Philipp Marxen

My Anki Progress Logbook

In this public document, I plan to update my progress in using Anki. Anki, is a spaced-repetition-software that helps learners retain information better.

My memory is pretty lousy, so having a program that helps me review information in just the right time to maximize chances that it will go into my long-term memory is invaluable. This being said, Anki is free! 

I use Anki to improve several languages at the same time as explained in this article.

From now on, I will also run a 30 day Anki challenge that will test my limits in using this system. I have written about this 30-day Anki intensive challenge here.  

April 01, 2024 Anki Progress report

Today, I studied 996 cards in total, mostly between 9 am and 1 pm. 851 cards were new and I reviewed 145. Some remarks for today: 

  • The Mandarin decks are complementary and relatively easy
  • The Chinese Christian deck is a bit more difficult
  • The HSK5 deck is a bit more difficult
  • I like that a lot of decks have audio and full sentences
  • It was been faster than I thought (needed less than 2 hours instead of 2.5-3 hours estimation)
  • But it was very tiring and I felt exhausted and still had other work to do in the afternoon. 
  • Still: Good start into the challenge. 
  • In the next few days, there will be about 150 reviews of existing vocab daily.

April 02, 2024 Anki Progress report

Woke up with a bit of a headache. After an aspirin, it is a bit better. Besides the Mandarin challenge, I am also working on other languages. Today, that is the following: 

DeckNew cardsRepeat cards
French 232
Japanese 101
Japanese 201
Japanese 3011
Japanese 400

Looking at it today, I feel that is the right amount in order not to be overwhelming, but to keep at it. Now I will do these first before I start my Chinese Anki decks. Ok, that took me 6 minutes. 

Now I start the challenge…

First, I did a very simple deck that had only a handful of cards to repeat. Mostly these will only show up a year from now again. 

Then I just now tackled the combined deck that includes 4-5 different decks including the HSK5 deck that I feel is a challenge for me. These are the results:

Took longer than I wanted and a lot of reviews as many new cards I wanted to hear again. I was also a bit lenient with the classification. Some of these words, I have never used or can’t remember to have heard before. 


Today, it took a bit longer than yesterday and more than 2 hours. Overall almost 1100 cards and 950 new cards. I feel completely exhausted after this intense exercise. Will take a break for some minutes and start my work. 

April 03, 2024 Anki Progress report

Today, the headache was gone and I was able to concentrate and work well on my Anki decks. Yet, I still feel very tired after an hour or so. 

In sum:

  • 1121 cards reviewed today in total 
  • 972 new cards
  • Overall ok, but the HSK5 cards are difficult
  • Positive: I will finish all HSK4 cards tomorrow. Looking forward to it

These are the 1800 HSK1-4 cards as part of the collection deck. This should be finished tomorrow.

April 04, 2024 Anki Progress report

First of al, there was a major earthquake in Hualien. It was the strongest earthquake in the last 25 years and similar earthquakes of 7.2 to 7.6 on the Richter scale have led to thousands of deaths. Fortunately, it seemed that most buildings held up well and while more than a 1000 got injured, so far less than 10 are confirmed dead. Nevertheless, this is a tragedy and there are many aftershocks. I heard from many friends that they are ok, but in shocked. 

This being said, I watched a couple of videos and news reports about the earthquake, but could only understand about 70%. Likely, I lack specific vocabulary about seismological events and TV broadcaster Chinese is often a bit fast for me to follow. 

Today, was tough when it came to Anki challenge. On Reddit, most people said that this is not possible and not advisable. While I partly agree on the second point, I still believe this will massively propel my Mandarin knowledge forward. 

Small gain today: I finished a HSK4 deck that I had worked on for the last three and a half months. 

This deck has 1800 words and English and Spanish translations. As mentioned before, I am not a fan of word-translation Anki decks, but happy I finished this and hope it helps me slowly build some Spanish-Mandarin translation links in my brain.

This was the progress. I started about 4 months ago and had a break at some point when I went traveling. Coming back to a place, I did a massive review session in one day. In the last 30 days, it was mostly reviewing vocabulary, but especially the last few days, I strongly increased the new cards again. In the next few days, that is at 0, but the cards to review will rise and stay relatively elevated around 50-100 for the next 20-30 days. 

Here is the overall view: 

Today, it took me two and a half hours and overall it was 1201 cards. Which is a lot. Plus 1049 new cards which is an absolute record. I feel completely exhausted. 

April 05, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time to look at the decks again. Mostly, I like sentence and dialogue cards with accompanying audio. But I also have some Mandarin-Spanish word decks that complement those sentence cards. 

My preference is clearly towards the sentence cards with audio files as that will be very typical everyday situations and talks covering a wide variety of topics. Besides, through mini dialogues and sentences, grammatical concepts become clear to me.

What I am doing now is a morning session with all other languages plus half of the Chinese cards/decks. In the evening, I am doing another set to go through hundreds of audio file sentences and I take more time. 

I imagine the situation in which the sentence is spoken. I echo sentence audios and listen to the audio again. I think of alternative sentences to say in these situations. My goal is to get me set up for dreaming in Chinese. So far, I am aware of only one or two times that I dreamt in Chinese. Using my Anki cards in that way, will hopefully get me some more of these experiences.

And one more thing: Many of the sentences are rather simple sentences. Not necessarily the typical 中文很难 or 我想要一杯咖啡 or 。。。。but definitely sentences that are in use in daily life. Passively, I get also accustomed with plenty of grammatical patterns through this practice. 

Overall, I did 1304 cards. A new record and very exhausting. In the end, I did not echo each audio file again. Physically quite exhausted. But I have finished some decks in the last weeks and days, and at least another deck should be finished in 2 days.

