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Ankiweb: The Best Language Learning Tool You’ve Never Heard Of

Posted Date: February 21, 2021

When I’m on the road, I like to try and make a positive first impression. And nothing makes a positive first impression quite like speaking the local language. 

As we rode from the Bangkok airport to our Airbnb on the first day of our one-year trip around the world, I worked up the courage to test out my Thai by telling a joke my friend had taught me. It was a hit. Our taxi driver loved it, but more importantly, he loved that we tried to show an interest in the Thai language.

Did we speak Thai fluently? No, and neither were we expected to. We were only going to be in Thailand for a short stay, but we wanted to do our best to speak the local language as much as possible.

But learning a few words in a new language can be difficult and time-consuming. Where do you find basic travel phrases without buying a whole book? How do you pronounce these words? And how do you remember them long enough to actually use them while you travel?

Let me introduce you to Ankiweb – the best language learning tool you’ve never heard of. This blog post will cover how to use Ankiweb to learn new travel vocabulary and enhance your overall language study.

What is Ankiweb?

Anki is a program which makes remembering things easy. Because it’s a lot more efficient than traditional study methods, you can either greatly decrease your time spent studying, or greatly increase the amount you learn. 

Ankiweb is 100% free of charge and can be accessed either online or through the companion Ankiweb app on your desktop. 

Ankiweb can be used to memorize anything from geography to anatomy, but many people use it for language learning. It’s incredibly helpful for learning vocabulary, remembering grammar rules, and pronunciation.

How Does Ankiweb Work?

I keep saying that Ankiweb is the best language learning tool for travelers, but what actually makes it better for travelers and language learners?

The answer lies in how Ankiweb was designed. Ankiweb uses flashcards to help users commit new knowledge to memory. But it doesn’t work like a traditional flashcard deck, where you simply flip over a card and see the answer on the other side.

Instead, Ankiweb uses spaced repetition – meaning that you spend more time learning new or challenging information and less time on the vocabulary and phrases that you already know. 

That means that you actually spend your time learning instead of spending your study time on knowledge you already have. That’s important for a couple of reasons. First, you only have so much time in a day. You’d rather spend it mastering new vocabulary than going through words you already know by heart.

Secondly, you are in control of your own study. If you are struggling with a word or phrase, your Ankiweb deck is catered to help you remember those terms. It is your own personal deck with your own personal study pattern. 

How is Ankiweb Beneficial for Me?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what Ankiweb is, how will it actually benefit you in real life while you are traveling? 

Ankiweb will help you commit the words and phrases to memory that you want to know faster than any other language learning program. 

Not only will you learn words and phrases faster, but you’ll actually learn how to say things that matter to you while you’re traveling. 

So many language learning programs force you to learn grammar and understand the roots of a language before you get to any meaningful vocabulary. They’ll teach you how to say “I like apples,” when what you really need to be able to say is “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?”.

The ability to customize your flashcards to learn exactly what you want to learn is what sets Ankiweb apart as my favorite language learning tool. Ankiweb is 100% customizable to your needs. You are in charge of your Ankiweb account, meaning that you can create flashcards that are relevant to your specific situation. 

For example, if you are allergic to peanuts, you can learn to say “I’m allergic to peanuts”. You probably won’t get that with another language learning program, but since that is a sentence you’ll need to communicate at a restaurant – you can practice it and learn it like a pro.

Unlike other language apps that come with a built-in curriculum, Ankiweb starts with a completely blank board. You get to set up your flashcards with travel sentences that make sense to learn.

I did not know about Ankiweb until after I returned from my year abroad. I wish I would have known about it so that I could have better practiced and memorized key phrases like “How much is this?”, “Where is the bathroom?”, and of course, basics such as hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, and thank you. 

I personally believe as a traveler, it is a sign of respect to try and learn a little bit of the language before you travel to a place. The locals will appreciate the effort, even if you have a heavy accent like me.

