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Kieran on Twitter


~Chinese / 中文

~Japanese / 日本語

"Notes on Democracy" Arundhati Roy

~Korean / 한국어
《그렇습니까? 기린입니다》박민규
《소나기》 황순원

~Finished / 読了 / 已读
"Factory Girls" Lesley Chang
"Your Republic is Calling You" Kim Young-ha
"River Town" Peter Hessler
"Oracle Bones" Peter Hessler
"Country Driving" Peter Hessler
「火の鳥9」 手塚治虫
"Inside the Kingdom" Robert Lacey
"A Room of One's Own" Virginia Woolf
《倾城之恋 》张爱玲
「1973年のピンボール」 村上春樹
"One Foot In Eden" Ron Rash

Response to Gerry Bevers: Learning Korean & Classical Chinese


Student practicing calligraphy at Susenji Elementary in Fukuka, Japan (福岡市立周船寺小学校).

Hi, Kieran. My name is Gerry Bevers and I manage the “Korean Language Notes” blog. Three years ago we exchanged comments when you pledged to learn Korean in three months. I expressed doubt that it would be possible, based on how hard it was for me to learn the language, but you had learned Japanese and Chinese very quickly, so I was somewhat curious to see if you could possibly do the same with Korean, even though I still felt it would be almost impossible. Today, I happened to see your post in the results of a search I was doing and decided to comment.

Thanks for your comment! I apologize for my late reply.

You were very right that it was impossible (at least for me) to “learn Korean” in three months, and at the time, as now, I appreciated your healthy skepticism & sound advice.

In “years,” I think I learned Japanese & Chinese quickly. I knew virtually nothing of those languages at 18 years old, and by 20 I could speak colloquial Japanese, and by 23 I could speak Chinese. However, in “hours,” I don’t think I learned particularly quickly. I had 10 months in Japan as a student mostly devoted to learning Japanese, and 8 months in China. I spent untold hours trying various inefficient methods with each language, and eventually “learned” them both before I could figure out exactly what worked and what didn’t. Some things definitely didn’t work (like memorizing Japanese-English word pairs), while other things worked slowly (like rote memorization of sentences). With Korean, I have hoped to home in on efficient methods I can use in my spare time.

I am curious to know how much more difficult it has been for you to learn Korean relative to Chinese and Japanese. Did you find learning Korean to be much more difficult than you expected?

In a sense, I found Korean more difficult than I expected. I thought I could learn it to reading fluency in about one year, but has taken me 3 years to reach only intermediate reading level.

However, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the relative difficulty of Korean compared to other languages, because I learned Korean differently from the way I learned Chinese & Japanese.

Japanese & Chinese I learned while living in those countries. Thus I felt intense pressure to progress quickly. Also, I was a student, so I had lots of time to study. With that much energy & time put into the project, even inefficient methods showed results.

So, in another sense, Korean was not more difficult than I expected. Had I studied Korean for an hour a day for a year, I believe I would have achieved my original goals. However, there was no pressure for me to learn Korean quickly. Also, I was working and had little time to study. So, considering I studied it haphazardly but consistently for 3 years and can now read with some facility, I am satisfied with my progress.

What do you think is the most difficult thing to learn about Korean?

For me, I think the most difficult thing about learning any language is acquiring a large enough core repository of “chunks” of language that I can understand the gist of the spoken language. That requires motivation, as well as good materials & methods.

I can’t think of anything uniquely difficult about Korean. The grammar is difficult to master in production, but I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to read, or more difficult than Japanese.

Since communicating with you, I have had a chance to look through the textbook series published by the University of Hawaii entitled “Integrated Korean,” which was a project of the Korean Language Education and Research Center (KLEAR). I was impressed with the progressive series, especially the beginning texts. Not only are there English translations for all the reading material in the series, there are also comprehensive grammar indices and Korean-English/English-Korea glossaries in the backs of all the books in the series, helping to make them self-study friendly. You might want to check them out.

Thanks for the recommendation! I’m always hoping to find a really good textbook. Personally, almost all textbooks bore me. I think there are two main reasons for that.

