A Champion’s Guide to Learning Japanese With Anki Flashcards

Last Updated on 12.01.2022 by Coto Japanese Language School

Getting stuck in a study rut is a big no-no for Japanese learners, but there is a way to combat that. A great, supportive teacher, for example. A well-structured self-study plan. A reliable textbook (like the Nihongo Fun and Easy and Minna no Nihongo). But knowing how to learn Japanese with Anki might be the one thing that takes your studies to the next level.

You’ve probably heard the buzz around Anki flashcards in the Japanese learning community. It’s a popular choice for not only Japanese students, but other language enthusiasts, too (Korean, Chinese and other branches possible).

There’s a catch when you want to learn Japanese with Anki, though: setting up the software takes a bit of time and a lot of confusion. And that’s what we’re here for — to guide you from your first step until you can run it through yourself. 

What’s Anki?

Anki is an open-source, spaced-repetition flashcard app. 

We know. Even that definition alone is enough to give anyone a headache. But in simple terms, think of it as an app to help you learn Japanese words and phrases easily — and in a shorter amount of time. The word ‘anki’ itself means memorization in Japanese (暗記 ・あんき).

Anki uses this technique called the spaced repetition system (SRS). The SRS forces you to re-visit a word at different time frames, over and over again, until you remember them. It’s based on evidence that your brain does a better job at remembering stuff (say, Japanese slang or something funny) that is frequently seen or heard. As you encounter a vocabulary at spaced-out intervals, you’re conditioning your mind to actively memorize it. 

How Can Anki Help Me Learn Japanese? 

Glossing over all the details and features of Anki, the Anki works by cycling your flashcards in calculated frequencies. When you’re practicing Japanese with the app, it shows you a mix of new and old Japanese words.  As you get better at the older words, they’ll appear at longer intervals, allowing newer Japanese words to be introduced.

For example, when you’re memorizing a new kanji, the card might appear every ten minutes or so, while the kanji you learned last week gets only reintroduced once a day. 

Besides the SRS, Anki works like other flashcard apps. A few key concepts you need to know about Anki are listed below. 

Cards

learn japanese with anki flashcards

A card is a pair of question and answer, similar to what you’d find on a physical card. For example, you might see a piece of information (a question) on one side of the card. When you need the answer, you can click on the Show button. After confirming that you are correct, Anki will choose the next time to show you it again. 

Notes 

When you learn that “こんにちは” means “good afternoon”, you may want to create one card that shows “こんにちは” and asks you to remember “good afternoon” — and another card that shos you  “good afternoon” and asks you to remember  “こんにちは”. 

Q: Good afternoon
A: こんにちは
Page #1

In Anki, this information is called a ‘note’, and each piece of information is called a ‘field’. We can say that this type of note has three fields: Japanese, English, and Page. The note allows you to split the content of your cards, allowing you to make edits in the future.

Decks

learn japanese with anki decks

A deck is a group of cards. You can highly customize your deck and place cards on different decks to break apart your studies. You can also set the deck to show only a number of cards each day or how often they appear.

Installing Anki

The first thing to do when you want to learn Japanese with Anki is to download the software. You can download the program from their official website if you plan to use it on your PC devices (Windows, Mac or Linux). To import the flashcards to the desktop version, double-click the package file (called .apkg) on a computer. 

You can also open Anki on their web browser version in case you don’t want to download them directly to your computer. You will need to sign up for a free account before you can use it. 

sign up anki to learn japanese

You can also download it on your phone. If you’re an Android user, you can download the free app under the name AnkiDroid. Computer installations, Android and browser versions are free. 

For iOS, the app is called Anki Mobile Flashcard, but it will cost you ¥3,060 ($24.99). You can work your way around it, though. If you use an iPad, you can open their AnkiWeb on Safari and read your flashcards with your device. You’re not technically downloading the app, but it is a way to use Anki on iOS for free.