Since Ankiweb is a flashcard program, it means that Ankiweb doesn’t come with any built in curriculum. You are in charge of what you learn.

Having said that, you will have to dedicate a little bit of time finding translations and creating your decks in Ankiweb. Or, you can simply use the shared decks that we have created for some of the more commonly used languages. 

Either way, don’t let that intimidate you from using Ankiweb as a tool for learning languages.

Add Audio, Video, and Images to Your Flashcards

One of the best, and most important features that Anki offers travelers that other flashcard softwares don’t is that you can attach audio to your flashcards.

As anyone who has studied a language before knows, hearing how a native pronounces a word can often be far different than what you might have thought if you were to try and pronounce it on your own.

By adding audio of how words are pronounced, you will have better pronunciation, making it easier for others to understand you. 

Along with adding audio clips, you can further customize your flashcards by adding images or video clips. Images can be especially useful for memorizing nouns, and video can help you with pronunciation and grammar rules. 

The overall ability to customize your learning is why I find Anki to be an incredibly helpful tool for learning languages. 

How to Use Ankiweb to Learn Languages for Travel

Rule number one when using Ankiweb is to commit to using it every day. If you don’t use it every day, your memory will slip and you’ll forget the words you’re trying say hard to memorize. 

If you are only using Ankiweb to learn a few words and phrases while you travel, it will only take you about 5 minutes per day.

Let’s go over a brief example of how to use it. Let’s say you are going to be traveling to Thailand for a month.

To get started learning Thai, you will want to pick out 10-15 words and phrases that you want to learn. Remember, you don’t have to learn the entire language, just basics that will help you get around. 

In Ankiweb, you’ll then create a new deck called Thai Essentials. A deck in Ankiweb is simply a group of flashcards – usually related by theme or category. For example, you could have a Thai Essentials deck, a Spanish Essentials deck, and a Mandarin Essentials deck. Each deck would contain 10-15 words and phrases related to the relevant language.

Once your deck is created and you’ve added your flashcards, you’ll open up Ankiweb and start studying. 

I’d recommend starting your study about two weeks before you go on your trip. This will familiarize your mind with the sounds of the language and give you plenty of time to study up.

Hard vs. Easy Phrases

When you begin learning a new language, the truth is, most words will be pretty difficult to learn. Chances are you won’t memorize many of your new vocabulary the first time you hear it, and that’s totally normal. 

But sometimes a word just clicks, and you understand it immediately and you learn it the very first time you hear it. 

With Ankiweb, you get to tell it which words are easy for you to remember and which ones are challenging. 

This is what a new Ankiweb flashcard looks like. It displays the vocabulary in a foreign language on the front of the card, and the English translation on the back of the card. You will then tell Ankiweb how challenging the word or phrase was by pressing Again, Good, or Easy.

When you are going through your flashcards, they’ll look a little bit like the image above. When you look at the image, you’ll see that once I am done reviewing a card, I have to rate how hard the word or phrase was for me to remember

For cards that I am seeing for the first time, I am given the options of Again, Good, or Easy. 

If I press Again, I will see the flashcard in less than a minute. Typically this means I am having a harder time remembering the word. 

If I select Good, Ankiweb will wait to show me the card within 10 minutes. Since this is the first time I am seeing the card, Ankiweb assumes that I won’t remember it right away. This helps me commit this vocabulary to memory.

And if I choose Easy, that means I am very comfortable with this word or phrase, and Ankiweb will wait 4 days before showing that card to me again. 

When using Ankiweb for traveling, I recommend you never press the Easy button because you are only learning a few words and phrases. If you are using Ankiweb for in depth language study, then use whichever button makes sense. 

Selecting the Good button will show you the card again within 10 minutes. The next time you see the card, the options at the bottom of the screen will have different options. Now you will have the option of selecting Good which by default will put the card away for one day. 

After you’ve seen a card multiple times, the frequency options for when you will see it again spread out further and further.

