Category Archives: Starting Out

Optimizing Anki Settings for Japanese Study

Default anki settings are ok for learning general material, but sub-optimal for most people learning Japanese.  Many people are put off by the myriad of options in anki.  This post suggests some anki settings which should make things a lot easier and goes on explain how the settings work.  If you are studying another subject, scroll down a bit where I explain a little anki theory.

Anki Settings Quick Start

If you want the tldr and just want to plug in some settings that should work better for you, here you go.  Start with anki’s defaults and change these settings:

  • New Cards – Steps:  1 10 60 360
  • New Cards – Starting Ease: 180
  • Lapses – Steps: 5 75 360
  • Lapses – New Interval: 15


The settings above show cards to you more often than the default so that you fail cards less often.  You might be tempted to adjust the settings even more so that your accuracy is doubly improved, but there is a point of diminishing returns where more frequent study yields less additional knowledge acquisition.

Anki Settings resulting in 70-80% accuracy are most efficient

70-80% is most efficient with efficiency falling off rapidly outside this range.

The efficiency sweet spot seems to be in the 70-80% accuracy range.  The efficiency curve is roughly parabolic, so the difference between 70% or 80% is negligible, but setting your anki settings to attain 90% accuracy you would need to study the same words roughly twice as many times which is clearly inefficient.  85% is just a bit less efficient than 80%.

On the other hand, 70% accuracy might be efficient, but forgetting 30% of the words you study every day can be soul crushing.  Even 80% accuracy is dispiriting some days, and remember that this is average, so some days will be better and some days will be worse.  This is really up to you, but personally I target accuracy around 80-85% because I am willing to trade some efficiency to make studying more enjoyable.  But you should target a specific accuracy range to aid in adjusting your anki settings.

Understanding Anki’s Settings

The anki settings we are discussing today affect three different groups of cards.  The ideal settings would have your accuracy for each of these groups of cards falling in the range you’ve decided work best for your goals.

  • Learning cards are brand new cards that you just started learning.  These have never had an interval over 1 day.
  • Young and Mature cards that you’ve been reviewing for a while.  These have an interval over 1 day.
  • Lapses (aka relearn) are young or mature cards that you just failed.  These had an interval over 1 day, but are treated like a learning card again.

Learning Cards Settings

The setting to adjust learning cards is ‘Steps‘ in the new cards section.  Steps is simply a list of how many minutes to wait until you see the same card again with a space between each step.  E.g. if you go with the default of 1 10, anki will show you a brand new card and then show it to you again 10 minutes later.  If you fail, you go back to the beginning of the list.  If you answer correctly twice in a row, the card will no longer be considered new, will become young and you will see it again the next day.  I don’t know about you, but studying a foreign language word twice in 10 minutes usually isn’t sufficient for me to remember it the next day.  I need to see it a few more times.  So if you use steps of 1 10 60 360, you will see it after 1 minute, 10 minutes, one hour, and 6 hours before it becomes young and the next interval is 1 day.

The goal is to get your learning accuracy within the range you set. Take a look your anki graph called ‘Answer Buttons’ and if your learning percentage is lower than desired, you may need to add another step – something like 1 6 36 180 560.  Or if your learning accuracy is high, consider 1 10 100.

It is important to know that anki’s graph combines the learn and relearn stats.  So it is best to install this anki add-on which separates the two stats.

Young and Mature Card Settings

The setting which affects young and mature accuracy is ‘Starting Ease‘.  A card’s ease is the percentage by which the interval is increased for each successive step.  Anki’s default stating ease is 250, so if you pass a card with an interval of 10 days, anki will multiply 10 days by 250% so the new interval will become 25 days.  This setting will vary widely by person, but I find a starting ease of 250 to be a bit too high for me to remember 80% of my mature cards so I set my starting ease around 180.

Whatever starting ease you set, anki will adjust each card’s ease over time to account for the difficulty of each card.  Anki decreases each card’s ease factor every time you press ‘again’ or ‘hard’.  Anki increases each card’s ease factor every time you press easy for that card.  But ideally you set an appropriate starting ease so that you aren’t studying cards at sub-optimal intervals while anki finds it’s level.  So keep an eye on your mature accuracy and adjust accordingly.  Keep in mind that mature accuracy will take a month or more to reflect changes because the intervals are 21 days and greater.