 April 06, 2024 Anki Progress report

This is the new way to structure my Anki session:

  1. In the morning, I start with non-Mandarin decks which usually takes about 15 minutes. 
  2. Then I tackle one or two very simple Anki decks. 
  3. Then I do the most difficult deck: The HSK 5 deck. 
  4. In the afternoon or evening, I do a second session. Then, I take sentence decks and try to imagine myself in situations in the past, in which I could have used that particular sentence. Then I also echo the audio of that sentence. 
  5. In the late evening, just before going to sleep, I keep another about 50-100 sentence audio cards. These cards should be relatively easy, entertaining and all audio cards. I use this to calm down and prepare myself for bedtime. I take more time to go through these cards and then try to prepare my mind to be fully in Mandarin when I am in bed and once I finish this and close the computer, I will sleep and hoping for a Mandarin infused dream. To add, I try to minimize the screen impact on sleep. Thus using blue filter, but more importantly, only rarely looking on the screen and clicking more intuitively and focussing on the audio, the visualization and the echoing of the audio. 

This might not yet be the largest iteration of my Anki process, but I will monitor this in the next days to see if that adds to my progress and deeply ingraining sentences into my mind connecting these with certain situations. 

Besides, I feel that I profit more from intermediate sentences used in everyday situations. Most of these sentences, I understand, but haven’t heard before in that way. Hence, I strongly expand my knowledge of very standard sentences in very standard situations. My goal here is not to practice 10,000 different kicks but to practice one kick 10,000 times or in our world: To practice again and again many variations of very standard phrases that constitute probably 90% of all conversations. The 30,000 cards contain probably about 20,000 or more phrases and these cover probably most of the spoken conversations of everyday life in many many different but highly similar way, creating a deep language feel ( 語感)。 

This time, it was slightly less cards as the day before I finished the old HSK4 Mandarin-Spanish deck. The issue can be seen on the right sight: In the next days, I will have about 300-400 cards that are up for repetition and then a large spike with up to 1000 cards for repetition in about 20 days. But ok, one step at a time. Tomorrow, I will make a recap of the first days.

April 07, 2024 Anki Progress report

Sunday. Survived this week, but barely. It is also 7 days since the official start of this challenge. In other words, a good time for a one week recap and to face the challenge of next week. 

First, here is the daily overview: 

Pretty standard. 1027 new cards and 274 reviews. That’s 1301 altogether. However, I think it is not really 1027 new cards, but I calculated rather about 750 new ones. Anyways, good to finish this today and also extremely good to see a 40/40 on the mature cards. 

The daily overview is pretty clear and consistent. Let’s zoom out and check a couple of things: 

What have I learnt

First, I love how sentence cards work and to often have the feeling that I had a similar card before. Obviously, there are many cards about earthquakes for example and so in one way or another, there is a lot of repetition even though the sentences are different. I feel this is really providing me with a lot and a lot of sentences in one particular topic cluster reusing a lot of the vocabulary and grammatical structures that I already know from other topic clusters. 

It is not a topic cluster in a day, but rather dozens of different topic clusters every day and usually not more than 2 cards of the same cluster in a row. That might add to the exhaustion as it jumps from advice to a job starter at a job fair to leisure activities in summer at the beach to disaster relief after flooding. 

I hate single word cards – I feel there is not really a lot of utility there. And I love little dialogues or longer sentence cards with audio that I can shadow and thus also improve my pronunciation.

How difficult is it and what to consider

It started ok. The last 2-3 days, I feel completely exhausted. My brain burns a lot of energy and might not be able to really go concentrate on SRS cards for 2.5 to 3 hours per day. Even though I take breaks and even though I have good sleep and ok nutrition, it is still very demanding for me. Maybe a younger person can deal with that in a better way. 

It is very difficult to work on pure word cards. I mostly have Mandarin-Spanish-English word cards to also strengthen Mandarin-Spanish connections. That being said, I am not yet convinced if that is effective. 

On the other hand, the sentence cards are achievable. There is always a lot of new words, but the sheer amount of cards I do every day means, that more often than not that new word will show up again and again during a day in different decks and different cards. Besides, there is also different expressions that almost mean the same showing up and I develop a feel for the differences. Today, that was for a number of cards that had flooding, disaster relieve and fishing as topics. 

Another difficulty is to keep up the other languages. I feel it is a chore and quickly finish my non-Mandarin cards first thing in the morning. I believe my retention is not high and I am not too concentrated on other languages. Still, at least it gives me some exposure to sentences and audio files in those languages. 

Reactions on Reddit (impossible, imprudent etc.) 

Posted in the Anki subreddit. The reactions were mostly negative. The main points were: 

  1. It is not possible 
  2. It is not recommended

When it comes to a. I believe my attempt in this month is also interesting from a curiosity point of view and in general for language learners and Anki users alike. So far, it was very hard, especially the last days, but not impossible.

The second point was that it is not recommended. Well, first of all, there is a question on how to use Anki and probably everybody uses it differently. Maybe a person using it for medicine might have a different perspective compared to a person using it for languages. And even among language learners the use cases are different. 

Personally, I believe that if I do sentence mining in real life and use these sentences in Anki, that would be an even better way! That being said, I do see progress with what I do and I want to stress that: Most of the cards are full sentence cards or mini dialogues with audio. Mostly again everyday conversations for intermediate learners ranging from birthday wishes to earthquakes to color of dresses to advice about studying etc. Now, I use these to build up my understanding, but more importantly a large expression library for everyday use. My goal is to at least have heard most possible sentences in most likely situations and fully understand these. Plus: I use echoing. That means, after hearing the audio, I loudly repeat it. This helps me train my facial muscles to pronounce the expressions better. It is sometimes still challenging but I make progress. I also make progress in being able to read traditional and simplified characters. 

Still, I will go back to Reddit and seek more advice and criticism and share my findings with people who might find it interesting. 

My Progress vs. My Goal

Ok, lets have a look again at the challenge I have set out and where I am at and see if that is on a good way. 

In the screenshot above, the challenge start can be seen. Actually, I started already 2 days before April 01. In the days before, I did about 150 to 200 cards daily, a third of which were new, a third young cards and a third mature cards. Now it is about 1200 cards daily. 700 new cards and about 200 young cards and only a few mature cards. 