(1) I want to engage with the real language, as used by native speakers with native speakers. I’m skeptical that a textbook represents real language (because native speakers often produce a simplified, idealized version of their language when teaching). There is so much existing content: why not adapt existing content for learners? For example, I really like the Talk to Me in Korean “News in Korean” textbook.

(2) I want to learn something more than just the language. Through the “News in Korean” book I can learn about the Ebola virus and dieting in Korea. Through reading Park Min-gyu’s (박 민규) novella “Is that so? I’m a Giraffe” (그렇습니까? 기린 입니다) in bilingual edition, I can experience quality Korean literature & learn about society.

For the past few years I have been trying to casually teach myself Classical Chinese, which I now find more interesting than just studying Korean, itself. I have not bothered to learn the Chinese pronunciations of the characters, but simply use the Korean pronunciations. I am currently creating a textbook that teaches Korean-language learners to read Classical Chinese sentences. That essentially means I am teaching the Korean pronunciation of the characters and explaining Classical Chinese grammar in terms of both the English and Korean grammars. Most of the time it is easier to understand Chinese sentences with English translations, but there are times when adding a Korean translation makes it even easier.

That’s great! After learning Japanese, I learned some Classical Chinese through Japanese, and then had the good fortune to take a class on Classical Chinese in college where we translated texts into English. Of course, you already know all of this, but Korean can help you learn Classical Chinese in two ways.

(1) You have a Korean pronunciation to attach to each character, so you can remember them.

(2) You have a hanja syllable to help understand the word that a character represents.

That said, I agree that Classical Chinese grammar is so similar to English, that reading English translations is easier than Korean (and fortunately there are places like http://ctext.org/ where you can find translations).

Anyway, I wish you continued success in your language studies.

Thank you, and likewise, I wish you the best in learning Classical Chinese, and more Korean!

[Learning Languages] Developmental Stages of Language Acquisition

I’d like to share another tip I picked up from Gabriel Wyner‘s book Fluent Forever.

There are developmental stages in language acquisition.

Basically, both children and adults pick up certain grammatical forms before others. These stages are (ostensibly) universal, and can’t be skipped.

The order of developmental stages for verbs is thus:

  1. Progressive form – “she running”
  2. Simple past – “She ran”
  3. All other forms – “She runs”; “She has been running”, etc.

To me, there are some interesting takeaways:

  • These stages seem follow the ontological order of experience: (1) what is happening right now -> (2) what just happened -> (3) increasingly abstract explanations of habituality, temporality, etc. 
  • The order in which we are usually taught grammar in textbooks is fundamentally opposed to the order of developmental stages.
  • We can learn grammar & verbs much more efficiently by following the order of developmental stages.

For example, my textbook probably wants to teach me something like this:

to run – “She runs every morning for exercise.”

However, this is too abstract for a beginner, according to the order of developmental stages. It’s virtually impossible for a beginner learner to produce the grammatical construction “she runs”.

Instead, a better way to learn this would be to see a picture of someone running, and produce the correct answer: “running.”

I’d go so far as to say even “she running” is ok in the early stages of production (i.e. speaking/writing).

Then, we could memorize an example sentence using a cloze deletion test such as “She […] away from the tiger” (with the answer.

Developmental Stages in Learning Korean

For Korean, I’ve started changing the verbs in my example sentences that are often in the dictionary (aka infinitive) form into simple past tense, and using cloze deletions to learn them. I think this makes them more concrete, and useful.

Here’s an example (with translations for readers who don’t know Korean; there’s no English on my Anki cards):

Word: 기어오르다 (v. “to crawl”)

Example sentence: 마치 거미와도 같이 벽(壁)을 기어오르다 (“to climb up the wall just like a spider”)

Cloze deletions in Anki: {{c2::마치}} {{c4::거미}}{{c3::와도 같이}} 벽(壁)을 {{c1::기어올랐어요}} ({{c1::기어오르다}})

Cloze deletion test c1: 마치 거미와도 같이 벽(壁)을 […] ([…])

Translation: “[…] up the wall just like a spider. ([…])” (the answer is “climbed” + “climb”)

This format requires me to supply the simple past tense for the verb, which fits my developmental stage for learning Korean. Also, according to research cited in Fluent Forever, testing myself is 5x more effective than simple repetition.

