Friday, December 30, 2011

"Forced" Anki use - pros and cons?

So far, I have not required my students to use Anki outside of class. One of the main reasons is that I cannot yet think of a good way to do it - i.e. accurately assess/monitor if they actually do it.

Soren, an Anki user and advocate, wrote a good article about Anki use cheating and how to stop it that discusses some really interesting ideas.

However, I think there is a larger issue. Most of us use Anki because we really want to learn our subject and know it is very effective. We have positive feelings and associations with Anki.

If we "force" (require) our students to use it AND somehow figure out a way to stop cheating, do we run the risk of alienating our students to Anki, especially to the point where they will not use it in other classes and in the future?

What is more important? Giving the students the opportunity to experience Anki in a way that will lead to some fully embracing it but allowing some to opt out? Or requiring its use, knowing that it is good for them (like vegetables)?

It is kind of a "Is the glass half full or half empty" question.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Good stuff to inspire teachers and students!

Got the link below from twitter feed of All Japanese All The Time, a fantastic site about language learning.

35 Great Posts from 2011 for Language Learners and a Bit More

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test - NYT

Great article from the New York Times about learning and testing!

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

Maybe Anki is too easy?

We were riding the Chuo train line back to Musashisakai last night, catching up on some Anki study. As I was reviewing my cards, some of which were quite easy, I found myself thinking, "Why am I studying this card? I already know it! This is a waste of my time..."

However, I came back to reality by remembering that the secret to Anki is to review the information BEFORE you forget it. If used properly, all reviews should be that easy. It should be effortless and fun.

Maybe our students, who are used to traditional learning and studying being difficult and unpleasant, don't see Anki as serious studying? - and therefore, not worth their time.

Maybe they think the same thing as I did on the train but don't have the understanding of how Anki works to reassure them. This, perhaps, is connected to my earlier post about students needing to understand the principles and science behind Anki.

Mesqueeb, a regular reader and commentor on this blog, has offered to make a youtube video in Japanese explaining Anki that I could show my students. I think that may be an excellent idea, especially if the video can concisely and succinctly convey the key points...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anki must meet student needs

As much as we "know" that Anki is an excellent way to learn something, conveying that to others seems quite difficult.

We explain it to students and friends, and they seem to understand it. They usually agree that it sounds good and that they would like to use it. However, not many actually use it and very few actually embrace it.

I have been thinking way too much about this, but it is helping me get down to some fundamental concepts of teaching and learning...

I think one big problem is the old "want versus need" thing. Our students want to learn English, but they don't necessarily need it. There is no internal pressure to make the effort. And since there is no pressure, they don't see a need to use Anki.

We have to create an educational framework where students can see Anki as an excellent way to meet their needs in the class.

The material in the Anki decks must be what the students are using everyday in class. It must be quizzed and tested regularly and thoroughly. They must feel like they will need everything studied before at any moment in the class. There must be constant pressure to remember, produce and process the content in many different types of activities and from many different directions.

However, it should not be all punitive, as in quizzes and tests. Students must have opportunities to succeed and feel good about what they are learning and doing. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar...

In this way, we hopefully can create that internal pressure, that need, in our students. Then, if we give them the opportunities in class to use Anki in a way to meet that need, perhaps they will embrace Anki. That should be our goal: students using Anki to succeed in our classes, and subsequently being able to succeed in all other learning situations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Students must understand how and why Anki works

Thanks to Jennifer for making me think about this!

In her comments on an earlier post about what teachers have learned about using Anki, she describes how she gives her students a hangout explaining the science and principles behind Anki. In that way, her students understand what they are supposed to do and why.

I had tried to explain this to my students, but I suspect that between their English listening and my limited Japanese skills, they did not really understand why I was asking them to do this new thing. Yet another crazy foreign teacher, I guess...

So, I looked on the Anki website and found some Japanese language support information, mentioned in an earlier post. From that information, I cut and pasted a handout that summarized the important parts of Anki..

In three classes today, I gave the students the handout and asked them to quietly read it. Then I tried to explain why I am trying to teach them how to use Anki, not only for my class, but so they can use it in other classes. Finally, I had them do their partner Anki study activity. I can only hope that they did it with a better understanding and perhaps appreciation of the process.

Next year, I will definitely have to do this at the beginning of the semester!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Anki fail

Last semester, full of enthusiasm for Anki, I tried to use it with a high level, second year group - a content based International Relations class that met once a week. As there was a lot of vocabulary to be learned related to issues such as refugees, climate change, gender issues, etc., Anki seemed a good way to teach the vocabulary needed in class discussions and activities.