Let’s check deck by deck for the challenge (just the mandarin decks):

NameTotal CardsNew at start of challengeRemaining new
Simplified Chinese collected decks601340343582
Dangdai Chinese496046603100
HSK1-4 sentences436825731847
Listening deck15121512792
Mandarin Chinese Christian vocab22618011
Modern Chinese Cloze321629161706
Simple Pimsleur93600
Spoonfed Chinese738373236392

So, in the article about the challenge I forgot the listening deck, which is one of my favorite decks. Anyways, it is a rather small deck. Still, the total number of cards of my Mandarin decks are 28614 cards now. 

At the beginning of the challenge, I already did about 100 days of Anki with 3 of the above decks. When I officially started the challenge on April 01, there were 23198 new cards in the Mandarin decks  (21686 without the listening deck).

Now, after a week of intensive SRS work of 2 to 3 hours per day, I am down to 17430. A substantial improvement and reduction of new cards. This is not evenly distributed among decks. There are 6392 new cards left in the Spoonfed Chinese deck and 3582 in the collected deck. These second ones are mostly HSK5 words with Spanish translation. Not really the best way to learn using Anki. 

Overall, I am on a good way.

April 08 to April 14 plan

My plan for next week is to continue like in this week. I feel exhausted, but want to push myself to do another week at least. In that next week, I plan to have done all new cards of the Christian and Listening decks. 

Most importantly, I plan to focus more on correct pronunciation in my shadowing session. 

Also: Did I incrementally improve my Anki work? 

Well, I hope so. I definitely believe it is good to sometimes take breaks and not do it all at once. Such high intensity work also requires good nutrition and sleep. Plus a bit of movement or sport.

Strongly profit from sentence decks with audio files while single word decks are a waste of time. Still, I am not yet ready to drop these entirely. 

Overall, my work outside of Anki suffers. One is the time committed to Anki, but also the mental exhaustion after 3 hours of Anki (or a total of 4-5 hours if breaks are included).

April 08, 2024 Anki Progress report

Monday, the start of a new week of intensive Anki work. I feel good today and maybe a lack of movement contributed to my exhaustion at the end of last week. Yesterday evening, I went dancing and that means moving and forgetting about anything else. For me, that was a perfect way to relax and recover. So, is that the key to language learning progress? I doubt that a lot of language learners are dancers, but I love dancing and it helps me forget everything else on my mind. In that sense, dancing helps my brain relax

Small gain today was that I finished the Christian vocabulary deck. The most important point I learnt is what not to do when constructing my own decks and how to think about vocabulary. The cards of that deck are not very consistent in the way they are created. Many cards only have a part of the word or sentence as audio or the audio file is missing. The sound quality is also not consistent and worse the volume is not consistent so sometimes you barely hear anything while maybe the first part of the next card will be shouted at you. 

What I am more interested in and deeper learning is to rethink what we learn

Each deck that I have incorporated in my Anki learning routine is based on a certain perspective. You could say, each Anki deck has a bias or in other words, the deck follows a certain thought and can’t be detached from the underlying thought. Working with these many decks for more than a week now, I get a feel for the unique perspectives in terms of language, words, situations etc. and often getting a glimpse into the motivation behind the deck. 

The Christian deck was probably from a sect or reborn Christians. Very likely a US-leaning religion. In other words, traditional Christians, Orthodox, European Lutherans and especially Catholics might use very different words and concepts in Mandarin. 

Task: Create my own little deck of cards to understand religion. Especially main words for Islam, Christianity (+Catholicism), Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism. Also trying to understand differences in vocabulary and concept of the different beliefs. 

This bias can also be observed in all the other decks. Some sample sentences are very easy to spot like “Taiwan is part of China.” “When will the two sides of the straight reunite” or in other decks: “Taiwan is an island bordering Japan to the North and East and China to the West.” Besides these very clear political points there are many underlying tendencies and biases. 

While there is a lot of shared vocabulary and expressions, there are also clearly big differences. Studying so many different decks at the same time helps me get a deeper understanding of how different people speak. In other words, each deck has a certain perspective of the world and I start to get a feel for the different perspectives

Many decks are based on the HSK curriculum and will never discuss things like surfing. In mainland China decks there is sometimes the talk about “爱好” as hobby while in the more Taiwan-leaning decks it is about “休閒活動”. In fact, even in the mainland, I haven’t often heard talk about “爱好”. So anyways, it is good to get a feel for language and to expand my vocabulary and expression.

I also slowly get a feel for Taiwanese Mandarin (using words like 大樓)and Mainland China Mandarin (using words like 大厦). While it is the same language, there are still quite a lot of different words used and each longer text of spoken language can usually be attributed to a certain place. Besides, there are some decks that feature very northern, standard Putonghua, while other decks have more international or Shanghai-area sounding Putonghua. 

While it is overwhelming to study so many decks, I start to really get a feel for the language and basically learning Taiwanese Mandarin and Mainland China Mandarin at the same time. About 10% of the characters are very different in their simplified form and another 40-50% somewhat different but usually recognizable. 

In terms of words, so far I came across about 1000 words and expressions that are only used on one side of the straight. Some will be mainly used on one side without a clear “translation” that is often the case for internet phenomenon words. 单身狗 was only understood by 10% of the people in Taiwan. Some words are just different. For example many words for fruits, fish, and vegetables. Basically, I have to learn 100 different words in the food category alone to be able to function normally. 

Enough philosophy. Today, I was fortunately well rested and focussed, but it was very hard and exhausting nevertheless.

First, here is the daily overview: 

A total of 1682 cards studied, which is a record and 4 hours, which is also a record and longer term not sustainable as I also do work each day (albeit not an 8 hour work day). 

It is also clear that the next 5 days at least will be tough and in 15 days there is a ramping up of repetitions. 

