Mar 27 2013

Using Anki to Learn Hebrew Vocabulary

To study Hebrew vocabulary, I create digital flashcards with a program called Anki. Anki is more than just a flashcard program, however; it’s a “spaced repetition learning system,” which means that Anki automatically schedules cards for you to review based on how well you know them. Over time, cards that you answer correctly will appear less often; conversely, cards that you answer incorrectly appear more frequently. Anki’s system allows you to study more efficiently because you spend less time reviewing things that you already know—a good thing when you have hundreds or even thousands of items to study.

Anki has many other features, too. You can add images and audio to cards, for example, and share your flashcard decks with others via a free online service. Even better, you can use Anki on your smartphone to study a little bit throughout the day. For example, I review a few cards while sitting in a meeting riding the bus or waiting in line at the store; doing so makes studying much less painful.

This is an example of an Anki Hebrew flashcard. Thankfully, I took a screenshot for this word rather than when מְבוּשִים appeared.
This is an example of an Anki Hebrew flashcard. Thankfully, I took a screenshot for this word rather than when מְבוּשִים appeared.

Obtaining Anki

Anki is available for every major desktop operating system, as well as the iPhone and Android. The desktop and Android versions are free, but the iPhone version costs $25. (Sales of the iPhone version fund development for the other versions and the online service.) If you don’t want to pay for Anki on your iPhone, however, you can use the free online service instead.

Anki Hebrew Flashcard Decks

Anki has attracted a large, devoted community of users who share flashcard decks and techniques for studying more effectively. Many in the community use Anki to learn foreign languages—no surprise, really, given that the developer created it to help himself study Japanese. (“Anki” means “memorize” or “memorization” in Japanese, in fact)

As one would expect, the community of Anki Hebrew learners is relatively small since Hebrew is not a common language to learn. Nonetheless, there are a number of Anki Hebrew flashcard decks available to download. Most of the decks are for Biblical Hebrew, but here are a few modern Hebrew decks that I’ve found useful:

Hebrew From Scratch Book 1 & 2 All Units and Lessons Anki 2
This deck contains nearly all of the vocabulary in Volumes 1 and 2 of עברית מן ההתחלה (Hebrew from Scratch), a textbook series often used in Hebrew classrooms. I’ve noticed some errors in the Hebrew here and there, but it’s still a useful deck, with words organized by chapter.
Hebrew Vocabulary 2
This monster of a deck contains 10,000 Hebrew vocabulary words. Learning words at random from this deck is probably not useful unless you already have a solid vocabulary base and can use word roots to help you retain the words you learn. The best use for this deck, I think, is to save yourself the trouble of typing Hebrew words and adding vowels.
Hebrew Vocabulary (Ha-Yesod: Fundamentals of Hebrew)
While the Ha-Yesod: Fundamentals of Hebrew textbook has largely fallen out of use in classrooms, I know that a few programs—for example, UCLA’s excellent first-year Hebrew program—still use it. Since the textbook throws a lot of vocabulary at the reader in each lesson, I created this deck for others using the textbook. The deck has all of the words and definitions, organized by lesson.

Concluding Thoughts

This introduction to Anki is a little patchy—chalk it up to all the wine I drank at the two seders Monday and Tuesday night—but it highlights the software’s most important features. In future entries, I’ll write more about specific features of Anki you can use to learn Hebrew. The program has a steep learning curve, I admit, but it’s well worth mastering if you want to increase your vocabulary as quickly as possible.

Leave a Reply