Anki vs. smart.fm
Roughly speaking, both Anki and smart.fm could be described as being spaced repetition system (SRS). A more commonly used word for these applications would be “flashcard app”. These applications or online services helps you remember things by using intelligent algorithms and schedules your reviews according to your learning history. This way you can maximize the amount of items to learn with the minimum amount of effort.
There are a lot of different SRSs to choose from, but from my research it seems like most tend to choose between Anki and smart.fm (formerly iKnow!). I’ve tried countless of SRS based applications on my iPhone and online, so I would say that I have a relatively good insight in this matter.
The main application provided by smart.fm is called iKnow!. In this application you can choose if you want to study in a long-term learning mode or in a goal mode. I recommend using the long-term mode as that’s the whole point behind these systems, but if you need to cram for an exam you can go with the goal mode, just don’t forget to review the items later on. A good thing in this application for students of Japanese is that you can choose from a Full Mode, Kana Mode, Romaji Mode and Kanji Focus depending on your needs and skills. You can choose to study 5 or 10 items at a time, if you’re in the long-term mode, these items will be chosen for you in a clever fashion based on your learning history and performance.
With this example flashcard deck I’m using the Kanji Focus Mode. It starts by asking from Kana to Kanji, then when I’m done it continues with Kanji to Kana. The last thing you do is a spelling quiz. If you use the Full Mode instead of Kanji Focus you’ll also study the meanings instead of just reading and writing (you get the meanings in Kanji Focus as well, but not as questions). How you answer to the questions is very simple, it’s basically a yes or no question, there’s also a “maybe” option but I find that it’s better to go with “no” if you’re not sure, a maybe won’t hold on the exam.
Design-wise, there’s not much to complain about, you can choose between different themes but it would be nice to be able to upload your own backgrounds.
Now let’s take a look on what Anki has to offer. Looking at the first screenshot below you can tell that you have a few more choices to help you customize the application to your needs. It’s good to try different settings out to see what works best for you. The example screenshot shows that I have set it to 90 new cards per day, this is something I don’t recommend as you’ll be overwhelmed by the reviews, it’s just high since I had to go through them all for an exam. I’ve found that 20-30 new cards per day is a good amount for me. The main difference when it comes to the actual reviewing is that you don’t answer with a “yes” or a “no”, instead you have 4 choices, “again”, “hard”, “good” and “easy”. Which one you choose affects how long it’ll wait until it shows you that item again.
Of course it’s not just about the main application, other things play a big part as well. On smart.fm you get to join a community which is a really good thing, especially if you don’t have anyone to practice with or talk in/about Japanese. Because of the community you also get to study really cool decks provided by the users, with voice and images. For example, anyone can create a deck of their favorite song with the lyrics, translations and audio clips, for everyone to use. One thing you don’t get on smart.fm however is the ability to study your decks wherever you might be at the moment. Unless of course you run around with a netbook and a 3G modem. With Anki it’s quite the opposite. Anki is available for Windows, Mac OSX, Debian/Ubuntu/Fedora, iPhone, Windows Mobile and a few other handheld devices. You can put it on a USB stick and take it with you and you can also use a web based version.
Other than that I don’t find anything crucial that needs to be brought up. But here’s a list of positives and negatives.
+ Available on many devices and platforms
+ Better for long-term studying
+ Customize the way you want to study
+ Styling the application, fonts, colors, backgrounds etc.
+ Easily edit items anytime
– Adding items takes more time than on smart.fm, but at least it automatically puts in the reading of Kanjis
– The iPhone application could use a design update
+ The community
+ Good for cramming with various modes
+ Easily share and find decks in the community
+ Adding deck items is fast and easy
+ Audio for items
+ Comes with two other applications, BrainSpeed and Dictation
+ Professionally made courses and decks for everyone to use
– You can’t take it with you
– It’s an online service only, if something happens, like if the servers goes down you won’t be able to study
– Only two choices for answering, yes or no (not very good for long-term studying)
Both smart.fm and Anki have a fair share of good qualities that are important to consider. As for me, I’m using Anki for my long-term studying and sometimes an iPhone SRS application called iFlipr, when I need to cram something on the go. I only use smart.fm for the fun kind of decks, the last ones I enrolled was a deck for learning the lyrics in one of Angela Aki’s songs, and a few lines from Will Smith’s 7 Pounds.
I strongly suggest that you try out both smart.fm and Anki and then decide which one you want to use for all the different things. I think that if you’re planning on creating your own deck(s) for long-term studying, Anki is the way to go. I currently use two big decks in Anki, one focusing on Kanji and one on vocabulary, grammar and sentences. Definitely go with bigger decks in Anki, one smaller for each of the different things will just be troublesome when reviewing.
So which one do you prefer? Or maybe you find them both useful in various ways? Feel free to drop a line or two and let me know what you think!