Review: Using Anki 2 Flash Card to Study the Thai Language

When I first heard about a program called Anki, I wasn’t too interested. It sounded like a digital flash card program – something my friends did as little programming exercises in 8th grade. It didn’t strike me as if their finished creations had a major impact on their French exam results. That appeared to be in line with my belief that technology doesn’t solve laziness. Or so I thought.

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The basics

Anki actually comes in different versions – it’s available for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and even as a web application that you can open in most mobile or desktop browsers. The idea of the program in a nutshell is for you to create digital flash cards. You can then practice them like traditional flash cards, but with a twist: The cards to review will be selected automatically and shown to you in ever increasing time-frames as long as you get them right (and reset once you get them wrong). You can also download ready-made set of study cards for free, but let’s get back to that later.

How it works

Anki uses so-called notes, that have different fields (e.g. the front and back of a flash card). You can even have more than two fields (e.g. ‘English’, ‘Thai’ and ‘Thai Abbreviation’ – very useful if you want to study commonly abbreviated terms). Anki doesn’t limit you to text entries. You can use even use sound files or images. Personally I never bothered with anything but text, but if you need to practice pronunciation or can’t read Thai, this can come in quite helpful.

Thai Anki Review

Anki displays one side of a ‘card’ to you and you have to guess the answer. If you’re so inclined, you can even activate a setting that forces you to type it in. After that you can choose whether you got it wrong (the card goes right back in the virtual to-review stack) or whether you got it right (the card won’t be shown right away again) or whether it was easy (the next showing of the card will be heavily delayed). This system is usually referred to as spaced repetition).

The actual delays with which the cards are shown depend on how often you got them right in a row. The first time it will show it again the next day, then in 3 days, then in 7, then in a month and so on. If you select that an answer was easy, it’s similar to skipping the next review.

If during review you keep failing a card too often after the initial learning phase (think 15+ times, but the setting can be customized), it gets marked as ‘leech’ and won’t be shown for review anymore. The idea being that some words you sometimes just can’t remember for the life of it and instead of taking up review time, they get suspended. Of course you can undo that, but the software is trying to help you avoid road blocks.

The PC Client

Anki’s desktop clients are free to download. While I only ever used the PC version, to my knowledge the Mac and Linux versions don’t differ too much. The interface of the PC version comes with a lot of functionality, but can be a bit confusing at first.

Personally I liked the little details that show the thought that went into the app. A good example is if you enter data in fields in English and Thai (using actual Thai writing – as you should). The software remembers which one you used for which, so you don’t constantly have to switch keyboard settings back and forth between Thai and English.

The Mobile Client

Having Anki on your phone is what makes or breaks it in my opinion. An Android client, AnkiDroid, is free. One for iOS will set you back $24.99 – ouch! However, considering the value you get out of it, it’s still a steal I think: You can practice while on the subway, waiting for an elevator or in the Big C checkout line on a Saturday morning.

So yes, it costs a bit more than your average ‘Angry Birds’ app, but considering that you can get hundreds of extra hours of practice out of it, that price tag is easily justified. Alternatively you can always use AnkiWeb which runs in your mobile browser and is completely free.

It still means you’ll need to make the effort to practice Thai on the subway instead of following your friends’ latest Facebook updates. However, you’ll quickly turn ‘waiting time’ into productive ‘Thai learning time’. Maybe the focus on using time more efficiently is the German shining through in me.

However, being able to improve your Thai while not having to cut down on free time or work holds a lot of attraction for me.

Why you should use both applications

As a general guideline I recommend using a PC or Mac version to enter new data into Anki, simply due to typing speed. The iOS or Android apps are perfect for reviews. This switching of apps works like a charm because Anki can automatically synchronize your mobile and your desktop devices remotely via their own server.

Every time you finish entering data (or complete reviews), your device can sync the updated status with Anki’s central server (via Wifi/3G/etc.). So yes, you can create new entries on your PC and then review those same entries on your phone right after without having to connect your phone to your PC.

Using ready-made sets

Anki has a tremendous amount of freely shared ready-made card sets available. You can even download them from Anki’s central server within the application at no extra charge. I have to admit, that most of the time this isn’t too enticing. The problem is that you tend to be better off entering words and phrases on your own, to which you know the context and which you are most likely to repeatedly use. A ready-made set often doesn’t have that kind of overlap.

