How to find and add audio to Anki flashcards

Last month I introduced some techniques and tools for tackling hard-to-remember vocabulary.

My recommended solution for most words that you’ve learnt through your study, conversations or reading is spaced repetition. But most shared decks don’t have audio and if you make your own cards in Anki or elsewhere, how are you supposed to get (free) audio for them and what’s the best way to add the sound to your cards?

How to find free audio

If you already have the word in a recording (eg. as part of an MP3 lesson, podcast or recording of a conversation), you can use a tool like Audacity to edit it and get a clip of just the word you’re learning.

If you don’t or if you’d rather not do it that way, there are online tools you can use to get a recording of your target word.

1. Forvo

The website Forvo aims to collect a database of all the words in the world, pronounced by native speakers. The Vietnamese section has over 11,000 words pronounced already.

Just type the word in the search box and if it’s already been pronounced, it will turn up.

If the word you’re looking for is not there already, you can add it to a request list and someone will probably record it within a few days.

Advantages:

  • Most common words are already there, pronounced by native speakers.
  • You can download an MP3 recording of your target word if you create a (free) account.
  • Each word page has a map showing where the person who recorded it is from, so it’s easy to stick to Northern or Southern pronunciations as you wish.

Disadvantages:

  • It’s only single words (including compound words), so it’s no good for adding sentences or short phrases to your cards.
  • Because users make and upload their own recordings, the quality can vary and of course not every word is recorded in both Northern and Southern accents.

2. RhinoSpike

If you want custom recordings, community site RhinoSpike lets users request audio in exchange for uploading recordings in their native language for other users.

So if you want some sentences recording in Vietnamese, you’ll have to help 3 other users with your language first.

Advantages:

Disadvantages:

  • It can take a while for someone to record your audio (though you could find and make friends with Vietnamese users to speed this up).
  • You have to record or transcribe more than you request.

I usually wait until I have about 10 sentences I want recording and make one request with all of them, asking for a pause between. I then use Audacity to split the sentences in 10 files.

3. Other options

I haven’t used this personally, but here’s another option:

How to add and use audio with Anki cards

So now you have some audio, but how should you use it with your flashcards?

It’s easiest to explain this by a video:

Over to you: Do you find sound is important to help you remember words? Do you ever use audio with flashcards?

Photo credit: mlaiju

3 ways to remember vocabulary

Thảo ơi, I have a hard time remembering vocabulary. What can I do about it?

Some experts reckon it takes 6 or more meaningful exposures to a word to truly learn it, so it’s perfectly natural to struggle with this.

Luckily there are many tools out there designed to help language learners speed up the process of learning and remembering vocabulary.

Let’s start with the end goal.

What does “knowing” a word mean?

For most words, your aim is both to be able to understand it (passive knowledge) and to be able to use it yourself (active knowledge).

As I explained in a guest post on Lingholic, there are actually three stages to learning active vocabulary.

These stages take you through not only understanding the word, but also knowing what it sounds like, how it works in a sentence and how it’s spelt.

Situation 1: You’re missing some of this information

If you’re missing one of these pieces of information, that is the first thing you should tackle. Go to Forvo to hear how it’s pronounced, look in a dictionary to check the spelling or do a quick search to find example sentences.

Knowing words is important, but using them is even better.

Knowing words is important, but using them is even better.

Say Situation 1 is not your problem. Say you’re already familiar with these basic pieces of information about the word, but you’re still having problems. Again, we need to get more specific.

Is the word not going in the first place or are you forgetting it?

Let’s take that second case: you keep on forgetting the word.

Memory Tool 1: Spaced Repetition

As I said in the introduction, you need to see or hear a new word repeatedly for it to sink in.

You’re also inclined to forget it over time. This is the premise behind Spaced-Recognition Software (SRS). This software is designed to re-expose you to the word just as you’re about to forget it.

Projected forgetting with and without spaced repetition Source.

Projected forgetting curves. Look at the difference spaced repetition makes! Source.

These systems are designed to help you with that second stage of learning vocabulary – internalising the new word.

They’re not supposed to be a way to find new vocabulary to learn.

For this reason, a lot of people recommend creating your own cards rather than memorising a list of someone else’s vocab. Personalising your learning also means you are more engaged and motivated – a key to success in language learning!

Top Tool: Anki

Anki SRS is a program available in a desktop version (free) and as an app for Android (free) and iPhone (paid).