Today was just a lot more than before as I needed more repetitions to learn new words but also as the repetitions of cards that I learnt in the last days, weeks, and months ramp up. As seen above, that ramp up will continue. Still, I will try to get as much done as possible this week and then have another review and trying to think about my learnings.

April 09, 2024 Anki Progress report

On the weekend, my friend Daniel shared an important point about learning and specifically about Anki with me: To keep up quality during the review process. 

Specifically, at the end of an Anki review session, when the mind and body is already rather exhausted, I try to make sure to concentrate intensively during the last couple of exercises to make sure not to compromise on quality of review. 

That focus on concentration, flow, and deep work is something I naturally did in my Anki review sessions, but now, I want to do that even more deliberately. Really taking more time and making sure I put a lot of emphasis on shadowing/echoing the audio of the last 20-30 cards in a given day. 

Today, I again did more than 1600 cards. In total 1649, so slightly less than yesterday, but almost the same amount. Negative: I have to relearn 6 cards that I learnt before but didn’t remember. Overall, I studied maybe about 700 new cards, but there were many more repetitions of these new cards. 

In this overview, it is clear that the challenge is really a very tough challenge. I remember when after a journey, I had to do almost 1500 reviews. That was tough. Now I do that everyday but most of the cards are new and not mere reviews. 

That means, the reviews will come soon. Very soon. In fact, that is something I had a look at today: 

50% of all cards will have to be reviewed in the next 30 days. That means there are about 15,000 reviews in the next 30 days in front of me. Given that I will go through new cards and some cards need to be relearnt, I realistically might have a mountain of 30,000 reviews in the next 30 days in front of me and still about 15,000 to 20,000 new cards that I have to go through to finish my 30 day challenge. 

Overall, the average interval is 2.27 months and due to the large amount of new cards, this will not rise, but rather fall slightly in the next two weeks.

April 10, 2024 Anki Progress report

Quick update for today:

A lot less cards overall compared to the last days, but still a good number. In the next days, this will probably oscillate between 1200 and 1800 cards per day and I will go through about 700 new cards a day. Positive: Again 100% correct answers on mature cards, but there are some cards to relearn. The cards that I will have to relearn are likely to increase in the next days. 

This is the overall overview of the last 31 days. Good persistence and for the first time more than 600 reviews per day on average for the last 31 days. That’s already a good achievement.

April 11, 2024 Anki Progress report

Today I want to think about an issue I had with learning vocabulary and how to avoid it. When I studied languages in school, I often just used vocab lists in books. Even our teachers told us that this is the way to do it and to cover one part of the list with a piece of white paper and go down the list word by word. 

Suffice to say, this is not how to learn vocabulary! Here is what happened sometimes. In an exam, I wasn’t able to recall the translation of the word in question but remembered exactly where on the page of the exercise book that word was located. 

Some people have mentioned a similar phenomenon when it comes to Anki: I heard of some people that know exactly the answer to a certain Anki card, but it doesn’t help them use that knowledge anywhere outside of Anki or even besides that card. 

In conclusion, I want to have as few single card repetitions as possible, but words, situations, and grammatical structures should be constantly repeated. In other words, I want to have one card with the word 恢復 or better even no card with that single word, but I want to have many cards about disease, illness, healing, medicine and many cards that use that word in different combinations and ways so I will learn it not by reviewing a single card again and again, but by having several touch points. 

My ideal is therefore an Anki deck made out of sentence cards with audio and to have long review intervals for the individual cards and a lot of different cards sharing similar words, structures, and situations. 

In other words, such Anki practice would be halfway towards a book. 

The question of course then might be: Why not read more? Why not just do DuChinese or Lingq or just directly read more books in Chinese. The positive point there would be to have very interesting material (potentially), but mostly reading things. I need to think about it further. Anyways, I feel that for Anki, I should either have set sentences (生日快樂)or many different ways to say things. 

Maybe after this 30 day challenge, I can try to read some books or another exercise to gain more insight into what works for me. 

Today, I got this in terms of session statistics

Note to myself: I should try to study more in the mornings or complete all in the morning.

April 12, 2024 Anki Progress report

Today, I felt very tired. Forced myself to do as much as possible in the morning and early afternoon in order to have the later afternoon for work.

Here is the overview of today: 

1409 cards today, which is more than in the last two days. 60/61 mature cards is also very good. 

This is the overview of the last 30 days and the total card count. In the last 30 days, I did in total 21,041 reviews and obviously this backwards looking number should continue to rise by more than 500 per day in the next days according to the plan. 

More importantly, I thought about knowledge consolidation. How can I consolidate my language skills and vocabulary? One way could be to write down a couple of interesting words during the daily Anki practice session on a piece of paper (old school, yes) and placing that paper on my bed. Then reading through these couple of expressions right before going to bed. 

In addition to that, shall I start writing down questions? I.e. when I ask myself if there was not a very similar word and exactly what the difference is? Should I try to write down the differences of Taiwan and Mainland Chinese Mandarin? These are also questions to think about. 

Ok, I plan to start to write down some expressions that I find difficult and worthwhile on a piece of paper during my practice session. In the evening before sleeping, I will read those again. Then again maybe in the morning and then I throw away that paper and start with a blank paper for the next day’s expressions.

April 13, 2024 Anki Progress report

Last night I had a very good sleep, but still, was quite tired during the whole day. Still, was pretty concentrated for the exercise. 

Here is the update of today:

Again a rather high overall card count with 1622 and 3.9 hours. Taking into account some breaks, it was rather something like 5 hours. There were 326 to review and in the next days this will probably rise again. Overall, I had to relearn 7 out of which one was a mature card. 

Overall, this is the progression of the last days and today’s spike (third highest). 

Interesting observation that the difficulty level of decks can change dramatically. One deck that I thought was relatively challenging became very easy as suddenly there were mostly beginner cards showing up. Not sure why that deck threw the more difficult cards at me first and now it got really quite easy. Other decks remain difficult or get more difficult. 

