Yet More on Anki – Ultimate Cards

I’ve written quite a few posts on using Anki now – it’s an integral part of my language study and I hope that if you haven’t already tried it you’ll give it a go.  For me, my Cantonese decks are a huge archive of knowledge accrued thus far.  I think of it as scaling a mountain, sinking each pick into the cliff face a few inches above the next to make sure I can’t fall.

Anyway, today I’d like to share the most recent incarnations of my main Cantonese deck.  I think (after much experimentation) it’s really approaching a point where it’d be hard to improve on it further.

Comprehension Cards

Quite apart from the typographical perfection (isn’t the balance of font sizes and line spacings to die for? :P) I think this encapsulates everything you might need as a Cantonese student.

The Jyutping in the question makes it clear where words start and end (not necessarily apparent from the unspaced characters) and also allows tones to be drilled into the learner’s head.  If the cards had audio, they’d be on the question side.  The sentences are so far predominantly from Yip and Matthews.

The answer side includes a translation (so you know exactly what the Canto means), characters (see section at end) notes on new words and grammar and/or brief definitions, and the card’s tag (decoration).

Active Recall Cards

Cloze deletion may seem at first to be a slightly perverse way of practicing Cantonese, but I promise it’s not!  The two above card types were actually developed through tinkering with Japanese decks – I wanted a time-cheap way of maintaining my knowledge of Japanese and so three months ago I downloaded the Tae Kim deck.  I was surprised that the format was that of Cloze deletion cards (broadly similar to the active recall card above) – clearly the idea was to test active recall, but it wasn’t really something I was up to, having not really done much Japanese for a year.

To get around this, I rejigged the format so that it simply tested passive reading/comprehension ability (similar to the card in the first screenshot).  All I had to do was read and understand kana – this was sufficiently easy to do, so I stuck with the format for a month and a half.

I then decided I’d try the Cloze deletion cards again as an experiment – suddenly, the cards I’d originally struggled with were a comparative breeze.  They were forcing me to actively recall bits of Japanese grammar – and it was easier because I’d already seen each sentence six or seven times before.

So, to cut this long story short, I came up with the two-tier system above – learn a sentence and its meaning, and then remove select parts of it to improve active recall further down the line.  Using Cloze deletion means you can test active recall of specific words – this works better than reviewing words individually (i.e. vocabulary lists) because the extra context developed through comprehension review helps aid accurate recall.


Although I wouldn’t recommend fresh leaners of Cantonese bother learning (or even looking at) Hong Kong characters, I’ve included them in some of my cards for several reasons:

  1. I’ve already invested enough time in them that it’d be a waste not to continue
  2. It’s good typing practice
  3. I have to look up words in CantoDict anyway; it doesn’t take much effort to copy characters across into cards
  4. If I’ve copied out subtitles from a drama, it often doesn’t take much extra work to alter them for the Cantonese
  5. I might be able to use them in future cards
  6. I’m good at wasting time on non-essential things

Importantly though, I don’t include the characters on the question side – I tried it for a couple of days and found they were either distracting (alongside the Jyutping) or too difficult.  Completing work on Chinese characters is a project scheduled for five months time, and I need to keep telling myself that the day will come when I can learn them properly.  Divide and conquer. Divide and conquer.


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