These sync through a simple website (free), which you could use to study on the go if you have an internet connection but you don’t have a smartphone.

Using Anki to review Vietnamese vocabulary

Anki is highly customisable. You can add as little or as much information as you want. You can use categories, tags or extra fields. You can add pictures or sound files. You can use cards that translate to your native language, or keep it entirely in Vietnamese.

I’ll have more tips on using and customising Anki in a future post.

Other systems

Anki was the first spaced repetition software I tried and I liked it so much that I haven’t actually tried anything else. But there are many other similar programs such as Flashcard Deluxe.

SRS revision of new vocabulary doesn’t have to be flashcards. The principle is also built-in to some courses like Pimsleur lessons.

SRS won’t solve everything

It’s not a replacement for other study methods like taking a course, reading articles and actually speaking to people in Vietnamese.

But by using these smart flashcards for a few minutes a day, you can increase the speed of learning new vocabulary and retain it for longer.

Even then, SRS won’t solve all your vocabulary problems. You will still forget words. This is part of the learning process. Sometimes you will have to go back to your notes or textbook to look at the word again. Perhaps you need more information or you need to take a different approach to learning it.

Memory Tool 2: Mnemonics

Back to the question – how can we improve how we remember vocabulary? Especially for words that just seem to go in one ear and out the other.

Mnemonics can be really useful.

mnemonic (noun)
A device, such as a formula or rhyme, used as an aid in remembering.

You probably remember some rhymes designed for this purpose – like the one for the colours of the rainbow (Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain) or how many days are in each month (30 days have September, April, June and November…).

The rainbow rhyme helps you to remember the colours of the rainbow.

The rainbow rhyme is an example of a mnemonic to help you remember the colours of the rainbow.

They’re a pretty good memory tool, but the dictionary definition seems to overlook the fact that images are one of the most powerful aids to the memory (especially for visual learners).

Mnemonics and language learning

These rhymes, word associations and imagery tied to locations or stories can be applied to language learning. They can be used to remember words or phrases and even to learn to read new scripts.

The links above give you some great examples on how to get started and make good mnemonics.

When using mnemonics to learn Vietnamese words, you may well find it helpful to include the tone in your rhyme or image.

Top Tool: Memrise

A website that combines mnemonics with SRS and gamification is Memrise.

The basic idea is that you create a ‘mem’ to represent a word or idea. As Memrise themselves say:

“In order to learn anything, you first have to connect it to what you already know. Memories aren’t stored nowhere, you know, they’re always made by creating connections to existing memories. Now, the more your brain does to encode a fact or word, the richer and more robust the resultant memory.”

You can map it to something in your own language or your target language. Whatever works for you.

The best mems are creative – they’re funny, or silly, or gross. That helps make them memorable.

When you input a word, you can see the mems or images that other people are using and select one of those if you like, or use their database to find an image to make your own. If there is already audio for the word you’re learning, Memrise will automatically integrate it for you.

One of my 'mems'.

One of my ‘mems’. It’s not the most creative but it helped me stop mixing up two words that both begin with giải.

Once you have your ‘mem’, Memrise then takes you through a series of game-like exposures to the word where you win points for correct answers.

Like with Anki, there are pre-made sets of words but again finding one that matches your textbook or making your own ‘course’ with words you want to learn is generally more effective.

While Memrise started as a website, there are also Android and iPhone apps so you can easily review vocabulary while on the go.

A word of caution…

Memrise by default emphasises recalling words (Stage 3) very early on and prompts you to type them correctly into a box. The mems are not used as part of practice. You might find it beneficial to stick to courses labelled ‘no typing’ that focus on multiple choice instead or just use the app where you (usually) don’t have to type in the answer.

What’s the best way to combine these 3 approaches to remembering vocabulary?

Going back to what I said at the beginning, you learn new words by getting repeated exposure to them. You don’t actually need to use any tools if you don’t want to. However accept that it will take some time, just like it does when learning your native language as a child.

This article presented you with 3 different solutions to your vocabulary problems, depending on why you are struggling to remember a word.

Here’s a handy flowchart reminding you how to find the root of the problem and my solution for tackling each one.

The steps to tackling tricky words. Download PDF.

The steps to tackling tricky words. Download PDF.

Over to you: How do you remember vocabulary? What problems do you encounter?

