Alfa November Kilo India. That’s how you spell “Anki” according to the NATO phonetic alphabet. And no, I didn’t need Wikipedia to come up with that. I just know the phonetic alphabet now. And I can also phonetically read many words in Russian, when a month ago I couldn’t. This is all thanks to AnkiDroid, a free Android application for learning things using flash cards.
As you can probably tell by the name, AnkiDroid is compatible with the free learning application and website Anki. It also synchronizes with Anki, so you can split your learning between the PC and your Android device, and it has a cool homescreen widget and a reminder system.
The Basic Concept
If you’ve never used a flash card application for learning something, the concept might bear a short introduction. Flash card learning is good for memorizing factoids and small pieces of information, such as the letters of a language or key terms. It works using question and answer pairs. You’re asked a question, try to think of the answer, and then press a button to see the answer. You then need to tell the app how hard or easy coming up with the right answer was.
According to this, the application knows when to next ask you this question. If you know something well, it won’t ask you about it often. This produces a very focused and personalized learning process, where you’re constantly drilled only on your weak points.
Just like Anki, AnkiDroid’s system is based on “decks” of flash cards. The screen you see above is where you can see the status of your local decks, and sync them with the Anki server (requiring a free account). As you can see by the thin white progress bar, my NATO Phonetic Alphabet is going better than my Russian (I’ve been using AnkiDroid for about two months now).
In case you’re not so much into phonetic alphabets or reading Russian, there are many other decks you can choose from.
These are just card decks regular folks like you and me created for Anki and decided to share with the world. Some of them are better than others, and there’s no ranking system, so picking a high-quality pack is a matter of trial and error. There’s often more than one deck about any given subject. Let’s take history, for example:
I could keep scrolling – this is a wide field, and as you can expect, there are lots of decks. Some of the decks are very focused, aimed at one specific test (SOLS Unit 2 above, for example), while others are more general. Also, some packs are just enormous – check out that Hebrew Vocabulary pack (two screenshots up) with 11,670 facts.
If none of the decks available offer the facts you need, you can always create your own deck. You can do this using Anki’s PC application, or right on your device. Once you have a deck you want to learn, it’s time to start!
The Study Process
The deck review screen looks like this:
Before you start studying (or “Reviewing”, in Anki parlance), you can see your progress on the pack so far (ever since you started learning it), as well as how many cards you need to review today. Let’s Start Reviewing:
This is a very simple deck, so the question consists of just a single letter (meaning, “what’s the word for U in the NATO phonetic alphabet?”). Once you’re done thinking, tap Show Answer:
You can rank your answer in four different grades. “Again” usually means you just didn’t know the answer, and the others are self-explanatory. As you can see, if I say this was a hard question for me, I will be shown the question again much sooner than if I say it was Easy. In both cases the interval is really long, because I’ve been working on this deck for a while and I actually know this stuff already (and AnkiDroid correctly picked up on this).
Let’s take a look at the Russian pack I’ve been studying, where I haven’t been doing as well:
In this card, “Hard” would make AnkiDroid show me the card again within 21 days, not 1.1 months. AnkiDroid has all sorts of other nerdy goodies, such as a statistics browser showing your total review time and other data about your progress. These are all secondary to the core of the app, which we’ve just seen. It does have one other key feature:
The Widget & Reminder System
AnkiDroid comes with a large (4×1) widget which shows lots of information about your progress. Apart from the cryptic “0 15 0″, the whole thing is quite clear. Tapping it, as you would expect, launches AnkiDroid.
The reminder system is configurable – for me, it kicks in once there are 25 cards pending review. So you don’t have to constantly check on the widget. If you leave AnkiDroid for a while, notifications will just start appearing in the Notification Bar whenever you need to review your cards. They’re slightly annoying (most notifications are, to me) but are very effective. If you really don’t like them, you can always just switch them off.
As I said, I’ve been using this application for a while now, and it just works. It is one of the best applications on my device, and is a fantastic way to learn a new language or any set of data. Just for a sense of proportion, the Anki client for iPad (by another developer) retails for a whopping $25, while AnkiDroid is completely free.
If there’s anything you want to learn, grab AnkiDroid now. And if you make any decks, don’t forget to share!
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