So, similar to some other projects at the time, I created a class account and individual decks for all the students with the first unit's vocabulary. All the students were shown how to access the Anki website and use the program to study. There you go, kids; good luck!

Well, I'm sure you can guess that it didn't work out very well. Some students reported technological problems. Some said it didn't match their learning styles and that they preferred a traditional list on paper. Some, well, I just don't know why they didn't use Anki.

However, in hindsight, I can think of a major reason why it did not work. The bi-weekly vocabulary quizzes only tested the vocabulary for the new unit. Once the quiz was over, there was no pressure on the students to study/remember the old vocabulary. Anki is for long term retention of information and is not particularly well suited for cramming the night before.

Once the students stopped, understandably, reviewing the cards after the quiz, the system broke down. Then later, when I added a new unit's worth of cards to their decks, they couldn't get to them because of all the old reviews in the way. of course they didn't like Anki.

The main lesson for the teacher here is that the content of the Anki deck has to be needed by the student throughout the time frame of the class. There has to be some kind of pressure to keep the students reviewing the material as the class progresses.

If I were to do it again, and I probably will for next year's class, I will have weekly quizzes that cover all the vocabulary from past lessons. Hopefully, this will create that pressure to continue using Anki. However, I will need to figure how to structure the quiz as the amount vocabulary begins to increase. I don't want to spend too much time in class giving the quiz.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

When the student becomes the teacher...

In class the other day, my students were doing pair work with the smart phones, ten minutes each of quizzing each other on their decks. As there was an odd number of students, I partnered up with a student who is usually too cool for school.

Using his iPhone to access his Anki account, I quizzed him on his cards, taking the opportunity to ask him how he would assess his own performance and discussing with him what rating he should give. It was the kind of thing supervised/modeled Anki use I would love to do with all my students, but there is just not enough time...

However, the really cool part was when I handed him my iPod Touch and had him open up my current Rosetta Stone Japanese deck. With encouragement, he started quizzing me and helping me with my Japanese pronunciation. Soon, he was totally into it, dramatically making faces at my errors and congratulating me on my successes. Suddenly, the student was the teacher, fully engaged and concentrating hard on the task at hand. It was awesome to see. Somehow, the cool kid had become a language geek like me!

What are you doing wtih Anki?

I'd like to create a post where people can share their experiences with teaching with Anki. Please feel free to write as much as you like!

As of now, I'm primarily having my students use the Anki website on their smart phones in class. They work in pairs, with one student quizzing the other student on his or her deck. That way, they are all involved, nobody can check out of the activity, and not everybody has to have a smart phone to participate.

In one class, we use a computer lab once a week where the students do data entry of materials into their online decks. In some other classes, the students make their cards out of class on their own time.

So far, my main issue is making sure the students get enough hands on time with Anki so they learn how it works and become comfortable with it. However, I have to balance the amount of class time I can commit to that compared to other things...

I plan on surveying my students about the experience and usage. I also hope to get voluntary access to their accounts so I can compare reported perceptions and usage to actual usage.

So, what are you doing with Anki? Please share...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My current method of study

In the interest of sharing successes and failures with learning another language, I thought I'd share something I wrote a few years ago about Rosetta Stone (RS). We were using RS quite happily and successfully, so I decided to do some google searching to see what other people were saying about it. Surprisingly, it was almost all critical and dismissive. After reading many blog posts and comments ripping RS to shreds and me saying, "No! You don't understand RS or know what you are talking about..." I decided to write a little piece about RS.

Personally, I think it is good system, especially when paired with Anki. The available PDFs make for excellent Anki cards and just burn the content into your brain. Each lesson has about 120-150 cards, so when you make a reverse deck of same cards, you end up with hundreds of full, grammatically correct sentences based around a common theme/topic. My level 1 and level 2 decks have about 3000 cards each.


"While I understand many of the complaints and problems with RS, I think the overwhelming negativity and dismissal of the program is unfortunate, much of it based on misunderstandings of what RS is trying to do and fundamental concepts of language acquisition. This is a shame as it may scare some away from objectively assessing its effectiveness and perhaps finding the method that works for their personal style of learning.

I have been teaching a second/foreign language (English) in different countries for over 15 years, and in the last 30 years, I have seriously attempted to study at least seven languages. I have used books, private tutors, classes, audio cassettes, CDs, and numerous computer programs. I only say this to show that I have some experience in regards to second language acquisition. Also, I do not work for RS.