Image credit: HikingArtist and monique72

How learning styles affect language learning

Have you ever wondered why some learning activities work well for you, while there are others you can’t stand? Some people love classes, others enjoy podcasts and others can’t get enough of writing and note-taking.

Depending on your learning style, some activities and materials will naturally and easily work well for you, whereas others might still be usable if you adapt them.

Learning styles

Auditory learners learn by listening. They learn well in classrooms, listening to teachers talk or by watching talks or speeches, or listening to podcasts. When learning alone or revising you may find that talking helps or you may even record yourself summarising some notes and play it back to yourself later.

Visual learners learn by seeing. They might like information presented in charts or diagrams, using written information or watching a demonstration. When you self-study or revise you might use diagrams, mind-maps or written notes that are highlighted or colour-coded.

Kinesthetic (or kinaesthetic) learners learn by doing. Movement and touching or interacting with what you are trying to learn works best for you. Tracing out words as you say them or walking while listening to audio can help to take in the information.

The VAK Learning Styles, useful for language learners. Credit OnlineEducation.net.

The VAK Learning Styles. Credit OnlineEducation.net.

Although in the VAK system there are three styles, many people are actually a mixture of two styles such as kinesthetic-visual.

NB. There are also other ways of classifying learning styles beyond VAK, such as the Reading-Writing learning style.

Tips to identify your learning style

Learning Styles Infographic

Quiz at OnlineEducation.net


You can take quick online quizzes or questionnaires or follow flowcharts like the one on the right.

It can be easiest to identify your learning style(s) by thinking back to your school days and how you revised for exams. I recently found some of my university notes and summary sheets and they were all colour-coded, which is very typical of visual learners.

What this means for language learners

There are different ways of learning a language from classrooms to audio courses to learning by immersion. Some techniques work better for certain learning styles than others.

But, Thảo, audio (aka listening) is really important in languages and I’m not an auditory learner. Help!

It’s not impossible to learn with materials designed for another learning style, you might just need more practice or to adapt them to suit you better.

For example, I’m a visual learner but I still learnt a lot of my basic Vietnamese vocabulary from friends. However they typically needed to repeat new words for me 7 or 8 times when an auditory learner might pick them up in 2 or 3. I also find that visualising the spelling helps me to remember words.

Likewise, I really struggle with audio courses that prompt you to repeat the word almost immediately. Rewinding to hear it a few more times or using an accompanying book to look at the spelling increases my success.

If you’re a kinesthetic learner, listen to audio lessons while walking or you could take notes or draw as you’re listening.

Great advice! Tell me more!

OK, since you asked here are some language learning study tips for each of the learning styles.

Auditory learners

You’re very lucky as you should be able to pick up tones quite well!

  • Follow an audio course like Pimsleur
  • Use flashcards with audio
  • Use rhymes as mnemonics
  • Read aloud
  • Speak aloud while studying
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Ask lots of questions
  • Consider recording your classes and listening to them again later rather than taking notes

Visual learners

  • Use flashcards with images
  • Use visual mnemonics
  • Learn the spelling of words
  • Watch videos instead of just listening to audio
  • Use colour in your notebook (eg. grammar in blue, vocabulary in black)
  • Take notes in class or while watching videos then re-read them later

Kinesthetic learners

  • Listen to audio while walking or working out
  • Trace out the spelling of words while using flashcards
  • Use lots of examples (these are easier for you to remember than rules)
  • Write things out by hand instead of typing
  • Write things down or draw while listening
  • Take lots of breaks
  • Listening to music in the background may help minimise distractions (eg. when you’re reading or writing)
  • Interact with people and take part actively in class

Over to you: What’s your learning style? Do you have any extra study tips to share?

Image credit: OnlineEducation.net

Absolute Beginner: How & Where to start learning Vietnamese

If you don’t know a word of Vietnamese, where should you start?

I don’t know about you but I find it tricky to learn the first few words of any language. It sounds totally different or even strange. A sentence might sound really fast or a word seems really long. This is normal.

I like to start off slowly. I find audio courses or textbooks are overload to start with. They’re simply too much to take in at once. When you first start learning, even short sentences can be really difficult to remember. I started by learning just a few words at a time.

An Introduction to Vietnamese

If you have a burning question about Vietnamese like what alphabet does Vietnamese use or what are all those accent marks, head to the Frequently Asked Questions.

