Anki – Open Source Flashcards

What is Anki?

Anki is an open source application which lets you create and view flash cards.

Unlike some of the other online education sites it does one thing, and it does it well.

How does it work?

Anki runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, and any device with a web browser. Once you’ve created an account, Anki synchronises decks and your progress across all your devices.

You can choose from a large collection of decks.  I counted 247 French decks, some highly specialised (Theological French, 236 cards, or “etre and avoir from English to French”, 16 cards).

Anki shows you the front of a card, with a question, image and/or sound. You try to answer it, before turning over the card to see the correct answer. After telling Anki how well you did the next card gets shown.

Cards which you struggled with are shown again very soon, whilst cards which you found easy only come back once in a while.

Getting Anki

You can download Anki for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone or Android from the Anki website.

If you’re using Linux Mint (or probably any other Debian or Ubuntu based Linux distro) then use the package manager (or apt-get, aptitude, etc) probably grabs an old version. When you try to connect to your online AnkiWeb account (see below) you may get an error message “Syncing failed: Please upgrade to the latest version of Anki.” To fix this, remove Anki and instead go to the Anki website, from the Linux/BSD tab, download the Ubuntu/Debian version. Double click on the downloaded file and follow the instructions.

My impressions

On the Anki website it says “Creating your own deck is the most effective way to learn a complex subject. Subjects like languages and the sciences can’t be understood simply by memorizing facts — they require explanation and context to learn effectively. Furthermore, inputting the information yourself forces you to decide what the key points are, leading to a better understanding“. A simple tool like Anki can be really good for the focussed and motivated learner, as part of your overall studies.

Anki is a powerful no-frills flash card programme, with a large number of ready-made decks. If I was back in high school, preparing for a French exam, this is just the sort of tool which would take my studies to the next level.

What’s next?

Anki is open source software, written in Python. The source code for the desktop app is on GitHub. So you can use (part of) the Anki source code, under the GNU AGPL license, to read Anki decks, and to have some fun writing your own app using the Anki card decks. Watch this space …

Also, on my Android phone I have the VidaLingua French English Dictionary. It keeps a history of the words that I’ve looked up.  I would love to be able to export the list (English and French meanings) and convert it to an Anki deck.