Monthly Archives: June 2015

Flashcards in the Digital Age: A Comparison of Anki & LearnWithOliver

Today’s guest post is from Paul. He teaches English in Argentina and works for Language Trainers, which offers personalized course packages to individuals and groups. He approached me about a guest post and I suggested a comparison of Anki and our website. As I would be biased it’s perfect for a third party to compare both sites. Anyways here we go:

Flashcards are a classic vocabulary-building tool that language learners have been using for ages. Nowadays, far from their paper-based origins, flashcards are now available on a variety of digital platforms, and offer high-tech algorithms to help you learn new foreign-language vocabulary as fast as possible.

Two popular choices for language learners are Anki and Learn with Oliver, the latter of which is produced by the language-learning gurus at Antosch & Lin. Both of these services use spaced repetition, which means that they present vocabulary at specific intervals based on how well you know the word. For example, if you know a given vocabulary item very well, it may be shown to you once a week or once a month; conversely, if you continually forget a specific word or phrase, it will be presented to you more frequently until you memorize it. This way, you spend more time reviewing the words you actually need to remember, whereas words you already understand well are presented only now and then so that they don’t slip from your memory.

Despite sharing a similar basic idea, Anki and Learn with Oliver are quite different, largely due to the fact that Learn with Oliver is specifically designed by and for language learners, whereas Anki can be used for a variety of purposes. Both are valuable learning tools, but for the serious student, Learn with Oliver provides some key features that Anki lacks, and will help you learn new vocabulary faster than ever before.

Anki

Anki is an app that you can use on your computer or smartphone. The idea itself is simple: it’s a basic, user-friendly version of digital flashcards which can be used for any type of information. What’s impressive and interesting about Anki is not the flashcards themselves, but rather the algorithm going on in the background which decides when to show the cards to you.

Here’s how it works: you create a “deck” of flashcards (for language learners, this will consist of foreign-language vocabulary). You can download decks that other users have created for your language, or you can create your own decks with words that you come across in your daily foreign-language adventures. This is particularly useful if you’re reading a foreign-language book and want to remember some of the unfamiliar words and phrases that you encounter.

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Then, you can review the cards in your deck whenever you’d like. Depending on how easy it is for you to recall the word, Anki will show it to you again at differing time intervals. If you had no idea what the word meant, it will show you in the next couple minutes; if you were super confident about it, it will show you in a few days. The time intervals are decided by your own judgment as well as your answering history, so if you’ve repeatedly forgotten a word, Anki will present that flashcard to you more frequently.

And that’s basically it! Perhaps its simplicity is one of the reasons why Anki is so popular among language learners; it’s incredibly easy to use. In fact, its shortcomings only become apparent when compared to a similar flashcard service that’s specifically tailored to the needs and goals of language students.

Learn with Oliver

Enter Learn with Oliver. As mentioned above, Learn with Oliver is designed by and for language learners, and this is clear from the start. At its core, Learn with Oliver is conceptually similar to Anki: it offers flashcards that utilize spaced repetition. However, flashcards only scratches the surface of what Learn with Oliver offers. Several other reviewers have described Learn with Oliver as “flashcards on steroids”, and this turns out to be quite an apt description.

 First off, Learn with Oliver comes with pre-loaded decks of flashcards that have thousands of items each. Of course, like Anki, you also have the option of adding your own words to the mix. Unlike Anki, however, these decks are highly customizable: you can set your vocabulary level, turn off English translations, see real-life example sentences that contain the word, view images of the word, see possible derivations and conjugations of the word, and remove cards from the deck when you don’t need to review them.

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My favorite feature about Learn with Oliver is that all flashcards include an audio component (in Anki, only a handful of decks come with audio), which are pronounced by native speakers. Therefore, you can listen to the word or sentence that you see on the flashcard, which is an excellent way to associate the text and pronunciation in your brain.

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 Further, there are a plethora of other language-learning features aside from the flashcards themselves. After reviewing a deck (or two), you can assess your skills with an interactive test. There are language-learning games in which you can save your high scores and compete with yourself. There are writing exercises in which you read sentences (which are also pronounced by native speakers), and are later called on to provide a translation of them. It’s possible to spend hours simply navigating the diverse array of features that Learn with Oliver offers.

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Finally, Learn with Oliver gives language learners some gentle incentive to keep their language skills sharp in the form of a daily newsletter. Unlike most newsletters, which are either ignored or end up in your Spam folder, the daily email from Learn with Oliver is a language learner’s treasure trove. It contains several vocabulary items and sentences (including word-by-word breakdowns of each one), and even has an essay-writing exercise for the brave. Best of all, you can customize the newsletter to send you just a few daily words, or up to 100, if you’re an extremely ambitious learner.

Ultimately, both Anki and Learn with Oliver are valuable tools for language learners: spaced repetition works! Pragmatists who seek a very basic flashcard system sans bells and whistles will gravitate towards Anki, which is basically as simple as it gets. But language learners who are looking to maximize as much information as possible from their flashcards — those who seek “flashcards on steroids” — will surely appreciate Learn with Oliver’s vast offerings, which come with useful, actionable, and extremely comprehensive language-learning tools.

Language learners: Have you used Anki? What about Learn with Oliver? What are your impressions of each? Leave a comment!

If you want to know more about Paul visit their Facebook page or check out their free language level tests.