For a general introduction to Vietnamese, this video by Rusty Compass is the best.

Where to learn a few basic words

In general, the most important thing is just to start learning today, with whatever you have. You can fine tune what you learn later.

Essential vocabulary

Although the way we speak is in sentences, you do need to build your vocabulary sooner or later. Here are 120 common words with audio.

Travel & Expat phrases

If you’re in Vietnam already or soon heading there, there is some essential vocab and phrases you’ll use on a daily basis.

So if you’re planning to travel to Vietnam soon, start with these traveller vocabulary videos.

If you’re going to be living in Vietnam, here are some common phrases useful for expats.

A Beginner Series

If you want to learn some basic vocabulary like colours or hobbies (eg. before starting a course or using a textbook), the video series produced by EverydayViet.com is my favourite. Start here with learning to say thank you.

You can follow up on this video series by practising the vocabulary on Memrise.com. There are courses where you can practice vocabulary by multiple choice or by typing the answer.

Listening

If you want to get used to the sound and rhythm of Vietnamese, you could listen to music or even watch videos with Vietnamese subtitles.

Learning to read

The Vietnamese alphabet is really phonetic (ie. letters are always pronounced the same way), you just need to learn what letters match up to what sounds. Then you can start to pick up new vocabulary when you see it written down, or be able to correctly read out the items on a menu.

Then what?

Once you’re familiar with some basics, you can choose which accent to study and start with a course, textbook or tutor.

Over to you: Are you just starting to learn Vietnamese? Why are you learning and what are you using? More experienced learners, what are your favourite beginner resources?

How I learnt Vietnamese – Part 1

Back in March I passed the 3-year mark since I started learning Vietnamese. In this time I’ve worked hard but also taken some breaks where I’ve done little but maintain my level.

Recently I realised that even though I started this blog over year ago, I haven’t told you much about how I actually learnt Vietnamese.

So here’s the first part of my story.

Before heading to Vietnam, I spent 4 months travelling round South East Asia. I had with me a mini-phrasebook from the back of a Lonely Planet and as I arrived in each country I learnt a few words like numbers, basic food items and some other simple phrases.

All along my plan was to take a teaching course in Vietnam and, if all went well, to work there too but because I visited other countries I didn’t have much time to focus on Vietnamese.

Phase 1 – A phrasebook and learning to read

March 2011
I began learning Vietnamese on the bus from Laos to Vietnam.

Those first few words were really hard to learn. It all sounds so different that it’s hard to make things stick. On the day-long bus journey, I literally just learnt the numbers 1-3, chục (a unit with the value of 10, useful for money), cơm (rice) and cảm ớn (thank you).

Over the next few days I slowly added new words and mini-phrases to my repertoire. Literally just a handful of words each day until I had a rudimentary vocabulary.

Learning Vietnamese from a phrasebook

Learning Vietnamese from a phrasebook

In Hanoi I quickly made Vietnamese friends. In particular, I made friends with a Vietnamese woman who taught English. She gave me a list of basic phrases and when she was busy, her receptionist (who spoke no English) prompted me to read them, correcting me on my pronunciation.

Up to this point I’d used the pronunciation guide in my phrasebook to get a general idea of how letters sounded but I was probably still relying on the Anglicization in my phrasebook more than I should. Now I was more confident using the Vietnamese words themselves.

Phase 2 – My first course

July – October 2011

Having arrived in Saigon, I kept practising what I’d learnt so far. Soon after I had started work, my employer provided a free short Vietnamese course. I was a quick learner and picked up enough to manage daily life in Vietnam. The weekly classes lasted a few months and by the end I could easily order food, haggle and give directions to a xe ôm.

Phase 3 – The expat plateau

November 2011 – August 2012

I continued using Vietnamese every day to eat and get around town.

At this point I had great intentions – I practised with friends and I started speaking more Vietnamese by dropping Vietnamese words into English sentences. Through this I learnt some new words here and there. But although I had a couple of elementary textbooks, I never quite got round to using them.

While I say I plateaued, it’s not strictly true as I did pick up enough in this time that I was able to write short texts about a holiday or restaurant visit – albeit with a lot of spelling problems including missing most tones.

To be continued…

What surprises me is that I mostly learnt through self-study and practice, with just a little bit of classroom instruction. I wonder how Part 2 will compare!

Over to you: How did you start learning Vietnamese?