Category Archives: anki

Progress Report: Learning German with Anki

After reading numerous articles on Hacking Chinese, I decided to dive into Anki. Anki is space repetition software. It lets you create any set of flashcards that you want, and then helps you review your deck daily in a more efficient manner.

Thanks to the iPhone app, it has become very easy to stick to a daily routine over the past two months. Looking at the current stats, I have done 13 hours of reviews. I recently ran out of “new words”. Now everything in my deck is either “Young+Learn” or “Mature”. Reviews that used to take me 10-20 minutes now take 5-8 minutes.

This is exciting! My deck has just under 900 flash cards in it. And I have realized that I am only getting started. It’s time to start adding new words to the mix. I have started to add new cards, in part thanks to German is easy!. That author has the funniest yet well written articles on the roots of German and English.

Am I fluent yet? Hardly. 900 words isn’t enough to hang your hat on. I read tweets from my German friends and feel like I keep getting closer to understanding it before hitting “Translate” on Tweetbot.

Nonetheless, I feel like I am better grounded to learn German than ever. But it’s important that I keep loading up my deck with new words and expressions. And getting them from a native German author is the best way to capture contextual sentences to build up my deck. If I can make a habit of extracting new content from every blog article and also creating reverse cards (where the front and back are swapped), who knows where I could be a year from now!

In language, there is no substitute for vocabulary

anki-logoIn war there is no substitute for victory –General Douglas MacArthur

This famous quote from Douglas MacArthur shows that in certain situations, there are certain intrinsic requirements that cannot be ignored. At one time in my career, I was a group leader. That meant I was responsible for soliciting and delivering annual peer reviews for fellow software developers. One of my people had gathered a lot of nice, secondary things on his record. But he wasn’t at the top in writing actual code. I laid it in plain truth that our first duty is to write software. These other, secondary things like volunteer groups, etc. are used when we are trying to pick between two top performers.

As I said in the title, when it comes to learning a new language, there is no substitute to learning new words. After all, that is a core piece of a new language. Four months ago, I downloaded Anki and got set up with a review deck. About two months ago, I bought the iPhone app ($25 app!) That’s when I got serious.

Everyday, I review about 100 cards. Takes me 10-20 minutes every day. I do it in the morning, afternoon, or at night. And at first it was HARD. It’s also a bit demotivating considering that the cards you see the most are the ones you know the least. When you knock out a card right away, it gets pushed out to a later time. Some words that I already knew when I started (months of the year and colors), I won’t see for months. That’s because there is no use in reviewing stuff you know on a daily basis.

So, the stuff I see everyday are the ones I DON’T know so well. But my intrinsic desire to learn German has grown by leaps and bounds, especially after last month’s SpringOne conference. Chatting with Christoph, Ollie, Michael, and Sam was exciting. So I pushed through, and actually only slacked off towards the end of that week’s conference.

And it is finally beginning to show. I actually wrote a German blog article, German tweets, and find myself trying to chit chat with myself while driving errands in German. Instead of speak practice sentences, I imagine something I’m currently doing, and try to express it in German. I feel like I can do a LOT more than I could four months ago.

owl_mv_12da7b721e1d96fbe5092d33a6c9f584Contrast that with how I started on a year ago, and the results are surprising. I learned much including grammar and sentence structure with that iPhone app. But I haven’t felt as strong as the past few months. Building up a working vocabulary using SRS is a fundamental building block. Since then, I have gone back to do more duolingo lessons, and suddenly I can knock them out of the park. I closed out one box, which had five separate lessons, in one sitting.

As some will point out, nothing replaces actually speaking with live people. I totally agree. But having a beginning vocabulary is a necessary foundation upon which to build.