In many decks, there is also some alphabetical order so you will have maybe 10 different words starting with a z and then some other words. That is another reason why I feel that word-word translation decks are not optimal. I rather like the sentence decks that sometimes have little cluster around certain expressions. So you will have extra reviews of some parts of a sentence in a different sentence without having to review the actual same card. 

Ok, let me share another observation with you: Unfortunately, a lot of sentences in the sentence cards use AI audio. And that leads often to not really pronouncing a sentence but only word by word. Hence, the sentences are very unnatural. Plus, there are some mistakes in the pronunciation as well. I.e. 人睡不著覺。 The last character was pronounced as zhe instead of jiao. There is a number of characters that have several pronunciations depending on context and the AI often gets it wrong which makes it not good for real shadowing. 

Overall, there are mistakes in about 2-3% of the cards in all the decks. Often small mistakes, but still mistakes. My approach is that I will not try to religiously learn card by card, but try to understand the expressions, concepts and meanings in order to minimize the adverse effects of wrong cards. 
The monotonous AI voice makes it often hard to really understand a sentence even though the individual tones are correct. Hence, it might be even a lot harder to understand a foreigner who doesn’t even get the tones correctly. Another hint that I will have to do more pronunciation training, shadowing, and building a feedback loop in the future.

April 14, 2024 Anki Progress report

Yesterday evening, I wrote new expressions that I found fascinating on a piece of paper, but then didn’t read that during the night. Anyways, I found it very helpful and went through that today first thing in the morning. Plus I took notes again on a piece of paper today. Yesterday, I scribbled down about 30-40 different expressions, today rather only 20. 

Just 1081 cards today. This statistic says that I only spend 2.5 hours on my cards, but the reality was much longer. Not sure if there is a point when I take notes for 15 seconds and it cuts that out?

As it is Sunday and the end of the second week, it is time for a 

Weekly Anki Challenge Recap: Week 2 done

As can be seen, I kept at it consistently over the week. Today, a bit less than in previous days, but still ok for this challenge. Overall, there are 17960 mature cards now and 846 young cards. However, these are not all Mandarin cards, so I should rather have a look at my Mandarin decks that are part of this one month Anki challenge: 

NameTotal CardsNew at start of challengeRemaining new week 1Remaining new week 2
Simplified Chinese collected decks6013403435823330
Dangdai Chinese4960466031001560
HSK1-4 sentences4368257318471102
Listening deck15121512792232
Mandarin Chinese Christian vocab226180110
Modern Chinese Cloze321629161706516
Simple Pimsleur936000
Spoonfed Chinese7383732363925553

In other words: 

10,000 new cards already done this month!!!

This was my original challenge. 10,000 new Anki Mandarin cards in one month. I got that. The challenge is still not over. There are still 12293 Anki cards that I want to finish this month during the challenge. 

In the next week, there will be some decks that I will finish. The difficult, but highly educational cloze deck will be done in 3 days. The listening deck already in 2 days. End of next week, I will finish the HSK1-4 and the Dongdai decks. After that, there will only be two decks left. The difficult, single word Mandarin-Spanish HSK5 deck and the (so far) simple Spoonfed Chinese deck. 

Again, one thing to note: I am an intermediate, maybe even upper-intermediate learner of Chinese. Plus: There are some cards that are very similar in the same deck but also in other decks. So I did not learn 10,000 completely new words or characters in the last 14-15 days. 

April 15, 2024 Anki Progress report

Half way of my April challenge is done and I have achieved 10,000 new cards. Now the goal remains clear: All new Mandarin cards learnt by end of April. 

This week, I will mostly try to finish several decks. 

Here is the daily update: 

So, again a bit more than before, but far below the 1600+ I did some other days. Most of these were finished in the morning and that is the best time to go through vocabulary. 

Many new words and expressions happened to be in the area of crime and courts, but there was no word for “hush money”. Anyways, here are some words I learnt today: 

Today, I also want to share a benefit of this challenge with you that I did not think about when I started it. In the last week, several people have reached out to me. Some feel motivated to get serious about improving a language, others want to know more about the challenge and again others share some best practices with me. Oftentimes things I never thought about for example how to use Alfred to improve the efficiency of Anki card creation. Very grateful for this interaction and opportunity to learn and grow.

April 16, 2024 Anki Progress report

This is my update of today: 

Overall a bit less than on some other days but still good to continue the work.

Lately, I have established the habit to write some expressions on paper as mentioned some days ago. In my view, this has been really beneficial, even though I use it a bit different from my original intention. 

During the Anki session, I write 15-30 expressions on a piece of paper. Some are words and expressions that I am particularly interested in. Sometimes just difficult to remember. Others I will write and add words or expressions that have similarities. These similarities might occur in one of three areas: meaning, pronunciation or characters. Here are some examples of the papers of the last days: 

Meaning: 工錢  vs.   薪水

Pronunciation: 上海  vs.  伤害

Characters: 偷  vs.  輸

Writing these down on paper helps me get a better feeling for the language. I might know 4-5 expressions for salary, yet they are not created equal. All have some small differences to them. 

In terms of pronunciation, it helps me focus even more on tones and correct pronunciation. It shouldn’t be the case that I feel two pronunciations are similar – I should first and foremost have a clear understanding what that is. 

And finally, writing similar characters and focussing on the differences help me to distinguish them later on. 

April 17, 2024 Anki Progress report

Daily update:

This time, I achieved again a larger Anki card count. Most positive is that most mature cards seem to be quite well remembered. 

However, I have to make an admission. Some cards I will click as “good” even though I do not master these. That is in order for these cards to show up again in weeks or then in 4-5 months. There are two inferior alternatives: Put in the effort to really learn these cards even they do not represent my current level and will only marginally help me. Second: delete the card from the deck. I choose to click “good” and hope that in 3-4 months I am ready to absorb these cards. Ok, that being said, I use this primarily for names. There are many cards of names that have been invented for some characters – it has 0 utility for me. There are other cards with actual names that might be useful. Like Churchill that I had today. Well, at some point, I might want to know the pronunciation and characters for Mr Churchill. Currently, it wouldn’t really help my Chinese but be quite a burden. So I cheat and click “good” even though it it not really a card that I know. How many cards did I process in that way? About 50, so less than 1% of overall Mandarin cards. 