I hope this is helpful to some learners! 😀

[Korean] Language learning check-in

My Korean Language Journey to date

I’ve been learning Korean since fall 2013. At that time, I had just finished a one-year study program at Fudan University, in Chinese literature. I was fluent in Chinese, having learned it since 2010, and Japanese (since 2007, with a year at Kyushu University 2009-2010). I decided to learn Spanish and Korean. I started with Talk to Me in Korean Anki sentence decks and reviewed a lot of sentences. I didn’t really catch on to either Spanish or Korean; I pledged to do the Add One Challenge (back when it was free) for Korean, and then for Spanish, but I couldn’t stick to my planned routine, and I didn’t complete either one. In summer 2014 I got a job that could have actually used some strong Korean ability, but I didn’t have it. Thus, I’ve been learning Korean consistently but slowly over the last three years, and not without progress–I can read decently with a dictionary–but I feel I haven’t really worked out a method that I feel is efficient enough. Lately, I’ve been taking 1:1 in-person lessons with a (great) teacher, and exploring how I can fast-forward this process.

The “Fluent Forever” Method

I’ve been a fan of Gabriel Wyner for a while; among other things, he introduced me to using core Word Lists with Google Images Basic Version on his blog. His content has only gotten better over time, and I’m going to try every approach in his 2014 book Fluent Forever. I’ll try to cover this as I go along.

Mark Zuckerberg Speaking Mandarin Chinese [Full Translation]

Mark Zuckerberg made his first public appearance speaking Mandarin Chinese today at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I’ve translated the entire interview below. He tackled a broad range of issues and even fielded student questions. Enjoy!

NB: Quartz.com has an alternate translation of some of the key passages. You should be able to find a transcription of the Chinese with a Google search. If there are mistakes in my translation, please don’t hesitate to point them out!

Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management

2014 Advisory Board Meeting

Tsinghua Students’ Dialogue with Board Members [of the Advisory Board]

Tsinghua x-lab Session



Host Wei Xiaoliang (魏小亮):

(in English) Now let’s introduce the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.


Mark Zuckerberg:

(in Mandarin) Hello everyone. I’m happy to be here. (applause) I’m happy to come to Beijing. I love this city. My Chinese is terrible, but today I’ll try speaking Chinese. Ok? (applause) I might need practice.



Mark, everyone is really surprised that you can speak Chinese. Why did you want to learn Chinese?



Really interesting. (laughter) There are three reasons. Second… First, my wife is Chinese. (applause) Her family speaks Chinese and her grandmother speaks only Chinese. So, I want to communicate with them. Two years ago, Priscilla [Chan] and I decided to get married. So I told her grandmother– in Chinese. She was very surprised. (laughter)



Priscilla is your wife?



Yeah. Second, I think it’s that I want to study Chinese culture. China is a great nation. I think learning the language helps me study the culture. So I study the language. Third, Mandarin is hard. I only speak English, but I like a challenge. (applause)



So, how about tonight we challenge him? I’ll speak in Chinese. How many times have you been to China?



Four times. I’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin…



Tianjin? Why did you go to Tianjin?



When I’m in Beijing, I have to ride a fast [unclear] train. I also have to see Huo Yuanjia’s hometown. I really like this movie [the 2006 film Fearless《霍元甲》]. So I will see his hometown.



I see, so you’re a big fan of Huo Yuanjia, so you will go see his hometown. So which city do you like best?



All of them [unclear]. Maybe I like Beijing the most. In all China… it has a lot of history.



So this time in China, what’s your plan?



Pardon? (laughter)



This time in China, what’s your plan?



This week I’m joining the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management. I came to take part in the Advisory Board meeting. I think Tsinghua students are great. Facebook has more than 140 Tsinghua alumni. You are one! (indicating host) Every year, we recruit the best engineers in China. Just last week we recruited 20 Chinese students.



