A Perpetual and Constant Learner
Yesterday I learned of an application called Anki and I installed it on my Mac, my iPhone and my iPad. On the Mac I installed a couple of different versions. I found applications which were not the ones I was looking for because they didn’t have all the tools and possibilities of the original. I couldn’t work out why the menus were not there I was looking for. It was extremely annoying. I was expecting one thing but getting something else. The name of the application was exactly the same and it might even be from the same developer or business. It was a mess, really. I want the one which is fully configurable and with all the options.
Anki is a flashcard system and you can get sets of flashcards to cover a variety of topics. It’s particularly popular with medical students because they have to learn vast amounts of information. What the system does is to work with an algorithm so the information is effectively pushed into your memory. It’s not just about memory though. I set it up in such a way as to try to make me understand the information and not just memorise it. The information is pretty pointless if you only memorise it and you don’t understand what it means and how it connects to other information. I found Anki because of a connection with Obsidian for which there is a plug-in to help you make flashcards ready to use in Anki. I’ve installed this plug-in but I haven’t worked out how to make it function yet. I will get to that bottom of that problem in time.
Memory and the Struggles of Being Old
My mom is only 20 years older than me and she complains of forgetting things all the time. Lately I’ve noticed I’ve been having the same problem myself. There are words I know, both in English and in Spanish and I just forget them. I try to think what these words are and my head is completely empty. Nothing comes to me and it might be a couple of days before I remember or can find a way to remember. It’s a bit of a worry because I’ve read that this could be a precursor to Alzheimer’s and I don’t like the idea of that. I like my marbles and I want to keep them. So I’m trying to keep my brain working with training. Anki is perfect for this. When I was studying to pass the test for my Spanish exam I used a website which provided flashcards. It worked excellently. When it came to do the test I was able to fly through the answers easily and get, I think, all of them correct. I just kept repeating these flashcard questions until I kept getting the right answers. I was a little bit surprised at how well it worked. The woman sat next to me in the test was struggling and still scratching her head long after I had finished the test, She definitely gave me a funny look as I sat there with my arms folded with the job done.
There is another Anki App - Not as configurable!
Learning Spanish and Other Things
I downloaded a deck of flashcards with 5000 cards contained within. The idea is to use this to build up my Spanish vocabulary. It won’t be a lot of use on its own. The thing about learning a language is you need to learn how the verbs work and I specifically have problems with the past tense in Spanish. There are at least three different types of past tense I need to know about. I struggle even with just one of them. I need to spend some time to really study and learn this part of the language. For speaking the language I tend to learn mostly by osmosis listening to what people say. Using the same words and intonation often seems to work for me. When I’m chatting people tend to understand me, or at least I think they do.
The other thing I’m learning is the number peg system. This is where you use words to remember numbers. Letters are assigned to the first 10 numbers and then you can use these numbers to create words up to 100. The D or the T is used to signify number one. The N because it has two down strokes is for the number two and so with the number three you have the letter M. And so on. Vowels are not used except to make up words within the larger numbers. So the number 11 will be tit and so this makes the number 11 an easy number to remember. By using the words to create pictures in my head I can remember long numbers by imagining connections between the words. If I need to remember the number 1177 I could imagine a tit shaped cake.
When I was in the police I needed to know the international phonetic alphabet. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and so on. I have forgotten the names of some of the letters now and so I have been relearning those. Just as a brain exercise, although people here in Spain tend to use a different system. They will use the names of towns and cities to provide the sounds for the letters. Such as S which is Sevilla, B for Barcelona and M for Madrid.
In the application Anki I have added decks of flashcards for those memory/mnemonic systems as well as the Spanish vocabulary and also a vocabulary for Estonian. Estonian is not a useful language to work with worldwide, but my two grandchildren are half Estonian. I’d like to know one or two words of the language to use with them and also with my daughter-in-law.
How Anki Works
You start by reviewing the flashcards. You see one side of the flashcard and you have to say what’s on the other side. Then you use the buttons or the keyboard shortcuts to indicate whether you failed, found the question hard, it was good, or it was easy. The application uses a timing system to bring up the failed questions more often than the ones you found hard, which show up more often than the ones you found were good or easy. It’s this systematic, spaced repetition which pushes the information into your head. You can change the algorithm, but most people find it’s easier just to leave it as it is. If you failed the question, it will show you the same card pretty soon after. The easy ones don’t need to be repeated, if at all. The ones where you have replied good, come up less often than the ones where you said it was hard.
You can create your own decks of cards. It’s also possible to edit the cards you already have. For example, with the number peg system I had learned a set of words previously and I wanted to get those same words onto this new set of flashcards. In the correct app from Anki there are lots of ways to customise the decks of flash cards.
Anki and Obsidian
If you have a subject you need to learn then a combination of Anki and Obsidian is amazing. Use Obsidian to make pages which link to other pages and back again with automatically created back links. You can even add another stage at the beginning of this by using mind maps. Embed the mind map into Obsidian and use it to create an outline for your study. It’s possible to send data from Obsidian to create flashcards in Anki. It’s also possible to fold text away in Obsidian so you get something like a flashcard, but without the algorithmic spaced repetition. Obsidian is great and plenty of people swear by it for their Personal Knowledge Management tool, but I like Logseq better