This was the overall work and it is good to have a pretty solid consistency in the reviews. 

Finished these two decks! Yeah Yeah Yeah. Both decks are rather simple, but still, it was challenging to really get these done. In the next few days, I envision 1 or 2 more decks will be finished and then on Sunday it is a good time for a review.

April 18, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update. 

Overall, 1126 cards and it was not too exhausting. 

This view shows that it is a bit lower compared to the last few days. Another interesting observation is that the “young” card category didn’t increase a lot. The reason is that I have long repeat intervals except for cards that I forgot. These, I will hit extensively in the short term. The interval for cards that I feel very confident about, often show up 20-25 days from when I initially learnt these cards. In other words, these will only start becoming an issue next week. 

Another great point today was that I finished another deck.

Only 6 cards were left to go through today. In this deck, the future reviews will remain relatively subdued in the next days and then strongly rise next week. 

This was the deck. 3216 cards in total that I studied in 20 days. That means about 160 cards per day. This being said, many words, expressions or grammatical patterns and structures were used in other cards or other decks before so it is not 3216 completely new cards, but cards that are increasingly simple to decipher given the learnings that compound across all the decks

Today, I want to think about pronunciation and my Anki flashcards. Already in the selection process, I emphasized on decks that have audio files. This being said, not always is the audio available and sometimes not very useful. In bullet points some observations: 

  • AI audio works fine for words or set expressions. Doesn’t work well for long sentences that would have some pauses included for natural speakers. 
  • It is horrible to have cards that also have some English words mixed into the card. 
  • AI audio sometimes get pronunciation wrong, especially for characters that have several potential pronunciations. 
  • 儿 is sometimes added to the sentences. This is usually causing the AI to pronounce that particle independent from the previous word, which doesn’t reflect the nature of how it is used in real life. 

These are some of the drawbacks. Still, I feel that the audio helps. The tones are usually correct for each character and word, just sometimes unnatural to pronounce the whole sentence that way. Still ok to do some shadowing to really get individual characters and short expressions right. 

Voice quality is hit and miss. I am not sure if that is an Anki issue or a deck / card creator issue and if I could create cards with superior audio later on. Cards that I would like to study more in depth, I would like to create having good audio in mind. So that is a note to myself to figure this out for later. 

For expressions that I like, I might copy-paste these from google translate and compile a list. Then use ChatGPT to create different versions of the sentences that I like so I can drill these in natural sentences with different versions. Finally, using friends, tutors or AI to create audio files for these. 

In terms of pronunciation and tones, I do occasionally watch Rita’s courses on youtube about that as well as Mandarin blueprint. Besides, I very much enjoyed Misha’s thoughts on how to get better in terms of tones and pronunciation and sometimes I see my journey rather similar to his in improving Mandarin with the difference that it takes me much longer. But that again might have been his sentiment when he saw the path that Will Hart was on, becoming fluent and near native level within about 2 years or less.

More about that via this link: 

April 19, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update. 

Overall, I did 1362 cards, mostly new cards, but also repetitions. In the immediate future, the number of reviews will increase strongly. Currently, this is at only around 200 cards per day, but will rise steadily to more than 800 cards per day in a week. Add further repetitions that will be triggered in the next days and I might face 1000 card reviews daily sometimes around April 25-30. 

Below is the largest Mandarin deck with more than 4000 new cards that I hope to go through by end of the challenge. That means, I have about 10 days left for 4743 cards. Distributed evenly, that would mean I have to do about 470 new cards per day. In the last weeks, I did only about 200 new cards in that deck, so I have to increase that number substantially. Potentially rather sooner than later before the above mentioned 1000 reviews per day will hit.

Thought of the day:
Several days have passed since I started writing several words, characters, and expressions on paper. Today, I used these papers to hit those bits with another strategy. Anki meets ChatGPT. In total, I had 5 papers of the last days with a total of about 100 expressions and words. Sometimes, I am not sure how to correctly use these words or when to use which word. So I asked ChatGPT to give me example sentences including these words. In other words, I have “touched” these expressions in several ways. First seeing them in the Anki cards. Second, writing them down on paper and sometimes I also checked via google translate. Third, reviewing what I wrote down in the last days on a daily basis. Fourth: Using ChatGPT to deepen the knowledge. Getting familiar with these expressions in this way is probably very useful as I do not just memorize a card, but I transform the words into tools that I can use.

April 20, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update. 

It was another good day with 1357 cards studied. Overall, in line with the efforts in the last days. 

Thought of today: Cards and Excercise

As mentioned above, I feel that exercise helps me relax, improves my sleep and cognitive function. Currently, I entertain the idea of creating a deck that will tell me in Mandarin what exercise I should do. All should be simple, body weight exercises that can be done everywhere. For example squats or pushups. That deck would then tell me to learn or review three exercises per day and I would need to calibrate it so that this stays that way. Hopefully, this would give me short breaks, exercise and learning the words for these exercises. 

April 21, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update and the third week update! 

1563 cards studied which is near the record. 

In 31 days, I studied more than 30,000 cards and studied 998 cards per day on average. Tomorrow, this will likely be more than 1000 cards daily. One major observation: The review of mature cards is strongly rising and in the next days there will be many more reviews. 

Positive: I finalized two decks today! The dangdai deck that has individual words written in traditional characters and the HSK1-4 deck with sentences. 

Both decks with over 4000 cards. Especially in the last days, I did about 200-300 reviews on each of these decks. That gives me now more open memory capacity to focus on the two remaining decks. Anyways, here is the weekly overview. 

