Spaced repetition apps

Our friend and partner Gabriel Wyner is launching a new kickstarter project aimed at creating a language learning app for spaced repetition. VISIT THIS LINK which was built just for you, my readers, to participate in the project. Below I will explain about different spaced repetition apps and what makes Gabriel’s app special.

Spaced repetition principles

When we want to remember something we generate mnemonics. If we want to be able to remember the mnemonics for a very long time, we use dual coding: create both visual and audio mnemonics for the same content. To remember something forever, we use spaced repetition.

  1. We write down both the audio mnemonics (funny story) and the visual mnemonics (a personal image) on a flash card.
  2. The flash cards are reviewed from time to time based on some complex algorithm. New information is reviewed more often.
  3. We use the content of the flash card actively: trying to answer a question.

The process itself is very simple but its specific implementation may be challenging, and here the apps come to your help.
A word of caution:
This method of flash cards is great for remembering stand-alone facts: words, constants, names and dates, formulas. Do not try to use it with complex and strongly interconnected information, where you need to understand the connections between different factors.

The ever-present Anki

Probably the most popular app for spaced repetition is Anki. Anki is a very simple app, and in simplicity there is power. Here are the most compelling features of Anki:

  1. Anki is open source, so there is a community of people dedicated to keep it flexible and adapt to any given scenario.
  2. The app works virtually anywhere syncing your progress between Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and any device with a web browser.
  3. You can generate as many flash cards as you want and in any markup you choose, adding audio, video and scientific markup.

Anki is a default go-to app for anything you need to remember. You do need to invest some serious work creating each card: finding the proper markup, text, imagery, and audio, coming up with the right questions you need to answer. The active effort you need to invest into each card is so intense, that more often than not you will remember the fact of interest for a very long time simply by preparing the card. This may be very good if you have a few cards to remember, and if you know exactly how the card should look. In real life, you need to remember thousands of facts or words, create mnemonics to some specific issues like gender and cases, and handle the non-trivial task of finding online compelling images for abstract words.

Anki is great for building your own flash cards and using your own deck, but for a beginner, there are better options.

Memrise: combining courses and flash cards.

Suppose you want to learn using a mobile device.

For a specific task, like language learning, you can do better than Anki. Memrise is a professional app for language learning that offers a big financial prize for anyone improving the ease of memorization. Memrise is partially preloaded with 200 language combinations and uses an array of robots to help you learn: chatbots to chat with and grammar bots to check your grammar, special modes for video and listening, a wide array of statistics to track your progress and much more. The app is highly gamified and you will want to use it and make progress because it is fun.

With Memrise you can select a course and simply start learning. This article explains the difference between Memrise and Anki in a very simple form and shows how you can benefit from Memrise as a beginner.

If you are more thorough and are interested in supplementing your learning with some grammar, you can combine Memrise and Duolingo as described here and here.

Quizlet: 187 million study sets and counting.

Languages are not the only subject we use flash cards for, and if we want to learn something, maybe somebody already prepared flash cards we can reuse. Quizlet covers all sorts of subjects: geography history, art, law, and much more with card decks of various sizes prepared and curated by different people. Some cards sets are small and connect ten items, other card sets contain thousands of cards.

The site proudly states that 95% of students using it improve their grades. I was not able to find a good scientific basis for this statement. I do believe that the site may be helpful in common classroom situations and I believe that many tutors prepare study sets for their subjects and students.

When you use cards created by the community, you do have some extra responsibility.

  1. You need to find the right card set for you: not too simple and not too complex, with the right information.
  2. Some cards will be wrong: with all sorts of mistakes. Occasionally the text simply will not work for you.
  3. Since you did not actively create the cards, you need to get active when modifying or using them.

Quizlet is very user-friendly and you really should buy a premium account to add images and sounds to your card.

Quizlet and Anki use different spaced repetition algorithms, both are very secret and very efficient.

Why do we need yet another app?

Gabriel Wyner is offering us the chance to participate in the creation of his app, including the ability to choose which features users want most. He also explains what is missing in most apps we have today.

We do not really need a time-consuming experience of designing and building our decks like in Anki, but we do need to be personally involved in creating our cards. By making simple multiple choice decisions per card, we keep the active, hands-on elements in our flashcards, while eliminating the hard and boring job of formatting every aspect of the cards. Moreover, the initial content we start with will be curated by Gabriel and a team of native speakers, ensuring a high-quality learning experience.

You probably already use the main elements of the “Fluent Forever” memory methodology: supplement visual representation with audio, choose highly personalized mnemonics, actively use the words you learn in a sentence, and explain complex words using simple words in the same language. The new app will make sure that you are not tempted to translate every word you encounter into English and that you will pronounce it properly.

Gabriel is much better than me explaining the intricate details of spaced repetition, so make sure to check out the link.

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2 Replies to “Spaced repetition apps”

  1. Your links to Gabriel Wyner’s app above are broken. Not just one, but all of them.
    This is the page your link leads to:
    This is the page you want to go to:
    Comparing the two, the first looks suspiciously like an affiliate link, which should have been disclosed above. Secondly, you’ll want to talk to your friend, Gabriel Wyner, about why it leads to a page with the text, “404 ¡Ay, dios mío! You found a broken link!” which has links at the bottom to lead the seeker on to the correct page.

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