When you fail a card, the card will go through it’s learning steps (default 1 10) and it’s next step will be one day, just like for new cards.  But this behavior is adjustable separately from new cards.  Usually if you fail a card that has an interval of several months or years, after a relearn step or two, you will not need to reset it’s interval back to 1 day.  You can set a percentage of the old interval in ‘Lapses’ / ‘New Interval‘.  A setting of 10-15 is appropriate here.  So if you use 15% and your current interval is 6 months (180 days), the new interval will be 27 days after going through the relearning steps.

Lapses / Steps defaults to 1 10, but I prefer 5 75 360.  Again this should be adjusted based on your relearn accuracy and personal preference.


The settings at the top of the page are a decent starting point.  But to use your time most efficiently you should adjust them so that your learn, relearn, young and mature accuracy is within your target range.  The settings will vary considerably from person to person and for different types of cards.  For instance, my kanji cards need very different settings than my vocab cards and my grammar cards are different as well.  If you have any questions please leave a comment below and I will do my best to provide a thoughtful answer.

Buonaparte’s Japanese Grammar Cheat Sheet

I thought buonaparte’s section on grammar was a good, one sheet, summary of Japanese Grammar.  So I pasted it almost verbatim and added links for the grammar jargon.

An idea about grammar

Inflect (change):

  • V (verbs); A-i (adjectives); C copula (be, never independent word)

Don’t inflect:


verbs: -ru, -u, suru verbs (N+suru), only 2 irregular: suru (do), kuru (come)

copula: de aru, da, desu, na, de gozaru, de irassyaru

adjectives: A-i (it’s a verb: big-is, good-is); AN (+C to form a predicate)

particles: ha(wa), ga, wo(o), no, ni, ka, to, yo, wa, ne, etc

pronouns: plenty of I, you, etc – they are nouns

politeness levels: plain, polite, honorific, humble

giving-receiving verbs: ageru, sasiageru, yaru, kureru, kudasaru, itadaku, morau

in-group ↔ out-group

male ↔ female speech



My story

  • Late 1980’s Took Spanish in High School.  I didn’t do too well in class, but I enjoyed learning the language.
  • 1996 Moved to a city where more people speak spanish then english.  Unfortunately I forgot most of the spanish I learned.   I didn’t pick up any spanish “from immersion”.
  • Summer 2003  Met a Japanese girl at a party.
  • Winter 2003   Listened to pimsleur while working.  Unfortunately I learned nothing from it.  Listened to pimsleur in the car…learned nothing useful for my upcoming trip, but learned a few vocabulary words.  Went to Japan for the first time with the girl.
  • 2004 kept listening to pimsleur on and off.  Mostly off.  Played around with rosetta stone.
  • 2005 Girlfriend got a job in Japan.  I wanted to try living in Japan, so started taking a class.  the textbook was “Japanese for busy people”.  Finished JFBP I.  The plan was for me to move to Japan and try finding a job there.
  • 2006 Started realizing that it would be impossible to work in my career in Japan.  Got busy with work and stopped going to class halfway through JFBP II.  The only good thing was that I visited Japan often.
  • 2007 Got married to the Japanese girl from the party and she moved back to Los Angeles.  I’m not studying Japanese at all now.
  • 2009 Got a smartphone and thought I could learn something while walking the dog around the block.  Downloaded a few japanese learning apps.  Started casually learning kana.  Started listening to pimsleur in the car again.  Listened to level 1 and 2.  Always frustrated that I didn’t have flashcards to supplement the CDs.  Frustrated that the school where I used to take classes seemed to close down.  Just generally frustrated buy not knowing what to do.  Eventually dropped the whole thing.
  • 2013  Got interested again and tried a few different free flashcard apps.  Reviewed my hiragana so that I could learn some Japanese vocabulary.
  • Feb 2013 Decided to buy the anki iOS app and downloaded the JFBP deck because I had the textbooks and wanted to review the vocab that I already halfway knew.  Officially started anki on Feb 20 2013.  Studied every day and realized that every day I studied made it that much harder to break the chain.  Finished JFBP I vocab.  Found nukemarine’s guide and realized that the resource I was designing in my head existed and it’s name was core.  Started learning core vocabulary and kanji (via an rtk deck).  I suspended katakana words because I wanted to learn japanese words.  Along the way, I started adding sentences.  Realized that after several months of study I still couldn’t understand anything on Japanese TV.   Decided sentences and kanji could wait and I needed as much vocab as I could handle, Unfortunately I decided that learning vocabulary rendered in kana instead of kanji was a good idea.
  • Spring 2014  I was getting impatient with my progress around core 2k and I still couldn’t understand much on TV.  Realized that I needed to learn grammar and exposure to inflected verbs, so I decided to start adding sentences again.  I raced through the sentences because I already know most of the vocab, suspending cards where the vocab prevented my understanding the sentence.  After about 2 weeks of sentences I realized that my vocabulary accuracy improved dramatically.
  • Summer 2014 Core sentences are caught up with vocabulary.  Decided to start Tae Kim.  Already being vaguely familiar with some grammar made for a lot of ah-ha moments.  Finished 2/3 of Tae Kim (Basic and Essential).  Started adding vocab and sentences in parallel.  Ran sentence gloss on my sentences so I can easily look up unknown words in the sentences.
  • 2015 Realized that reading kanji was important, so I started RTK in earnest.  Took me 8 months to finish.  I did recognition (kanji to keyword) because I had no interest in writing and writing was a significant burden to study.  In hindsight this was not ideal and if I did it again, I would probably learn the traditional radicals as an aid to learning the kanji via vocabulary.  RTK took me 8 months to finish.
  • 2016  RTK review hell.  Mostly because my memory sucks, but also because of inefficient study methods.  Also started studying song lyrics and japanese pod101 beginner dialogs.  Regarding jpod101 I pre-learned the vocabulary and then listened to the dialogs and read them too.  This was huge actually.  Longer texts are superior to single sentences.
  • Spring 2017  Continue with Jpod101.  Focus on getting down vocabulary reviews to make room for reading and listening.
  • future Probably get more into native material.