Right, just last month we recruited 20 Chinese students and soon they will come over to Facebook to work. So, could you talk about why you wanted to join the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management?



First, I have to thank Dean Qian [Yingyi 钱颖一]. Yeah, and, I’m honored to join the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management. I’m very interested in education. In the USA, I’ve done a lot of things to support education. I wanted to take part in this committee [because it’s] a great opportunity for me to learn about and support education in China.



Great. Mark wants to support Chinese education. (applause) This month, you also went to quite a few different countries. What is the purpose of this trip?



I’ve been to India, Indonesia, Korea, and Japan. We want to help more people use the Internet. Today, most of the world–65% or about five billion people–don’t have Internet. Some people–about 15%–don’t have a network. About 35% of people have never used a network. But most people who don’t have the Internet don’t have it because they don’t know why they [would] want to use the Internet. If you asked me–sorry, if I asked you, if you don’t have a computer, a phone, or the Internet and I asked you, “Do you want to use the Internet?” You might ask me, “Why would I want to use the Internet?” So there are lots of problems. But we need to connect the world. The Internet creates job opportunities and economic development. It’s very important.



Connecting the world is something Mark takes very seriously. You want to connect the world. When did you begin to want to connect the world?



In 2004, I created the first version of Facebook because I wanted to connect all the students at Harvard. I have always thought there should be a product to connect the whole world, but I thought other companies [would] do it. I remember when I was a college student, every evening my friends and I would eat pizza and talk about the future. Long ago, after I created the first version [of Facebook], I told my friends, “I’m really happy we’ve helped connect students, but [there should be] a product to connect the world.” But we [were] just students. I thought another company [would] do it. I thought perhaps Google, Microsoft, or another company. They had more than ten thousand programmers and more than one hundred million users. We [were] just students. However, we’ve always believed that social media are very powerful. Other companies didn’t believe it. We’ve believed that all along, so we built one. Now, we have 1.3 billion users.



So in the last ten years, Mark built a truly amazing company. Mark, there are a lot of students here who want to start companies. What kind of advice to you have for them?



Start a company? I think the best companies are started not because the founders want to start a company, but because the founders want to change the world. (applause) If you decide that you want to start a company, you might start to develop your first idea. You might recruit a lot of employees. But you might have lots of ideas. You don’t know which idea is the best. If your first idea is bad, then your company is bad. But, if you decide to change the world, shouldn’t you come up with many ideas? If any idea is good, then you create a company.



Great advice. Wait until your idea is good, then create a company. So, in the process of creating Facebook, what was the secret to your success?



I think the best thing is that you can’t give up. Developing a company is hard. Most things won’t go smoothly. You will need to make difficult decisions; you will need to fire some employees.



Are you saying you’re going to fire me today? (laughter)



So, if you don’t believe in your mission, it is easy to give up. Most entrepreneurs give up, but the best entrepreneurs don’t. So believing in your mission and not giving up are very important.



It’s safe to say you are one of the most successful entrepreneurs. What thoughts do you have about innovation in China?



I think China has many of the world’s most innovative companies. Last night I had dinner with Lei Jun from Xiaomi. Right?



Yes, yes, yes.



Xiaomi is a very innovative company. They are developing quickly and have lots of different products. They’re cheap. (laughter) I think Xiaomi will grow quickly. Tencent’s WeChat is also huge. Most Chinese people use WeChat or QQ. Taobao is also very innovative. Taobao creates job opportunities. I think China has many of the world’s most innovative companies.



So Mark really has a good feeling about innovation in our China. Speaking of China, I’m going to ask Mark a relatively difficult question. Will I get fired today? So, what’s your plan for Facebook in China? (applause) A difficult question.



We’re already in China. (laughter) We help Chinese companies get more overseas customers. They use Facebook ads to find more customers. For example, Lenovo uses Facebook ads in Indonesia to sell new phones. I forgot, Lenovo’s [unclear]. Yeah, that one. In China I also see economic development. We’re very impressed. It’s amazing. So we want to help other places in the world connect to China. Like great cities, national parks… Hangzhou and Qingdao also have great pages on Facebook. We work with these cities to develop pages and share Chinese culture.