There’s also some help if you already have your own ready-made deck of cards. Anki 2.0 offers an option to import sets from earlier versions as well as from Mnemosyne 2.0 or Supermemo. Theoretically there’s also the option to export from other programs to standardized text files and import those into Anki, but you probably want to Google for your specific software to see if that’s a workable option.

In summary

Anki’s combination of a desktop and a mobile client allows you to efficiently create your own set of cards on your PC that you can then easily practice every day during your commute. When using it with whole sentences instead of single words, you can easily improve vocabulary, grammar and language feeling during everyday downtime.

Anki isn’t the only SRS out there, but it’s the only I’ve tried and so far I haven’t seen a reason to switch to any others. I’d be happy to hear from others who are using other solutions and hear how it works out for you. Leave a comment and let us know!

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My name is Karsten and I'm a 30-something pro-gamer turned tech entrepreneur. I'm the youngest of three sons to a British mom and a German dad who met while working in Canada. As management trainee at Lufthansa German Airlines I worked in India, Dubai, Austria and Germany.

17 thoughts on “Review: Using Anki 2 Flash Card to Study the Thai Language”

  1. are you aware of any decks , when both the question and answer are in thai script?

    on this : i can see thai script, but not create it , though my win7 machine has the language installed and active is what i meant to say

  2. I can’t seem to get anki to allow me to input thai script, though, it is engaged in win7 in other applications, anyone have this issue?

    also, wondering if anyone has made a deck of benjawan beckers books, cheers and aloha

  3. This is an interesting discussion. Thank you for inputs. Learning a language can be daunting and the fact that there are so many resources on the net and elsewhere can overwhelm a beginner like myself.
    @Rick. I love that tip!

    I have been evolving my Anki sets and have developed these ideas.

    1) Cards with a single word and meaning.

    a) These cards have Thai spelling and English pronounciation and a picture. Audio on both sides.
    b) These cards can be reversed.
    c) To aid listening I also add these cards with just audio on the Front side.
    d) Typed answers or use the whiteboard on Ankidroid
    e) Use sentences to prompt memory. For example: What do you hear? or What colour is this?

    2) Add cards with combined words and repeated
    a) Red shirt
    b) Green shirt
    c) My shirt
    d) Your green shirt

    3) With comprehension add more complicated sentences in line with your learning.

    4) I add audio from and from native Thai speakers so I don’t have the same voice all the time.

    5) Pictures are CC images. Use this to start but you can filter google to show only CC images too.

    The beauty of SRS learning I believe is that once you can remember a word you will not be required to re-test for awhile leaving you time to concentrate on new or difficult to remember words.

    A natural progression to associated words allows better retention and comprehension.

    I have a Thai friend who writes to me in Thai and I often do not understand half of the sentences she writes. I will make cards based around her sentences starting with single unknown words and then build up the combinations to the full sentence. This is very easy with Anki.

    Of course this is all time consuming and difficult to set up initially but once you have them you can use them to your heart content.

    I understand this is only a tool but it is a great one when used properly.

    Does anyone have any more tips.

    When my decks are all checked out properly and I’m happy with them I will share them. Might be some though.


  4. Quick tip for flashcard learning: if a particular card won’t “stick”, change the question, or the image.

    You’ll find that next time the card comes up, you’ll remember everything — the old question as well as the answer you were having so much trouble with.

  5. Thanks for the guideline, Liam. Will give it a shot with my next batch of vocabulary and see how it goes. Definitely can see how pairing visuals with words can help retention.

  6. Liam, Anki and BYKI both train by flashcards, but they diverge from there. I quit Anki before I really got into the guts of the software so if anyone has used both extensively, I’d be interested in a comparison.

    Thank you for explaining how to use graphics and sound. I’m writing a review on using Narisa (the Thai voice available with the latest Mac iOS) along with the Speak Thai Chrome extension, and it’s a useful walkthrough for someone like me who’s new to Anki.

  7. Admittedly I haven’t tried Byki. The price tag turned me off initially because it seemed like Anki did the same stuff for free, and now I have so much time invested in Anki it would be hard to switch. (10,000+ cards from my college courses, not including Thai stuff). I should give the free version a try for objectivity though.

