Language diary #8: changing things in Anki

If you follow my blog, you know that I am studying for the JLPT N1. This year, I feel that my language learning activity is divided into two parts:

  • JLPT preparation
  • Reading books and learning new vocabulary through Anki (which what I was doing last year)

While I am quite satisfied with all the JLPT related things I am doing, my regular Anki deck is becoming more and more annoying. First of all, it is full of leeches (cards you keep forgetting), and I think that I should change the way I add the words in my deck.

Until now, I added as little information as possible for each word: the kanji, the pronunciation and the meaning in English. A card looked like this:

The advantage of minimalist cards is that it is easy and fast to create them. My goal was to know as many words as possible to progress in reading. Also, I didn’t want to spend too much time studying Anki, this is why I didn’t add too many pieces of information in a note.

To sum up, I focused on quantity (roughly know as many words as possible) rather than quality (know a word well, know how it is used, in which context, know all its different meanings).

However, studying for the JLPT made me realise that I could not pass the vocabulary section with a rough knowledge of what a word means, at least not for N1. It also made me realise that I should not have completely discarded learning colloquial expressions, or even words in sentences. Given that I am learning words to read and not to speak or write, I thought I could do without it. But in the end, I realise that it is much easier to recognise a word in a sentence if I have learned this word in a similar context, instead than on its own.

Another good point in favour of expressions rather than word only is that it is much easier to remember. This card above, 逸脱, is a leech, I keep forgetting it. Worse, I keep confusing it with 経緯. They don’t share the same kanji, and they have different meanings, yet I keep confusing these two words…

The reason why I cannot remember some words is always the same: I do not really understand what the word means. This is particularly true with words like 経緯・いきさつ which means “the state of affairs”, “circumstances”, “situation” or “conditions”.

As a consequence, while I was keeping my cards simple to study Anki faster, I kept forgetting the same cards, I was loosing time on leeches, I didn’t really know what I was learning.

One solution would be to add sentences and expressions. For example:

For me, this is much better. The meaning of the word is obvious and I can remember it more easily. I know in which context I am likely to find this word.

The problem is that it takes a lot of time to create the note. Obviously, it takes time to write, but what is really time consuming is to go through all the example sentences in my dictionary and choose the ones I want to add to Anki. On the other hand, reading the example sentences and selecting only the most relevant ones is part of the “studying a word” process, it helps me to remember and understand the word.

If I add several sentences for the same word (to know all its meanings and the different contexts in which it can be used), I will end up learning less words, but I will know the ones I learn better.

The question is whether I should go for more quantity or more quality… The answer is certainly to do both and add sentences and expressions only for the words that I have trouble remembering or have an abstract meaning.

Anyway, these are the thoughts that enter my mind every time I sit down and study Anki. I think that I will change the way I add new notes and see if it helps me to 1) remember the words better, 2) recognise and understand them quicker when I see them in novels and 3) helps me for the JLPT.