NameTotal CardsNew at start of challengeRemaining new week 1Remaining new week 2Remaining new week 3
Simplified Chinese collected decks60134034358233303078
Dangdai Chinese49604660310015600
HSK1-4 sentences43682573184711020
Listening deck151215127922320
Mandarin Chinese Christian vocab2261801100
Modern Chinese Cloze3216291617065160
Simple Pimsleur9360000
Spoonfed Chinese73837323639255534243

7321 cards remaining. The Spoonfed Chinese deck has a lot of useful sentences and new vocabulary is typically introduced and repeated in different situations and sentences. Thus deepening the understanding. The other simplified deck is HSK5 vocabulary (simplified) words and spanish translations. That is much more difficult to study and remember. It is also not that useful. That being said, I might strategically prioritize the Spoonfed Chinese deck and the reviews that are coming up overall. In the last days, I might then still go after the HSK5 deck since then I should have naturally learnt most of the words and characters included in that deck as these often might have appeared in other decks. 

From 28614 total Mandarin cards and 23198 new Mandarin cards at the outset of this challenge, I am down to 7321. In other words, it should start to get easier from here.

April 22, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update.

Not a productive day. Since I finished some decks, I had a lot less new cards and didn’t ramp up the review of the remaining two decks yet. Therefore, I only studied 774 cards. Well, sometimes there might be a rather weak day in this series and that is this day! 

Overall there is a clear trend towards much more mature card reviews. 

No thought of the day today. Too tired and exhausted. 

April 23, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update

Today, I also want to look at the average review interval of the different Mandarin decks. I plan to measure this again at the end of April and see how the progress went. 

As mentioned sometimes above, I have increased the intervals in case of knowledge of a card. If there is a relearning case, then the intervals will be very short thought. Again, in case of a mature card, it often looks like this: 

In other words, I can have the card show up within a month if I am not very sure, or directly and then daily for a while in case I forgot the card. Yet, cards that I understand well, I might review in 2.5-3 or even 8-9 months from now. 

Current average review interval according to the Anki statistics

NameTotal CardsApril 23 average interval
Simplified Chinese collected decks6013 (3006 new cards)3.33 months
Dangdai Chinese49601.1 months
HSK1-4 sentences43682.9 months
Listening deck15121 month
Mandarin Chinese Christian vocab2261.27 months
Modern Chinese Cloze32161.13 months
Simple Pimsleur9368.37 months
Spoonfed Chinese7383 (3243 new cards)28 days

The simple Pimsleur deck is already at 8.37 months on average due to having finished this deck a while ago and the sentences being very simple.

THe simplified Chinese collected decks include some of the decks that I started with. That’s why it is already at 3.33 months even though half of it is still new cards. The average interval might actually go down to 2.5 months in the next few days if I manage to get through the 3000 new cards. Same with the Spoonfed Chinese deck: The interval will probably remain around 1 month.

The other decks, especially the HSK1-4 sentence deck that I started about 3 months ago and the Listening deck that I finished a bit earlier should have a significantly higher average interval at the end of April. Maybe around 3-4 months on average. 

April 24, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

A good day with a lot of card reviews. Anyways, I feel very exhausted. 

The number of mature reviews is still rising strongly, so it is difficult to allocate enough time to the new cards. 

That being said, I doubled down on the Spoonfed Chinese deck. I really like this deck of sentences as it has lot of audio files and a lot of repetition of words in different contexts. The syllabus seems to cover a very wide range of topics and really cover all points that are needed for an intermediate to advanced learner.

Still, almost 3000 new cards are open and only a few days left. Probably, I should even do more reviews per day to get it done soon…

April 25, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

Today, I performed 1247 reviews. That is roughly in line with the average in the last weeks. That being said, the main point is that the mature card reviews strongly increased and in the next few days, there are about 800 card reviews. 

The above graph shows it even more clearly. Mostly it is reviews of cards that are rising. 

Overall, I performed more than 60,000 reviews since I started using Anki about 4 months ago. Most of these were performed in April as part of this challenge.

Observation of today: Lately, it is mostly adjectives and adverbs that are challenging. Most words that are still unbeknown to me that pop up in sentence cards are adjectives and not verbs or nouns. Is that a typical occurrence on the way from intermediate to advanced learners in most languages? Is that specific to Mandarin? Have other learners had similar observations? Looking over my notes, about 20% are nouns, 20% are verbs, 10% grammatical structures and 50% are adjectives or adverbs. Would love to hear from others. 

April 26, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

Total of 1714 cards reviewed today.

Overall, I mostly worked on the sentence deck that is also the deck with most cards. 

Still, 1743 new cards.

Observation on being exhausted: I had episodes when I read/listened to many DuChinese stories for a week which took me about 3-4 hours per day. I also did some days of watching youtube videos and listening to Chinese podcasts for about 4 hours a day for a week. I am not sure how my exhaustion would develop doing that for a month, but doing 3-4 hours of intensive Anki reviews is much more exhaustive and tiring than doing a similar time watching youtube videos or reading/listening DuChinese graded reader material. While watching Mandarin youtube videos is really to a large degree passive language acquisition, going through a thousand cards per day on Anki is active language learning. My brain activity is also very different doing these two distinct ways of practicing. 

What is ideal? Probably a good mix of both. But purely a passive, language acquisition way might actually not be ideal. Watching youtube content that is 80-90% understandable to me will let my brain filter the main messages and relax. Understanding 85% is typically enough to follow an interesting story, but the brain will logically not be forced to try to understand the remaining 15% but to relax and get a great functioning understanding. That is probably the ideal for the human brain: not waste too much energy and focus on really understanding the message. For massive improvements in a language, that might not be optimal though. 

April 27, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

Total of 1693 cards studied, which is a record so far.

On average, I did 1218 reviews per day. The challenge is almost over and now the number of mature card reviews rises strongly.

The largest deck (Spoonfed Mandarin) is now down to only 1143 cards left. 