In my current attempt to learn Japanese in the last year, I have used RS, the Genki textbooks, Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji, Anki, Japanesepod101, and Human Japanese, as well as a class and a tutor here in Tokyo.

The two most important things in learning a language are TIME and MOTIVATION. You have to be willing and able to give a large amount of time to the process. There is NO WAY around this. So, anything method that makes you willing and able to give that time is fantastic and should be embraced.

My wife and I both find RS to be challenging, rewarding, and addictive to use. We give a lot of our time to RS. In that case, the cost is insignificant. Time is our most valuable and limited resource. If a method can get you to commit that resource, then it is priceless.

I have been reading a great deal about RS, and it seems that the majority of complaints come down to the following list. I will try to respond to each one.

COST – Yes, it is expensive compared to other options. However, if it leads you to your goal, what is that worth? Also, if you look at the amount of photos, audio files, design, etc., you realize this is not a cheaply made program. And yes, it is a very successful business that is very good at marketing itself. However, don’t dismiss a true evaluation of RS’s effectiveness just because of sticker shock. (Update - a friend recently paid about $1,000 for a ten-week, twice-a-week, two-hour per session class here in Tokyo. He also spends two hours every time on round trip travel, plus about $15 on transportation. How's that for sticker/time shock?)

LACK OF GRAMMAR/EXPLANATION – I, too, have been frustrated at times when I don’t understand a word or phrase. Yet, this happens in any language learning process. Many people become fluent without ever consulting a grammar book. RS is not designed to teach you grammar; it is designed to teach you the language. Also, it has to be accessible to speakers of any language. How could RS provide grammar/explanations in all languages? As a side note, there is research that indicates that studying grammar is NOT an effective way to learn a language.

EASY TO GUESS THE ANSWER – If you view RS – or any other language learning – as a race to get through or a system that you can ‘cheat’ your way through, then you are not serious about learning the language. RS will not teach you the language; you must teach yourself using RS. You need to study as a mature student, taking full responsibility for your successes and failures. Take notes. Be honest with yourself about whether or not you understand a concept before moving on.

DOESN’T TEACH SURVIVAL/TRAVEL PHRASES – Correct. RS is not designed for the traveler. It is designed to teach anyone the language, starting from the bottom up. It doesn’t care if you want to know how to say ‘Where is the bathroom?’ However, the fact that RS markets itself in that way is a legitimate complaint.

Now, for the good things about RS. I know these may not be true for everyone, but they are important for potential learners to know:

FUN AND ADDICTIVE – Need I say more? If it gets you to actually put in the time, then it’s a winner.

MATERIAL BROKEN INTO CONCISE AND OBTAINABLE BENCHMARKS/GOALS– The material is presented in a way that makes it easy to commit to and finish a section. Unlike more open ended studying, RS ‘enforces’ the process, creating learning opportunities with clear goals.

ALL IN TARGET LANGUAGE – Nothing but you and the language you are trying to learn. Yep, it’s hard. There’s no faking it. You either figure it out or you don’t. Suck it up, Buttercup!

FOCUSES ON LISTENING – Listening is the most difficult of the four skills. You will hear thousands of target language phrases in a focused listening context. (Update - there are also audio files available, which means you can surround yourself with the same content but in a different way.)

REPETITION ENFORCED BY THE PROGRAM – Yes, it can seem tedious at points, but you have to practice, practice, practice. If you follow RS’s lead, there’s no escaping it as much as you would like to move on. You can’t just say, ‘Oh I know that,’ and rush ahead to the next section.

Again, this is just my opinion, and I know that there are many different learning styles and opinions out. I just wanted to put in my two cents (sorry, it might be three because I wrote so much ;)



How to cheat at Anki - and how to stop it...

Thanks again to Soren for a great article on how students might cheat t0 get around required Anki use of out class. He also discusses how a teacher might best deal with the problem:

Good article about the origin of spaced repetition software (SRS)

Thanks to Soren for bringing this article to my attention!

It talks about the man who developed the algorithm that Anki uses. It is also a sobering look at when the science of learning meets educational systems...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sweet success!

I was checking the status of classes' Anki decks today while they were studying in pairs with smart phones. At this point, they should have about 260 cards generated from EFL Press's Topic Talk, an excellent book that works perfectly with Anki. The majority of students have most of the cards or are working on keeping up. Some are complete slackers. What can you do?

However, today, I noticed that one student, who only has about 5o cards in her deck for my class, also had second deck in her account.

"What's this?" I asked her. "Oh, chigau kurasu," she replied. A different class. Intrigued, I had her click over to the other deck. It was for a business hospitality class and consisted mostly of airport abbreviation codes.

