How to set up Anki to learn vocabs (part 2)

In the previous part, I have explained how to install Anki and register for an account on AnkiWeb. At this point, you should be able to:

  • Add new vocabs to Anki.
  • Study them every day.
  • Sync the data to the cloud.

Today, I will share a way to customize your Anki so that every time you add a new word, the app will generate 3 card types:

  • See the word, guess the meaning.
  • See the meaning, guess the word.
  • See the example, guess the word and the meaning.

For example, let’s say you are adding the word “contemplate” into your Anki deck. It has these fields:

  • Pronunciation:
    • /ˈkɑːn.t̬əm.pleɪt/
  • Meaning:
    • To consider oneparticular thing for a long time in a serious and quiet way.
  • Example:
    • I’m contemplating going abroad for a year.

When you study, you will see the card like this:


Front of the card:

contemplate


Back of the card:

/ˈkɑːn.t̬əm.pleɪt/

to consider oneparticular thing for a long time in a serious and quiet way.

I’m contemplating going abroad for a year.


This means that you will first see the word “contemplate” on the front, then you guess the content on the back of the card, which is the meaning.

But with the customisation I mentioned above, you will also see these two cards:

1. See the meaning, guess the word.


Front of the card:

to consider oneparticular thing for a long time in a serious and quiet way.


Back of the card:

contemplate

/ˈkɑːn.t̬əm.pleɪt/

I’m contemplating going abroad for a year.


2. See the example, guess the word and the meaning.


Front of the card:

I’m contemplating going abroad for a year.


Back of the card:

contemplate

/ˈkɑːn.t̬əm.pleɪt/

to consider oneparticular thing for a long time in a serious and quiet way.


Why do we need that many card types?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the purpose of each card type:

  1. See the word, guess the meaning.
    • This will help your comprehension when it comes to reading.
      • Because you have seen the word so many times on Anki, you instantly can guess its meaning on the back of the card.
      • So when you read an article or a book and you see that vocab, you will understand it right away, you won’t need to look up the dictionary anymore.
    • For example: when you read this sentence: “Sharon is contemplating going to graduate school”.
      • You will recognise the word “contemplating”, which is the verb-ing form of “contemplate”, which has the meaning of “consider something for a long time”.
      • Then you will quickly understand the sentence, which will translate into: “Sharon is considering going to graduate school for a long time”.
  2. See the meaning, guess the word.
    • This will help you pick the right vocabs when you’re speaking or writing.
      • Because you have seen the meaning many times on Anki, when you have a similar idea when you speak/write, you will automatically convert it into an actual vocab.
    • For example: when you want to say “I am considering moving to a new house. I have been thinking about it a lot.”
      • You realise that you actually want to say “consider something for a long time”, which you have learnt on Anki. So the appropriate word to use should be “contemplate”.
      • Now the sentence will become: “I am contemplating moving to a new house”. Very short and concise.
  3. See the example, guess the word and the meaning.
    • This will test whether you understand the whole sentence instead of just individual words.
    • Besides, you also get to know how the word is used in a sentence (grammar).
      • For example: when you see the sentence “I’m contemplating going abroad for a year” on the front of an Anki card, you’ll learn that after the word “contemplate”, there should be a noun or a verb-ing.
      • So later when you want to incorporate that word in your speaking/writing, you will know the correct grammar to use.

How to set up the 3 versions

I have to tell you that this is going to be very long and require a lot of steps. But the good thing is that you only need to do it once. So be patient.

Step 1: Create a new Note type.

Open Anki.

1-home

Click on your deck (“Hoang Vocabs”).

Click “Add” button on the top.

2-deck

Click “Fields…”.

3-add-card

Choose “Manage”.

4-choose-card-type

Click “Add”.

5-manage-card-type

Choose “Add: Basic”. Then click “OK”.

6-add-card-type

Name your new note type. For example here I put “Hoang-English”.

Click “OK”.

7-name-new-card-type

Make sure you see your new note type on the list.

8-review-new-card-type

Close all the small windows one by one. Until you see the “Add new vocab” screen again.

Notice now that the “Type” has changed to “Hoang-English”.

9-choose-new-card-type

Step 2: Add 4 fields “Word”, “Pronunciation”, “Meaning” and “Example” to your new Note type.

Click “Fields…”.

9-1-choose-new-card-type-choose-fields

Choose “Front”. Click “Rename”.

10-edit-fields-in-new-card-type

Rename it to “Word”.

11-edit-new-card-type-front

Do the same thing with the “Back”. Rename it to “Pronunciation”.

Now you should see 2 fields in the list: “Word” and “Pronunciation”.

Click “Add”.

12-edit-new-card-type-back

Put the name “Meaning” into it. Click “OK”.

13-add-new-field

Repeat the same step to add one more field called “Example”.

Now you should see all the 4 fields: “Word”, “Pronunciation”, “Meaning” and “Example”.

14-finish-adding-all-fields

Close that window. You now can see the 4 fields available for edit.

15-review-all-fields

Step 3: Customise your first card type (see the word, guess the meaning)

Click the “Cards…” button.

15-1-review-all-fields-click-cards

On the next screen, you will see a lot of information. I will try to explain one by one.

16-card-editor-overview

There are 4 important areas to notice here (the ones I put markers on).