Great, and this difficult a question Mark answered with just one sentence. Let’s give him a round of applause. (applause) After a difficult question, let’s take it easy a bit. I’ll ask Mark some personal questions, easier questions, so he can give us some details of his [personal] life. So how about we ask you some questions about your personal life?






First question: what colors do you like?



I can’t see red or green, because Facebook is blue. (Note: Mark is red-green colorblind.)



What kind of Chinese food do you like?



When I’m in Beijing, I always eat Beijing street food (lit. hútóng xiǎochī), but I also like Beijing roast duck.



No wonder you like Beijing so much, you like Beijing street food and Beijing duck. So, outside of work, what kind of activities do you do?



I have no time outside [of work]. (laughter)






Ok, I cook with Priscilla.



I recall you also have a pet?



We have a dog. His name is Beast. He’s a [Hungarian] sheepdog. He’s really short. I love him.



You also made a page for Beast.



I develop Beast’s page. Beast has 2 million fans.



The next question is also hard. Between you and Priscilla, whose Chinese is better?



In Mandarin, I can say more words, but she also speaks Cantonese. Her listening comprehension is better than mine. My listening is really bad. One day I asked her, “Why is my listening so bad?” and she told me, “Your listening is bad in English, too!”



Thank you so much Mark. We still have some time, so why don’t we invite one or two students to ask some questions?


Female student:

Should I use English or Chinese? Chinese? (asks a question in Mandarin, translated below)



How did you start Facebook, and…



You asked me…


Female student:

(translates her own question into English) How did Facebook establish a competitive edge toward other social network sites and what was the biggest challenge? And the second question is at what moment did you get a leap of faith and decide to leave school and devote [yourself to] your enterprise?



(in Mandarin) Second question: I was really fortunate. I never decided to leave. Harvard students can take temporary leave, so I created the first version of Facebook, and the second year it was too much to develop Facebook and go to class, so I was really fortunate in that I just took temporary leave and didn’t go to class. I’m still a Harvard student. From time to time, Harvard’s leader asks me, or tells me, “You can come back.” But now I can’t go back.

First question: the biggest challenge. Our biggest challenge perhaps was in 2012, when we needed to make Facebook a mobile company. Before, we weren’t one. In 2012, our growth was very slow, and our monetary growth was very slow, and everyone was unhappy. However, we made Facebook into a mobile company, and now we have more than one billion users using Facebook on their mobile phones.


Male student:

(in English) My name is Yang Zhilun, from the school of social work, and also a member of the x-lab. I’m very glad to ask a question. From the Internet and mobile Internet, we know that the progress of science and technology has greatly accelerated our human society, especially the revolution [sic]. From your perspective, what is the next big advance in technology?



Very interesting. This year Facebook is ten years old.



Ten years? (Note: “Ten” sounds a lot like “four” in Mandarin.)



So I ask, in the next ten years, what should we develop? I decided what are the next things we will develop. First, we need to connect the whole world. We need to help all people use the Internet. Second, we want to develop “artificial intelligence.”



(in Mandarin) Artificial intelligence.(人工智能)



I don’t know [that word in Chinese]. I think ten years from now, computers will be better than humans at seeing, listening comprehension, and language, so we’ve developing that. Third, once everyone is using mobile phones, I believe the next platform is “virtual reality.” I don’t know how to say that [in Chinese] either.



(in Mandarin) Virtual reality. (虚拟现实)



Oculus is the first product, but we want to have many products.

(End of video.)

[Video] Caminar en la nieve // Walking in the snow

Esto es un video para la #Add1Challenge. Voy a introducir el lugar donde yo vivo.

This is a video for the #Add1Challenge. I introduce the place where I live.

* With English subtitles.

** 日本語字幕付

*** 含中文简体、繁体字幕

Caminar en la nieve 

 ¿Te gusta la nieve?

Crecí en Atlanta, en el sur de los Estados Unidos, donde casi nunca nieva.

