Anki is an extremely useful memorization tool which is ideal for memorizing
vocabulary, kanji and kana. In this post I will explain in detail which decks I
use.

Anki in all its glory.

A small primer on Anki terminology

In Anki a piece of information is called a note. For example, some Core decks
contain the following:

  • Japanese word
  • Meaning
  • Japanese example sentence
  • Sentence translation
  • Word audio
  • Sentence audio

Notes are not what you memorize, but simply the building block for cards.
Cards have two sides which connect some of the information in the note. Using
notes like these, some possible cards are:

  • Read and understand the word (recognition)
    Front: Japanese word.
    Back: English meaning, example sentence and audio.

  • Translate word to Japanese (production)
    Front: English meaning.
    Back: Japanese word and audio.

  • Read and understand the sentence (recognition)
    Front: Japanese sentence.
    Back: Written sentence, audio and translation.

  • Listen and understand the word (recognition)
    Front: Word audio.
    Back: Written word and meaning.

  • Listen and understand the sentence (recognition)
    Front: Sentence audio.
    Back: Written sentence and its translation.

I believe the images are important, since they help you form a visual image to ease recall. In my experience, memory is improved even if the picture does not match the word exactly A lot of the later cards in the Core deck mentioned below have automatically added images from Bing search, while the earlier cards are hand picked.

Cards are categorized into two types: recognition and production. Recognition cards test your understanding. Production forces you to produce something in the target language from an English keyword or picture. Production cards are generally more difficult, and take more time. This is why I avoid sentence production in my decks, and stick to word production only.

Using 5 card types at once would mean that when learning 2000 words and example sentences, you would need to memorize 10000 cards, resulting in a glacial pace, but good recall. Using only word recognition lets you finish the deck earlier, but you may have some problems with word production.

One interesting idea I read on Reviewing the Kanji forums is to only review word recognition and production, but keep the production cards in a separate deck with fewer new cards per day.

Another interesting idea is to suspend everything but word recognition, and enable other card types if the word recognition card becomes a leech. A leech is a card that you have repeatedly failed, meaning it might be a good idea to review the information differently.

Core decks

The Core decks are frequency decks, where Core 2k are the 2000 most common words used in Japanese, and Core 2k-10k are the 10000 most common words minus the first 2000. These will teach you most of the vocabulary you'll ever need.

The ordinary Core 2k decks are sorted in a seemingly random order, so that example sentences for learning the word "car" may contain words you haven't seen before. Optimized decks are sorted in i+1-order, meaning sentences build upon each other, and only contain at most one new word you
haven't seen before.

The deck you want here is "Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized". The reason for me having two
decks is simply that I started with Core 2k before discovering it.

Download Core 2k/6k/10k here. Note: This deck is so big that Anki for Android lags when switching cards. If you don't have a flagship phone (~Samsung Galaxy S3 at the time of writing) you may be in for some frustration.

This deck contains around 10000 notes, and I'm currently using only vocab recognition, vocab production card types and sentence recognition. Previously I used all the five types listed above, but I've found that it takes too much time.

Kanjidamage

It's either this or Remembering the Kanji by Heisig. Kanjidamage's mnenomics are more vulgar, and also contain the most important onyomi (Chinese reading), unlike RtK. It's based on the same principle: kanji are composed of radicals. Remembering "rope/tie = string + turkey" is much easier than remembering the position and order of 16 strokes.

Download the official KanjiDamage deck on Ankiweb.

I use the obvious cards:

  • See meaning, write kanji
  • See kanji, recollect meaning and reading

A reasonable time to complete this deck is around one year, or 4-5 new kanji / 10 new cards each day. Don't be tempted to add more cards per day.

The rest of this section is deprecated -- the official KanjiDamage deck already has stroke order information.

A tweak I have done for this deck is adding the correct stroke order on the answer side. To do this, first install the Kanji stroke order font, and then modify the card CSS. To make this work on Anki for Android, where it is not possible to install fonts, put the font-file directly in your Anki media folder, where audio and image files are found.

@font-face {
    font-family: KanjiStrokeOrders;
    src: url('_KanjiStrokeOrders.ttf');
}
.kanji { font-size: 100px; }
.stroke-order { font-family: KanjiStrokeOrders; }

And then add the class stroke-order to use the font. If you are missing the <span> element, add that too.

<span class="kanji stroke-order">
    {{# Kanji}}{{Kanji}}{{/ Kanji}}
</span><br>

A text book deck

There are premade decks for most beginner text books. For Genki, I recommend the Genki Annihilation series. Download Genki Annhilation 00-18 here. This makes working trough chapters a whole lot easier, since you can focus purely on grammar, and not vocabulary.

A personal deck

One advantage of the Core 10k deck is its enormity. Searching for a word and bumping it to the top of the queue is easier than adding the word to your personal deck. This makes adding most words manually obsolete. Still, you should have a sentence deck for adding things you read from text books, the internet,etc.

Conclusion

I believe the following decks are a good Anki setup for me and other beginners:

  1. Core deck -- the most common words sorted in n+1-order. Card types: word recognition, word production (with sentence hint). See the follow-up post on this blog. Try to complete 2000 notes in one year, meaning 4000 cards every year, or at least 10 new cards every day. Focus on the cards which complement KanjiDamage -- suspend cards with unknown kanji, and do them later.

  2. KanjiDamage. Card types: recognition and production. Try to complete this in one year or as quickly as possible. 10 new cards per day corresponds to 365 days. Prioritize this over the Core deck. Stop adding new cards to the Core deck if you are overwhelmed with the workload.

  3. Text book deck. Pre-made deck with vocabulary from your textbook. This makes it easier to focus only on grammar when working through your textbook.

  4. Personal deck. Anything that isn't premade, but added manually. This should be mostly for grammar, since most vocabulary already exists in the Core deck.

Depending on your motivation, spend between 0.5 and 1.5 hours on Anki every day.