In this second screenshot, you’ll notice that Ankiweb gives you a fourth option. Instead of Again, Good, and Easy, you now have Hard as an option.

The more comfortable you get with a phrase, the further out Ankiweb spaces this card before it shows you it again. This is spaced repetition in action and is how Ankiweb knows to show you the cards you are about to forget.

Shared Decks

One of the biggest downsides to using Ankiweb is that it does require a bit of setup. Not a lot, but since you are creating personalized flashcards, you have to do some work to make sure you have good translations for your sentences, add them to a new deck, and then study them.

Fortunately, Ankiweb has a feature called Shared Decks. Shared Decks are a set of flashcards that other Ankiweb users have made public and available for anyone to use. They are free and often very helpful. 

If you don’t want to take the time to create your own travel language deck, you can search the Ankiweb Shared Decks database to see if someone else has already created one that you can use.

Anki users share their decks meaning you can use them for your own studies free of charge.

Shared decks can be really helpful, but you may not always find what you are looking for since someone else has created these decks with their own purposes in mind. 

Shared decks are worth exploring to see if you can get by without having to create your own deck. They can be incredibly valuable resources if you want to continue to further your studies in a language and move beyond travel terminology.

However, if you have any specific health needs, food allergies, or need to communicate anything specific to you, I highly recommend building your own deck. That way you can make sure you learn how to say exactly what it is you need to communicate.

How to Create a New Deck in Ankiweb 

Now that we understand a bit how Ankiweb works, let’s see how to set it up on your computer.

First, you’ll need to sign up for a free account. Then, you’ll need to download Ankiweb to your computer.

Once Ankiweb is installed, you can start creating your new deck of flashcards in a few simple steps. Let’s dive in.

In your Ankiweb application, click Create Deck at the bottom of the popup screen.

This is what your Ankiweb application might look like on your computer.

Next, give your deck a name – preferably, something that is relevant and distinct to what you are learning. Once you select OK, you will see your new deck on your list.

To create a new deck in Ankiweb, you’ll first need to give it a name.

Now that your deck is created, you can start adding cards to fill it. To begin adding new phrases to your travel deck, click Add at the top of your screen. 

Once your new deck is named, you can start adding flashcards to it.

You’ll be shown a popup that looks like this.

Fill in the front and back of the card with translations that you want to learn – and even add audio clips.

Here, you can add the word in the foreign language in the Front text box, write the translation in the Back text box, and can record Audio in the Audio text box.

Adding audio to your flashcard can really help you improve your pronunciation.

Once you’ve filled out all the fields, you can select Add, and the card will now belong to your deck.

Repeat this process for all of the words and phrases you want to learn.

Pro Tip: If you aren’t sure how to translate a sentence and don’t fully trust Google Translate, I’d recommend doing the following to try and get an accurate translation.

  1. Ask a friend who knows the language. There might be someone in your circle of friends who speaks a language fluently. Reach out to them and they can get you some quick translations.
  2. If you don’t have any friends that know the language, there are groups of language learners everywhere online from Facebook groups to subreddits. Join a group and ask if someone would be willing to translate your phrase accurately.

Pro Tip 2: Sometimes the Audio recording feature doesn’t work the best. I’d recommend using a voice memo app where you can record a native language speaker (either from YouTube or a personal friend). Or worst case scenario, you can record the Google Text to Speech. That way you can trim the audio, add it to your desktop, and attach it to your note.

I would recommend learning between 10-15 phrases to get you through your travels. Learning numbers can be important if you want to take the extra step, but learning the basics should be enough for your vacation.

You are the Master of Your Study

Ankiweb really does make learning a language easy and fun. Whether you are learning the essential phrases for travel or immersing yourself in a new language, Ankiweb has the tools, features and functionality to take your language abilities to new heights.

Personalized learning makes the entire learning journey a better experience since you get to spend 100% of your time learning the vocabulary that matters to you.

I’ve personally enjoyed learning with Ankiweb, and my only regret is that I wish I knew about it sooner.

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