    The iOS version of Anki really isn’t good for creating and setting up your decks. It’s much easier to set everything up on the free desktop version and then sync it with your mobile device.

  8. Liam, I’m a huge fan of BYKI. Have you used both enough to make a comparison? BYKI has quizes, sound, games, voice trainers, typing… etc. Their online version is sans most of the bells and whistles though.

    I’ve just now purchased the iOS version of Anki and already ran into problems trying to download Harry Potter. So the learning curve just might be set further away than I’d assumed 😉

  9. Catherine,

    Anki can be a little clunky and difficult to get started with in the beginning, but the beauty of the program is that it allows you to do almost anything you can think of. Unlike some software that give you very few options but a pretty interface (I’m thinking Apple here), Anki has a learning curve but almost limitless customization and options. I allows you to study the way that works best for you.

  10. I agree with Stuart when it comes to the pictures and audio.

    I find that having pictures in my cards somehow helps with retention, even if the picture has nothing to do with the material on the card! I don’t know why this is, but I do notice a difference. When Anki prompts me with an English word I will often recall the picture before I remember the Thai answer. Somehow my brain connects the picture with the Thai word and makes recall easier. It’s difficult to describe, I hope I’m making sense.

    Adding an audio clip to each card has really helped to train my ear and improve my pronunciation. If you are reviewing dozens, if not hundreds of cards each day, every day, hearing the words pronounced correctly over and over again, you can’t help but train your ear to recognize the correct pronunciation and tone. Those thousands of repetitions add up over time.

    This is the method I use to add pictures. I search for the Thai word on Google Images. This will bring up the results page with lots of picture thumbnails. This already gives me a clearer, more visual understanding of the meaning of the word because I can see how it is most commonly being used. I pick the image that I want to use, then I right-click the thumbnail and copy the image. I do not click-through to the page that the picture is on, I only copy the thumbnail from the Google search results because the thumbnail is already a good size for an Anki flashcard, and it is only a few kilobytes in size. I then paste the pic directly into the flash card. Anki 2 will add the file to your media folder automatically. I’ve added thousands of pictures to my cards and they only take up a tiny bit of storage space.

    Adding audio is a little more complicated, but not difficult. Any time you click on an audio file in a website (or a video for that matter) the file is temporarily downloaded to your computer so that you can play it. When you close your browser all those temporary files are deleted, however there are programs that you can use to save the files instead of deleting them. I use one called “Internet Download Manager”, which costs a few bucks, but RealPlayer has a download manager that comes free when you download the player. This sounds complicated but it is very simple in practice. When you click on an audio or video file in a webpage, a little pop-up appears giving you the option to save the file. Simply save the file to your computer and then add it to Anki. I get many of my Thai language audio files from, or if that fails, I just put them into Google Translate and play the audio generated there. When the pop-up appears I save the file and then add it to my flashcard.

    Once you have a system in place it only takes you a few seconds to easily add both an image and an audio clip to your cards.

  11. Philip, until you mentioned that flash cards for Harry Potter book were available I wasn’t that interested in using Anki. I do have it on my computer but the interface is clunky. I checked out Anki for Mac and it’s quite attractive so I’ll get the app to play with. Ta 🙂

  12. Definitely agree on the learning curve for Anki 2. I found earlier versions to be much more intuitive. After they upgraded it, I had to spend some time figuring things out again. Or maybe it’s because the default settings worked out fine in Anki 1 and after upgrading I had to manually reinstate them (automatic reverse card reviews).

    Stuart, I’d be curious to hear how you employ pictures and audio and where you find they provide the biggest benefit over text only cards. I’m willing to try new things 🙂

  13. Anki 2 is a great programme which can benefit you in many ways. It does have a hard learning curve and you must get your head around several concepts but once that is done the sky is your limit. Be creative with it and it will aid your learning no end.
    It’s a shame you don’t bother with pictures or audio as this is what I find helps me the most. They can be added very easily. You can also add contextual sentences, guess the missing word(s), reverse the cards and type in answers for comparison.
    There are YouTube videos to help you:remember it’s Anki 2 and lots of online advice in forums such as
    I’m not affiliated with Anki and I’m aware many language learners do not advocate using SRS flashcards but it’s a tool and with a bit of lateral thinking you can make a great fun library of interesting, contextual cards.
    Have fun and โชคดีครับ


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