can download and import into your Anki program. Decks have been created for almost every major Chinese textbook and even more resources are available if you consider that flashcards on other electronic study sites and apps can also be easily converted and imported into Anki. It is particularly easy to convert Quizlet flashcards to Anki flashcards. If you’d like to convert Quizlet cards into an Anki deck check out Mandarin Study Guide’s step by step tutorial (video with written instructions).

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