the best app i've ever used

the best app i've ever used
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi / Unsplash

Since this is a blog, it would be incomplete without some product reviews. Since I am constitutionally opposed to advertising of almost all varieties, I have limited myself to an app that has improved my quality of life enormously over the last eight years (about 35% of my life)!

Someone once asked me how much I would be willing to pay for this app. I responded with a resounding "Hundreds of dollars! Maybe $500 to $800. I would even be willing to have it on a subscription model!"

But how much does it really cost?

Anki - powerful, intelligent flashcards

it's completely and entirely free!

That's right. The most valuable application I have on my phone and computer is absolutely and totally free-of-cost to own, use, and modify to your heart's desire. (Unless you try to use it on your iPhone, which is the fault of Apple's predatory business practices. I think it costs $20 on the iPhone which is well worth it in my opinion.)

"How can this be?" you might ask. Believe it or not, there are large communities of people who develop software (and many other projects) simply for the sake of making something. Some people do it to help themselves accomplish a goal. Some people do it to accomplish something meaningful in their free time. Some people do it to be part of a like-minded and supportive community. Most people do it for a combination of these reasons!

Within such projects, all information is shared freely (in fact, the copyrights on these projects usually legally require that all information can be shared freely and never used for commercial gain without the commercial product also being shared freely. Many people call this a copyleft instead of a copyright)! This creates a wonderful environment where innovation can happen without fear of competitive interference or profit maximization efforts. These projects are called "open source."

My favorite app, named "Anki," is part of an open-source project to create the best learning and memorization system available in the entire world and I believe they have succeeded.

so what does it do?

At its very core, Anki seems to provide a simple interface for making digital flashcards, but in the Anki team's own words:

Anki is a program which makes remembering things easy. Because it's a lot more efficient than traditional study methods, you can either greatly decrease your time spent studying, or greatly increase the amount you learn.
Anyone who needs to remember things in their daily life can benefit from Anki. Since it is content-agnostic and supports images, audio, videos and scientific markup (via LaTeX), the possibilities are endless.
For example:

  • Learning a language
  • Studying for medical and law exams
  • Memorizing people's names and faces
  • Brushing up on geography
  • Mastering long poems
  • Even practicing guitar chords!

Anki allows you to input pieces of information that it will present to you in a way that adapts to both your own brain and the information it presents.

an example

Let's say I have to learn about 1,000 Spanish vocabulary words per weekday for six weeks (the actual requirement for my Spanish-language certification study abroad program during my undergrad was about 5,000 words per week). I could go to the corner store in Pamplona, Spain, purchase 36,000 index cards, write each word and its definition on a card, then review every card, every single day for the entire program.

But in reality, that's way too many cards to carry around and way too many cards to review every day. Instead, I copy and paste the vocabulary assignment into a spreadsheet and import it directly into Anki. Here's a summary of all my Spanish flashcards (note, this is not what the app normally looks like! I'm just showing you all my cards in a list here):

Note, the reason it shows 72,000 cards in the top left instead of 36,000 is because I wanted to learn the cards forwards and backwards, which Anki allows you to do.

Now, the phrase "ir de paseo" doesn't translate literally into English, so it took me a lot longer to learn than words like, "vivir" or "dar" that I already knew from growing up in Sonora. Anki takes this into account!

Anki will show you the most difficult cards more often than the easy ones. In fact, when I checked, my next review for "ir de paseo" (which is pretty easy for me now) will be in about 8 months while I won't have to review "vivir" for several years. Anki figured out exactly what my brain needed!

here's what the app looks like

This is my prompt. The blue number at the bottom shows me how many new cards I'm due to learn today (I've limited it to 50 per day now that I'm no longer in language school). The green number shows me how many cards I'm due to review today (again, I've limited it to 150). The orange number shows me how many cards I'm actively learning.

Now, this is what it shows me when I click "Show Answer:"

Since I just learned this phrase today, I can tell Anki how hard it was for me to come up with the answer. If it was super easy, I'll review it again in 4 days. If it was the right amount of difficulty, I'll see it again tomorrow. If it was hard, or I missed it altogether, I'll see it again within a few minutes to help me really solidify it in my mind!

Here's a card I've been studying for a while:

Isn't that amazing! If the card's still difficult for me, I can review it again today (within 10 minutes!), but if it's super easy and I know it by heart, I don't have to see it again for 2.4 years. This is the power of Anki!

Using this app, you only have to review things you actually need to study! Once you've learned them, it won't show them to you again until you've almost forgotten them. This is by far the most efficient and powerful way to learn ANYTHING! (Did I mention that it also automatically syncs to the cloud so you can study on any device you own?)

I plan to make a short series on how I have used and currently use Anki to study and learn almost everything in my life; how I've used it to dominate competitions and how I've used it to help me become a better friend.

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