I wanted an app to learn Vietnamese vocab. My requirements are:

  • Easy to import and export cards, so you’re not locked in
  • Sensible interface for creating new cards
  • A smart system for deciding which cards need studying when

Of course you want a mobile app, so you can study in any spare moment, and so you can note down new vocab you encounter - straight into the memory hopper. Also in my case, Vietnamese has loads of diacritical marks which seem easier to deal with on a mobile keyboard.

Naturally, a problem as simple as this has been solved badly many times by many different people, so I went through quite a few duds before eventually finding a free option I was satisfied with. That’s why I’m writing this down so others can see farther by standing on my beautiful giant shoulders. The one I eventually found was Anki - Not to be confused with the misleadingly-named AnkiApp. The UX isn’t amazingly slick, but hey, if you don’t have the energy to figure it out then you won’t have the energy to study vocab either. It’s also free and open-source which is just right for this kind of simple application.

The training goes like this: you see one side of a card, try to remember what’s on other side, flip it over and see if you got it right, then press one of: “again” (I didn’t know it, show me again soon), “good” (I got it, but show me again soonish) or “easy” (I definitely know this one). This is exactly how I used to learn vocab with physical flashcards; a pile for the words I didn’t know at all, a pile for the cards I knew but needed cementing, and a pile for the cards I hardly needed to study any more. Afterwards you can view stats and track how much learning you’re doing.