Sin embargo, recientemente hubo una tormenta de nieve allí

En ese momento, yo estaba en Nueva York, donde a menudo nieva.

Me gusta la nieve.

Me gusta ver la nieve caer.

Me gusta caminar en la nieve, y patearla.

Cuando nieva, Central Park en Nueva York es muy hermoso.

Fuera de mi ventana, puedo ver la nieve cayendo en ese momento.

¿Tiene que nieve donde usted vive?

Using TTS to Learn Several Languages at Once

What I'm doing with TTS

using TTS to learn several languages at once

Text-to-Speech software is a game-changer for language learning. I’m using TTS to learn several languages at once. The Holy Grail of language resources—sentences with audio—is now something I can mass-produce on my computer. Not every language is included in the TTS functionality of the Mac (no Tibetan or Mongolian, for instance), but Turkish, Indonesian, Cantonese, and many other languages are included and work quite well. The last update added varieties of Spanish, so I vary my Spanish audio with some Argentinian speech.

TTS is so powerful because you can turn text sources into audio sources quickly and automatically. I use the Lonely Planet phrasebooks for most of the languages I study. I can type the text myself, copy it if I have a PDF, or even use the dictation function of TTS to input the text using my own voice. Using dictation is interesting, because it requires that the computer recognize my pronunciation. (For longer phrases, the computer recognizes what I am saying for the most part. For shorter phrases and single words, especially in Korean, it often fails to render.)

I put the phrases as text into an Excel spreadsheet, because Excel spreadsheets are easy to organize and can be converted into tab-delimited plain text files that can be imported into Anki. I started with Spanish and English, copying the Spanish via dictation and the English by typing. Then, it occurred to me I could add Korean in a third column. Then I thought, Why not put them all in one spreadsheet?

All the languages in one place

In one of his videos, Michael Campbell of Glossika in Taiwan explains how he learned eighteen aboriginal Taiwanese languages at once. He has a spreadsheet with glossary items and phrases in each language; to review, he goes down the spreadsheet and reads the phrases aloud. He records himself reading and listens to the recordings repeatedly. Now, I think listening to my own (non-native) pronunciation to memorize phrases is less than ideal, but Mr. Campbell is a pro and is working with languages that are nearly extinct. And, as a memory aide within a greater regimen, this may be a handy technique. I once memorized a Japanese speech that I wrote in this way, by reading it aloud, sentence by sentence, over and over again, and listening to a recording of myself reading it on repeat. I recited it with perfect delivery after only two days. Listening to my pronunciation of Japanese wasn’t ideal, but I had heard so much Japanese that a little foreign accent didn’t throw me off. Similarly, TTS pronunciations are approximations of native/natural speech and thus should not be relied upon solely, but they are far better than silence, and an excellent supplement to memorization. Ideally, we would have native speakers on call to read whatever we need and produce high-quality audio, but this is not feasible. (Mr. Campbell also reminds us that “memorization” is a misnomer, because we don’t need to actually recall the sentences exactly, only build connections in the brain.)

Two practical examples of using Text-to-Speech

  1. Spanish phrases from Lonely Planet

The first way I’m using TTS is for entering Spanish phrases from my Lonely Planet phrasebook into Anki. I type or dictate dissonances into excels in Microsoft excel, and then I add the English in another column. Then, I export the file as a UTF-16 plain text file, then convert it to a UTF-8 plain text file, then imported it into Anki. Then, I use the “Awesome TTS” plugin in Anki to mass generate MP3 files for the sentences using the Mac’s built-in TTS software. (The plugin also works with Google’s software, available for free via Internet.)

A workflow:

  1. Input Spanish phrases into Excel
  2. Input English translations
  3. “Save As” UTF-16 plain text file
  4. Open in TextEdit and “save as” UTF-8 plain text file
  5. Install & configure the Awesome TTS plugin
  6. Make sure Spanish TTS voice is installed (Mac)
  7. Make sure your Spanish card type has an Audio field
  8. Import UTF-8 file in Anki using the CTRL+I import function
  9. Select all new cards & use Awesome TTS mass generate MP3 function, using the Spanish field as the source and the audio field as destination

10. Make sure you put the audio field on the card, and you should have audio for every phrase

NB: In a later post I’ll show screenshots of how I organize my many note types.