"Did you make this deck?" I asked. She nodded her head, looking sheepish. "Why?" I continued.

She replied, haltingly, "Anki is good. It helps me study."

I swear I almost hugged her. I've been riding that buzz all day. Call me a geek, but that is a huge success in my book and fills me with hope!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Anki information in Japanese

If you are using Anki with Japanese students, you might want to share this website with them:

Specifically, the following link is a manual for Anki Japanese:

Comparison of Android flashcard apps

Interesting comparison of Android smartphone apps here.

Android flashcard apps

Here's an article about three Android flashcard apps.

What have I learned?

So, if this blog is to be a place for sharing and learning about teaching with Anki, perhaps I should write about what I think is the most important thing for a teacher to know when trying to use Anki.

Supervised in-class use of Anki

As much as we think that Anki is a great studying tool, and as much as our students say they agree with us when we explain it to them, many students will not do it out of class on their own. There are many reasons: no computers, no Internet, lack of interest, who knows... And if they are not actually using Anki, experiencing Anki and how it works, they will not understand and appreciate it. And therefore, they will not use it out of class. It's a vicious cycle.

Yes, there are some motivated classes and students who will grab Anki and use it like crazy. Unfortunately, they are quite rare. This issue of motivation is extremely important and needs to be addressed later.

So, even though it will eat up valuable class time, if you want your students to embrace Anki, you have to create opportunities for them to actually use it successfully. And by successfully, I mean both by your standards and theirs. The teacher must know that the students are studying correctly and efficiently. The students must feel that they are learning.

I used the word 'supervised' because during in-class use, many students will not use Anki properly. Even though you can explain how to use Anki properly and stress the importance of giving honest feedback until you are blue in the face, many students will either overestimate their knowledge of the card or apparently randomly click on buttons. This, of course, undermines the whole concept behind spaced repetition.

So, I have been trying some different things. One is just circling around the room while they are studying, checking on students and asking them to answer the card out loud. We compare their answer to the card and discuss what kind of rating they should give the card. This provides some modeling, feedback, and supervision. However, with many students, a teacher can only realistically provide a little supervision for each student. Also, unless you are in a computer lab or every student has their own smart device, logistically it is not easy to do this.

Another idea has been to have the students work in pairs, sharing a smart phone or laptop. One student logs into his or her Anki website account, opens the deck, and passes it to the other student. That student quizzes the first student, assesses the answer, and chooses the feedback button. After a certain amount of time, the students switch and continue studying.

There are some advantages to this method:

1. If a student doesn't have a smart phone, they can be paired with one who does. Almost all of my first-year students have smart phones now. It is also possible to have three students share one smart phone, but that is a little more difficult.

2. By having them work in pairs with required back and forth communication, this stops students from pretending to study Anki on the smart phone when they are actually texting or surfing the Internet.

3. The student who is quizzing the other student can assess the answer and provide a more objective evaluation of the answer and subsequent feedback to Anki. This also puts the quizzing student in the role of teaching, which can be a powerful way of learning.

However, there can be some difficulty with the quizzing students not wanting to criticize their partners, especially to their face. This may be a trait of Japanese students, but it needs to be addressed. Proper modeling and encouragement can help with this. Also, when students who are friends work together, they may be more willing to tell each other when they are wrong and why.

So, on this gray, rainy Wednesday morning in Tokyo, that's my thoughts about the most important thing I've learned about teaching with Anki. I'd welcome any thoughts and feedback.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Welcome to Anki!

For those of you who don't know Anki, here is the website:

Anki is described as an "friendly, intelligent flashcard program." You can find details information and instructions on how to use it.

I, my wife, and many friends have been using it for over two years to study Japanese and have found it to be extremely effective. There is an addictive element to Anki that makes us want to study more and more - a wonderful thing when trying to study anything.

Also, the iPhone app makes it extremely easy and effective to study while walking, on the train, and in those few minutes between other things. By using it in little bursts throughout the day, a lot of studying can be accomplished.


My name is Rich Bailey, and I teach English at Asia University in Tokyo. I also study Japanese, primarily with Rosetta Stone. In addition, the Anki flash card program has become my major tool to review/study my Japanese materials. The iPhone Anki app is extremely useful in that it allows me to study anywhere and at anytime.

With that success in mind, I have been trying to incorporate Anki into my teaching. So far, there have been successes and failures. I would like to share what I have learned with other teachers and to find out if there are others out there doing the same thing.

So, in a nutshell, that is the purpose of this blog. Let's hope it works...