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Learning How To Learn Japanese, Part 2: How to Anki




Disclaimer: This guide is mostly for learning Japanese grammar. If you haven’t memorized the kana yet, please do so before proceeding. If this is your first time reading a guide to Japanese, and you’re not sure where to get started, please read this. Also, the method of learning I'll be going over is only optimal if you can’t spend more than an hour each day learning Japanese. As stated in the guide I linked to, it’s usually better to just read through Tae Kim’s guide and memorize the grammar by reading visual novels since it makes the process more enjoyable.

Thankfully, for anyone like myself who needs a structured learning method to make up for a busy work schedule (combined with a lack of motivation), there is an Anki deck for learning Japanese grammar available that you can download here. The way Anki works is quite intuitive as it allows you to select certain options based on how well you retain information, and it keeps retesting you on the cards you have difficulty with. It works well not only long-term retention, but also provides a reliable way to prioritize certain aspects of grammar.


Learning Method:

The way these cards work is they show you a line of Japanese from Tae Kim’s guide without exposing anything else, and you’re expected to read the line in Japanese and interpret it in English. After you’ve made your guess, you will then prompt Anki to show the answer so that you can compare it to your own. Your English interpretation doesn’t have to match the answer word for word, just make sure it’s mechanically correct (see examples below). The way I approach Anki is I select Again if I got the answer wrong; Hard if I struggled to get it right; Good if I answered it just fine; and Easy for anything trivial. While you're using these cards, make it a point to analyze each part of the sentence so that you understand the sentence structure better, and do not memorize the translation to interpret the Japanese text. Memorizing the translation may help you with understanding individual lines, but it won't help you learn Japanese in the long run. Essentially, you should only gloss over the translation to check for mistakes. This may be hard to do for most of the shorter lines since they're easier to retain subconsciously, but do at least try to spell out each grammar point even if you don't need to for that specific line.


Originally translated as “Tomorrow, go to see movie.”
Can be interpreted as “Tomorrow, go to watch movie.”


Anki Mechanics:

Before you get started on Anki, you will want to read the first of the four major sections of Tae Kim’s guide (Basic Grammar, Essential Grammar, Special Expressions, Advanced Topics) due to how the deck is broken up. Once you run out of cards and Anki tells you, “Congratulations! You have finished this deck for now,” go ahead and start reading the next section. Don’t get hung up on memorizing each point while you’re reading; just try to make sense of each sentence in the exercises. I recommend using something like Word Pad or Open Office on the side of your PDF for copy/pasting the vocabulary if you want to avoid scrolling up and down for it. You don't necessarily need to make sense of the exercises either; simply exposing yourself to the language and seeing how grammar is used will be more than sufficient.




One of the things I love about this deck is that the text is taken right from the book. This allows you to copy sentences from Anki and paste it into the search bar on a PDF reader to look up the associated grammar rules. If your PDF reader does not have an easily-accessible search bar, I’d highly recommend downloading and installing Sumatra (it will make your life easier, trust me). Do keep in mind that the text in some of these cards will be different from the PDF (probably due to updates), but you should be able to find it with fragments of the sentence. If pasting the English line doesn't work, try using the Japanese line instead.




This is where I’ll start to get a little more technical with the Anki program. It’s not particularly difficult to figure this out on your own, but it did take me a while to even consider using Anki instead of a standard word processor to take notes. It wasn’t until I started paying more attention to the definitions area of the cards and contemplating ways to use them that I came up with this method. This method will save you a lot of time and frustration navigating a notes document or book every time you forget a grammar point (which, for me, happens frequently).




In order to add these notes in, you’ll want to press the “Edit” button on the bottom right of the window in order to bring up that set of options. Then you’ll see the “Definitions” field in the area I have circled, which is where you’ll want to add in your notes. Click “Close” at the bottom right to go back to the card you edited.




(Optional Step)

You may be wondering how to fix your interface so that your notes aren’t poorly displayed in centered format. Sadly, this is a little difficult to pull off without left-aligning the whole card, and you may be inclined to keep that particular section centered for aesthetic reasons. Since the Anki website did not provide the answer I was looking for, I’ve had to make a few trial and error alterations to figure out how to format the layout myself (I guess that web design class I took last Spring actually paid off, lol). In order to open the appropriate interface, click “Edit” at the bottom left and “Cards” at the top. Copy the code below and overwrite the code in the area I have circled in red.

{{furigana:Reading}}<br><br>{{Kana}}<br><br>{{English}}<hr id=answer><div style='text-align: left;'>Definitions: <br>{{Definitions}}



Hello and thanks again for keeping up with this guide series. Sadly, it seems like I'll have to make due with a weekly release format since college is keeping me busy this semester. I want to gun for straight A's this semester to pull my GPA up from a 3.6, so I'm trying to avoid cutting time out of that. No need to worry about my motivation though since I do enjoy writing these guides. Speaking of which, what do you all think of this guide in particular? Unlike the last entry, I felt that there was even less fluff content I could edit out. That's probably due to my obsession with small details and a compulsive urge to go over every observation I make, but I do think it's important that I explain these details in depth. If that's not to your liking, please let me know in the comments. In part 3, I'll be going over some useful productivity applications that can make the learning process even easier. Hope to see you there!


Recommended Comments

20 hours ago, Kirashi said:

Good job, I really liked the definitions thing showed in your example. Did you create this deck or card?

Thanks! Yeah, that definitions area is a life saver for me. And no, I didn't make anything at all in this deck.

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