2. Korean phrases from TTMIK intermediate dialogues

I think everyone and their mother studying Korean is using the Talk to Me in Korean series, with good reason. If you are, absolutely download the Anki public decks for the sentences from the grammar lessons, and the sentences for the “Iyagi” intermediate dialogues. These premade decks have saved me thousands of hours of work, and I wish I could tip the people who made them. As I go through the sentences in these two decks, I add the phrases that I don’t understand or need to memorize to new Anki cards, and then use TTS to generate audio for them.

A workflow for Korean:

  1. Download the public decks and convert the card types to match your Korean cards
  2. Add unknown phrases or phrases you’d like to memorize from the public deck cards onto new cards
  3. Use Awesome TTS to generate audio for the new cards
  4. Make sure your new cards are in your main deck and not in the public deck to ensure that you get those reviews as new cards first before getting new cards from the public deck you imported, otherwise you have to wait until you get to the very end of the public deck to see them, at which point they won’t be relevant to you anymore

NB: The TTMIK recordings and Korean transcripts are freely available online. Crowdsourced translations are being made at the Korean Wiki Project, but the official translations produced by TTMIK are for sale on their website. It’s hard to copy and past from their PDFs, though, as I don’t think they were designed with Anki in mind.

So what’s the big deal about Text-to-Speech?

This method of adding cards with audio from text sources is now my default, go-to method for learning languages. If you hear the phrase or the word, you are 1000 times more likely to remember. I just made up that number, but it’s probably pretty close.

Hear it. Speak it. Memorize it. – Carlos Douh

Being able to create audio from the text, rather than the other way around, gives you more control over what materials you study. I think this method combined with talking to native speakers after a few months of study is the most effective and sustainable method I’ve yet devised. It’s also scalable, so that you can simply add more cards when you want more material.

I’d love to know what methods you are using to study languages, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me in the comments. Be sure to check out Glossika and Carlos Douh. Thank you!

How To Make A Phrase List into Two Columns in Excel

Sometimes when I want to import a list of phrases for a language into Anki, the formatting gets in the way.

For example, if the phrases are arranged in a column with the translation under each phrase, how do you separate the target language phrases into a separate column? It’s a little trickier than I anticipated, but this can be done with Excel.

I will show you how to select only even rows or select only odd rows in Microsoft Excel, which I will use to take the phrases from the Wikitravel Cantonese phrasebook (I’ve also done this with Korean slang) and separate the translations into a separate column, so you can import the whole thing into Anki as a tab-delimited UTF-8 txt file produced by Excel.

1. Copy and paste the data into Excel


2. Use the “=ISEVEN() or =ISODD() function, combined with a ROW() function that references any cell in that row.” (click here for a tutorial).


3. As per step 2, type =ISEVEN(ROW(A1)) into the cell B1. It will turn to FALSE.

4. Copy the function in cell B1 into all the cells in the column.


5. Turn on the filter by selecting any cell in the column, then clicking the Filter button under Sort & Filter in the Data tab. (Source: techrepublic.com)


6. Next, “Click the new column’s filter dropdown and choose False or True.” (The “dropdown” is the little down-facing arrow in a blue box that should appear in the column.) (Source: techrepublic.com)

CantoExcelTutorial67. Click the little boxes at the bottom of the popup window that say TRUE or FALSE to show only odd or even rows.

CantoExcelTutorial78. Copy and paste from there into another Excel file, and you’re set.

CantoExcelTutorial99. You can then use Save As to save the new Excel file as a UTF-16.

10. Open the .txt file in TextEdit, copy it, and save it again as a UTF-8 .txt file (the only kind Anki can read). Ready to import!

What do you think? Please let me know if these directions aren’t clear enough!


Kieran Maynard

Kieran Maynard

Writer, translator, researcher, traveler specializing in Japanese and Chinese literature.

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