How to Set Up Your Anki Flashcards From Scratch

You can create new Decks by going to the home screen again and selecting “Create Deck.” You can name it however you like.

creating decks to learn japanese with anki

To get familiar, go to the home screen of the Anki app (we’re using the web browser version, so the interface might be different) and click “Add”. You’ll see “Type” on the top row (what type of cards you’ll create) and “Deck”. Set the Type to “Basic” so cards can be made automatically for each Note you add. For the “Deck”, choose the one you created (we’re choosing the “Default”). 

Other “Types” of cards you can make are the “Basic (and reversed card)”, “Basic (and optional reversed card)” and “Basic (type in the answer).” The “Basic (and optional reversed card)” creates double cards, reversing the front and backside. 

If you want to effectively learn Japanese with Anki, recalling them in two different ways is going to be more effective in the long run. This is because you’ll be practicing remembering the same information — but with more associations, which leads to a stronger memory.

adding anki cards for japanese learning

From here, you can type whatever information you want on the front and back of the flashcard. In the “Front” box, write your question. In this case, it’s usually the Japanese word, kanji or grammar point. On the “Back” form, which is technically the answer, you can feel the question’s meaning. 

Other additional advanced options include adding images and audio, although that demands more time (and effort) that could’ve been used for learning Japanese. A lot of shared decks already have them, so you can save time by downloading them. 

creating anki flashcard to learn japanese

After that, click “Add” to put the card on your selected deck. Click on the “Deck” on the menu bar to review the cards you’ve created.

You can organize the content of your Anki decks depending on the difficulty, topic, context or language element (vocabulary, phrase, kanji, grammar — you name it). 

creating anki flashcard to learn japanese

Where to Start Using Anki When You’ve Just Started Learning Japanese

If you’re starting to use Anki to learn Japanese, remember that there are three Japanese characters: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Meshing them together in one card isn’t going to help you learn vocabulary the fastest way. In fact, it will overwhelm you. 

 Start with hiragana first, and then katakana, followed by kanji. You can spruce a sub-deck with certain characters only before you move on to incorporating all three Japanese alphabets. 

Start with basic Japanese vocabulary before moving on to sentences and grammar structure. When you do want to incorporate verbs and longer phrases (after you’ve memorized enough words), make sure you’ve learned all verb conjugations and Japanese grammar rules. 

Downloading Anki Decks

The best way to start using Anki is to use pre-made decks. You can pick a few popular Japanese Anki decks and customize them (more of that later). Eventually, you’ll get a feel of what you like and don’t like. For now, pick the one that suits you best. It might not be perfect, but it’ll give you the chance to get used to studying with Anki. 

On your home screen, head to “Get Shared Decks”. You’ll be directed to a new window, where you can select popular categories — including Japanese — and navigate the most popular decks created.  

japanese anki decks

Here are some of our favorite Japanese Anki decks for beginners. 

  1. Japanese Core 2000 Step 01 Listening Sentence. This is the number one Japanese Anki deck you’d find on the search list. 2,000 Japanese words are put into one deck. The deck is fitted with 405 audios and 235 images, which helps with memorization. 
  2. 80/20 Japanese Anki Flashcard Decks. There are three package files you’ll download. The content is the same, with the only difference being the characters displayed on the Japanese words and sentences: Kana-kanji-romaji; kana-kanji; and romaji. To use this deck, instead of searching online, you need to import the file. The flashcards are organized into decks and sub-decks based on their contents (user guide here). 
  3. Core 2k/6k Optimized Japanese Vocabulary
  4. All in One Kanji Deck. This is an all-in-one guide for kanji learning, beginning from N5 to N1. The deck includes English translations, reading (onyoumi, kunyoumi and nanori), number of strokes, example compound work and components of the kanji themselves. 
  5. Nayr’s Core 5k (Revised). Nayr’s Core 5k is another popular shared deck, but keep in mind that some of the words overlap with the Core 2k/6k deck.

Customizing Your Anki Flashcards and Decks to Optimize Learning Japanese

Downloaded Japanese Anki decks are a great background learning tool, but they shouldn’t be your primary way of learning. Rather, focus on making your own deck that suits your learning style. After downloading and trying a variety of shared decks, filter the information that you want. 