Why are you learning Japanese?

People have different reasons for learning a language.  Some people just want to be more worldly and others like the way Japanese sounds.  Others want to move to Japan or at least travel there.  Personally I am married to a person from Japan and want to fully enjoy Japanese things with her and I want to be more independent when I am there.  I want to understand things as she understands things and not have to have them explained to me.

I’d love to hear your reasons for learning Japanese.  Please let me know in the comments.

The Dos and Donts of learning Japanese

Recently someone asked me for some Japanese study tips so I made this handy list.  It is a work in progress.  So here is my list of Dos and Donts of learning Japanese:


  • Study every day
  • Study as much as possible.
  • Utilize SRS
  • When drilling sentences, only add one unknown word at a time.(n+1)
  • Use comprehensible input
  • Use Japanese mnemonics rather than english mnemonics whenever possible.
  • Ditch as much English as possible.
  • Plan in advance to avoid running out of study material.
  • Study during/after exercise (an excited heart rate increases retention).
  • Immerse yourself in Japanese language (music, tv, movies, podcasts, travel to Japan).
  • Focus on vocab as much as possible (especially when first starting out)
  • Study reading, writing, speaking and listening concurrently (they reinforce each other)
  • Use Native Japanese study materials as soon and as often as possible.
  • “Shadow” native Japanese speakers. (repeat what they say on TV, radio…)
  • Make use of every possible minute of study time. (study while waiting in lines, at the doctor…)
  • Make use of passive study methods(hang japanese texts around the house, use katakana names on your computer folders…)


  • Don’t even think about studying using romaji.
  • Don’t force learning difficult words or kanji (suspend them and come back to them later)
  • Don’t study too long in a row (6 30min sessions are better than a 3 hour session)
  • Don’t study when you are tired(not as effective as being well rested)
  • Don’t Focus on studying grammar (at least at the beginning)
  • Don’t use study materials that use too much English.
  • Don’t use study methods that use only one skill(reading, writing, speaking, listening) to the exclusion of others.
  • Don’t focus on studying on-yomi & kun-yomi (you will learn this by reading and listening)
  • Don’t spend too much time finding the perfect study method.
  • Don’t spend too much time reading blogs and forums.