Thought of today is about flashcards on the phone that triggers not a translation, but a thought or description. Description-demanding cards. For example, the cards could say something like these examples: 

  1. Look around. Do you see a person? Try to describe that person in Chinese in a few sentences. No need to tell that person about it. 
  2. Where are you now? Describe your surroundings.
  3. What are your plans today? Where are you going? What are you up to? 

Another thought: The paper really also helps! Will review these now. 

April 28, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

New record for today with 2148 card reviews. Need to more or less keep that pace in order to finish my challenge with no new Mandarin cards left in May. Not sure if that is possible, but it is also not important, except concerning my ego. 

Average of 1280 card reviews per day is quite a lot!

This is still an open deck and not sure if I can finish it in the next 2 days…

Weekly overview:

NameTotal CardsRemaining new week 3Remaining new week 4
Simplified Chinese collected decks601330782262
Dangdai Chinese496000
HSK1-4 sentences436800
Listening deck151200
Mandarin Chinese Christian vocab22600
Modern Chinese Cloze321600
Simple Pimsleur93600
Spoonfed Chinese73834243743

3005 cards left for 2 days. Basically impossible and I will not beat myself up for that.

Thoughts about tutoring and Anki. This one month Anki challenge almost comes to an end. During this month, I was overwhelmed with the work using Anki and didn’t do work on my Anki decks. For that second part, I think working with a tutor can be very beneficial. And vice-versa, working with a tutor without using that to improve Anki cards will only help to a certain extend while using Anki can leverage the tutoring support. In the last month, I have asked friends a couple of times about certain words or sayings, but that was only maybe twice per week or less and rather only for a few points each time. Having a dedicated tutor to ask each week would certainly enable me to not only understand Anki cards better, but more importantly to create better cards and decks in the future! 

Anki vs. Skritter my thoughts: But still good to think about it again here. For me, Anki doesn’t work for words. Skritter is much much better. The audio is much better and the consistency is better. It is also much better to get the tones right. So for that purpose, I would choose Skritter and might want to stop Anki single words altogether. For sentences and self made cards, Anki is much better. And Anki is obviously cheaper. So if I could only choose one, then I would choose Anki. But being very serious about studying Chinese, I also want to learn using Skritter. Especially to get the tones right and to do single word or short expression shadowing with high quality audio, Skritter is worth it! Even though I am not interested in the handwriting part, which is actually the most important Skritter aspect for other learners. Besides, I use Anki on my laptop whereas I use Skritter on my phone. So I could use both more in the future. I do not like that I can’t finetune Skritters review frequency. Some words will be reviewed way too often. 

One thing for sure: I wouldn’t try to study individual words in Anki. HSK5 in Anki is often just not having good audio quality – at least the deck that I have doesn’t. The audio quality and the focus on tones at Skritter are much better. So there is where I would want to go for that.

April 29, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

Good progress made with 1657 cards reviewed. 

This is the overall view on my usage of the Anki decks. Interestingly, I am almost at the mid point for all the public Anki decks that I am currently using.

April 30, 2024 Anki Progress report

Time for the daily update:

Absolute record! I performed 3273 card reviews today in a last day spring in order to complete all the Mandarin decks. 

This is the Spoonfed deck that features 7383 sentence cards, many with audio. It is the largest Mandarin deck and I finished it in a sprint.

Another major milestone was that out of 62026 cards, “only” 30,783 are completely new. Mostly in the French and Portuguese decks. 

During this April Mandarin Challenge, I performed a total of 43,706 reviews. My estimate is that about 1,000 to 3,000 reviews were French, Mongolian, Japanese, Ukrainian cards but at least 40,000 reviews originated from the Mandarin decks. 

When I started using Anki about 4 months ago, I started rather slowly and actually deinstalled some of the shared decks. Over time, I got into a good routine to use Anki. In total, I have studied on 123 days and did an average of 581 reviews per day. Overall, I did 71,403 reviews. 

In the near future, I will go through a lot of card repetition reviews in order to consolidate this knowledge. 

About 21,000 reviews are already scheduled for May, but since I will fail some, the actual number might reach 25,000 or even up to 30,000. That is still up to 75% of the reviews that I did during my Anki challenge. 

Thought on Anki for beginners, intermediate and advanced learners. Initially, I also had a Spanish deck. After going through about 200 cards, I stopped that deck and deinstalled it. There was just nothing new as I am already an advanced learner in Spanish. In order to improve, I need to create my own decks and can’t rely on shared decks. 

In Ukrainian and Japanese, I started as an absolute beginner and didn’t get very far. It is just very challenging to mostly or almost exclusively use flashcards to build a foundation in a language. 

In other words, I believe shared decks and Anki in general are best used to do the heavy lifting from the intermediate plateau to an advanced level. Looking back on my Mandarin challenge, this is exactly what I have been trying to do in the last 30+ days. Already, I started from the intermediate or maybe upper intermediate level and I feel confident that I start to reach advanced level which I can hopefully foster in the coming weeks. Besides Mandarin, I also felt that the shared decks helped me reactivate and strengthen French, Portuguese and Mongolian.

Thoughts on creating own decks. First of all, I believe creating my own decks will help me to really propel forward on an advanced level. I also see some points how I want to create the cards and would like to start formulating some principles. These are in no way conclusive and I will add further to these principles in the future in an own post. 

  1. Create sentence cards.
  2. Create several cards to show vocabulary in typical use cases. 
  3. Add audio to the cards.
  4. Organize decks towards single topics for better headspace. 
  5. Alternate the cards using Cloze, Translation, etc. 
  6. Use similar words in cards
  7. Build cards based on language that I experience in the real world

Done! Finished! But I will continue using Anki in the future! 

My Final Words concerning this challenge: 

Thank you very much!!! 

The challenge was maybe not the most efficient use of my time and energy, but it let me think deeper on how I want to incorporate using Anki in the future. Moreover, I have discussed this challenge with several of you and got invaluable feedback. Thank you very much for that and for your encouragement. In other words, I used the challenge to do a lot of internal work but also to externally connect with other language learners and enthusiasts.

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