You can also add words you pick up from your textbooks or manga. This way, it’s easier to remember because there is a context to them. A lot of people will download the Core 6k, scrap the layout formatting and start adding words. 

The cards are customizable. When a shared deck is imported, you can change what appears on the front and back of a card by clicking the “Edit” button. 

Deleting Unwanted Japanese Anki Decks

deleting unwanted anki decks for japanese language

A lot of our recommended Japanese Anki decks include several subdecks. You might think it’s too much. To delete unwanted decks, click on the setting button and select “Delete.”

Deleting Japanese Anki Flashcards

deleting japanese anki flashcards

On the home screen (we’re showing the interface for the downloaded PC version as Anki’s browser version doesn’t support this feature), click to “Browse”. You’ll immediately see all the compiled cards, categorized based on decks and note types. 

Select the cards you don’t want, right-click and choose “Delete”. It might be hidden under the “Notes” subsection. 

Moving Japanese Flashcards to Another Deck

You might want to visit the cards again, one more time, or you’re unsure if deleting them is the right choice. Better safe than sorry, right? You can move the cards to an existing deck by navigating the card, right-clicking the list and choosing “Change Deck.” Select the deck, and pick “Move Cards”.

You can also move it to a brand new Deck. To do that, click the “Add” button, give it a name and click “OK”. 

learn japanese with anki flashcards

How to Edit Your Flashcards

When you encounter a card in a deck, you can immediately click “Edit”, and a new tab will appear. 

You can also go back to “Browse” and input something new or additional to the card. 

Sharing Your Anki Decks 

Proud of your hard-earned, organized Anki decks? Boast it to the community by clicking the “Share” icon that’s located on the right side of your deck. Add a title, tag and description before publishing it. You can also share it privately, too.  

learn japanese with anki decks

Setting Limit and Goals for Anki Decks

You shouldn’t struggle to learn Japanese with Anki. The key to studying a new language is consistency, but not a lot of us can consistently do 30 new cards a day. You’ll get overwhelmed, keep on forgetting yesterday’s Japanese vocabularies, kanji or grammar points and slow your progress.  

This is why it’s important to set your own goal and metrics by changing the default setting. To do so, select your deck. On the bottom, click on “Options”. 

Daily Limits

You can set your daily limits of new cards and maximum reviews. For example, if the default 20 new cards a day is too many, simply decrease it to the ideal number.

anki flashcards for japanese learning

New Card Intervals and Order

You may also want to change the sequences for new cards. For example, making their appearances in sequential order (oldest to newest) or random. You can change the interval for “Easy” from 4 to 2; the bigger the interval number is, the less it will frequently appear for every card you consider “Easy”. 

customizing anki decks to learn japanese

Setting a Timer

You’re able to adjust the recall amount since Anki takes into consideration your ability to remember a card. If you can’t recall the answer within a set amount of seconds, it means you will need to do another review.  For this, you can change the timer — or even show it on screen every time a new question appears.

Tips When Setting Up Anki Flashcards 

  1. Prioritize Japanese-to-English flashcards, rather than English-to-Japanese. This way, you’re conditioning yourself to think the Japanese word first and not the other way around.
  2. Add context to individual Japanese words. Context help with recollection (hence, why it’s easier to remember casual phrases). It’s easy to misinterpret an English definition of a Japanese word without knowing the context. 
  3. Practice, practice, practice. You can’t reap the full benefits from Anki if you’re opening the app once a week. Make it a habit to spend some time reviewing. Whether it’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour, it’s better than not opening at all.

Conclusion

We hope we’ve covered everything there is to know to learn Japanese with Anki. We’ve said this before, but Anki is only a support tool, there to reinforce what you’ve learned. Don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s a primary learning source for the Japanese language. Go watch dramas, variety shows and YouTube channels or read manga and light novels. When you encounter something new, that’s when you make an Anki card.

For additional instructions about using the various features Anki, please also see the official Anki user manual.

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