You know what I’ve heard an awful lot of with regards to spaced repetition software? That using one for language study is time consuming and boring. To the former: yes, of course it’s takes time – that’s the price you have to pay not to forget stuff. The beauty of SRSs though is that they provide the most efficient way of remembering material. If you want to remember anything for long periods of time, you can’t do better than an SRS.
As for finding it boring, I think are a few things you can do to make it more interesting. As has been oft-quoted, it’s best to only use material that you find fun. Sound advice. But what else? I’ve been experimenting with a number of different card-types, and it’s been more entertaining as a result – it turns SRSing into more of a game (kinda like WarioWare, if you’ve ever played that).
The sentence method has been discussed ad nauseum – so here it is in brief. Basically, you gradually build up an SRS deck of target language sentences over the course of acquiring the language. When reviewing, you just to read out the sentences; if you can both read and understand it, you win. If not, you fail the card and do over.
An entire deck of this kind of card is bound to be just a little boring every now and then though, even with the greatest, most interesting sentences in the world. Helpfully, Anki actually stores information as “facts”, rather than straight “flashcards” – with just one fact, you can make as many different types of flashcard as you want using templates (see screencast on right; click to enlarge).
Making use of this, I created a new type of flashcard to train writing, based on the pre-existing reading cards. The Jyutping forms the question; the task is to write out the corresponding characters. This requires very little effort to set up – you can just reuse the sentences used for reading by using Anki’s “generate card” function. Recycling sentences also makes the task easier – there’s no ambiguity in what the sentence actually means.
Couple of notes on this – I don’t always write out every character; I’m already a master of 我, 你 and 佢, so there’s no point wasting time writing them out each time. Also, there are (purposefully) far fewer writing cards in my deck than reading cards – simply because they take longer to do. (As I side note, I don’t usually use spoken Cantonese cards; the one above was just the first I happened to come across in my reviews today ;))
What exactly is this type of flashcard useful for? There’s the whole passive/active knowledge thing; obviously it improves writing, but it also benefits reading a lot to be writing the characters out from memory (does for me, anyway). If you’ve finished Heisig, you’ll also have plenty of cards just for writing out individual characters based on the English keyword – writing out entire sentences is a good way to learn the characters in context. It also provides an opportunity to slim a Heisig deck down (if you have a card where you need to write out 月, for example, there’s little point keeping the Heisig card for “month”).
You may have noticed that all the cards so far have different colour text – this is so I know what I’m meant to be doing with each card! All the cards are lumped together into a single deck, so distinguishing between them is essential. Also, it makes the whole thing look prettier. Anyway, you can choose the colours of specific models using the “fonts and colours” feature of Anki – it’s pretty straightforward.
P.S. Not quite sure how useful this card type would be for other languages, especially when they’re phonetic; I guess you could always try transcribing a sound-bite and making sure it’s spelt properly?
P.P.S. Eric over at the awesomely-named When English Attacks has written a really nice guide on the basics of using Anki – not to mention the basics of reading-type cards which I couldn’t be bothered to didn’t cover. Enjoy 🙂