  1. Front Template: this is where we decide what to show on the front of the card.
    • ”{{Word}}” means: use the field “Word” to display here.
    • If I write “Word” instead of “{{Word}}” into the Front Template textbox, I will always see a fixed word “Word” instead of the actual vocab that I want to learn. Therefore, we have to put a field name in between “{{” and “}}”.
  2. Front Preview: this is where you will see how the front of the card will be shown when you study.
    • Because in the template, I only put “{{Word}}” and nothing else, so here I will only see “(Word)”.
    • Had I put “{{Word}} abcd” in the template, I would see “(Word) abcd” in the preview. For example, if the word I want to learn is “contemplate”, it will be shown as “contemplate abcd”.
  3. Back Template: similarly, we decide the content on the back of the card here.
    • There’s a special keyword called “{{FrontSide}}” which will represent whatever is on the front of the card.
    • “<hr id=answer>” means to add a line separator.
    • ”{{Pronunciation}}” means to put the field “Pronunciation” in that place.
  4. Back Preview: to preview how the back of the card will look like when you study.

Now that you understand how template works. Let’s try to tweak it to your needs.

For this card type, I’d like to:

  • Show the “Word” on the front.
  • Show “Pronunciation”, “Meaning”, and “Example” on the back.

Copy this code and paste into your “Back Template” text box.


{{FrontSide}}

<hr id=answer>
<br>
/{{Pronunciation}}/
<br>
<br>
{{Meaning}}
<br>
<hr id=answer>
<br>
{{Example}}

Note: “<br>” means to break the line.

The screen should update to something like this:

17-word-first-update-template

Click the “Options” button at the top right corner. Choose “Rename Card Type…”.

18-rename-card-type

For this card type, I will name it as “Word first” to indicate that you will see a word first, then you guess the meaning.

19-rename-card-type-2

Step 4: Create 2 more templates for “Meaning first” and “Example first”.

Click “Options” button.

Choose “Add Card Type…”.

Name it “Meaning first”.

19-rename-card-type-2

Copy and paste this code into the Front Template:


{{Meaning}}

Then paste this into the Back Template:


{{FrontSide}}

<hr id=answer>
{{Word}}
<br>
/{{Pronunciation}}/
<br>
<br>
{{Example}}

Now, it should look like this:

21-meaning-first-update-template

Repeat the steps to create a new Card Type and name it “Example first”.

Paste this into the Front Template:


{{Example}}

And paste this into the Back Template:


{{FrontSide}}

<hr id=answer>
<br>
{{Word}}
<br>
/{{Pronunciation}}/
<br>
<br>
{{Meaning}}

Then the screen should look like this:

22-example-first

Click on the Card Type dropdown list on the top to confirm that you now have 3 types of cards with the right templates.

23-review-all-card-types

Close this window and go back to the “Add new word” screen.

Step 5: Try to add a new word with the new template.

For example I’m trying to add the word “contemplate” here.

You should put each content into its corresponding field (word, pronunciation, meaning, example).

24-try-add-new-word

Let’s study those new words

Now, when you study the word “contemplate”, you will start to see the 3 card types.

First, you’ll see the front of the “Word first” card.

25-study-word-first-front

Click “Show Answer”, you’ll see the back of the “Word first” card.

26-study-word-first-back

Next, you’ll see the front of the “Meaning first” card.

27-study-meaning-first-front

And then the back of the “Meaning first” card.

28-study-meaning-first-back

The front of the “Example first” card.

29-study-example-first-front

The back of the “Example first” card.

30-study-example-first-back

A few things to note.

  1. Because you just create a new Note type and Card type, when you “Sync” to the cloud, you will be asked whether you want to “Download from AnkiWeb” or “Upload to AnkiWeb”. Please choose “Upload to AnkiWeb” to push your changes to the cloud.

31-sync-new-decks

  1. Now that you have 3 types of cards showing consecutively.
    • It will generate a new problem:
      • You see the word, you guess the meaning.
      • Then you see the answer on the back of the card.
      • Then you see the next card with the meaning on the front, you have to guess the word.
      • But because you just saw the back of the previous card, you already know the answer.
      • This makes the guess much easier and thus defeats the purpose of your study.
    • To solve that, Anki has an option to not show related cards on the same day. It will schedule those cards for tomorrow or in another date instead. To enable to option, you can follow these steps:
      • Open Anki Home screen, click on the gear button of your deck. Choose “Options”. 32-deck-options
      • Click on the “New Cards” tab. Then tick the box “Bury related new cards until the next day”. 33-deck-options-new-card
      • Click on the “Reviews” tab. Then tick the box “Bury related reviews until the next day”. 34-deck-options-review-card

Wrap up

As you can see, with Anki, we can customise almost everything to suite our learning needs. It will become a powerful tool if we know how to use properly.

We can even customise it further. For example:

  • Add new fields into your Note type such as: “Synonyms”, “Sound”, “Image”, etc.
  • Add new card types: “Pronunciation first” (see pronunciation, guess the word), “Sound first” (hear the sound, guess the word), “Image first” (see the image, guess the word), etc.
  • Change the text/background color, font size, etc. by modifying the Front Template and Back Template. You’ll need to know a little bit of HTML though.

Although there are many things you can do with Anki, you should find a balance for yourself.

  • If you have too many card types, you won’t have enough time to study them all. The amount of vocabs you can learn are also limited.
  • If you just have a few card types, you can only learn a few aspects of the vocab, not the whole picture.

And your goal is to learn the language, not spending days customizing Anki, so the most important thing is to still keep adding new vocabs and studying them every day. Good luck.

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